A photograph from "National Geographic Explorer" shows the indoor exercise rooms at Colorado State Penitentiary.
"I go to bed crying sometimes because I feel I have no hope of being outside of that cell any more,"
The Colorado prison system has been notoriously known for its over use of solitary confinement. Colorado has also been know to have a higher rater of incarceration than the national average. Thanks to organizations like the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Solitary Watch, Supermaxed and diligent congress men and women....the light is beginning to come on concerning torture in America.
While prisons cut education programs, rehabilitation programs and re-entry programs, the use of solitary confinement has increased. Stands to reason really, with nothing to focus on, with no outlet for energy, with no positive direction focused on rehabilitation....you might have trouble. Except that the extended use of solitary confinement is shown to CAUSE trouble.
Colorado Department of Corrections requested an outside examination of their solitary confinement practices. Once the audit was complete, here is the report issued:
Colorado Department of Corrections Administrative Segregation and Classification Review. (click to read)
This study published in Nov. 2011 by the National Institute of Corrections Prisons Division found that Colorado had an above average percentage of inmates being held in solitary confinement regardless of their mental states and that over 40 percent of them are later directly released into the community. The findings and recommendations of the study led to significant reforms to limit the use of solitary confinement.
However, extended periods of isolation has been found to exacerbate mental illness and even cause mental illness in otherwise healthy individuals. Incidents of suicide, self mutilation and violent outbursts are found in inmates held for extended periods of time in isolation. Clearly a destructive and cruel form of punishment.
Thankfully there are champions of the cause who are challenging these practices in court. This article was written earlier this week by Alan Prendergast on a case concerning Troy Anderson and the condiitons of his confinement in Colorado State Penitentiary. "In what amounts to a landmark decision, a federal judge has ruled that the conditions of solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary constitute "a paradigm of inhumane treatment" and must change -- notably, so that inmates locked down in their cells 23 hours a day can have at least three hours a week of natural light, fresh air and outdoor exercise. "The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons, but it does forbid inhumane conditions," U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson wrote in an order issued last Friday." Read the rest of the article - Westword
You can read the articles written on the same subject by Solitary Watch. Thank you ALL for your diligence!
Until now I have been re-posting articles written by Jonny. What you need to know is the experiences that Jonny has shared are not unusual and they are not unique. Jonny was a kid when he was arrested. He was a scared kid taken from his home and transferred into an adult arena, held in county jail in solitary, did not get to go outside for almost 3 years and then, after sentencing, sent to a facility where he was on 23 hour a day lock down. Four years of his life he endured isolation, fear and fought for his life. As a kid he was given a sentence of 66 years.... 3.89 times longer than he had been alive.
These are the conditions juvenile offenders face when they are transferred to adult court and face adult sentences to adult facilities. We like to believe that this only happens to juveniles that commit horrible crimes but as the above statistics show, that is not true. A life is a terrible thing to waste. Prison or Rehabilitation? Have our youth become disposable?
Help us Turn Back The Clock for juveniles who have been sentenced in adult court. They deserve a second chance. Help us turn back the clock on juvenile justice and let's get kids back in juvenile court, with juvenile consequences, juvenile sentences, rehabilitation, education and a future.
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I believe these words are very timely given the upcoming elections, the attacks on our constitution and the bantering about "Freedom".
Recently we have been given more comforts here in ad-seg. More TV channels, more canteen selections and ultimately more distractions from our plight. Men loose themselves in a fantasy world on TV and slowly become content with the injustice of ad-seg. But isn't that the purpose of TV, radio and Internet platforms?
They are used to provide a distraction from the reality of life! Instead of thinking about what could be done to improve as humans, we worry about who is getting voted off of the island or what celebrity is doing what or who! We have decided that instead of educating ourselves on the causes that will effect us, we look to anchor men, analysts and politicians to provide the answers, to solve our problems, to plan our next move. We have sent our children to fight for the causes our "advisors" tell us are just. Yet when they are wrong or mislead us, how many look for what was truly the right or wrong cause? Very few.
