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Nat Geo Channel's solitary confinement campaign kicks off

[This entry has been updated]

Being assigned to watch three people in solitary confinement is strangely riveting, reports WaPo TeamTV's Solitary Confinement Video correspondent Emily Yahr.

The three each have volunteered to spend a week in their own 80-square-foot rooms (for math-impaired, that's like an 8'X10' room) at an undisclosed location somewhere in the Washington area to help National Geographic Channel plug its April 11 "Explorer" episode which, coincidentally, is about solitary confinement. The Washington-based network constructed these fake prison cells at some secret location in the Washington area - extra points if you can figure out where they are and drop us a line.

Their every move is captured by a camera and live streamed at They can bail at any time if they can't take the excitement but they'll receive a stipend for every day they last in complete solitude, up to a week.

Volunteer No. 1, James Heastie, is calm and collected as he enters his cell at around 8 a.m. Friday morning -- dressed in a red t-shirt, red shorts, and pair of white socks, Yahr reports.

James takes stock of everything the room has to offer. This takes about a quarter of a second, because "everything the room has to offer" extends only to white walls, a sink, toilet, bed, desk, chair and lamp. On the bed: folded sheets and a pillowcase. On the desk: a thoughtful box of tissues, and small strips of paper, a pen and scanner, because the volunteers have to tweet their innermost thoughts, via scanner, as part of the deal.

Heastie, a Harlem native, "expects this experience to be similar to a 'silent meditation retreat,'" according to Nat Geo Channel. He immediately starts to make his bed. The producers tweet: "James has entered his cell."

In Room No. 2, Laura Inserra is bouncing with excitement and giggling to herself as she looks around her room. Laura is dressed all in green - the volunteers are color-coded for what we assume are good reasons but we have not been clued in. Easier to identify the body? Promote loyalty among viewers (Go Team Green!)? Laura was raised in upstate New York. Finally, she sits down and stares at the bedding supplies.

"I guess I should get started in here," she mutters, taking a bed sheet in her hands.

"But once I do that, I'll have nothing to do." Laura is clearly the philosopher of the group. She will be the first to have a meltdown - just you wait and see.

Volunteer No. 3, Christopher "Rick" Rickner, captain of Team Blue, immediately dives right into putting together his bed while he cheerfully sings a song to himself - except, of course, not really because his every move and word and tune is going to be seen and heard all week on the Nat Geo Channel Livestream. Rick is on his feet all day long between flag football games and his job as a doorman, according to Nat Geo Channel, so he's excited to get some R&R. Sure enough, after putting together his bed, he pulls his baseball hat over his eyes, snuggles under the covers and passes out.

James's solitary confinement is historically short, ending at 8:30 a.m.That's when two producers come in to his cell to teach him how to use the Twitter scanner, which seems to be having early issues. Have you any idea how crowded an 8'X10' room is when it's filled with three grown men? They also teach James how to kill the sound when uses the toilet, for which we are grateful.

"Are we on the web yet?" James asks. He laughs nervously when one of his guests responds, "Yes."

As the clock hits 9:15 a.m., viewership alternates between 7 and 17 viewers, according to the Nat Geo Channel site. Here is what they see:

*Team Blue: Rick is still asleep.
*Team Red: James is restlessly alternating between his bed and desk.
*Team Green: Laura freaks out when she discovers she is not alone in her cell. It is, in fact, also occupied by a bug. Laura is a proponent of the death penalty and executes the bug swiftly. She then announces she's is going to take a nap to try and forget about the whole ordeal.

Twitter users following the Solitary Confinement experiment begin to post their own thoughts.

"Shes (sic) totally hot," tweets one user, in re Laura.


Six hours later, at 3 p.m. EDT, WaPo TeamTV Solitary Confinement correspondent Emily Yahr writes:

*Rick (aka Christopher) turned off the overhead light when he took a nap around 9 a.m. The light is still off but Rick's awake, entertaining himself with a ball. Where did Rick get the ball. Are prisoners allowed to have balls? Did he make a ball from part of his lunch? What does his having a ball say about the American penal system? This room is so rich with material to contemplate. First Rick sits with his back against the bed. Now he's on the floor. What will he do next? It's this kind of suspense that keeps Rick in the lead, with about 80 viewers.

*Laura's cell is empty and there is a sign posted on a wall of her cell that says, "Currently out for solitary exercise and shower." And yet, 70 people are still watching Laura's cell. Why is Laura using up her one hour of freedom so soon? Mark our words: Headed for a breakdown.

*James has fewer viewers watching his live stream - about 60 people. James appears to be napping after a quick lunch, in keeping with his vision of this week in solitary as a "silent meditation retreat" as NatGeo Channel has said. One Twitter follower watching James says: "T-minus 36 hours until you flip to James and he will be floating in a zen-like pose."

Other Twitter followers weigh in:

"Wow, are they getting paid to do this?!"

"James is memorizing the juice box. there will be a quiz later"

By Lisa de Moraes  |  April 2, 2010; 3:33 PM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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Posted by: maidishoes451 | April 5, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

At least prisinors in solitary confinement have access to books.

Peter King of SI interviewed Donte Stallworth who was convicted of DWI and served time in prison with him killed a pedestrian....his time in jail he served in confinement (partly to protect his celebrety) but he got to read books while there.

Posted by: djp98374 | April 6, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

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