When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina’s Prisons

This was published on The Atlantic website, written by Andrew Cohen for The Atlantic on Jan. 10th, 2014:

A judge’s order in an inmate abuse case highlights the role played, or not played, by the state’s political and legal infrastructure.

In two months, America will observe the 50th anniversary of one of its most dubious moments. On March 13, 1964, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was brutally murdered in Queens, New York. What made her case infamouslegendary, even—was that nobody responded to her cries for help. “Please help me, please help me!” she cried, over and over, and at least 38 people in her neighborhood who heard those cries did nothing to help her. They did not call the police. They did not come to comfort her. They did not, they later said, want to get involved. “When good people do nothing” is a timeless moral question, indeed.

One could say the same thing about the citizens of the state of South Carolina, who stand condemned today by one of their own. On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the “most troubling” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It’s heartbreaking.

Read the rest of this story here.

Letter from a Nevada prisoner dated Oct 11th, 2011

From: Nevada Cure:

The original of this letter is at the archives of Nevada-Cure. It was sent to Director Gregg Cox alongside a letter asking the Director to act in order to stop the abuses and excessive use of power at ESP and HDSP and wherever prisoners are vulnerable and on lockdown.

Thank you for writing me back. I received your letter on August 30, but am only now getting a chance to answer it. I have been going through so much in here for about a month because these so-called correctional officers have been denying me my meals and not only me but a couple of other inmates as well, and that senior c.o. in the bubble name Jesse Cox has been throwing away my fellow prisoners’ mail retaliating against us because of grievances and anything that we do or say. So me and several other prisoners had to do what we did to get the warden’s attention.

It’s obvious they don’t understand nonviolent protest because every time we get together and write a grievance these c.o. continue to do what they want to do “illegally” so we have to do what we have to do in a violent way to get these people to understand us. We are not animals, we are human beings that are locked down 23 hours a day in a maximum security prison in the middle of nowhere, a lot of us don’t have any family to help us (I know I don’t) and it’s hard to get people to hear our voice because the “C.O.” throw away our phone kites.

Just a few weeks ago I was removed from 4A to 4B after talking to the “caseworker” about what was going on and its like they don’t even care because after I told the caseworker what happened and why I was acting the way I was acting, they moved me to the other side (4B) with a bunch of really really mentally ill people who scream and bang on their door all day. Not only that, when they moved me into the cell, it was not clean at all. My water was turned off, my toilet was turned off and the guy who was in there before me left feces and urine in the toilet and I couldn’t flush the toilet because the co turned it off. I asked if they can turn it on so that I can flush it and the only answer I get is whistles and “chain chain chain, chain the fool” song that the c.o. sings to me just to provoke me. It keeps going and going.

That same day they refused to give me my dinner. I did nothing during chow time and they passed right by my door without even looking at me. So I flooded my room, tired of all the foul treatment, the cruel and unusual punishment, my lonely life without any help and everything else. Pencil in my hand I tell the Sgt. to go get the Cert team, come in my room and get me, I’m not cuffing up. You come in here and I’ll stab all of you. That day I was ready to die or get beat down by seven officers but it didn’t happen. They kept me in there all night until about 10 am the next morning. I was able to calm down and the warden came to talk to me. I told what happened. She acts like she cares but I know she doesn’t care at all. So I cuff up, get on my knees so that they can put the shackles on my ankles. The c.o. made a slick comment and I turned around to look him in the eyes and tell him to shut up and boom! I’m knocked to the ground with a closed fist by the officer. This isn’t the first time, so it didn’t shock me. One of the officers named Coleman that also had fun assaulting me while yelling, Stop resisting! Thrust his two fingers to the side of my neck going for my pressure point. I laughed at him because he wasn’t doing a good job at what he was doing, my body was supposed t shut down when he did that even though I was on the ground already, but it didn’t. The AWO was there, he seen what happened, why it happened, but he didn’t see it all (I wonder why?)

Well, I’m sorry for taking up your time with all this and not responding to your last letter. I will respond to your last letter, but let me tell you more. After that happened with the officers I was sent to the infirmary with no shirt, no socks, no shoes, put in a cell naked with a suicide blanket until I was seen by “mental health”. I was seen and cleared to go back to the hole. I was doing alright until one morning I was up ready to go outside so that I can get some fresh air and run a couple laps, a c.o. that did not like me told me that I couldn’t go to yard so I captured the food flap so that the Sgt. could come talk to me, he did and he said it was all a misunderstanding and I could have my yard time if only I would comply with their orders. I did. I got my recreation time and came back to my cell without any incident at all.

