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Minneapolis man details horrors of solitary confinement in Senate testimony

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A former prison inmate traveled from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., Tuesday, to detail for the Senate Judiciary Committee his harrowing experiences in solitary confinement, the Star Tribune reports.

Damon Thibodeaux, who has lived in the Twin Cities since 2012, spent 15 years in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. He was on death row after being convicted of the brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old step-cousin that he did not commit, the paper says.

Thibodeaux was exonerated with DNA evidence in September 2012, the Washington Post said. The paper said he cracked at the end of a nine-hour interrogation and confessed to the crime despite his innocence.

The National Registry of Exonerations goes into Thibodeaux's case in great detail.

Thibodeaux's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee comes as states across the nation are considering or have implemented sweeping reforms on solitary confinement. Last week, New York State entered into a deal to limit the use of solitary confinement, the New York Times says.

The man, who was incarcerated in the facility known as the "Alcatraz of the South," said in written testimony that he saw "men lose their minds" and "some screamed all hours of the night." He said he was also subjected to triple-digit heat in the summer and was put on display like an animal during prison tours.

Thibodeaux, who earned his GED after being released from prison and works as a long-haul truck driver, says he still has trouble connecting with people.

Committee member Sen. Al Franken praised Thibodeaux during the hearing, saying he's turned his tragedy into "a story of hope and courage."

The Star Tribune says Minnesota had 578 prisoners in isolated segregation as of Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Corrections says the use of segregation is an "issue of constant concern and review."

According to the paper, advocates say there are no reliable estimates of how many state and federal prisoners are in solitary confinement.

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