The rest of us look to these same men to provide us with the answers! We have become a society that is blind and comfortable; a flock of sheep taught to believe their slavery is freedom! Debt, the key to the American dream....and what a dream it is because as long as you "own" through debt, you don't "own" anything! We fill our homes with "things", express ourselves through clothes and material possessions yet remain empty inside. Our life of chasing the American "dream" (paying the debt of that dream) rarely affords us time to grow into our full potential. I would rather be a full man in squalor than a shell of a man surrounded by lies. The belief in the modern American ideal (materialism, debt) is to believe a lie! Ruled by a totalitarian regime wearing the mask of democracy with our rights stripped in the name of freedom.
At least I know I am subject to restricted freedom as punishment. I don't know how America tolerates losing its freedom through the Patriot Act (who's name, in itself, is a joke) as a result of the acts of non-Americans. But I have noticed, as long as we are provided with distractions, living under unjust conditions becomes alright. This goes for both convicts and citizens. We must wake up! As long as we accept being oppressed, we accept not becoming whole. An oppressed man is only the shell of a real man. Like Nietzsche says, "Man may never be freer than when he fights for his freedom!" Jonny
Of the many posts that Jonny wrote, this was one of the hardest to read. Powerful! (The sister he speaks of is 18 months younger than he and autistic. This is our family.)
"Jon I need you to come home and put this toy together for me. I can't figure it out." Those were the words spoken by my sister Christmas day 2002, that nearly made me collapse with grief.
The strain and ultimate destruction the "system" causes families, and relationships in general, is probably the worst part of being caught up in the system. My sister is autistic and relys on help just to maintain her existence. She cannot cook her own food, tie her shoes...none of the simple things we take for granted. She is completely dependent on others. Since I can remember, I have cared for and tried to help my sister grow as much as possible. Change is difficult for her. She has got to have structure and for her whole life she has had her brother there. She can't comprehend what has happened to me or why. She just knows I'm gone and won't come home. Her world has been shaken and turned upside down. Not only by my incarceration but she has had to move twice, see her mother suffer the loss of her son and all without really knowing what is wrong. Guilt consumes me when I think of how I have let her down. Yet my story is not original here. So many times I have been the sounding board for grieving men as their wives leave or cheat, finding the distance of their love to much to bare.
The limited contact creates rifts and voids in relationships until they are finally torn apart. These strains are only intensified in ad-seg (Administrative Segregation) where phone calls are limited to 2 a month. Visits are behind glass and the written word is the major form of communication. An almost extinct form of communication in our high tech society. So you can sit on a concrete island waiting, watching each day, as the staff walk around passing out the mail, hoping for something to slide under your door. Not only is outside contact limited but contact with the men around me is forbidden! The goal must be to destroy social skills and shatter the person in ad seg. Yet we manage to foil any barrier placed in our way. A comb tied to string carries the kite (note or letter) to who ever I might want to communicate with. Yet the price if caught "fishing" is to lose your TV for a week and potentially extend your stay in ad seg. Yet our need for communication exceeds any fear of consequences. Even possessing string carries punishment. Losing your TV at a minimum. How ridiculous! DOC fears men who think but for what purpose? They built this world (prison). Isn't this what they desire as part of their plan? They say gangs are a problem yet secretly they encourage their progress to keep the inmate population separated and at odds with each other. This is to keep inmates from uniting against their captors. They say the weak shouldn't be preyed upon and must be protected yet they cut our pay from $2.00 a day to 60 cents per day. They say we need rehabilitation yet the one class ( anger management) required by 90% of my last facilities population, wasn't offered. How is this rehabilitation? How is this humane? How does this exist? The answer is the tax paying society allows it and only this society can change it! Jonny
As a man with a numerical death sentence, I have found it nearly impossible to further my education. No that is wrong, I have found it impossible to find instruction and guidance in furthering my education. I have been able, through self discipline and the library, to educate myself. I know that I have touched on this subject briefly before. Now I wish to expand on it as I truly feel knowledge and education are the only viable tools to fight America's crime and prison problems. I feel that the current prison system is a complete failure as a means to not only rehabilitate its wards but as a deterrent. It seems there is no deterrent out there that has ever worked in any society, to successfully eliminate crime. Even in the face of torture on the rack or hanging in the town square, crime has always been a plague upon society. If it stems from genetics, economics or family upbringing...that is beyond my scope. What I do know is our current form of incarceration, in the name of rehabilitation, is incredibly out of balance. Our focus has moved from creating men to re-enter society to purely incarceration (warehousing). Our sentences have grown longer and while our sentences have grown longer, our rehabilitative programs have shrunk. I believe serious consideration needs to be given to what works and how long it takes to successfully rehabilitate the average offender for each crime. Then you can design the sentences around that time line and create a program with incentives to comply.