So I’m sitting in my cell reading a book by Chairman Mao Tse-Tung and here comes the mental health lady telling me she’s taking my yard and my phone. I didn’t care about the phone because I didn’t have anyone to call anyway and still don’t. So I ask how long are you going to take my yard time and she said, “As long as I want to.” I told her she couldn’t do that because I didn’t do anything and she walked away, so I flooded my room to get the sgt. or warden’s attention but to no avail. The C.E.R.T team comes and tells me they are going to clean out my cell and search it. They did and they also took me to another cell and strapped me down to a bed naked in a camera room and while they were strapping me down I told the CERT officer that I can finally look him in the eyes. He pulled my hair, pulled it so hard that my head lifted and turned my head the other way, pushed it down on the bed. A week later I got strapped down again for talking to another prisoner down the way from where I was and then they moved me to another cell and refused to let me shower and have a towel. So I flooded again. Nothing happened that night. The next morning mental health lady comes to my door and tells me that they are going to be taking my mattress every morning from 6 am to 6 pm. I told her no, you’re not. They took it from me and I slept on the cold dirty nasty stinking bug infested floor all night. They did not give it back to me at all. I was cold, without clothes, just a suicide blanket, naked sleeping on the floor. Did I write a grievance? No. Why? Because all I’m going to get is grievance denied, grievance denied, and grievance denied. I tell you this because nobody else listens to me at all. I hope that you understand the life I live in prison.

Well, as you probably already know, I will not be able to get a job here at Ely because of all the things I’ve been doing (It’s not my fault). They’re violating my rights; they’ve been doing it for the longest now. But there’s nothing I can do because I don’t have any help in here or out there. I hope that you can help me or get the IG or AG to talk to me because if this continues I don’t think I’m going to make it out of prison, and in my mind I don’t even think that I am going to get out of prison and I’m not even a lifer.

Now, on the lawsuit that I want to file is for something that happened down in High Desert. I did not want to shower in my room because it was dirty so the officer took me to the other shower up front in the infirmary to the shower. I started yelling and screaming, that’s all, and the officer opened the shower gate, snatched me out and slammed me on my face, punched me in the left side of my face, then my nose, causing it to bleed and then he put a pillow case over my head. I couldn’t see or breathe and I was down after that. I was scared, terrified and paranoid because of the cruel and unusual punishment and the excessive force that was used on me. (Like always). If you would like for me to send you a copy of my notice of charges I will do that because the c.o. even says that he hit me in the face and put a pillowcase over my head. It says that in my write up that he wrote (which I know is enough for a law suit).

Well, thank you for your time…

More Abuses at Ely State Prison reported

We received this letter too:
Sent on March 16/17th 2011, received on March 22nd via an emailprogram:

“On March 16, 2011, 2 Correctional Officers hand-cuffed me and took me inside a small
medical room to review some documents. Due to me being hand-cuffed from the back, I was unable to, and the nurse who had the documents told me that I would not be able to take notes.

So it was impossible for me to view the documents with my hands tied behind my back and without any pencil and paper to oppose two Motions I have in Nevada District Court No. 2:10-cr 01340 – ILIO LRL in Vegas.

I told the nurse I will inform the courts of this. And the Nurse and Correctional Officers became angry. The Correctional Officers placed me back in my cell. As I placed my hands out the flap for them to take the cuffs off, C.O. Mr Davis called me a bitch and pulled my right arm out of the flap with the hand cuff still on it, and the other C.O. began yanking the hand-cuff pulling my skin back. C.O. Davis raised his right leg up and attempted to break my right arm and missed. The other Officer kept yanking my arm with the cuff on it.

Afterwards they made threats to kill me, and the Nurses and the CERT team were just
standing there. Officer Davis said “Fuck your legal shit”; the Nurses refused to give me medical treatment. I now sit here leaking badly from my arm and I have large marks on my arm. I need help. Now, they just denied me dinner, I will starve.

Case nr: 10-16778, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

Raymond Watison #1031835
Ely State Prison
P.O. Box 1989
Ely, NV 89301

Another report of a beating of a handcuffed prisoner at Ely State Prison

Received by mail, June 2010

Dated and mailed 5-18-10
To all concerned parties

On 1-15-10 while incarcerated at Ely State Prison, I was assaulted while handcuffed by two Senior correctional officers (S.c.o. D. and S.c.o. S.) under the Watch of a ranked officer by the name of Lieutenant M. This is no surprise to me. The fact that both these S.c.o. weigh collectively 600 plus pound attacking me like vicious animals is no surprise to me. What is a surprise to me is that a lieutenant would disregard my safety and stand by and watch as I´m slammed for no reason, head first into the wall, my face busted and he does not intervene. I´m then slammed to the floor by both these 6ft plus 300 plus pounds individuals and repeatedly punched in the face by one while the other sits on my back with his hand holding my neck to the cold floor.

