Six by ten feet. That’s the average size of the cells in which tens of thousands of people incarcerated in the United States linger for weeks, months, and even decades in solitary confinement. With little stimulation and no meaningful human contact, these individuals struggle to preserve their identity, sanity, and even their lives. In thirteen intimate narratives, Six by Ten explores the mental, physical, and spiritual impacts of America’s widespread embrace of solitary confinement. Through stories from those subjected to solitary confinement, family members on the outside, and corrections officers, Six by Ten examines the darkest hidden corners of America’s mass incarceration culture and illustrates how solitary confinement inflicts lasting consequences on families and communities far beyond prison walls. Stories include those of Brian, who was shuttled from prison to prison across Illinois as part of an unofficial program that came to be known as “the circuit”; Heather, a mother fighting for the life of her son, Nikko, who was diagnosed as bipolar at a young age and sent to solitary as a teenager; and Sonya, a trans woman sent to solitary in a men’s jail in Texas, supposedly for her own protection.
Taylor Pendergrass is a lawyer and activist focused on criminal justice reform. He currently works for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Mateo Hoke is writer, journalist, and co-editor of Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation.
“Some of the people in Six by Ten were convicted of crimes, but this book convicts the United States of an incomparably greater crime: blighting the lives and searing the souls of untold hundreds of thousands of men, women, and teenagers by a practice that more enlightened countries consider inhuman. You will not find a more riveting indictment anywhere of our reckless use of solitary confinement, nor one told through such a variety of moving, poignant voices.”
—Adam Hochschild, author, King Leopold’s Ghost
“The voices heard in this powerful collection are haunting. As these men and women make inescapably clear, the practice of removing human beings from everything that makes them sane and stable—keeping them for days, months, and years in utter isolation without light, touch, sound, space, and hope—is unimaginably cruel. Six by Ten is a deeply moving and profoundly unsettling wake up call for all citizens. The use of solitary confinement is deeply immoral and we must insist that it be banned in all of our nation’s prisons. Immediately.”
—Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
"Six by Ten: Stories from Solitary, edited by Mateo Hoke and Taylor Pendergrass, compels change by giving a voice to the voiceless.
Solitary confinement is one of the dirty little secrets of America’s criminal justice system; sure, people know it’s there, but few know how often it’s used or how detrimental it can be. Hoke and Pendergrass, through their experiences in journalism and law, respectively, know just how prevalent and virulent this blight is. In this book, they share the voices of those they’ve interviewed: people deeply affected by solitary confinement, including inmates, family members, and corrections officers.
The stories stop you in your tracks, but the appendices help move progress forward with simplicity, depth, and hope, beginning with ten things anyone can do that are impactful and accessible. The educational pieces of the book give apt background on the history and usage of solitary confinement, allowing even those examining the practice for the first time to have a firm grasp of the situation.
Six by Ten moves Americans to action for humanity and fairness in the criminal justice system."
Praise for other Voice of Witness books:
"Surviving Justice is a necessary truth telling that amplifies the voices of the countless wrongfully incarcerated sons, lovers, husbands, fathers, mothers, and daughters who languish in America’s prisons. These oral histories give insight into the nature of the injustice to which they have been subjected, but also offer a way forward. I never could have written An American Marriage without the brave and thoughtful testimonies in this book."
—Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage and winner of the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award
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Watch the full video of our event with Ruth Wilson Gilmore on Covid-19, Decarceration, and Abolition, hosted by Naomi Murakawa. Gilmore’s new Haymarket book Change Everything: Racial Capitalism and the Case for Abolition, will be released in February, 2021.