In 2009, while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan along the Iranian border, Sarah Shourd and two fellow hikers were abducted by Iranian border agents and falsely accused of espionage.

Shourd would be imprisoned for over a year before being released on "humanitarian grounds".  She has an exceptional op-Ed in Sunday's New York Times recounting that experience and what made it unbearable:

"Of the 14 and a half months, or 9,840 hours, I was held as a political hostage at Evin prison in Tehran, I spent 9,495 of them in solitary confinement. When I was released just over a year ago, I was shocked to find out that the United Nations Convention Against Torture, one of the few conventions the United States has ratified, does not mention solitary confinement. I learned that there are untold numbers of prisoners around the world in solitary, including an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 in the United States. According to the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez, the practice appears to be “growing and diversifying in its use and severity.”

As Shourd mentions, across the U.S., prisoners in solitary are locked alone in a cell for at least 23 hours a day, day in and day out, often with no natural light and with no meaningful human contact. Prisoners in solitary are often subjected to inhumane conditions — recently, hundreds of prisoners in California undertook a hunger strike in protest.  Even the Washington Post recently editorialized that solitary confinement should only be used as a last resort.

In Maine, we've made some fruitful progress in reducing the number of inmates placed in solitary but across the country we still have a long way to go.