Now I probably should have seen this coming, because when the lieutenant approached my door and ordered for me and my cellmate to turn around so we could be cuffed up. I ask him before cuffing up. ´Where´s the camera?´ This arrogant lieutenant made a gesture pointing at his eyes and told me his eyes were the camera.

Not wanting to give those officers the opportunity to try and justify opening the door and beating me worse then they did when I had the handcuffs on, I complied and turned around and was cuffed up, which is when the beating took place. How IS THIS? How can these people continue to carry on with no regard for our lives and keep getting away with it?

PLEASE help me understand. Is this what they are hired for? To try and beat us into submission causing us to receive stitches, endure pain, all the while charging us hundreds of dollars for getting less than average at best of treatment for the injuries they inflict on us.

PLEASE SOMEBODY, ANYBODY: HELP! The life that you could help save might be that of one of your loved ones.

PS You know, there´s always a twist to a story. Well here´s the twist to mine. The lieutenant whom I speak of, who stood by and let those officers beat me while I was in handcuffs, is the same one who allowed officers to go in and beat inmates in Unit 4 of this same prison on January 31st, 2010. And the officer who was stabbed (S.c.o. S.) is the same one who just two weeks prior to this January 31st 2010 incident was one of the ones who the lieutenant stood by and watched and allowed to slam my face into the wall and repeatedly punch me in my face while my head was held down by another officer. Coincidence? NOT HARDLY. IMAGINE THAT!

Legal assistance needed if possible.

Damien Dennis
P.O. Box 1989
Ely, NV 89301

The horror show that is Ely State Prison

I am an inmate at Ely State Prison (ESP) and have been for the last 9 years. I wanted to write and inform you about some of the horror show that is Ely State Prison. You can´t imagine the utter and absolute horror show this prison really is on the inside.

Here is an example from about 6 to 8 weeks ago. Officers went to a lock down unit to get a hot pot from an inmate. He refused to give it to them (this was on a Saturday: no wardens). So they extracted him. When other inmates began to yell at the officers for their extraction method, the number of officers grew and they did 6 to 8 more unnecessary extractions that sent 4 or 5 inmates out of the prison to the hospital in town to get treatment for their injuries. The lieutenant (Minik or Minnick) from that shift was fired about a week or so later. The shift sergeant from that shift (Bryant) was also the squad sergeant in charge of the Redman extraction that resulted in his death.

People in here die on a fairly regular basis. About three months ago a guy in unit 5 was beaten so bad over the course of 3 days by his cellie that he needed to be life-flighted out of here.

I have lived in general population and held a job in here for the last 8 ½ years. As I´m sure you know unit 8 is the only open unit in the prison and it is where the “workers” live. At one time, about two months ago there were about 140 workers. The administration is now in the process of getting that number down to 94 and housing all of us on one wing of unit 8 and locking down the other half.

Now I´m not sure if you know how this prison was designed, but to really understand, I´ll quickly explain. There are 8 units here, 4 units are considered general population, they are on one side of the prison; units 5, 6, 7 and 8. They each have an A and a B wing with 48 cells, 24 downstairs and 24 right above upstairs. Each wing was designed to house 48 people. Long ago, they put a second bunk in the 3 thru 24 cells (cells 1 and 2 are medical singles) that brought the number of inmates to 72 a unit.

About 3 ½ years ago they put second bunks in cells 25 thru 48, now they cram 94 inmates into a unit. In the lock down units it makes it loud and the stale air is brutal as well as the heat. In unit 8 as in the other units there are only 4 showers, 2 telephones and tables for 48 people to sit. Plus on the wall in the unit along with “no smoking” it says “Maximum occupancy 90,” which was probably put there by the Fire Marshall, but I´m sure the zero will be painted over and made into a four. That´s how they do things inside here. To start this process of getting down to 94 workers they have changed the times we are allowed out of our cells… well they actually took time away from us. See the pages I enclosed.

Here is another example. Some time ago an inmate sued the prison (ESP), because it was not handicap-accessible. After he won and the prison got some grant money to fix some things, they took the non-handicap accessible urinal off the “main yard.” So now there is no urinal on the yard. The officers here now look the other way while people urinate in an outside drain by the trash compactor. They will not let people go into the gym or back into the unit and then back out again. So if you want to stay outside you basically have to break the law.

