Last Days of SolitaryView film
[Across the United States, around 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement. This film was shot over three years in the Maine State Prison as it tried to reduce its use of solitary.]
Sgt. MICHAEL BURNS, Maine State Prison: This is the Maine special management unit. It’s a segregation unit for the state prison. What we have here is we have the prisoners who are down here to do segregation time for disciplinary reasons.
Time to take care of this.
They are locked down 23 hours a day, for the most part. While they’re down here, they’re angry. They flood their cells. They could be upset about the littlest things, and they just turn to violence.
The other thing that they do from time to time is they will self-injure themselves. They can bang their heads, punch the doors with their fists and break their hands. They can resort to razor blades that they find, and they will cut themselves.
Kidd! Kidd, you need to cuff up! You might as well talk to me now because you’re going to talk to me sooner than later. Why don’t you take that stuff off your window [unintelligible]
I have three windows covered right now. One of them appears to be self-abusive. Obviously, he is because there’s blood on his toilet paper. [stuck over the window] I attempted to look through the tray slot to see if I can get a visual on him, and he’s got it covered with a mattress.
So my only other hope if I have to extract him and bring him out of there since he refuses to talk to me or cuff up is that I can see him through the back of the window. If I can’t see him from the back window, I’ll have to go in and take him out for his own safety.
See, he is smart enough. He’s got it all covered. So now we have to pull him out.
RADIO: [unintelligible] extraction team [unintelligible]
GUARD: You know you got to come out. There’s a smart way to do this. This is not it.
RONALD JONCAS, Inmate: Monsters! This is what they create in here, hell and monsters! And then they drop you into society and tell you go ahead be a good boy. This is what they create in here, monsters! You can’t conduct yourself like a human being when they treat you like an animal!
[Gordon Perry, serving life for murdering a police officer.]
GORDON PERRY: This place is like an insane asylum. You can’t even imagine. I don’t even know how many times I’ve seen this tier filled with blood from these guys cutting their arms and their necks and their balls, cutting their ball sacks out, all types of crazy— craziness and— and that’s because they’re stuck in here with nothing to do.
You don’t have a strong mind, this place can break you quick. A lot of guys, they don’t even have reasons why, they just snap out. That’s what this place does to you. It makes you mean, makes you violent and it [expletive] a lot of people’s heads up. This is solitary confinement.
[Todd Fickett, serving 20 years for arson, in solitary for assaulting an officer.]
TODD FICKETT: My name’s Todd Michael Fickett. My prisoner number is 93262. I’m here for arson, in prison for arson. Down here, it makes you feel like you’re being buried alive. You’re someplace alive, but you’re no place anybody wants you. I’m down here in solitary confinement for, like, six months for hitting an officer in the kitchen.
That’s what you get to do, sit there and think about your thoughts all day, pace back and forth. It’s pretty much 24/7. You come out I think it’s twice a week for a shower, you know, and change clothes when you want. But you know, you’re still stuck in a cell every day.
My— my— my mental— my mental state will probably go downhill like it did last time. I go pretty crazy.
[Inmates in solitary have devised ways of passing contraband from cell to cell.]
TODD FICKETT: We’re not supposed to do it, but we do it. It’s kind of funny. We’re just bored. We got to have something to do. You want to make sure somebody’s around. We send notes, letters, medications, and sometimes razor blades.
Sgt PARKER: Todd, what’s going on?
INMATE: We got a bleeder! We got a bleeder!
Officer DEGUISTO: Hey, Fickett? Fickett. Fickett, talk to me, man. Hey what’s going on, man? Talk to me.
TODD FICKETT: I can’t do that.
Officer DEGUISTO: How come?
TODD FICKETT: Because I’ve got six others talking in my head, smartass.
Officer DEGUISTO: OK. Why don’t you take this stuff down? What’s going on, man? Come on.
[to guard] Can you grab a camera and come in here please?
Officer MANNING: How bad are you cut? Let me see it. Let me see it. We need to get medical, like, a lot.
Hey, Fickett, do me a favor. Put that towel over there on your arm, OK? Let’s just at least slow that bleeding down. [unintelligible] We’re going to help you. The first step is we got to get that arm taken care of. And then we can get you some help, OK? Put this on your arm.
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: He’s a pretty serious cutter. And I’ve known Todd for quite a while now and his history of self-injurious behavior is pretty significant, so— he does a pretty good job when he does cut. So I mean, he’ll go right for a main artery, or you know, he’ll— he’ll tap into something that produces copious amounts, and you know, puts his life at risk.
So basically, right now, I’m going to see if I can move him to one of our two cells that I have that are designated for constant watches. They have cameras built in. They got full glass doors.
GORDON PERRY: It’s inevitable. You put us in here with nothing to do, [expletive] going to hit the fan.
LLAMAR KELLY, Inmate Cleaning Crew: Another day on the job. That’s a real clean-up right here. We probably average about 20 of these a month, so— in the last year, I’ve become an expert on blood, I guess.
DAN EDGE, Producer: It doesn’t just mop up, does it.
LLAMAR KELLY: No, it doesn’t. It coagulates and it’s—-generally, I try to— generally, I try to saturate it with a germicide, and then I use a sheet to mop it up and then afterwards, I try to scrub it down.
