Sunday, December 03, 2006

Urban Archaeology

About 10 years ago or so I was living in Providence, RI. They had demolished some downtown buildings because they were going to build a mall on the site. On the site they found the old foundations, which delayed construction for awhile as they allowed some urban archaeologists to come in and figure out what was up. They'd found an 1830s or so era prison (IIRC). After they did their thing they conducted a few public tours of the site, which included descriptions of the prisoners' rooms, and some discussion of the warden's diary and other things. [This is from memory, so my details may not be precise - it may not have been the warden, but some other prison official, or outside observer]

Anyway, in the diary were observations about the mental health of the prisoners. The prisoners lived in solitary confinement, in small rooms lacking natural light. The diarist expressed genuine surprise that it didn't take very long (6-12 months) for prisoners - many of whom were in for minor offenses - to start displaying signs of profound mental illness.

What this has to do with current events is left to the reader.