Here is another policy that was started because people here and also at High Desert (HDSP) started refusing to live with someone in a lock down situation that has no end, for the main reason that it becomes very dangerous. They force you to live with people, especially here at ESP, in a small cell where you never have any time to yourself. They don´t tell you if the other person has HIV, Hep C or mental problems. The number of cell fights they have here at Ely is unreal. And until both inmates come to the door and get handcuffed, the officers will not enter a cell. So you could be getting your head split open and all they will do is gas the cell with pepper spray. And when under normal conditions if one person or both are leaving the cell, both people have to get handcuffed first. Well, on a regular basis one person will wait until his cellie gets cuffed first, then attack, because they know the officers won´t come into the cell until he cuffs up also. It makes for a very dangerous situation.

So in response people were refusing to cell with another person in a lock down situation and would go to the hole. Well since so many people were doing this, they changed the rules so that now you get none of your appliances for the first 60 days in the hole, then you petition for 1 appliance, and then 1 more, in another 60 days. Yet they can take them if you break any rules. If they don´t like you, you´ll never have your appliances.

Like I´ve said, you can´t imagine the horror show ESP really is on the inside.

Received per mail on May 20th 2010

Nevada prisoners being pushed to the edge

From: SF Bay View

April 13, 2010

by Marrio Moreland

Northern Nevada Correctional Center, Carson City

I am a convicted person serving time for voluntary manslaughter in the state of Nevada. Although this letter may not digest well with some, these will be true statements and facts about how we as human beings are being subjected to abuse and retaliation for exercising the little rights we do have inside these walls and gates that is separating us from society. This is only one of many letters sent out by inmates who are incarcerated in Nevada’s Department of Correctional Centers, pleading for help and justice!

We believe that we inmates are being used for political gain due to the economy and budget cuts. We are starting to believe we are being pushed to the edge so that the Nevada prison system can justify their request for more funds. In less than 60 days there has been two unjustified assaults on two different inmates by correctional officers here at Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC). The two inmates’ names are Marrio Moreland (#79800) and Anthony Lewis (#96337).

On Jan. 7, 2010, an assault occurred on inmate Marrio Moreland. He along with his cellie was removed from their cell by five correctional officers for an uncertain reason soon after breakfast. Inmate Moreland was verbally abused by a correctional officer and then viciously slammed to the ground by the same correctional officer acting on a direct order given by his lieutenant. Later, following said assault, Moreland was then sexually discriminated against.

On Feb. 26, 2010, an assault with battery occurred on an inmate named Anthony Lewis. He is in fact a person who has several disorders: 1) cracked C-2 spinal cord, 2) paralyzed on the right side, 3) he has colones, 4) he drags his right foot and 5) he depends on a wheelchair for mobility. Mr. Lewis and his cellie were returning from the shower when the officer literally pushed this gentleman from his wheelchair, pinned him to the floor and viciously banged his head on the concrete floor several times for no explainable reason.

At the time of both these two assaults the inmates were in restraints. These two assaults are two of many that has occurred here at Northern Nevada Correctional Center (NNCC). I have no other choice but to reach out this way because other attempts to find assistance have been spoiled.

Because of what’s called “abuse of authority,” the administration has a grievance complaint system in place that the inmate population no longer trusts. This administration has given correctional officers the authority to either approve or deny inmates’ rights, also the right to act as their own chain of command, by trying to do away with the inmate grievance procedure and punish us for following and exercising our rights.

This action is causing correctional officers to become very aggressive toward inmates. They are not obeying their own rules and regulations day by day yet have no fear of consequences from the administration.

As this letter is being addressed, I am housed in a segregated unit that has birds flying around inside. The birds are dropping their manure on the serving table, flying over the food while it’s being prepared, landing on the carts while the food is on the carts. The sanitation is poor, the showers are not sanitized, inmates are now being subjected to a disease called Mersa – it’s a well known disease that’s caused by poor sanitation. These acts are inhumane to a human being of the United States of America.

The statements I’ve made describe only a few barbarous actions that occur behind these gates. It’s said that each person of the United States of America should be “emancipated.” The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863. Nevertheless, the great saying “liberty and justice for all” – whatever happened to that? Does it even apply to the Nevada Department of Corrections?
I am housed in a segregated unit that has birds flying around inside. The birds are dropping their manure on the serving table, flying over the food while it’s being prepared, landing on the carts while the food is on the carts.

I would like to add there’s a deaf inmate who has seizures living in a medically inadequate cell by himself. He has seizures and was saved only because of an inmate passing by and that was by the grace of God.

As I close, I pray that this letter will get to the attention of many, making them aware of the trauma that the inmates here at Northern Nevada Correctional Center are experiencing. The administration will probably retaliate against me, but what else can they do to me? They have stripped me of my dignity, so there’s nothing else to abandon me of. This is an issue that needed a voice and I am that voice.

My name is Marrio Moreland, 79800, P.O. Box 7000, Carson City, NV 89702. I’m just seeking help and justice!

