For nine and a half months, Lydia Thornton was locked into her cell nearly 24 hours a day. All of her meals were slid through a slot in the cell’s steel door. She was allowed outside to shower three times each week. Through cinderblock walls, she could hear women in adjoining cells screaming for hours on end. Sometimes they threatened to kill themselves, a threat often followed by an eerie silence.
This was administrative segregation, or “ad seg,” in New Jersey’s prison system. Ad seg is one of the many official terms for solitary confinement; other systems call it punitive segregation, special housing units and keeplock. Regardless of the name, the reality is that people spend nearly 24 hours locked in their cell each day with little to no human contact.Portside