Critique — week 6 | | 6x9: A virtual experience of solitary confinement

6x9 is a powerful virtual journey into a prison cell used for solitary confinement created by the Guardian. Using 360º Virtual Reality video and audio recording of seven former solitary confinement inmates’ stories and perspectives, this project puts the viewer into the dark and lonesome world that these inmates face day in and day out.

Facts and figures flash on the walls of the cell as you gaze around the room: there are 80,000–100,000 people in solitary confinement in the United States right now; they spend 22–24 hours per day in concrete cells with little to no human contact for days or even decades; you can go in for assault, disobeying a direct order, drugs, sex, not eating your food, ripping your towel, prison activism; solitary confinement alters mental and psychological states, even short-term isolation may alter brain activity.

Using a Gear VR device, a cardboard viewer, or by just moving your phone around, you are able to experience a few minutes of what these inmates live for hours and hours and hours: four cement walls, a rickety mattress, one book, little to no natural light instead fluorescent lights that flicker and flash randomly, a metal toilet that drips incessantly, cracks in the wall, all alone with your thoughts for entire days. The project is called 6x9 because that is how big the cells are: six by nine feet.

This was a really impactful digital story to critique. I am really glad that I experienced it. Before becoming an educator, I worked for two defense attorneys as a paralegal. One of the lawyers is the chief counsel for the post conviction proceedings for Robert Ray, who is one of three death row inmates in Colorado. In my role as the paralegal, I had the opportunity to visit Mr. Ray on various occasions at the State Penitentiary in Canon City. Being a death row inmate means that he spends most of his time in solitary.

In meeting Mr. Ray, spending time with him, and writing letters back and forth for several years, I have a great deal of empathy and endearment to him. Rob calls me Dani girl. He is a funny, kind, and thoughtful person. He calls and sings my former boss and friend “Happy Birthday” every year. He loves dogs.

Through this relationship and experience, I have come to believe that one’s actions do not completely define the individual. And therefore, no one deserves to go through the psychological torment of solitary confinement.

6x9 convinces me of this further.

Though I could not use this project with my students because it is not age appropriate, this would be a very powerful tool to use with high school and college students who are studying criminal justice or law.

On the lighter side of VR projects like this one, I am going to try to start using some of the Youtube 360 and Nearpod VR resources so that my students can take virtual field trips to museums, historical events, into the ocean, etc.

Overall, I am really inspired by people who are trying to do good for others and the world using digital media projects. 6x9 is definitely one of those projects. Good on them.

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