The Systematic and Institutional Drivers of Abuse and Lack of Safety: Expert testimony on Isolation

These are transcripts from the hearings conducted in 2006 by the Commission on Safety and Abuse. Read the full report here.

The text on abuse and solitary confinement is a good example of what needs to be learned by those in powers in Nevada´s prisons and Ndoc.

Commission on safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, Day 2:

The Systematic and Institutional Drivers of Abuse and Lack of Safety (July 19-20 2006): Expert testimony on Isolation

This panel addressed the forms of isolation, when it’s used and for whom, and the effects of living in isolation and working in an isolation unit. The panel also offered ideas about how to limit the use of isolation and how to create a safer and more humane use of this extreme form of confinement.

Dr. Stuart Grassian, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts — A psychiatrist and former faculty member of the Harvard Medical School, he described the damaging psychological effects of prolonged isolation—what he calls the Security Housing Unit “SHU” syndrome.”

Fred Cohen, Tucson, Arizona — An expert consultant and court-appointed monitor in several states, he addressed the rise of isolation and the special case of the supermax prison and discussed why mentally ill prisoners often end up in isolation and its caustic effects on them.

James Bruton, White Bear Lake, Minnesota — Former warden of the supermax prison in Oak Park, Minnesota, and author of “The Big House: Life Inside a supermax Security Prison,” he discussed how he restricted the use of isolation—relying on it only for protection, never as punishment—and what he did to make that experience more humane and less damaging.

Source: http://www.prisoncommission.org/transcripts/public_hearing_2_day_1_panel_2_Isolation.pdf

DR. GRASSIAN: Thank you. Thanks to the commissioners for allowing me to address you today.
I wanted to start by saying very clearly and very simply, the evidence is overwhelming and conclusive that solitary confinement, housing an inmate alone 22, 23 hours a day, in a small cell, with minimal environmental stimulation and opportunities for social interaction can cause and does cause severe psychiatric harm.

It’s also been, I think at this point, pretty clearly established that part of that harm is a very specific syndrome associated with these kinds of conditions of confinement which in its most severe cases can result in an overpsychotic state, agitated delusional, hallucinatory psychosis with great deal of confusional elements. Actually, it’s a form of delirium that can occur. We often think of delirium as being a product of an absence of adequate internal alerting systems, or particular activating systems parts of the brain not functioning properly, but for individuals who are deprived of an adequate level of external stimulation, the same phenomenon can occur, and the prison system is a particularly toxic environment for producing it. In one part, because prisoners who end up in solitary confinement are very commonly precisely the same group of people who are the most vulnerable 8 to getting these kinds of very severe psychiatric affects.

The prisoners who end up in solitary confinement tend to be affectively labile, labile, impulse ridden, people with poor internal controls. You very often see people with one or another sign of subtle central nervous system dysfunction, people who have had childhood histories of severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; these are the types of 16 individuals who are not going to be able to tolerate prison conditions very well, they are going to have difficulty and if the prison’s response is one of putting them in solitary confinement, you can predict, quite clearly, that they’re going to get sicker, they’re going to get more agitated and they’re going to, very often, be stuck in this vicious cycle where 23 the more agitated, the more out of control they become, the more the prison response is to put them in these very stringent conditions of isolation, for extremely long periods of time.

Fred was talking about the comparison between psychiatric seclusion and solitary confinement. Well, psychiatric seclusion, in most jurisdictions, there are very stringent controls on how long a person can be kept there with monitoring every number of minutes, psychiatric review every hour. And now we’re having a situation where people are being kept in solitary confinement and literally mentally rotting, becoming psychotic, paranoid delusional and they’re being kept there for years.

This is not just a problem with people who have had serious mental illness prior to incarceration. There are many people, documented cases, many documented cases of people who develop this very characteristic, psychiatric syndrome, associated with solitary confinement during periods of incarceration in solitary, people who had no prior history of serious mental disorder but had vulnerabilities factors, such as attention deficit disorder, central nervous system dysfunction, things of that sort.

So this is not — I want the commissioners to understand, I don’t think this is a question that’s open to debate. I have provided you with a very large statement on this issue, citing about 100 references in medical literature. This is a problem which has become a very important problem in a great variety of settings, not just prison settings. It’s become a problem that we identify with polar exploration, with concerns of NASA with space travel, submariners. It’s a problem that’s existed in a great number of medical situations, people in prolonged traction, people who have impairments of their sensory apparatus causing some degree of sensory deprivation, the same syndrome is described in all of these phenomena, and, as I said there’s a fairly extensive body of literature on it. As Fred mentioned, solitary confinement was, in fact, almost the exclusive mode of incarceration was the penitentiary began in the United States.

