A few years ago I toured a solitary confinement unit at a prison facility. A place where my own son had been housed and where many others that I have come to know in prison have been housed. Rows of doors, utter silence except the sound of footsteps on the floor as we walked through, curious faces peering through windows and then quickly disappearing. I saw the dog run where the inmate was given the opportunity to exercise, just cement walls with a chain link covering to let in the outside air.
Inside those cells were men, locked away for months, years and even a decade....in isolation. Torturous and inhumane treatment by international standards. The weapon of torture used by other nations trying to break the minds and wills of prisoners of war. The devastating consequences of such treatment? We are just now reaping the consequences of our thoughtless actions.
Last week a man of influence in such matters was murdered, Tom Clements the Director of Colorado Department of Corrections. Mr. Clements brought about more positive reform measures in the Department of Corrections in his two year tenure than had been done over the previous decade. Mr. Clements realized the dangers of solitary confinement and releasing former offenders from solitary confinement directly to the streets. Mr. Clements believed in step down re-integration for inmates held in solitary confinement. Mr. Clements worked to reform the use of solitary in the state of Colorado and many inmates who had been held in solitary for many years were transitioned to other facilities. This was not lost on the inmate population at large. They are very grateful for the reform measures that Mr. Clements put in place. Many other prison reform measures had been implemented or were in the works.
I was told that the atmosphere inside of the prisons is one of disbelief and sorrow over the murder of Mr. Clements. "We just look at each other and shake our heads. We can't believe that the one person who was willing to give us a chance is gone. We hope that everyone realizes we are worth it and they keep changing things for the better." The reforms Mr. Clements had brought to the facilities were giving the inmates hope and with hope comes a new level of responsibility for making positive changes in their own lives so that the new opportunities were not wasted. That is right. If you start treating a person with respect, give them hope and encourage them, they will begin to take advantage of the opportunity and the hope.
Unfortunately Mr. Clements was taken too soon. Our hearts and our prayers are with his family and will continue as they walk through this painful time. Mr. Clements widow spoke of him as a man of forgiveness and how he believed that everyone should be given a second chance. She asked that everyone honor that by offering forgiveness to the one who took his life and his family.
The horror and pain and suffering that Mr. Ebel's family is living is equally as devastating. They never imagined that the son they held as a child would one day loose his life in a shoot out with sheriff's. It never occurred to them that their son would take the life of a friend.
In an article published by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, a picture is painted that gives insight to Mr. Ebel's mental state before this crime. It talks of the effects of years of solitary confinement on a mind, the fear and terror that comes with being released from solitary to the streets. The impact of prison on a person and the brutality that is prison. It puts a face to all the research, the reports and the TRUTH that speaks of the need to reform prison practices.
Maybe....just maybe....the only good that will come from this tragedy is our final awakening to prison reform. One can only hope. Here is the article. "He Was Freaking."
There is a common misconception in our country, that our legal system is good and just and fair. There is a common misconception that we are civil and progressive and community and human focused. You would think, with all the public outcry over individual rights, human rights and over health and healthy communities, that we would be diligent over justice policies, arrest, prosecution and all criminal prosecution. We are not. We have no accountability, no oversight. We are responsible for some of the most reprehensible human treatment in the western world. We are responsible for some of the worst miscarriages of justice and we make no apologies, only excuses, for our mistakes.
I want to bring before you, two examples of how justice functions in our nation. I want you to consider with sincere heart these examples and then ask yourself, who have we become? Who are we as a nation? What can we possibly offer as reason for this reprehensible actions? Is this who we are? Is this healthy?
Isn't there a better way?
This girl was charged as an adult for the death of her grandmother when her grandmother died from a heart attack after the two had argued. She was 16 years old at the time that her grandmother, her primary care giver, died and she was charged as a criminal in her death. She was initially transferred to adult court and therefore held in an adult jail. She was broken, hurting, grieving and fighting for her future as a CHILD.
Story Here - Words Can't Explain
The next example is from a recent settlement in a civil law suit against a county in New Mexico. Stephen Slevin had been arrested and charged with a DWI. He NEVER had a hearing and was never convicted of a crime yet he spent 22 months in solitary confinement at the county jail. He was eventually released and brought a suit against the county to shed light on the conditions of confinement at this jail. Remember, this man never had his day in court. Story Here - Two year Ordeal In Soitary
Every day there are stories of exoneration's for those wrongfully convicted. Those exoneration's come after 10, 15 and 20 years of court battles. Then there are the stories of those executed who were proved innocent AFTER their death. We house juvenile offenders in adult jails in solitary confinement. We lock men and women away for long years as punishment for crimes and we do not care for them. We feed them crap food, give them no education, no counseling, no rehabilitation, we don't give them positive life skills and we do not train them for the work force. We lock them away, dehumanize them in every way we can and then believe that we are building healthy strong communities.
We have an opportunity, here in Colorado, to make meaningful, lasting changes in our juvenile justice policies. We have been handed the golden opportunity for reform through the recent Supreme Court rulings on juvenile life. It could be a spring board to begin healthy rehabilitation practices and stop throwing away or giving up on children. From the looks of it, we don't have the guts.
So these scenarios will continue to play out in America, land of the brave, home of the free.
As parents we deal with impatient children, lines, deadlines and trying to motivate our children to move in the direction we choose....when we choose it. Teenagers seem to have their own mind set, their own agenda and their own speed. If we want them to accomplish something around the house or to do something at a specific moment in time...they move like turtles and usually while not making eye contact. When it is their turn, when they need us to do something for them? It takes US forever. Driving through rush hour traffic to pick them up from practice, takes forever. Getting ourselves ready, dinner for the rest of the family and out the door to deliver your teen to the movies takes forever. But how long IS forever?
For a teenage it is hard for them to see past the months calender. it is hard for them to chart a direct course to the end of the school year. It is hard to imagine that the day they graduate and go to college will ever REALLY come. Their immaturity and inexperience keeps them from evaluating time and space in a reasonable manner. It keeps them from being able to discern what is urgent and what really doesn't have to happen this very minute. The adolescent choices that we empower them with can seem larger than life to them and they don't always make good decisions. That is why we allow them to make minor decisions under our supervision. They can make a wrong choice and we can help them get back on track and make better choices in the future. Sometimes......Sometimes it costs them more than we can imagine.....more than WE can envision.
SOMETIMES IT COSTS THEM UNTIL FOREVER!......THE REST OF THEIR LIFE?......IN PRISON?
This week juvenile justice advocates across the nation are hosting a variety of events and opportunities to promote faith and healing for those who are involved in the juvenile justice system. Over the past few weeks we have posted articles from victims who have had a change of heart concerning the individual or individuals involved in criminal acts of violence. We have watched over the past few years as policies and legislation has brought us closer to reform and rehabilitation models. This week are are focusing on sharing stories and examples of faith, hope and rehabilitation in action.
We can do better than throwing a young life away. We can do better than vengeance. We ARE better than this. Join the fight to give juveniles a meaning opportunity to give back.
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