The past few weeks have been wrought with sadness and lingering questions over the untimely death of Colorado Department of Corrections Director, Tom Clements.
Although I did not know Mr. Clements personally, I held him in high regard for the compassion and dedication he had to prison reform. Mr. Clements did not advocate the use of solitary confinement and implemented many changes to see that the inmate population held in such torturous conditions was significantly reduced. Mr. Clements was concerned by the number of inmates that were released directly from solitary confinement to community corrections or to the streets. He was aware of the difficult adjustments inmates encountered when they were released from solitary confinement. Not only did he seek to implement behavior modification plans to deter the use of solitary but he also implemented step down practices to ease re-entry into general population.
In an article from the Colorado Independent written by Susan Greene, Tom Clements is quoted, “You have to ask yourself the question – How does holding inmates in administrative segregation and then putting them out on a bus into the public, [how does that] square up?” Clements said.
“We have to think about how what we do in prisons impacts the community when [prisoners] leave,” Clements continued. “It’s not just about running the prison safely and securely. There’s a lot of research around solitary and isolation in recent years, some tied to POWs and some to corrections. My experience tells me that long periods of isolation can be counter-productive to stable behavior and long-term rehabilitation goals."
Unfortunately the plans that Mr. Clements proposed were not supported by the Colorado government. In this testimony from the father of the accused killer of Mr. Clements, we see the impact of solitary on his son. "As early as a year ago, Evan Ebel’s father, Jack Ebel, testified before a committee of the Colorado State Legislature that after years in solitary, his son had trouble communicating during visits. ”Even though he’s well-read and he’s a good conversationalist and gentle — he started out that way, what I’ve seen over six years is he has become increasingly … he has a high level of paranoia and [is] extremely anxious. So when he gets out to visit me, and he gets out of his cell to talk to me, I mean he is so agitated that it will take an hour to an hour-and-half before we can actually talk,” Jack Ebel told legislators. He was speaking in favor of a bill that would have more closely monitored the mental health of individuals in solitary, and required that they spend some time in the general population before their release from prison. (The bill was voted down.)" Read More here from Solitary Watch
There have been several law suits filed in Colorado concerning the use of solitary confinement, the conditions of confinement and the destructive nature of such torturous confinement. Ultimately it is we, the people, who are responsible for allowing these things to happen in our state and we must take responsibility for our ignorance and apathy. Maybe we can justify the course of action by believing that those held behind bars are just too sick and corrupt and therefore such confinement practices must be used. However, it is not true. Anyone deprived in such conditions of confinement will suffer mental breakdown. Here is testimony from a political prisoner held in Iran in solitary confinement. ( Sarah Shroud is a writer, educator and prison rights advocate currently based in Oakland, California. She had been living in the Middle East for over a year, teaching Iraqi refugees and living in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, when she was captured by Iranian forces somewhere along an unmarked border between Iran and Iraq in July 2009, and held in solitary confinement for 410 days. She has written for the New York Times, CNN, and Newsweek's Daily Beast and is currently writing a book with Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal about their experience as hostages in Iran.)
"In prolonged isolation, the human psyche slowly self-destructs. On my worst days, I screamed and beat at the walls. I experienced hallucinations -- bright flashing lights and phantom footsteps -- nightmares, insomnia, heart palpitations, lethargy, clinical depression, and passive suicidal thoughts. I would pace my cell incessantly, or crouch like an animal by the food slot at the bottom of my cell door, listening for any sound to distract me. When I finally got books and television, I found it difficult to concentrate. I would sometimes spend an entire afternoon trying to read the same page, until I got fed up and threw my book against the wall.
The only thing I thought about for over a year in solitary was the day that I would no longer have to be alone, but, ironically, it wasn't that simple. When I was finally released, I found it hard to make eye contact or be touched. My breathing remained labored and many of the symptoms I experienced in prison -- insomnia, hypertension, and anxiety -- persisted on the outside. Like many people with post-traumatic stress disorder, I sometimes drank too much to try and escape my symptoms. More than once I became belligerent, dangerously paranoid, or hopelessly depressed -- sometimes walling myself up in my house for days at a time." (read complete story - Solitary Watch Buried Alive)
The Governor of Colorado, in a statement at Mr. Clements memorial service, declared that they would continue Mr. Clements vision and work. Given the track record of the Colorado legislature concerning prison reform, sentencing reform, parole reform and mental health measures......I am not hopeful.
Thank You Mr. Clements for who you were and all you accomplished.
More articles on the atrocity of solitary confinement in Colorado - Fortress of Solitude (2), Confinement on Trial in Colorado, Federal Judge Criticizes Supermax Confinement in Colorado, Judge Rules Against Colorado Supermax, CDOC in Need Of Correction
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