The penitentiary was a distinctly American invasion and it was initially begun in the early 19th 19 century as an element of great social progress and reform, a repudiation of punishment, an optimistic belief in the ability for people to change. People freed from the constraints of the evils of modern society being sent to a monastic cell with a bible and with work that they would naturally heal. It was a very open system, open to review, and the review was very clear and it was also catastrophic and the system eventually fell into disfavor. People like Tocqueville and Dickens and a whole variety of other people saw that system and spoke about it, wrote about it.

In 1890 the United States Supreme Court in a rather dramatic case commented specifically about the effects of solitary confinement in prisons.

Mr. Medley, there was a case — it was a case Mr. Medley had killed his wife in Colorado and he was duly tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. In the interim between the commission of the crime and the trial and sentencing, the law in Colorado had changed. It used to be that prior to being executed, prior to being hung, you would be in the county jail for 30 days. The new law called for the person to be in the state prison in solitary confinement from anywhere from zero to 60 days prior to being hung. Mr. Medley claimed that he couldn’t
possibly be prosecuted under the new law because the hardship of zero to 60 days of solitary confinement was so severe that as an additional punishment to the punishment of death, it was too great, it was ex post facto. He also claimed, correctly, that Colorado legislature had made a mistake. When they passed the statute they didn’t have a bridging statute, a bridging clause that would allow your old statute to remain in effect, so you couldn’t be sentenced under the old statute that was no longer in effect, so he asked to be released. The United States Supreme Court ordered Mr. Medley to be released. They ordered the warden of the prison to bring him to the gates of the prison and release him because the additional punishment of zero to 60 days of solitary consignment was such an arduous, additional burden that they couldn’t possibly impose it.

They recognized in 1890 that solitary confinement had such a tendency to cause severe mental suffering and psychosis, it couldn’t be added to the sentence of death. And I just assert to the commissioners that we’ve come a long way downhill since 1890. Thank you.

MR. MAYNARD: Thank you, Dr. Grassian.

Mr. Bruton.
MR. BRUTON: Again, I also thank you and I’m honored that you asked me to come and speak to you.

I am a former warden, retired. I spent 34 years in the corrections business, not just in prisons, I spent a lot of time in institutions, I ran two facilities, and I also worked on the streets for years as a probation officer and was in our central office as a deputy commissioner, a member of the state parole board, and so I’ve seen inmates and criminals at just about every level in the institutions, as well as in the field and as well as in the juvenile end.

And I also teach in five colleges and universities and many of the things I’m going to say today I try to teach people coming into the business about a philosophy that Minnesota has had that’s worked, that’s been effective and is, clearly, the foundation of managing prisons in a proper fashion. Dignity and respect. I haven’t heard those words in — a whole lot today, I think I heard them a couple of times, but it’s something that’s almost forgot in institutions. The public certainly doesn’t want to hear it. The public is more interested in us continuing to punish people as they go to prison, they go down every day and I will embellish it a little bit, and poke people with a hot stick and make their life miserable so they won’t ever come back to prison, but they forget about what you’ve said many times today, that 95 percent of the people who come to prison get out some day.

I had a book that was published last year and a chapter in the book is called “With Dignity And Respect,” and it’s about the importance and the fundamental process of running a prison, whether it be a high security prison or whether it be a minimum security prison, inmates need to be respected and they respect respect and it works. And it’s not because we’re trying to molly coddle inmates or we’re trying to make everything wonderful for them or we feel bad
for them; it’s for two reasons.

Number one, it’s the right thing to do — actually, three reasons. Number one, it’s the right thing to do, the way you treat people.
Number two, as we mentioned, 95 percent of the people are going to get out some day, and, number three, we’ve got a lot of staff, a lot of good people that go inside those institutions every day and must be safe and you have to find a way to make them safe.

When I went to work every day managing Oak Park Heights as the warden, I walked around the halls and spent a lot of time inside that institution and one half of the people I walked by in the halls had killed somebody. 95 percent of the people had hurt somebody in their crime. And when you have a very distilled population like that, where half of the people that you work with every day have killed somebody and 95 percent have hurt somebody, you better find a way every day for them to get up in the morning and look forward to something positive or you got big trouble.

Now, when Oak Park Heights opened in 1982 it was really the prototype of the supermax
design. There really wasn’t anything quite like it. There had been a lot of things — institutions that have been formed off of it, but it’s certainly not as big as some of the larger institutions, like Pelican Bay and others that I have been to and toured through the years, but it set the tone for security, high security.

