So Lonely Anyone Would Cry: Head of CO Corrections Visits The Hole
June 20, 2016 (Fault Lines) — When the head of Colorado’s Department of Corrections speaks out against solitary confinement, people listen. It’s as if a priest came out and told us that there is no god: evidence against interest speaks volumes. After Rick Raemisch placed himself in solitary confinement for 20 hours to get taste of what over 100 thousand American prisoners a year endure at one point or another, Raemisch “got it.” From The Crime Report:
As he planned his own stint in solitary back in 2014, Raemisch imagined it would be a good time to catch up on sleep.
Instead, Raemisch found himself counting nicks in the wall. He paced. He lost track of track time. He craned his neck to catch a glimpse of sky, and he strained to hear a nearby inmate’s TV. The yelling and glare of lights kept him awake for all but a few minutes at a time. At 11 a.m. the next day, he broke his own rule and asked what time it was. Still four hours to go.
Whether it’s referred to as solitary, isolation, segregation, the hole, or as the “SHU” (federal prison’s “Special Housing Unit), most learned minds will call it torture or cruel and unusual punishment. Groups that have been asked to take a peek into this practice have concluded that it’s capricious and counterproductive. And in our the U.S. system of corrections, inmates are thrown in the hole for a variety of “reasons”: for petty retaliation, as a form of punishment, or for simply talking back to a guard. But the people in charge of administering this insanity have the blinders on: just last year, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons told a congressional committee “We do not practice solitary confinement.”
People in deportation administrative removal proceedings are sometimes tossed in the hole while waiting for a hearing, or before being sent back home by immigration and customs. There are some who have been kept in solitary for decades. Yes, decades. And there are those wretched, luckless souls like Kalief Browder who end up taking their lives at the end of their “sentence” in isolation.
So even if we assume that it’s kosher to put someone in solitary, whether as punishment or as a safety measure, the conclusion is that it’s against the collective best interest because the person coming out of the hole – whether into the prison general population or society — is now a ticking time bomb. That is one more person off his rocker who will be put back into circulation. This is why states like California and New York have begun to overhaul their solitary protocols, and Raemisch has led the way in Colorado:
The reason this cell at Centennial South remains relatively unmarked is that, except for about two years from 2010 to 2012, it has not been used. Colorado’s rapid shift away from solitary confinement — from 1,500 prisoners in 2011 down to 185 as of May — has left the state with a $200 million empty all-solitary prison in Cañon City.
[Raemisch who now heads Colorado’s prison system, was secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections from 2007 until Gov. Scott Walker took office in 2011.]
Before the changes, Colorado held some violent or hard-to-manage inmates in isolation for more than 24 years. The state eliminated the use of such long-term, indefinite solitary confinement in 2014; inmates now serve no more than one year in that status, formerly known as administrative segregation and now called restrictive housing-maximum security.
Ask any experienced defense attorney, and she will tell you what it’s like to look into the eyes of a client who has been kept in isolation. It’s hopelessness incarnate. Ask any inmate who has the misfortune of visiting solitary, and at the very least he will tell you about the trauma, of the pointlessness of the ordeal. Raemisch described his experience in the hole:
As he looks around the white-walled room, Raemisch declares it fairly similar to the 7-foot by 13-foot cell where in 2014, as head of Colorado’s corrections system, he had himself locked up.
In this cell, he notes the tiny window looking out toward a gravel yard and a concrete wall. There is a stainless steel sink, toilet and a mirror made of metal. The solid purple door has a narrow slot that looks out to a common area.
“The problem with this cell, there’s nothing to count,” Raemisch says, noting the smooth walls. “There’s no chips. There’s no scrapes. There’s no dents. You got nothing to count in here.”
Ironically, the concept of solitary confinement was introduced by the Quakers and the Anglicans in the 1800s, as they wanted to “free” inmates from the horrors of overcrowding, chain gangs, and inhumane conditions of the general population. The road to hell is paved with…
Today, solitary confinement remains hardwired in U.S. prisons. Raemisch putting himself through a stint in solitary, no matter how brief, gave him a glimpse into the hellhole his inmates were being sent to, and it gave him the spark to put a stop to this madness in Colorado. The hole has driven countless prisoners into madness. Feeling lonely in the hole drove Raemisch to become an agent for change.