Exonerated Angola death row inmate tells Senate about ‘horrors’ of solitary confinement

By Bruce Alpert, NOLA.com | Times-Picayune
February 26, 2014 at 5:57 PM, updated February 27, 2014 at 12:43 PM

WASHINGTON — When the request came to testify this week to a Senate committee about solitary confinement, Damon Thibodeaux said he decided it was a great opportunity to share information — though painful — with people who “can actually make things better.”

Thibodeaux, now 39, was exonerated and released in 2012 after 15 years in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s Angola Prison’s death row after DNA records showed he couldn’t have been the person to murder and sexually assault a 14-year-old girl, whose body was found under the Huey P. Long Bridge in Jefferson Parish in 1996.

On Tuesday, he testified that solitary confinement produces indescribable physical, mental and emotional harm.

“I spent my years at Angola, while my lawyers fought to prove my innocence, in a cell that measured about 8 feet by 10 feet,” Thibodeaux said. “It had three solid walls all painted white, a cell door, a sink, a toilet, a desk and seat attached to a wall, and an iron bunk with a thin mattress. These four walls are your life. Being in that environment for 23 hours a day will slowly kill you.”

“Humans cannot survive without food and water,” Thibodeaux continued. “They can’t survive without sleep. But they also can’t survive without hope.”

“Years on end in solitary, particularly on death row, will drain that hope from anyone. Because in solitary, there’s nothing to live for,” he said.

He said that at one point he was “on the verge of committing what was basically suicide by state,” by “voluntarily giving up my legal rights and allowing the state to carry out the sentence of death.”

Read more here: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/02/exonerated_louisiana_death_row.html#incart_river

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