One artist is bringing attention to the inhumane practice of solitary confinement by creating dream home of Black Panther activist Herman Wallace, who was alone in a cell for 41 years. Wallace, who was convicted of stabbing and killing a prison guard, was allowed to leave his cell for 1 hour a few times per week. He maintained his innocence throughout and was freed in 2013, only to die a few days after.
The Brooklyn Paper reports that artist Jackie Sumell began writing letters to Wallace when he was in prison, and that’s when she came realized that not only does solitary confinement diminishes a person’s self-identity, it also makes it harder for people to empathize with the individual:
“I want you see how solitary confinement is a mechanism for dehumanization,” said Jackie Sumell, who lives in New Orleans but regularly travels with the exhibit, entitled “The House That Herman Built.” “If I were just to go around with the cell, the go-to response is that he must have done something really bad.”
Solitary confinement is a form of psychological torture that alienates human beings and dehumanizes them, yet it is still practiced in prisons across America — more so than in any other democratic country, according to Wired.
Sumell elaborates on her project:
“I began to realize that people paid more attention to his dream home than to his situation,” she said. “It became a powerful advocacy tool.”
Wallace shared his vision with Sumell through his letters, describing aspects of the house in painstaking detail, down to the books he would put in the library (the Central Library will feature the books from Wallace’s list in the exhibit). Sumell then crafted his ideas into scaled, three-dimensional models, she said.
Sumell will be exhibiting the model home, along with a replica of Wallace’s solitary confinement cell, at the Central Library from April 15 through June 5 in Prospect Heights.