What Happens in Solitary When Guards Aren’t Looking

A guard in the Maine state prison segregation unit.

A guard in the Maine state prison segregation unit.

April 22, 2014

Inmates in lockdown aren’t supposed to be able to pass contraband — such as drugs, razor blades or even newspapers — from cell to cell. But many inmates, like those at the Maine state prison, have found a way.

They call it fishing. All it takes is a bit of thread pulled from their clothes or blankets, weighed down by a wet piece of toilet paper. The process of creating the “fishing lines” takes hours, but when inmates are locked up for as long as 23 hours a day, they have nothing else to do.

After hours of patience, filmmaker Dan Edge caught it on camera. “In some ways, it was like shooting a natural history documentary,” he said. “We spent what felt like forever just waiting around for things to happen.”

The above excerpt is from tonight’s film Solitary Nation, which premieres at 10 p.m. EST online or on air (check local listings).

Sarah Childress

Sarah Childress, Former Series Senior Editor, FRONTLINE

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