Virtual reality and the solitary prison experience

By Noel Scott

Solitary confinement can now be experienced by non-prisoners in a “virtual reality (VR)” setting, reports Chloe Veltman of KQED.

6X9: A Virtual Reality Experience of Solitary Confinement was spearheaded by the U.K.’s Guardian Media Group. “You can be mentally damaged by being placed in isolation,” says Francesca Panetta, the project’s executive producer. “But by using this technology, I hope that you will get a more visceral feeling of what it is like to be locked in a 6×9 cell for 23 hours a day – of the boredom – of the fear – of the confusion.”

The VR experience was created from in-depth interviews with prisoners in California and New York, who have been in solitary confinement. It also uses the sounds from a PBS Frontline documentary “Solitary Nation.”

“It’s the sound that really sets up the experience, and transports you to that tiny cell, and makes it real,” said Panetta.

One of the stories that inspired the project came from Dolores Canales, who spent nine months in segregated housing when she was at the California Institution for Women in Chino. “It’s like you’ve been put into another country where you don’t know the language or the area or anything,” said Canales.

The project’s goal is to bring to light the psychological damage caused to the thousands of men and women, who are currently being held in solitary confinement, said Panetta.

The project premiered in March at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals. Solitary confinement survivors also attended and shared their experiences.


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