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"Solitary" (The Survey)
numerous guards between me and the outside, ready to swing on me with clubs if I could miraculously pass the doors. While I debated on the blind fate that had induced me to choose this night to sleep in solitary, a rising, rushing sound caught my ears. It was continuous, not intermittent, like the roars. I suddenly realized that this was rain and that the roars I had heard were thunder: I was experiencing my first storm in solitary.
At a few minutes before six o’clock the gong waked us all up and a sentry shouted down the corridor: “Breakfast!” The dooden door of my cell was opened. Shortly two Negro prisoners appeared with food. One of them stopped in front of my cell and placed a tin plate and spoon under the grating on the floor. The other Negro came by with a large pan filled with a dark, messy substance. Standing in front of my door he said, “Prunes?” The rising inflection in his voice seemed to call for some response on my part. I did not immediately answer him, since I had been expecting bread and water for breakfast. Deciding that the orders had become mixed and that I was being offered food intended for prisoners who were waiting trial and had not yet been condemned to solitary confinement, I said, “Yes.” The Negro slapped a spoonful of the messy stuff down on my plate. I picked the plate up to examine it, but in the dim light I could make out nothing. Presently the other Negro came by with an armful of bread, cut into thick slices. Four of these he placed upon the steel ledge of my barred door. I took them off and tasted one of the inner slices. It did not seem as fresh as bread I had previously eaten at the prisoners’ mess.
Again one of the Negroes came by, this time with a large can of hot liquid. “Cup,” he said, inserting the spout through my barred door. I got my cup and held it for him. The hot liquid that he poured into it was evidently coffee. This was the first time that I had examined my cup. It was old, made of tin, and looked as if it had been used for years. What prisoners had drunk out of it and whether it had even been washed I could not tell. Apparently it was one of the fixtures of the cell, not being removed as were the plate and spoon. I decided to forego both the coffee and the prunes.
Had I been hungry, I could doubles have made a meal. Had I known that I must eat this food or nothing, I would undoubtedly have eaten it. The conditions under which it was presented to me were not appetizing, to say the least. Perhaps there are men in the disciplinary barracks who can eat food served to them under such conditions with something approaching relish. I have no doubt that there are many, however, who cannot eat it without preliminary shudders.
[caption to photo]
Six men in a cell because of the present overcrowding
This large cell has been made by throwing three ordinary cells together
After breakfast, the solid wooden door of my cell was closed and the day began. There being nothing else to do, I lay down on my blankets once more. I might have paced the floor, taking three steps in one direction and three back again, but a single night had not brought me to the pacing stage. I did not then know that the sun was shining outside. So far as the light that entered my cell was concerned, it might as well still have been night; there was no change from the light by which I had killed bedbugs some hours before. I tried to