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Survivor's Manual: Survival in Solitary - A Manual Written by and for People Living in Control Units

NCJ Number
Bonnie Kerness
Date Published
June 2012
94 pages

This document is a survivor's manual written by and for offender's placed in permanent isolation, or control units.


Permanent isolation or control units were first used in 1983 in a Federal penitentiary in Marion, IL. Since then, these units have been established at various prisons throughout the United States to house "special groups" of inmates. These special units are used to house purported gang members, people of Islamic faith suspected of being terrorists, for inmates under voluntary and involuntary protective custody, and to punish inmates that the system has deemed undesirable. This manual presents an overview of the movement to stop the use of control units in Federal prisons and a description of control units as a means of nonphysical torture and abuse. Through the use of inmate letters, the manual describes the sensory deprivation experience of being housed in permanent isolation, the psychological effects resulting from long-term confinement in control units, the political issues that arise from inmates who suffered emotional abuse while isolated and who are now trying to reenter society, the interplay between sensory deprivation and sustained anger, and what it takes to survive. Another section of the manual includes poems written by inmates placed in isolation. The final section of the manual discusses SHU (special housing unit) syndrome and community mental health, and issues of torture and reentry into the community.