The Impact of Isolation

Listen 49:01
When Eastern State Penitentiary opened in the 1820’s it was considered the the world’s first true penitentiary, a building designed to inspire remorse and regret, says Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President and Director of Interpretation.  The cells were 8 x 12 with a bed and toilet.  People who were incarcerated there were kept in total isolation. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

When Eastern State Penitentiary opened in the 1820’s it was considered the the world’s first true penitentiary, a building designed to inspire remorse and regret, says Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President and Director of Interpretation. The cells were 8 x 12 with a bed and toilet. People who were incarcerated there were kept in total isolation. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Humans are social animals, equipped with brains hard-wired to connect with those around us. We rely on relationships for safety and survival, as well as love and fulfillment. And when we’re deprived of those connections, we suffer — both psychologically and physically. On this episode, we explore what happens to our health and our minds when we’re faced with isolation. We hear stories about dealing with the isolation of solitary confinement, medical quarantine, and even the lonely journey to another planet.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • A visit to the birthplace of solitary confinement — Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary — to learn about 19th century ideas about the redemptive power of solitude.
  • Nine people describe the psychological toll of their time in solitary, in this excerpt from Claire Schoen’s half-hour documentary “Survivors.”
  • Kate O’Brien tells us about the lonely months she spent in medical quarantine.
  • History professor Alan Kraut from American University explores how medical quarantine has sometimes been used as a way to discriminate against immigrants.
  • A story about caregiver isolation, told by Pat Davis, who’s spent the last decade watching dementia carry her husband further and further away.

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