Let us take, as an example, "Joe Smith" who committed a burglary and was found guilty. Now the judge can look at his history which, for arguments sake, states that "Joe" has no prior criminal history, is a high school graduate but has a drug addiction. The judge sentences him to 4 years (from a choice of 2-6), the middle ground. This sentence of 4 years should be a worst case scenario for "Joe". He should only do the four years if he fails to complete his programs. Some of what was just described is already in place but not always executed. Where my idea strays from the current system is in what comes next in "Joe's"life. He arrives at the diagnostic center (Department of Corrections Diagnostic), where he is evaluated again and given his list of programs that he is required to complete in order to earn time off of his sentence. These programs should include victim impact, drug rehabilitation and other programs related to his crime. In addition to this "Joe "
has to choose one of the trade (vocational) programs offered, which has its own training program and time credits for each completed step in his training. "Joe" has a choice, he can do nothing, learn nothing and do all four years OR "Joe" can enter into his classes and trade, fill his day with activity and cut his time down with each completed program.
The key to this is the time cuts must be EARNED while teaching him to deal with his addiction. "Joe" would also get a valuable tool (the trade he learned) which would help him start a successful career upon his release. This is a very basic model but it is an outline for what I see would be easiest to attain under our modern justice system. We use prison only as a means of punishment. That is only half of its function. The other half is rehabilitation. Which brings me to my final point. In any crowd utter the words "death penalty" and you will hear the majority of people say it is only suitable in extreme cases. But make a small play on words and call it "life" and all of a sudden state sanctioned death is all right. While a man may not be bad enough to warrant society putting a needle in his arm, he is not given the chance to redeem himself. Instead he shall suffer decades caged and eventually loose his life to the state in the states care. Is that justice? Do we have the right to a man's life? Jonny
Jonny and I have collaborated on this topic. We both believe and have seen evidence that education and rehabilitation works. We, in this country have allowed prisons to become warehouses for human lives. They are called the Department of Corrections. We should hold them to that statement. If we invested a portion of our prison budgets to rehabilitation programs education and re-entry programs we could change the life of an individual, a family and the impact that person will have in our communities. It would also stop the revolving door and help to break the cycle, in families, of incarceration. My question has always been, why do we send these young people to prison without a plan for their return to our communities? Why is it that we expect them to be a changed person upon leaving prison when we have done nothing to encourage or influence that change during their incarceration? Why do we continue to operate our prison and corrections facilities the same way, year after year, with the same inadequate results? In our state (Colorado), you are required, upon entering the department of corrections, to complete the GED program. The original intake process also evaluates the other types of programs that would be useful for the offender to take. For my son, one of the programs was Anger Management. Quite honestly, every offender entering the system should be required to take this program. You are pretty angry after being sentenced to prison. Of course it would do no good to require it for all offenders because at the facilities where my son has been housed, the program is not offered! Out of 3 facilities, which all house offenders with long prison terms, not one facility offered the anger management course. To expect education and rehabilitation, when the most basic of treatment is not available, is an impossibility. But is it true that education and rehabilitation work? Read on.....
From Jonny: Our system is irrational. The early 90's and late 80's crime wave and gang uprising made a sensational story and many monsters (and much fear) was created out of it. So the guy (DA) who could put a monster down for life was a hero, and everyone wants to be a hero, so that became the new agenda. The problem is that they strayed from the path of what prison was created for, reformation for those who can be changed and death for those who can't. Now it's frowned upon to actually use the words "death penalty" (except in extreme cases) but life without parole (long and tortured death) is accepted as humane. That is because society doesn't actually put a needle in our arm but either way ......it's death.
