I Was a Child, But My Prison Guards Treated Me Like a Dog in Solitary Confinement

This piece originally appeared at The Guardian.

As a teenager, I made some bad decisions. I got into trouble with the law. When I was 15, I was sentenced to a year at the Lincoln Hill School for Boys, a juvenile prison. I didn’t have a great idea what that meant at the time. I didn’t know they’d be sending me four hours away to Irma, Wisconsin, where I would be surrounded by guards who treat the kids there like dogs. They put us in cages, causing us more trauma. I ended up spending two years there after my sentence was extended.

There are about 160 kids aged 14-17 at Lincoln Hills. A lot of drama happened there with guards beating kids, making them fight each other, and that sort of thing. But maybe the worst thing is solitary.

I’ve spent most of my time at Lincoln Hills in solitary confinement. They’ve sent me about 10 times for a bunch of reasons. Honestly, I feel like the guards intentionally provoke kids to get them to react so they can put them there and not have to worry about them.

Being in solitary messes you up: You can’t sleep; you feel anxious; and the longer you are there, the angrier it makes you feel. I mean, you try sleeping with the light on 24 hours a day or having to distract yourself in a small, dirty, smelly space. And they give you 30 or 60 days in solitary for whatever — disrespecting staff, running, not even stuff that hurts other people.

Being put in the hole makes you more angry, not less.

When I got here, they told me there would be education and programs to help me deal with my anger and the things that got me in trouble in the first place. But when you are in solitary, you don’t get those programs. If you are lucky you might get 45 minutes a day with a teacher. Being put in the hole makes you more angry, not less.

You also can’t keep up with school in solitary because a lot of the time when you are only allowed out of your cell for the hour to exercise, you are “on the belt,” and they attach your handcuffs to this belt so you can barely hold a pen or anything. That’s if they give you your “out time” at all. Sometimes they just leave you in the solitary cell for days and days.

This isn’t really the place you want to be. One time, I wasn’t cooperating when they tried to take me to solitary, so they pepper-sprayed me. They do that to a lot of kids, even for nonviolent stuff like refusing a staff order. I’ve been sprayed five or six times. Sometimes they spray it into the cell; sometimes they spray it right into your face. It makes you temporarily blind and hurts really bad. One kind of spray they use is literally sold to hikers to protect them from bears attacking them.

You may think that kids who do bad things deserve bad things to happen to them. But I don’t think this is how people should treat other people. That’s why I decided to stand up and work with the ACLU of Wisconsin to change how other kids are being treated.

I’m close to my discharge. I won’t come back. But hopefully kids who make mistakes in the future will go someplace that will teach them how to make better choices and how to be successful in the world, not lessons about how much adults with power over you can hurt you without being worried about facing consequences.

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eddudley

I read the story but I couldn't find why the teenager was sentenced to a year at the Lincoln Hill School for Boys, a juvenile prison. Perhaps if you shed some light on his crime we the public can feel some sympathy for him and others in his or her situation. I can tell you from the my perspective as a senior that the pain and suffering I and most of my compadres have gone through while being attacked by a teenager has been far worse than a few days in solitary confinement. I was stalked, harassed, then physically and verbally attacked by a very fit 15 year old once, and even after the attack because the mind never forgets, I've been haunted by this incident. The police couldn't do much than put him away for a few months and now he is out and ready to attack others and probably myself again. This time I have a special surprise waiting for him.

Anonymous

eddudley- It is awful that you had to endure such an awful experience. I wish you peace, forgivness, and healing. It also is not relevant what crimes the children in the prison have committed. It is never ok to treat any human in this manner. Espcially a child or someone who is weaker. These are children. Their brains have not even finished developing. Who knows what kind of life they have had and what led to these circumstances. They should be held accountable-Yes. They should also be met with empathy and given an opportunity to change. I do believe you genuinely feel what you endured was worse than what this child has endured, tho realistically- it's not likely. All trauma is trauma. These are children. I pray for change in our institutions. We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters.

Anonymous

eddudley- It is awful that you had to endure such an awful experience. I wish you peace, forgivness, and healing. It also is not relevant what crimes the children in the prison have committed. It is never ok to treat any human in this manner. Espcially a child or someone who is weaker. These are children. Their brains have not even finished developing. Who knows what kind of life they have had and what led to these circumstances. They should be held accountable-Yes. They should also be met with empathy and given an opportunity to change. I do believe you genuinely feel what you endured was worse than what this child has endured, tho realistically- it's not likely. All trauma is trauma. These are children. I pray for change in our institutions. We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters.

Old Tunrkey

Given the resources in space, programs and staffing the supervision of criminals is relatively limited as to programs and counseling opportunities. Efforts are made and by necessity those individuals who attempt to get along and follow the rules get more access to those programs and other opportunities. Combative, adversarial and problematic individuals must be dealt with based on their actions and behavior. Detention and Correctional Facilities can only perform and function in dependence on those tools provided. Facilities that are overcrowded and underfunded, which ones are not?, typically need and must have isolation/solitary cells to maintain basic security. A jail within the jail for the worst of the worst. There are not enough solitary cells anywhere for someone simply lipping off or committing a minor infraction. Speaking as a former "guard" (a demeaning name) even in the "good old days" the need for force and the use of solitary as punishment for control was the last step. Due to the increasingly violent individuals, especially juveniles, who have very little if any respect for authority the space for and the use of solitary segregation is necessary more now than ever before. The author of this article states he made some bad decisions in his past and never intends to come back again. Obviously, the bad decisions continued while in lock up or he would not have been disciplined. I sincerely hope he is adamant and willing to make good his statement of never going back. Sadly, that translates to "They won't catch me again". But yes, "they" will catch you again and it is not the fault of those employed to protect our citizens from you and your comrades. So, let us keep blaming "the system" and point the finger at the "man". I will continue to pray for our leaders, our public servants and even for those predators whom we must separate from society. Please, change the nature of the snake pits but do not blame those who are doing their best with the tools at hand to charm those created from society's ills. Parents, teachers, lawyers look into the mirror not at your creation to find blame. Even in a philosophical sense those of us in the trenches try to alleviate the wrongs of our system more than any arm chair critic or breast beating defender of the down trodden. I apologize for any seeming cynicism but I have seen and had to deal with too many defender's whose ultimate goal was simply monetary. We blamed the grunts for Vietnam so we blame the sheep dogs for their charges criminal behavior. Once more, look into the mirror and ask where is the real blame to be pointed.

Joseph

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Caleb

You may think that kids who do bad things deserve bad things to happen to them. However, I don’t think this is how people should treat other people.
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Anonymous

It doesnt matter the crime, no one deserves inhumane treatment, or abuse of authority by duty gaurds.
WE need to make more noise and see who is observing and overseeing the gaurds. they are not held accountable for not following their own rules!

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