Over the past 50 years, an era of mass incarceration took shape in the US as politicians raced to erect a sprawling detention system. Today, the country locks up more people than any other on the planet.
Now that solitary is on the national radar, systemic problems with "the hole" are being laid bare for all to see.
Larry walked out of Missouri state prison with some money and a job, but like most former inmates, he got dragged back in.
During my 26 years in federal lockups of all kinds, I earned a bachelor's and master's degree, published several books, and found the love of my life.
Prisoners who help other inmates with legal filings can actually have a major impact.
Even in times of uncertainty, the corporations that build and operate prisons and jails seem guaranteed to turn a profit.
Colloquially known as "drugs minus two," a sentencing tweak made last year could reduce the prison time of as many as 46,000 inmates.
Whenever you go to the prison yard, there's always a chance you won't make it back. I would know: I spent ten years inside and learned how to weaponise everything from magazines to cigarette filters.
Though Rikers Island has gotten the recent media attention, New York City's other jails have also been beset by scandals.
The device is, both literally and metaphorically, my greatest source of pain.
On Monday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 people, bringing his total since taking office to 89. I reached out to some old friends from inside to see if they expect a mass exodus from the prison-industrial complex.
As a recent touring group of US officials found out, German inmates wear their own clothes, cook their own meals and aren't put in solitary for more than eight hours at a time.