Experience what solitary confinement feels like with a new virtual reality app

Crime and Punishment

Experience what solitary confinement feels like with a new virtual reality app

Few of us will hopefully ever have to experience what life in solitary confinement is like. But for those who’d like to immersively experience it—if only for a few minutes—then The Guardian has a solution.

The Guardian has put together an app called 6×9 that aims to plunge users into the confines of a six by nine foot cell. “Right now, more than 80,000 people are in solitary confinement in the US,” said the newspaper. “They spend 22-­24 hours a day in their cells, with little to no human contact for days or even decades. We invite you into this world.”

Best enjoyed with the Google Cardboard Viewer to nullify any distractions, the experience can also be ‘enjoyed’ even by those without a smartphone courtesy of a 360° interactive video, seen below.

The experience features soundbites from interviews of those who have been subject to solitary confinement. The interviews are available to read in full on The Guardian too.

“I remember stepping into the cell and it was like stepping over a bridge into another world. The first feeling I had is that something could happen to me in here and no one would ever know,” said Five Omar Mualimm-ak, who spent a total of five years and eight months in solitary confinement.

“You will probably spend a lot of time laying flat on the floor just trying to get that little bit of air that will come under the door,” adds Dolores Canales, the only female voice to feature. Canales was in solitary confinement for nine months after being jailed aged 18.

Last year, the issue of solitary confinement was a contentious topic in the American architecture scene. In January 2015, New York City officials banned “solitary confinement for prison inmates 21 and younger.”

The decision came only a few weeks after the American Institute of Architects (AIA) refused to adhere to a plea that would forbid AIA members from designing buildings intended for human-rights violations (as defined by international laws) such as executions or prolonged solitary confinement.

According to the Architectural Record, the amendment would’ve demanded that AIA members “not design spaces intended for execution or for torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including prolonged solitary confinement.”

Speaking to the New York Times, former AIA President Helene Combs Dreiling said “If we begin to stipulate the types of projects our members can and cannot do, it opens a can of worms.”

“It’s just not something we want to determine as a collective,” Dreiling added. “Members with deeply embedded beliefs will avoid designing those building types and leave it to their colleagues,” Ms. Dreiling elaborated. “Architects self-select, depending on where they feel they can contribute best.”

The debate on ethical architecture raged on. “Is there nothing so odious that the A.I.A. wouldn’t step in?” retorted Raphael Sperry, who, with his organization, Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, submitted the ethical amendment to the AIA. “What about concentration camps? The A.I.A. is basically saying business is more important than human rights,” he added.

Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times pointed out that American Medical Association specifically prohibits doctors from participating in execution or torture. He and Sperry also noted that A.I.A’s own code of professional ethics states that “members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.”