We need to get back to using death sentences (life without parole or LWOP) in only extreme cases and allow for rehabilitation for the rest. DA's act on public opinion. If society cried out "No! This is wrong!" they would stop but society is not face to face with the issues. They are spoon fed fear. Look at the news, it is designed to instill fear and bring about panic. A panicked person rarely makes a rational decision, so society as a whole doesn't cry out that this is wrong. There is a reason justice is represented by a scale, it has to be balanced and right now it is out of balance....bad. A wrong must be punished but the punishment must be just. our system needs to be redesigned to rehabilitate and it actually needs to perform the function! There needs to be an extensive standard and program to go through in order to be officially rehabilitated. There needs to be classes and goals placed in front of the offender. While a numerical number must be placed (in terms of sentence) it must coincide with the maximum projected time it would take to rehabilitate the average offender who committs that act.
Education is the greatest tool against crime, in my opinion. It helps in so many ways. The sentence should be a worst case scenario for instance if you get a 4 year sentence, you will do the entire 4 years only if you do not complete any of the programs. Each program must carry a certain amount of time reduced from your sentence as a guarantee. The schedule and amount of classes must be enough to teach the offender new skills and keep him locked up long enough to deter returning. Everything must balance. While this may seem entirely optimistic to us, let me assure you that this model of rehabilitation and education are used with great success in other countries. in Germany, for instance, their entire prison system is based on education and reform. They do not hold people in prison for long periods of time and while they are in prison they are required to engage in programs to change their destructive and dysfunctional behavior.
Here in this country we have an interesting test program, if you will. San Quentin Prison University Program. This program is taught by 3000 volunteers, professors and educators from local universities. The inmates are able to receive an Associate of Arts degree. It is changing the prison climate and the future of many men. Isn't education and a productive person a better option that throwing away people in human warehouses?
Jonny and Bonnie
Since I originally posted this piece for Jonny, the state of Colorado has announced the closure of CSPII and has begun reducing the number of inmates being held in AD SEG. This is, in large part, to a suite filed by the ACLU and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture citing that Colorado over used Administrative Segregation. There have been many articles written about inmates that have been held for long periods of time (years, even decades) by Solitary Watch. Finally, there were recent hearings on the issue of solitary confinement in America and the tragedies it has caused, the mental illness it has caused and the torture that is prevalent in America's prisons.
The recent changes in Colorado's Ad Seg population has brought new issues. Most inmates previously held in Ad Seg have been transferred to two large prisons in Colorado. These prisons are now almost always locked down meaning they have almost the same restriction as a Super Max facility. These prisons have increased in the number of violent incidence and there are rumors of guard violence. It seems that the punitive measures that are being placed on all inmates are becoming a dangerous problem. There have been over 200 complaints lodged against a single facility. We must begin to look at the way we train guards, the rehabilitation process, the integration process and the conditions of confinement. We have taken their liberties from them and placed them in our charge. We are responsible for their conditions.
Administrative Segregation is know to deteriorate mental condition.....and we still use it.....
Virtual Mentor (link)
American Medical Association Journal of Ethics
February 2008, Volume 10, Number 2: 123-125.
Delivering Care in a Non-Health-Care Space
Nancy Neveloff Dubler, LLB
“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
—Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881)
If prisons provide a lens to judge our civilization then we, as a society, fail that test
I pace like an anxious animal waiting for the zookeepers to transfer me to the 30 foot by 7 foot cage with a pull up bar. The lone piece of equipment, like a dead tree standing in a desolate concrete field.
Cuff up!! Back out of the cell slowly! These are the orders I must follow as the two officers transfer me from one habitat to another. Maximum Security, the bold black letters stamped across my security designation; the two words that justify my isolation from the rest of the prison population. Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg), the two words that are my isolation, 23 hour lock-down, only moving between cages in restraints, always by 2 correctional officers (CO's).
I got officially ad seged the day after Christmas (Merry Christmas) 2007 for allegedly participating in a riot. Even though all the inmates in the gym were strip searched for signs of fighting and arrested if they had any signs that very night. I wasn't arrested until 12 days later on the word of one man, the Gang Coordinator. A man who's word was so golden to the 2 staff members presiding over my fate that even after the loss of the list identifying who was in the gym and the presentation of incident reports from 10 responding eye witness staff members (all saying they observed black and Hispanic inmates fighting with no mention of whites); I was still deemed a danger and threat to the safety and security of the prison. The only evidence relied upon was the report issued by the gang coordinator which had no mention of his sources or how he came to the conclusion of my involvement. Of course there was no mention that I had no history of violent behavior in the 4 years spend in the Colorado Department of Corrections for violence. Or that I had no disciplinary infractions in over a year. No, one mans word was more powerful than all of that.
