On March 10, 2014 I testified at the State Capitol Building at the Senate Hearing on banning solitary confinement for offenders with a serious mental illness. Granted the bill does have it’s flaws, such as allowing CDOC to define “serious mental illness” and allows for those with a serious mental illness to be placed in solitary confinement if exigent circumstances exist; while allowing CDOC to also define “exigent circumstances”. That works as long as we have Executive Director Raemisch is in charge but that changes if someone else gets elected and appoints another Executive Director, who then is free to abuse that power as always happened in the past.
Most of those who testified at the hearing brought up this fact, that “serious mental illness” and “exigent circumstances” must be statutorily defined to prevent the prison system abuse that brought us to this point and the senators seemed to want to give CDOC the benefit of the doubt but also seemed willing to strip them of that power should they abuse it. From my experience, any power will be abused by the system.
The senators themselves appeared truly concerned about the solitary confinement issue, but like most people in power, also lacked a full understanding of the issue and wanted to apply theoretical solutions. That is, until Senator Linda Newell asked me to help her establish effective programs for the prisoners, before and after release. Senator King also brought up a good point, that the State government had failed in it’s responsibility to take care of indigent mentally ill citizens who went to prison instead of the proper mental health facilities. He stated correctly that it’s not the responsibility of the Dept. of Corrections to deal with the mentally ill so mentally ill prisoners should be held somewhere other than prison.
The CDOC Deputy Director spoke about how offenders are seen monthly by prison mental health experts so that no one with a serious mental illness stays in solitary confinement but I explained to the senators that this monthly visit consisted of mental health going door to door asking if we were ok. In a world of machismo, very few admit to mental illness or mental weakness in front of others and many are too mentally ill to know they aren’t ok. Plus, mental health staff who treat us with compassion and do their jobs are harassed by the guards until they quit or treat us as sub-human like the culture demands.
My testimony related to my personal experience with 8 years in solitary confinement; the mental issues and adaptation to the real world after my release. I don’t think anyone expected to hear from someone who had lived it for so long but my message was taken seriously. They’re creating monsters and I have the solution. Hopefully, Senator Newell and I can make a difference.
It felt good to be the voice for those who can’t speak for themselves but this is only the beginning. I won’t rest until the system is set up in the rational manner that I have put together in my prison recidivism plan. I thank those who have encouraged my fight and listened with compassion.