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by Bryan Denson | email@example.com
Oregon's most incorrigible prisoners spend 23 hours, 20 minutes a day alone in cells deep inside a sprawling prison complex near Ontario.
They live behind steel doors in the Intensive Management Unit, which occupies 20 tiers of the Snake River Correctional Institution. The IMU is a dispiriting home for its 216 occupants and the prison staffers paid to keep them from slipping into madness or killing themselves.
Prison officials across the United States have spent the last few years debating how to help tens of thousands of prisoners cope in solitary confinement, the housing of last resort for violent, combative, or escape-prone inmates. Many human rights groups condemn the highly restrictive cells as an incubator for mental illness.
About 19 months ago, Snake River officials turned for help from an offbeat source, a globetrotting forest ecologist more familiar with the canopies of Costa Rica's rainforests than the internal struggles of prisoners kept month after month in isolated quarters.
What emerged was a one-of-a-kind sanctuary known as the Blue Room.
Inside a converted recreation room, prisoners deprived of wind and sunsets and trees can reconnect with sights and sounds of the natural world. A video projector casts images against a wall: Big Sur, a brook in a dark forest, a tropical beach and 30 other nature videos.
The plan to calm prisoners and make them less violent shows promise.
And it all began with a TED talk.
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