I’ve been in prison. Sheltering in place is terrifying.

For those of us in the latter group, our fears about sheltering in place aren’t rational. I know that. Even if you’re alone, locking down for a pandemic isn’t the same as solitary confinement. It’s not jail, it’s not prison — it’s not even close. There are phones and clocks and friendly voices. There are colors and music and families and dogs and windows that open. And unlike solitary confinement, shelter-in-place serves a clear purpose for the public good.

But the uncertainty, shifting rules and social disruption of Covid-19 “is a throwback to the total lack of control you feel in prison,” Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist and professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, Calif., told me. He has studied the effects of prison conditions and solitary confinement on people behind bars.

Self-isolation is “a form of retraumatization,” he said. “People feel hemmed in, and it reminds them all too gruesomely of their time in solitary confinement.”

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