This week's New Yorker Magazine had an incredible article about the absolute horror of solitary confinement, something which we decry internationally (John McCain please stand up) yet routinely subject our citizens to. I encourage you to read the whole article, but this sums it up nicely:
"This presents us with an awkward question: If prolonged isolation is—as research and experience have confirmed for decades—so objectively horrifying, so intrinsically cruel, how did we end up with a prison system that may subject more of our own citizens to it than any other country in history has?"
The parallels between solitary confinement in our prisons and the vast loneliness and isolation experience by our homeless neighbors are crystal clear. The very experience of being in a shelter or on the street involves lack of physical, social and emotional connection that has permanent consequences. The reality is many of the ways we've come up with to deal with homelessness actual end up leaving them mentally and emotionally unprepared to life outside the system.
Yet the homeless folks I've met fight incredibly hard against these forces of isolation. In shelters and on the streets, they form their own communities to try to address some of these fundamental needs: to chat, to laugh with, to be touched. Yes, they have inside jokes. They have long running disagreements about Basketball and movies. They take care of each other.
If you listen to some of these conversations, arguments, monologues (and once and a while a pure nugget of poetry/wisdom), you'll hear the desire that each of us holds deeply... to hug someone to our chest, to share the harshness of the day, to be with other humans. Because we need each other.