I think Ad Seg, as a whole, should be looked at and tested to see if isolation is a reasonable means of achieving prisons entire goal of rehabilitating an offender to become a productive, functioning, law abiding citizen. Ad seg, a place where human contact is forbidden, human interaction is frowned upon. Men yell out steel doors at each other or talk through air vents for companionship discussing a variety of topics from loose women, drugs, life in the fast lane, to politics, philosophy and the latest current events. Desperate attempts at maintaining some form of social skills, some connection with humanity. Ad seg, the Department of Corrections favorite tool. Originally designed to house the worst of the worst, the incorrigible men who refuse to conform or were just to dangerous to be housed in general population. Ad-seg is now used for the violent and non-violent alike. The alcoholic who was brewing wine, now suffers the same fate as the man who continues to kill in prison. A tool overused to reap more money from a state's overstretched budget. Ad-seg is abused like every other instrument of our modern justice system. A quick fix for a growing problem, but does isolation truly work? The true mind game of Colorado's ad-seg program is there is no time line for release back to general population. You never know when or if you are getting out. Is this a tool that should be so easily employed? Jonny
We have finally made significant gains concerning the issue of direct file in Colorado. Until this year, the DA's office could transfer a juvenile case into adult court without a transfer hearing. It is now possible for a juvenile transfer case to receive a hearing and a judge will decide if the juvenile should be treated as an adult. This is to protect a juvenile offender from unnecessary publicity that would otherwise hinder his rehabilitation process and his return to his community as a productive member. At all times the best interest of the juvenile and the restoration of the family should be important. Even in the case of felony crimes or murder.
I grew up during this time. I turned 18 in 1976. I remember some events that would have turned out completely different if they happened today. One of my friends was drag racing one night. The car he was driving lost traction and he went off the road. It paralyzed him. He was ticketed for careless driving and the ticket was reduced to a speeding ticket. No one sued the other teen that he was racing, no one tried to haul my friend off to court and throw the book at him. Everyone gathered around the family and tried to help them adjust to their sons new disability. It didn't make a big news story, it didn't turn into a vendetta by the police department against young drivers.....it was a young man's mistake.
I had a friend that was getting ready to cross a street at a very busy high school intersection. A young person made a right turn and hit him breaking both of his legs. The young driver was ticketed for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a cross walk. The drivers insurance company paid for his medical and everyone forgave each other and thanked God that my friend was alive. No one went to court, no one sued, no one turned it into a vicious crime....it was an accident.
One of the star players on the girls basketball team was taken out of practice one day because she was over dosing on drugs. They took her out in an ambulance, called her parents and rushed her to the hospital. They did not arrest her on drug charges, they did not plaster her name in the papers, they did not turn her into a criminal....they helped her.
One afternoon my friend was home with his siblings and other friends. They were looking at his fathers gun when it went off and instantly killed my friends brother. No one took my friend into custody, pending investigation. No one plastered the family name all over the paper. No one questioned whether these might be gang members (because of ethnicity). No one assumed that there was any foul play. It was a fatal accident that ripped through a family and we all came along side.
One of my friends was backing out of a driveway on his way to school. The driveway sloped to the street. He didn't know that the little neighbor boy was out riding his tricycle. When he backed up, he hit the little boy and it took a minute for him to realize there was a strange noise coming from under the car. The little boy died. My friend was devastated. No one arrested him and labeled him a murderer. No one plastered his name all over the paper. No one made him out to be a monster. It was an accident.......that caused him pain for a long time. Yet he was given the opportunity to deal with that pain privately in the comfort of family and friends. No additional drama was added to the already tragic event.
This is what happens when a community takes responsibility for the actions and mistakes of their young people. Kids make dumb choices and mistakes. The most dangerous time for any mother is during the time their children are trying their wings....learning to fly solo. Sometimes the short flight takes them close to a predator, sometimes the short flights takes them into dangerous territory, sometimes the flight takes them into a situation where they must judge how to maneuver through and they fail. But that is how you learn to fly. I began searching to see how the rest of the world dealt with their juveniles. It was surprising. The Philippines, Brazil and other countries believe that juvenile offences should be dealt with by the tribal or council elders. They take care of punishment, retribution and restoration between all parties.
