In 1951, McGill University tried to monitor the effects of solitary confinement in a sensory-deprived environment for six weeks.
The problem was, no one could last more than one week. Everyone quit.
That is why most of the studies on solitary confinement focus on prisoners, where the practice is still commonly used. Even that is changing though. Colorado recently changed solitary rules to limit confinement to a maximum of 15 days.
Yet, while the rest of the world comes around to the dangers of solitary confinement, two poker players decided on a ridiculous prop bet that put one in a darkened bathroom for 30 days.
If you have not heard about the $100,000 bet between Rory Young and Rich Alati, here is the gist:
- Alati was in a dark hotel bathroom.
- There was no light; there was no bed, there was no human interaction.
- He got food delivered at random times so he couldn’t figure out how much time had passed.
- And if he came out before the 30 days are up, he owed Young $100,000.
Surprisingly, the bet ended in a buyout on Tuesday after going on for 20 days. According to Darren Rovell, of The Action Network, it was not Alati who called it off, either. Young negotiated a buyout with his confined friend, bringing Alati back out into the light.
If you aren’t aware, this was a stupid idea
Poker has a history of prop bets that draw the entire industry’s attention. Weight loss bets, biking to Las Vegas, and, of course, the infamous Ashton Griffin treadmill bet. In 2011, a 22-year-old Griffin booked $900,000 of action that he could not run 70 miles on a treadmill in 24 hours.
He ended up going the distance. In the wake, several news articles were trumpeting his heart and effort. Some even called him brave.
There were a few though that pointed out this was an extraordinarily dangerous endeavor. Griffin could have easily died or had a heart attack. According to roommate Haseeb Qureshi, his parents and family were begging Qureshi to call off the bet because they were so scared for his safety. They didn’t think this endeavor was brave of their son at all.
‘It is dangerous’
With Alati’s bet, several stories are floating around treating the bet as something quirky and interesting. They call it crazy the same way you would call a roller coaster ride crazy, not the mentally ill crazy.
Mental illness is at the heart of this whole venture though. Any serious discussion of solitary confinement necessarily addresses the psychological impact.
Dr. Stuart Grassian is used to discussing the psychological side effects of solitary. He has testified before the Supreme Court on the subject. He served on the faculty at Harvard Medical School from 1974 to 2003 and had extensively researched solitary confinement and interviewed hundreds of prisoners about their experiences. USPoker spoke to Grassian before the bet ended about the medical impact it could have on Alati.
Even though Alati was in this situation of his own accord, Grassian says the risks are still present.
“The risk is a little different because he has the opportunity to get out,” Grassian explained. “He could start hallucinating. He could start feeling paranoid. There’s even a risk of suicide. You’d have to hope that if he got mentally sick in there, he would recognize it and get out rather than continuing to plunge deeper into mental illness.”
Another important point to consider is that, though he could leave, Alati may be too motivated to listen to his instincts.
“Anyone who is willing to do that may well be so stubborn that they would choose to plunge deeper and deeper into this torture. I think it is not a good idea that it is happening.”
The risks extend beyond the bathroom
Alati may be out of the bathroom, but he is not out of the clear yet. His experiences in confinement could have far-reaching impact.
“It is dangerous. It could have a continuing effect on him. Assuming he emerges alive, it could affect him going forward and he may not know that,” said Grassian.
Alati and Young did make an effort to plan for contingencies, even drawing up a contract both signed. What is missing from this is an impartial medical professional who could call the bet off should Alati display signs of mental illness.
Even if the two wanted to include one, it might have been difficult to find someone willing to supervise. Grassian, for example, adamantly expressed his concern the bet was even taking place.
“I think it is a stupid and crazy thing to do.”
Not to say that Alati is doomed for psychosis. Grassian pointed out that people pay good money to spend some time in sensory deprivation tanks. For many, the disassociative experience of the tank is something they enjoy. Still, those experiences are limited to a few hours, not a few weeks.
The risk does not outweigh the reward for the expert, even if it is $100,000.
“They’re putting someone in a psychologically damaging situation for a bet. Why not just put your hands over a flame and see who can last longer?”