Silenced: Voices from Solitary confronts the difficult topic of solitary confinement and isolation within the United States prison system by forwarding the work of a group of talented artists, many of whom have experienced solitary firsthand. Bearing witness to their images, words, videos, and personal testimonies, the exhibition provides an opportunity to learn about the practice and impact of solitary confinement on the residents of Michigan, and beyond.
Every day, there are roughly 3,000 individuals serving time in some form of solitary confinement in Michigan. According to recent numbers, 47% of people in long term solitary confinement have been there for over 2 years, and the longest serving individuals have been there over 40 years—a lifetime already. Solitary confinement goes by many names: solitary, special housing unit, observation, the box, segregation, control unit, the hole, the sweatbox, isolation, level 5, the tombs, and so forth. When it first came into use in the US in the early 1800s, the assumption was that prisoners would use the time alone to repent their sins. But practice has shown otherwise. From extreme loneliness, to psychiatric distress, to increased self-harm and high rates of suicide, data shows solitary confinement does not promote rehabilitation and wellness.
This exhibition was made possible through the support and guidance of several key collaborators. We are deeply thankful for the steadfast vision and dedication of Scott Hechinger, Zealous; Jacqueline Williams, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, University of Michigan; Lois Pullano, Citizens for Prison Reform; the American Friends Service Committee Michigan Criminal Justice Program; the artists in the exhibition; and all those who offered their voices through letters and words.
The digital project Silenced: Voices from Solitary in Michigan, launched by Zealous in 2021, is part of a larger campaign to end the use of solitary confinement in the state. Support from Art for Justice helped make Silenced possible.
Silenced: Voices from Solitary is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and curated by Steven L. Bridges, Senior Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs. Support for this exhibition is provided by the Elizabeth Halsted endowment fund.