Protestors on the Diag raise awareness about prisoner solitary confinement on Tuesday afternoon. Keith Melong/Daily. Buy this photo.

On Tuesday, the University of Michigan Project Outreach collaborated with Citizens For Prison Reform to host “Solitary: The Family Experience,” an event aimed to spread awareness and support for the Open MI Door campaign. This campaign is focused on ending solitary confinement and helping advance more safer, therapeutic alternatives.

Project Outreach is a psychology, service and action-based program for U-M students. The Citizens for Prison Reform is a family-led and statewide organization focused on assisting and supporting families with incarcerated family members in Michigan.

Lois Pullano, the executive director of Citizens For Prison Reform and the coordinator for the Open MI Door campaign, discussed the purpose of the campaign and the greater impact of solitary confinement in the state of Michigan. Standing on the Diag, Pullano explained to passers-by the harm that those in solitary confinement experience as well its impact on families and staff members.

“(Solitary confinement) not only impacts the person that is living in it — so it’s very detrimental to their mental health, often even their physical health — but it also impacts all of their family members,” Pullano said. “It impacts the staff and the officers that are working inside. When people are placed in this small of a space, it’s where often there is greater misuse of power.”

LSA senior Mikayla BergWood, a student in Psychology 211, part of Project Outreach, worked the campaign booth. Students enrolled in this course have the opportunity to become involved in a variety of projects that apply psychological principles in real-world settings. BergWood selected this opportunity for the course and described the booth set-up, explaining the purpose of the visual of solitary confinement.

“We have a booth set up, and a little model solitary confinement cell, which is the standard size of a cell so you can go in there and there’s the bed and the sink, and really feel what it’s like to be in there,” BergWood said. “It’s pretty claustrophobic, honestly. And to imagine being in there 20-plus hours a day for sometimes years. I think it’s a powerful experience to be able to go in there.”

Dr. Nora Krinitsky, a lecturer in the Residential College and director of the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP), also attended the campaign booth and spoke about the project’s importance. According to Krinitsky, the Prison Creative Arts Project works with all 26 state prison facilities and one federal facility in the state of Michigan. 

“Through my work with PCAP I have gotten to see just a breath of creativity, intellect, scholarship, ingenuity that is locked away inside prisons in our state,” Krinitsky said. “Putting a person in a cage is inhumane, no matter what. Putting someone in solitary confinement is torturous. There is a wealth of research and statistics about the very real harms that people experience even in just a relatively short time in solitary.”

According to the Prison Policy initiative, solitary confinement increases the likelihood of premature deaths. Data has shown that individuals in solitary confinement have a  1% increased risk in opioid overdose, 9% increased risk in homocide and 2% increased risk in suicide compared to those not in solitary confinement. 

From March 22 to April 5, the PCAP and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) hosted its art exhibit featuring art from Michigan prisoners. Held at the Duderstadt Center Gallery, the exhibition highlighted the creations of incarcerated artists living in Michigan prisons. This year’s showcase featured 714 works, including portraits, tattoo imagery, landscapes, fantasy and wildlife as well as original images about incarceration and visions.

LSA freshman Maeve Larco encountered the campaign booth while walking through the Diag and said she stopped by to learn more. After discussing with the organizations’ leaders and volunteers, she decided to sign up to volunteer and offer her own support to the campaign.

“I feel like it’s definitely a reminder to do more and to seek out more opportunities to do more,” Larco said. “Because I may believe one way but like, if I’m not acting on those beliefs, nothing’s really gonna change. It’s also interesting to see the different reactions on campus. I feel like a lot of people are very sympathetic or empathetic and agree with what this campaign is promoting. But I also think that there’s a lot of misguided criticism that perhaps would be helped with more understanding.”

Pullano questioned the purpose of complete solitary confinement, explaining that when an incarcerated individual eventually returns to the community, they will be unprepared to succeed. She also emphasized the need to spread awareness about the impacts of solitary confinement.

“It is really about bringing awareness,” Pullano said. “If we are placing people in solitary confinement and isolating them totally and they are not socializing and they are not gaining the skills they need to return back to our communities, the question I have is: Are we really safer? Is this true public safety?”

Daily News Reporter Marlee Sacksner can be reached at