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Open Society Foundations

According to the UN, solitary confinement for 15 days or more is considered torture that can cause permanent psychological damage.

But prisons in the United States still use these "Special Housing Units," aka "SHU," aka the "Shoe."

Some, like Pelican Bay Prison in California, keep over one-third of inmates in solitary. Up until last year, Rikers prison in New York would even put 16- and 17-year-old children in solitary (though they euphemistically renamed it "punitive segregation"). They were forced to change that policy.


The estimated number of people in solitary confinement right now in the United States. Image via Fusion/YouTube.

As brought out in the video below, solitary confinement usually means spending between 22 and 24 hours a day alone in your cell. A concrete slab with a thin mattress is your bed, and perhaps three times a week, guards shackle you for a 15-minute shower. The only exercise you get is pacing around another concrete box that, if you're lucky, might have an uncovered ceiling. Because that's the only way you'll see the sky.

In 2013, 30,000 California prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest the use of solitary confinement.

It got people talking and brought attention to the problem.

One of the biggest concerns (in addition to that whole torture thing) is that the reasons inmates are sent to solitary confinement can be pretty arbitrary and subjective.

Someone can be sent there because of the book they're reading or their religious or political affiliation, gender status, or sexual orientation. Or for the infamous "gang affiliation," a catchall phrase that pretty much means anybody can be sent there for any reason.

Some women have even been sent to solitary for reporting rape by prison guards — for their "safety." Ahem.

Just some of the reasons an inmate might go to the "Shoe." Image via Fusion/YouTube.

There are some inmates who have spent decades in solitary.

People like William Blake, who has been in a solitary cell at a New York State prison since 1988.

"Set me afire, pummel and bludgeon me, cut me to bits, stab me, shoot me, do what you will in the worst of ways, but none of it could come close to making me feel things as cumulatively horrifying as what I've experienced through my years in solitary. Dying couldn't take but a short time if you or the State were to kill me; in SHU I have died a thousand internal deaths." — William Blake, inmate

The clip below gets to the heart of it, with help from illustrator Molly Crabapple.

A breastfeeding mother's experience at Vienna's Schoenbrunn Zoo is touching people's hearts—but not without a fair amount of controversy.

Gemma Copeland shared her story on Facebook, which was then picked up by the Facebook page Boobie Babies. Photos show the mom breastfeeding her baby next to the window of the zoo's orangutan habitat, with a female orangutan sitting close to the glass, gazing at them.

"Today I got feeding support from the most unlikely of places, the most surreal moment of my life that had me in tears," Copeland wrote.

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You could say Marine biologist, divemaster and National Geographic Explorer Dr. Erika Woolsey is a bit of a coral reef whisperer, one who brings her passion for ocean science to folks on dry land in a fresh, innovative and fun new way using virtual reality.

Images courtesy of Meta’s Community Voices film series

Her non-profit, The Hydrous, combines science, design, and technology to provide one-of-a-kind experiential education about marine life. In 2018, Hydrous produced “Immerse 360”, a virtual underwater journey through the coral reefs of Palau, with Dr. Woolsey as a guide.

Viewers got to swim with sharks, manta rays and sea turtles while exploring gorgeous aquatic landscapes and learning about the crucial role our oceans play—all from 360° and 3D footage captured by VRTUL 2 underwater storytelling VR cameras.


Hydrous then expanded on the idea to develop two more exciting augmented adventures using Meta Quest 2 technology: “Expedition Palau,” a live event where audiences can share a “synchronized immersive reality experience”, which includes live narration from Woolsey, and “Explore,” a “CGI experience” to enjoy the magic of the ocean at home.


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“I’ve been extremely fortunate to explore and study coral reefs around the world,” Woolsey said, sharing that it was “heartbreaking” to see these important habitats decay so rapidly while the latest scientific reports did not clearly lead to widespread compassionate action.

“How do we care about something we never see or experience?” she reflected. As she discovered, virtual reality would be a powerful solution for eliciting empathy. “VR has the ability to generate presence and agency and make you feel like you’re there. It's that emotional connection that can bridge scientific discovery and public understanding”

The combination of virtual reality and the ocean’s natural breathtaking beauty is, as Woolsey puts it, a “match made in heaven” for getting people more engaged in ocean education. “When you’re floating you can look up and down and all around you…seeing a school of fish surrounding you and reefs in these cathedral-like structures. Rather than watching a video of a scientist, you get to become the scientist.”

Hydrous also has special kits to provide middle school students hands-on learning about ocean life. In addition to a journal, activity cards and a smartphone VR viewer, each kit includes lifelike 3D printed model pieces of a coral reef so that middle school students can try building their own.

These reef models even turn white when temperatures rise inside the aquarium, which mimics the real “bleaching” that corals endure when they die due to higher than normal ocean temperatures. Students really do become scientists as they figure out how to bring color back to their reef.

While it’s true that the health of our oceans affects us all, the growing threats our oceans face—pollution, overfishing, climate change—don’t always affect us on an empathetic level. Through the use of technology, Woolsey has created an innovative way to connect hearts and minds to one of the Earth’s most important resources, which can inspire real and lasting change.

“We can’t bring everybody to the ocean, but we’re finding scalable ways to bring the ocean to everyone.”

To learn more about Hydrous, click here.

via UNSW

This article originally appeared on 07.10.21


Dr. Daniel Mansfield and his team at the University of New South Wales in Australia have just made an incredible discovery. While studying a 3,700-year-old tablet from the ancient civilization of Babylon, they found evidence that the Babylonians were doing something astounding: trigonometry!

Most historians have credited the Greeks with creating the study of triangles' sides and angles, but this tablet presents indisputable evidence that the Babylonians were using the technique 1,500 years before the Greeks ever were.


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