But what made a difference and what made — I think the count is something like over 50
foreign countries have now come to see, is not the security and not the control, because it’s all of that, in fact, I truly believe, and I’ve seen many of the high security prisons and Oak Park Heights, I believe, is the most secure institution ever built anywhere in the world, I truly believe that, especially with a newly designed unit that came on within the last couple of years, but they came to see how it’s managed. How you can not have a population locked down 23 out of 24 hours a day, how you can manage that type of population with the majority of the inmates out of their cells, because that’s the way it’s managed. Most of those inmates, high security inmates with that type of a distilled population are out of their cells most of the day and in a couple minutes I’m going to tell you the effectiveness of it and how it’s worked.

There’s some basic fundamental philosophies that seem to be forgotten in a lot of states around this country and it appalls me to come back and go to states where I see it done properly and to go to other states where no one seems to care. Satisfy the politicians in some states by locking people up and throwing away the key. Let’s build more prisons to incarcerate more people and find ways to keep them in their cells so they don’t hurt anybody, it’s just simply wrong and it doesn’t work. And in a second, as I mentioned, I’m going to tell you some things that prove that we have been effective. Now, I have heard all the of the things about, well, California is bigger and we have prisons as big as your whole population, and that’s very true and there’s some things that work in Minnesota that may not work in California and may not work other places, but the basic fundamental way of how you manage a prison and how you manage people does work and it is effective and it’s been very effective for us.

We have a responsibility, whether it be a high security prison or a low security prison, and maybe even more so in a high security prison, to create an environment conducive to rehabilitation for people who want to make a change in their life. Why wouldn’t we do that? Remember, 95 percent are getting out some day. If somebody wants to learn how to read, why wouldn’t we teach them? If they have a chemical problem, why wouldn’t we find a way to solve that chemical problem? You know, in our society we don’t go out and blame doctors who don’t cure cancer patients, unless they don’t give that cancer patient everything in the medical profession to try to ease their pain or solve their medical dilemma that they’re facing. We don’t do that. We shouldn’t go out and blame wardens for not rehabilitating people, unless that warden or administrator or commissioner doesn’t give that opportunity for a person to change, because I think we have a responsibility to blame that in our system. We have to create a safe and secure environment for people to live in every day, our staff and the inmates, and it’s absolutely essential and we have to do it, and dignity and respect is where it starts.

We’ve got to find a way for these people — and there are people who need to be locked up and should never get out, no question about that. There are people who need to be locked in segregation units, controlled and confined for long periods of time without human contact because they’re so dangerous that they will kill, and I have known some of those who have killed inside institutions, but they still need to have incentive-based programs, and when I mean human contact, I’m talking about being out with the general inmate population because they kill people, they’re just very dangerous and we haven’t found a way to stop that from happening, but they need the human contact.

When I was warden we developed a program in our segregation unit of the most secure prison in the state, and I think the most secure prison ever built, where we had volunteers from a program called AMICAS that came in and walked the cell blocks in segregation so that those inmates had an opportunity to communicate and talk with somebody that wasn’t wearing a uniform or a suit and it was a very effective program. It gave them something to look forward to, somebody to talk to. The people were screened, they were obviously trained and it was very effective.

And the training of the staff is something that’s extremely important as we get into these high security prisons. When you look at an inmate — I’m going fast because I have a lot of points that I want to make for you and I don’t want to run out of time if I can help it.

But when you look at some of the sentences that these people have, and they have no hope, I mean they look ahead at 30 years — I talked to a young man 17 years old, his first eligibility for parole he will be 47. That’s a long time. You better find a way for these people — and this was a very violent inmate — to get up every day and look forward to something positive.
I remember walking into a cell one morning, Saturday morning — and I spent a lot of time in institutions, a lot of time talking to inmates, a lot of time showing that we will respect them and I expected the same back from them, and, in most cases, I got it.

But I walked into a cell one morning when we were housing a long term federal inmate that had come to us. Oak Park Heights had one of the biggest contracts in the country, taking high
security, very dangerous and violent, high profile federal cases. And I walked into this cell on a Saturday morning because I hadn’t had a chance to talk to this guy when he first came in and I asked the officer, pop the cell door when I get down to his cell, and the cell door made a loud click. It was like 8:30 on a Saturday morning and inmates didn’t have to be at work and so forth. This guy had only been with us a couple days.

