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ESTHER Brings Solitary Confinement Cell Replica to Appleton

Special thanks to Fran Nelson for this report on the Transformational Justice Task Force’s Appleton event featuring a replica solitary confinement cell.

Talib Akbar with replica solitary confinement cell he builtESTHER’s Transformational Justice Task Force organized an educational event and public tour bringing an exact replica of a Solitary Confinement Cell to Appleton on May 11 and 12, 2023.  The replica was designed and built by Talib Akbar, a formerly incarcerated man, who has brought it to communnities around the state. This event was meant to increase awareness of the harm of solitary confinement in Wisconsin prisons.

In Appleton, Akbar explained to many citizens and public administrators the severe impact of prolonged isolation (used on both male and female prisoners), including the mentally ill. Akbar was placed in isolation ten different times—the longest was almost two years—during his 20 years in Wisconsin prisons. (More than 15 days in isolation has been defined as torture by the United Nations since 2011.)

None of his confinements were for violence against guards or other prisoners. A very long list of offenses that can lead to solitary confinement includes administrative, process and other offenses against the system of good behavior in an environment without hope or humanity.

Bobby Ayala discussing his experience of solitary confinementBobby Ayala, a Native American, spent 27 years in prison and 6-7 years in multiple solitary confinements in five different Wisconsin prisons. He and Talib spoke to State Senator Rachael Cabral-Guevarra, Commander Dave Kiesner and Captain Tom McKay of the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Office, and many other citizens who wanted to learn more.

He explained that talking back, lying, possessing contraband—even cake in your cell, and many other minor offenses are often dealt with by confinement alone in a small cell (“the size of a parking spot”) furnished with only a toilet, sink and platform bed. It is the human and emotional isolation, not the physical cage, that damages the mind and the soul. Solitary Confinement Cell Interior View

Solitary does not improve behavior or reduce crime. After Colorado stopped using solitary confinement (under the leadership of former Wisconsin corrections director Rick Raemisch), the environment was better for both guards and prisoners.

In Wisconsin, 95% of prisoners are released from prison to return to live in their communities. Rehabilitation and support upon release are crucial. Yet some prisoners leave prison directly from solitary confinement, with no extra help given to adjust, and often no help for their families, for housing, for jobs, for mental health care, for food,  etc.

Prison is the punishment-not solitary. Solitary causes mental illness and aggravates existing mental health conditions.  Prisoners of any age, including teens, can be confined for a long list of transgressions, for an arbitrary time for no known benefit for them or for the prison. 

Wisconsin imprisons more men and women than most other states, and also leads in numbers of men and women placed in solitary confinement. In Wisconsin, Green Bay Reformatory confines more men in solitary than any other prison. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections publishes a monthly statistics describing how many people are in solitary confinement and for what infraction, how many are mentally ill, and which prison they are in, etc.  In these statistics, Wisconsin leads the nation. (It is not known how many people are in solitary confinement in county jails because Wisconsin does not require them to report.)

Reforms are happening in many states. However Wisconsin is behind in committing to education, rehab, mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, avoiding cash bail, reducing pre-trial confinement, and recognizing the problems of aggressive enforcement against black people and other minorities.  


Only the legislature can require that prisons and jails stop placing mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement and reduce the total length of confinement to no more than 15 days. Get to know your state and county legislators.  

Join ESTHER, FREE, EXPO, ACLU, NAMI or other organizations where you can work with others who want to improve our justice system so that it serves the community and returns rehabilitated people to their homes and families.  

Contact Katie Olson, ESTHER organizer,  Lisa Hanneman, Transformational Justice Co-chair, or Gary Crevier, President,  to see how you can help.

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