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."
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