Solitary Confinement and the Mentally Ill

Dianne Frazee-Walker

After a major set-back the Colorado prison system is back on track.  Image courtesy

Before the death of Colorado Corrections director, Tom Clements, the Colorado DOC was working on reentry programs for mentally ill inmates released from solitary confinement.

Ironically, in March 2012, Evan Ebel, an inmate released directly from solitary confinement to the streets shot Mr. Clements in cold blood when he answered the door at his Colorado Springs home. Ebel was later tracked down by authorities in Texas and was fatally wounded in a police shoot out.

Sadly, Mr. Ebel targeted the wrong person upon whom to take out his anger against the correctional system because Clements was a strong advocate for changing solitary confinement policies.

Mr. Clements was a compassionate man who recognized the need for addressing the mental health issues of inmates who spent time in solitary confinement prior to release back into society. He was also dissatisfied with the number of inmates that were held in administrative segregation (aka ad seg) in Colorado Correctional facilities.

Just months shy of the one year anniversary of Clements’ death and the interruption of the progress the Colorado Correctional Department was making to solitary confinement policies, Kellie Wasko, the department’s executive director announced that “it was time to pick it back up and move on.”   

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Prison Rock: Libertine Headlines Prison Rock Concert

By Christopher Zoukis /

The room is dark and the crowd eagerly awaits.  Large speakers are held on stands several feet high, and yellow caution tape crosses the room separating the audience from the band.  The feeling is of a 90s dive bar, some place you would go to hear Greenday or another punk band back in their infancy.  But this is no dive bar; the floor is too dingy and the room too cold.  And there are no tempting groupies or hipsters.  There is no alcohol — at least none that is visible to the prison guards strategically placed around the event.  This is a prison rock concert at FCI Petersburg, a medium-security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia.

Come 2:00 PM on this rainy Saturday afternoon, the stage clears and the members of Libertine gain the blocked-off performance area.  An area also occupied by several pieces of indoor recreation equipment.  Sangye and Terry pick up the battered guitars, Darryl his microphone, Trevor his drum sticks, and Patt his bass.  All of the equipment is the property of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, not the prisoner musicians.  Nevertheless, they play it like they stole it: hard and loud.

The air is not tense, but expectant.  For years, the members of Libertine have been bringing down the house for their incarcerated audiences and fans.  While other groups play music (some better than others), Libertine makes beautiful, jarringly loud, skillful, and soulful music.  And they do so in the typically violent punk fashion of yesteryear.  At this moment they are not prisoners or musicians, they embody the rock gods of days gone by, before the indie labels died and Clear Channel ruled the airwaves.  The audience is diverse but oddly in synch.  In a word, the relationship and the exchange from band to fans is true; hyperbole has been left by the wayside, replaced with absolute honesty and integrity in a land of convicts and gangsters.

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