Solitary confinement isolates inmates in cells hardly larger than a king-size bed for 22 to 24 hours a day. Photographer: Tom Pennington/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images
Solitary confinement isolates inmates in cells hardly larger than a king-size bed for 22 to 24 hours a day. Photographer: Tom Pennington/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images

You jolt awake from a disturbed sleep, your body dripping with sweat. You don't know how much time has passed -- minutes, hours, perhaps even days. But you feel frightened, and your heart is racing. You had a nightmare. You were in a dark, narrow, endless hallway. You were chasing a young man, shouting to him, but no sound came out. You had to warn him of something -- you don't know what. He stopped walking and slowly turned around. You noticed his shoes, the tattoos on his arms. He was you -- a younger you. His body was filled out, healthy, like yours used to be. His wrists weren't shackled. But you couldn't quite make out his face. You inched closer, squinting. But he had no face at all; there was just a blank blur. He did not recognize you, either. He turned back around and kept walking.

That's when you woke. Now tears are coming down your face. Maybe it wasn't even a nightmare. In fact, you might've not been asleep at all.

This is your existence in "the box." You live in your brain, inside a cage, inside a penitentiary -- a prison within a prison within a prison. The cell itself is smaller than 8 feet by 10 feet, about the size of a bathroom. It’s impossible to walk more than a few steps in any direction. You've paced it hundreds of times, counting five tiles per step. You've memorized those dirty, cold tiles: every crack, every imperfect angle. You've studied them backwards, forwards and sideways. Sometimes you watch the cracks deepen, bend or shift. Occasionally a roach or a mouse scurries past. You like when they do … a life to watch, something to talk to.

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(Laura Dimon is a journalist at PolicyMic.)