A finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, Solitary is the life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement―in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana―all for a crime he did not commit.
...[an] uncommonly powerful memoir ... His memoir is strewn with words from others he read while in prison — Nelson Mandela, James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, Frederick Douglass ... Solitary is a profound book about friendship ... This story, which Woodfox has written with Leslie George, is told simply but not tersely. If it sometimes induces claustrophobia, well, it’s meant to. Very often the painful details, and the author’s own humanity in the face of them, start to make your chest feel too small ... If the ending of this book does not leave you with tears pooling down in your clavicles, you are a stronger person than I am. More lasting is Woodfox’s conviction that the American justice system is in dire need of reform.
a book that is wrenching, terrible, sometimes numbing, sometimes almost physically painful to read. You want to turn away, put the book down: Enough, no more! But you can’t, because after 40-plus years, the very least we owe Woodfox is attention to his story, however agonizing we find it ... [Woodfox’s] relentless account of four decades of injustice, imprisonment and brutality is difficult to read and difficult to write about — its moral power is so overwhelming. Every summary phrase that comes to mind is a cliche: 'a triumph of the human spirit,' 'a wholesale indictment of mass incarceration and the American criminal justice system,' 'inspiring,' 'a call to arms.' But in Woodfox’s case, the cliches all ring true ... Woodfox’s story makes uncomfortable reading, which is as it should be. Solitary should make every reader writhe with shame and ask: What am I going to do to help change this?
Solitary is a candid, heartbreaking, and infuriating chronicle of these years — as well as a personal narrative that shows how institutionalized racism festered at the core of our judicial system and in the country's prisons ... While Solitary is a call to banish solitary confinement in the U.S., the first third of the book is also an important record of how underprivileged communities are almost forced into crime ... Solitary is a timely memoir of that experience that should be required reading in the age of the Black Lives Matter movement. It's also a story of conviction and humanity that shows some spirits are unbreakable.