The cell door clicked and I walked in and this guy flew out of his cell with his fists clenched and he started to come at me and I backed up and I said, hey, hey, stop, what are you doing? And he said, well, who are you? And I said I’m the warden, I’m Jim Brutan, I just want to talk to you for a minute. And he backed off and I said what was that all about, after I calmed him down. And he said, Warden, I’m sorry, it will never happen again, but you need to remember that in other institutions that I’ve been in when somebody opened my door in the morning and I didn’t know who was coming, I was getting a beating or I was going to segregation or I was going in chains somewhere, and I have never forgotten that. Another inmate said to me one time — and I know inmates don’t always tell the truth, but sometimes it’s hard to make some of this stuff up, said to me thank you, Warden, for the way I was treated last night when I came in. I said, how were you treated? He said the staff put me in a cell and said good night, we’ll see you in the morning. I said, what’s so unusual about that? He said, the last place I was in the staff said where would you like your body sent if you are murdered here, and I have never forgotten that type of statement because that did set the tone for many of the involvement that
inmates had in the programs that they were involved in, or lack of programs. Incentive based program is important no matter what type of population you have. You may have inmates serving short term isolation in segregation for maybe 20 days, 30 days or whatever. You might have inmates in segregation serving a year or more for possibly a serious assault or you might have, as you’ve talked about, high security control type institutions where there is simply lockdown and in some cases they haven’t done anything wrong in institutions.

There are states in this country that lockup prisoners simply because they have a gang affiliation, whether they have done anything in the prison right or wrong, and I happen to think that’s wrong. And so there’s a lot of things that go on every single day in institutions around the country that are counterproductive.

Food, phones, medical and visiting. If you can solve your problems around food, phones, medical and visiting and you are on top of it every single day, you are probably going to have a fairly decently run prison without a lot of violence. I’m within my last minute so I am going
to really speed up here a little bit.

Institutions need to be managed properly and it starts at the top. It starts in the commissioner’s office and it starts with wardens and if there’s any erosion of any of four words and any of four actions that go around those four words, it’s honesty, integrity, credibility and trust. You’ve got to have it, you’ve got to be in those institutions every day, you’ve got to be talking to inmates and they’ve got to look forward to something. I know inmates that will never get out of control-type environments for the rest of their life and I don’t believe they ever should, but I also believe they’ve got to find a way that their good behavior is going to get them something positive; a visit, a magazine, a television set, or whatever it is, and it all goes along with the different type of confinement that they’re in.

I’m a very big believer in control and security, you have to have it, but it also goes with dignity and respect. And the last thing I want to say is I’m very pleased to be here and I hope sincerely, and I say this with all due respect, I hope this isn’t just another Commission. I hope it’s something that you really can do because this country is in sad shape when it comes to managing prisons. And I think we have to do it in and we have to do it right and we have to have influence upon your report. I think it has to have some monitoring, maybe some funds attached to it, there have to be fines, there have to be penalties and things have got to change in this country because we’re in pretty sad shape when it comes to how we manage high security prisons.
Thank you very much.

JUDGE SESSIONS: What did your peers in other states adopt or did they say about the Minnesota experience?

MR. BRUTON: Well, a lot of them think we’re crazy. A lot of them think that you can’t possibly take high security people that are management problems and not lock them up all day and have problems with them, but I have never had an institution warden or an administrator from another state come, tour the institution and come back and not say this is really something.
And we’ve given a lot of presentations to wardens and so forth around the country and been
supported by ACA when we talk about no drugs in the institution and they say — and the American Correction Association or the National Institute of Corrections will say he’s not lying, we’ve seen the documents, they don’t have a drug problem.

And so it’s a lot of very strong belief in a philosophy and a lot of good people through the
years that believe it, but I truly believe it’s in all of our institutions, it’s been very effective. I just am very saddened that it isn’t in a lot of the states. I’ve been around prisons a long time.
I’ve never been afraid, until I walked into some prisons in other states and then I couldn’t wait to get out because I was terrified, and that’s pretty sad.

JUDGE SESSIONS: Do you think those training manuals are available to the Commission?

MR. BRUTON: I’ve got two things I’d like you to look at. One is a manual of the American
Corrections Association put out a couple of years ago, it’s called “Supermax Prisons, Beyond The Rock,” I don’t know if you have seen that, there’s about eight wardens, I was one of them that wrote a chapter in there. I don’t agree with everything in there. I agree with my chapter, but most of it is really good. This is a very good document.

Another one came out last year by the American Correction Association called “Becoming A
Model Warden, Striving For Excellence.” A lot of this is about my friend Frank Wood, it was written by a professor from Northern Iowa University. I think you really need to see these documents, they’re very, very outstanding. And then, of course, you’ve got to buy my book, that’s called “The Big House.”

JUDGE SESSIONS: What about teaching manuals, are those available?

MR. BRUTON: Well, of course, the policy manuals in the institutions have been copied and modeled in many states, I don’t know how many have followed them through the years. They have been – I think they’re very, very well done and effective because of the accreditation process that has enforced that and so forth.

So I thank you for your comments.