Solitary
Lives

For nearly a quarter-century, thousands of inmates held in isolation at four California prisons were not allowed to have their picture taken to share with family or friends.

But during a 2011 inmate hunger strike at Pelican Bay State Prison, state corrections officials said the ban was wrong.

Prisoners in security housing units now can be photographed under strict conditions: They must be in handcuffs or belly chains and can have only one photo taken a year – no retakes allowed. A guard acts as the photographer.

The photos are a privilege. The inmates – most who are in the units indefinitely on allegations of having ties to prison gangs – qualify only if they have not broken any prison rules in the past 12 months.

The Center for Investigative Reporting spent almost a year collecting hundreds of photos, letters and other artifacts, tracing the solitary lives of men detained at Pelican Bay and their photographic re-emergence to family, friends and even themselves.

“I looked at the photo and saw an old man,” one inmate said.

“It was like coming back from the dead,” another said.

To see inmates’ photos and learn more about their lives, click the images below.

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Constantine Aguilar

15 years in isolation

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Lorenzo Benton

27 years in isolation

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Byron Bunt

28 years in isolation

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Steven Corotan

16 years in isolation

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Randall Ellis

29 years in isolation

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Phillip Evans

16 years in isolation

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Jose Garcia

16 years in isolation

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Ernesto Gonzalez

16 years in isolation

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Marcus Harrison

15 years in isolation

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Gabriel Huerta

28 years in isolation

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Angel Martinez

14 years in isolation

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Paul Redd

29 years in isolation

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Michael David Russell

21 years in isolation

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Pietro Sartoresi

5 years in isolation

Constantine Aguilar

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Lorenzo Benton

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Byron Bunt

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Steven Corotan

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Randall Ellis

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Phillip Evans

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Jose Garcia

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Ernesto Gonzalez

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Marcus Harrison

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Gabriel Huerta

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Angel Martinez

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Paul Redd

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Michael David Russell

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Pietro Sartoresi

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Producers/Reporters: Michael Montgomery, Kerri Connolly, Anna Vignet

Photographer: Adi Sambamurthy

Interactive developer/designer: La Toya Tooles

Senior Online Editor: Mia Zuckerkandel

Software Development Consultant: Jeremy Rue, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

Director of Digital Media: Susanne Reber