In 1972, he was put in solitary confinement. He's been there since, but now there's hope.

If the goal is to bring an end to solitary confinement, this is a big step in the right direction.

For more than 40 years, Albert Woodfox has lived in solitary confinement at Louisiana State Penitentiary.

Originally convicted along with two others of armed robbery in 1971, Woodfox — who is now 68 years old — would later be accused and convicted of murdering one of the prison's guards.

After receiving a new sentence of life in prison, Woodfox was moved into solitary confinement, where he spent the next 43 years. In June of last year, an appeals court ordered Woodfox released from prison, citing a lack of evidence, only to have that decision reversed. In November, a federal appeals court ruled that Woodfox could be made to stand trial for a third time; his first two convictions were overturned.


In the meantime, he remains in solitary confinement, living out his days in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell, punished for a crime he argues he did not commit. There's no telling what 43 years away from other people has done to him, and it's hard to imagine what sort of life he will have if and when he is released back into the world, having been away from it for so long.

There are a few things we know about solitary confinement — none of them good.

In 2011, the United Nations called on countries to do away with solitary confinement. The argument is that the mental abuse prisoners in solitary undergo as the result of their placement can amount to torture.

“Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system,” said UN special rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez.

"Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause," he added, "it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles."

A detainee makes a call from his "segregation cell" at the Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, Califoria. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

We know studies have shown solitary confinement doesn't actually make anyone any safer. In fact, some find that people held in solitary confinement for extended periods of time actually become more likely to become violent.

We know that somewhere around 80,000 prisoners are being held in solitary confinement at any given time.

We know that it costs three times as much to house someone in solitary confinement than in the general population.

No matter how you look at it, keeping people in solitary confinement for extended periods of time simply doesn't make sense.

In July, President Obama ordered the Department of Justice to review the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

He showed skepticism for the practice, calling it "not smart."

"I’ve asked my attorney general to start a review of the overuse of solitary confinement across American prisons," said Obama during a speech at the NAACP conference. "The social science shows that an environment like that is often more likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more violent. Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years at a time?"

Obama meets with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the Oval Office on May 29, 2015. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The review has been completed, and the president is adopting its recommendations.

In an editorial from The Washington Post on Jan. 25, the president outlined exactly what that means:

  • Banning solitary confinement for juveniles
  • Banning solitary confinement as a punishment for "low-level infractions"
  • Reducing the amount of time inmates in solitary must stay in their cells
  • Expanding on-site mental health resources

By the president and Department of Justice's estimate, this will affect somewhere around 10,000 inmates.

It's stories like Woodfox's that makes Obama's latest action so huge.

It's rarely "necessary" to hold someone in solitary, and Obama's new guidelines clearly state that inmates should be "housed in the least restrictive setting necessary to ensure their own safety, as well as the safety of staff, other inmates, and the public."

The president's move doesn't go so far as to eliminate the use of solitary confinement, but it does set the framework for future reviews of the system, which could in turn bring an end to the practice.

For now, though, Woodfox remains in solitary, awaiting yet another trial and, perhaps, freedom.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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