Then in my process to find information, I came across a very interesting web site called: Juvenile Justice Panel. This web site gives the United Nations Agreements on Juvenile Justice Issues. It talks about international conferences on juvenile justice and lists the juvenile justice policies for all United Nations Members. The United Nations believes that the rights and needs of a juvenile offender should be protected at all costs and at all times. The focus should always be training, education, cognitive development and a program designed to returning the juvenile offender to their community. The UN council also gives special attention to the holding and treatment of the accused and reminds all nations of their innocence until proven guilty. Therefore a juvenile offender charged with a crime should be held in the most careful of situations until the offender has completed the hearings process. Germany believes that a juvenile should be incarcerated only as a last resort and that the maximum term that any juvenile offender can serve is 10 years. The juvenile offenders are always housed in juvenile facilities. Most of these nations focus on cognitive behavior, education, skills training, meaningful work and a program designed for liberty at the end of the sentence.
We did not have these measures in place over the last 20 years. We condemned, brutalized and threw away juveniles, giving them outrageous prison sentences. We, as a society decided we did not want to take the time to rehabilitate or restore these young people. It is time to Turn Back The Clock on juvenile sentences and give these young people a second chance. Follow the link above to our on line petition and give
Looking up through the steel grating as the grey sky releases its contents, drenching me while nourishing the earth; water the nectar of life. Natures Wine. How often I took moments like this for granted. Growing up, it never crossed my mind there would come a time when I wouldn't be able to enjoy nature in its extremes, beauty or glory. The woods were my playground growing up, a boundless supply of bad guys, forts and adventures for a young child. My only limit was what my imagination could create. The lake across the street was my summer retreat. Hours spent in the serious work of discovery and play. How many poor gardener snakes, crawdads or salamanders were whisked out of their environment, my temporary captives, until my mean ol' parents made me return them to their homes. The five gallon bucket, that was my observation tank, rarely remained empty as I learned and became familiar with my world. The days of my youth were spent alone, for the most part, for the majority of my peers lived a good distance away. Yet I can't recall one moment of feeling lonely. I was content sharing my company with the squawking crows and chattering squirrels who thrived and enjoyed the woods with me.
There seems to always be one moment growing up that impacts who and what you are to become, for me that was moving from my childhood home of Pagosa Springs to the small city of Colorado Springs. Never before had I lived in a place where I was not allowed to go wherever I wanted because there were "creeps" and "bad guys". I had to learn that strangers were not to be trusted, a culture shock for the rural raised kid. School was a whole other story. I was now the outsider, the country boy lost in the city, but luckily I was gifted in the art of school yard brawls and wrestling matches. Not afraid to use the cowardly, but effective, sucker punch or go for the soft spots. The solar plexus or whatever extreme was necessary to get it over with. I established myself as a tough kid. My grades plummented as I became lost in a far advanced school curriculum. Slowly I drifted farther away from caring about school, concerning myself with skateboarding, music and friends. I was a naive, foolish young man upon entering high school. I turned away from education as useless.
The divorce of my parents impacted me in a huge way. It came at the age when I was ready to explore the world, ready for adventure and without the presence of a parent to oversee me, I roamed. The emotionally unstable, confused young man left to his own devises, will reach to find an outlet or help for his pain. Why is it the evils of this world (drugs, gangs, crime) are made far more readily available than the healthy, productive and above all legal? Parents you must find an interest for and of your child's, expand upon it, create a challenge, allow success or failure, give the kid aspirations and a sense of worth. Our schools teach us to create so much "affordable housing technology" and affordable luxuries like television and radio but why is it we are not creating greater individuals? Our society has no virtues or morals, nothing is sacred. People thrill us on TV by exposing how they have cheated and ruined other peoples lives. We are captivated to watch people worse off than us, telling ourselves "Well I'm not that bad, shallow or hollow." But giving a voice to such disparity, help it become normal, isn't that "bad, shallow and hollow" in itself? Jonny
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