Art Exhibit Depicts Isolation Of Solitary Confinement

(CBS) — It is art you will not see in a museum. The artists are prison inmates who’ve spent time in solitary confinement.

CBS 2’s Jim Williams reports the new exhibit depicts unimaginable isolation.

The images pull Brian Nelson back to a very dark time in his life. The sketches of faces, the carefully measured dimensions of a solitary confinement cell.

Nelson says he that he sees a psychiatrist every week.

All the art in the exhibit was created by people who’ve shared Nelson’s experience as an inmate kept, in some cases for years, in isolation.

“You’re in this box by yourself…no TV, no radio, no stimulus. I can’t see out the window and here I am in this box,” he said.

Nelson, now 50, was sent to prison at 17 for a street gang killing on Chicago’s North Side. Today, he is haunted by his years in solitary.

The Uptown People’s Law Office is a cosponsor of the exhibit.

“We’re social animals,” said Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center. “That’s the way we evolved over the last millions of years is as social animals. You take that away and the brain doesn’t work right.”

Mills says solitary confinement should rarely be used and only for days at a time.

“That is simply torture,” he said.

In the exhibit, workers will build a solitary cell, the actual tiny size used today. Brian Nelson doesn’t need to see it.

“It doesn’t go away. It will not go away,” he said.

Nelson said he spent 20 years in solitary confinement for no reason. A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections told us she can’t disclose why he was there.

The art exhibit opens Thursday night at 2040 North Milwaukee.

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