My heart goes out to everyone down here. I’ve been behind these doors, so I know what it’s like to stay down here for years. You know, being behind these walls, it’s gets to everybody, and everybody deals with it in their own particular way. As you can imagine, someone being 18 years old in a setting like this, you know, it’s not really— it does a lot with your mind.
[Maine and other states have begun efforts to scale back their use of solitary. In 2013, a new warden was hired to carry out reforms at the Maine State Prison.]
WARDEN BOUFFARD, Warden, Maine State Prison: My belief is the use of segregation has its place when you have real dangerous prisoners. But from my perspective, it is overused throughout the United States. The normal person who doesn’t work in a facility like this, they’re going to be thinking if you punish them, you’re going to make them better. And the reality is, is that the exact opposite happens.
Putting them in confinement and forgetting about them is essentially going to make them worse. There’s no question in my mind. If I have somebody that comes in with a five-year commitment, you can have them do their whole time in segregation, but I don’t want him living next to me when we release him. I think we need to make every attempt at moving them out of those cells and moving them into general population
I want you out on the other side of that door because that’s good for you to be on this side of the door and not that side, all right? So we’ve got to find a way to get you out so you’re not fighting with people.
We have some very dangerous prisoners, so on the surface, it might look crazy, but the reality is, 80 percent of these inmates are going to be hitting the street, OK? So we can either make them worse, OK, and create more victims when they go on the street, or we can rehabilitate them.
[Adam Brulotte, serving 2 years for aggravated assault and burglaries, in solitary for starting a riot in his cell block.]
ADAM BRULOTTE: I’m Adam Brulotte, 102817. I’ve been in prison since November 28th of 2012. Got into a lot of fights at school, started drinking at 17, getting into huge fights at parties, like 3 on 1, and winning. And everybody thought I was the coolest kid, so I just kept on doing it and doing it. And I went too far, and I broke a kid’s jaw in seven places with one punch. That landed me an aggravated assault.
GUARD: All right? Secure Bravo 1, 01 local. Secure it, please.
ADAM BRULOTTE: I just went overboard. That’s why I’m down here. I freaked out, started screaming, and I started punching stuff. I got maced and tackled. They’re trying to say I started a riot, and they brought me down here. I’ve been down here two days now.
I like seg. I can handle being locked down 23 hours a day because I can read, I can write, I can do pushups. Most of the time, I just chill. You got to relax. You can’t get yourself wound up because you can’t leave that room.
Well, it’s good to my standards! I’m always at this window so I like the window to be clean. My face touches it, my hands touch it.
Yeah, it sucks, but I think I’m doing good.
[25 days later]
ADAM BRULOTTE: I don’t know what I can do. My mind races all night. I got hard-core ADD, and I’m about to leave in five months. I don’t know where I’m going to go. I don’t know where I’m going to work. I don’t know how I’m going to get a car. I still got a thousand dollars to pay with no car, no job.
When you settle down in your room and you really just start thinking, and just “Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang” all at once. And I need to try and get some medication to slow that down for now. That’s really the problem. This really kind of [expletive] with my head.
INMATE: [unintelligible] urine and toilet paper and food!
GUARD: Can’t do anything unless you talk to me. You know that. Come on.
RODNEY BOUFFARD, Warden: If we just leave Brulotte in segregation, he’s going to become worse. We’re going to end up with an inmate that probably will attempt to starve himself, without a doubt, at some point begin demonstrating some self-abusive behavior.
So now by introducing programs, we’ll work with the inmates until, eventually, they become less dangerous, and then we could look at moving them back to general population.
[The new warden has started rehabilitation classes for inmates in solitary.]
GROUP LEADER: Good morning. Good morning. Let’s talk about that attitude. No, no, no, no. I just wanted to get started because we only got a little time.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: These inmates have been significantly violent and they’re truly a danger to self or others. So this is going to be a slow process. We have Brulotte initially in cuffs and shackles. After we’ve developed a little more confidence, he’d be attending the groups just in cuffs. Develop a little more confidence, he’d attend the groups without cuffs and with just one other inmate.
And we would gradually work him so that he’d leave that group from segregation into— into general population, where his program would continue.
ADAM BRULOTTE: When I show pride, I try to go, like, too far, and I start to get hard-headed.
GROUP LEADER: So you go from pride into—
ADAM BRULOTTE: Yeah.
GROUP LEADER: —doing what everybody wants.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I’ll be so much cooler if I break this guy’s eye socket. [crosstalk] Then I go do it. Then I go higher [unintelligible]
GROUP LEADER: You got to find a different way of dealing with your anxiety, your anger and all that other stuff that comes with sitting in that cell all day.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Oh, I get angry, I don’t think before I act. I usually don’t take responsibility for myself and I just blame other people. But I’m doing this program. [unintelligible] taking responsibility, I’m the one [expletive] Can’t keep pointing the finger.
GROUP LEADER: That sounds— that sound fantastic. Number one, honesty.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: I’ve seen it work. I’m an absolute believer in it working. It is our job, to the extent that we can, to rehabilitate them so they can become successful, productive citizens in the community.
[If inmates take the classes and behave well, they can be moved back into the prison’s general population]
[Sam Caison, serving 2 years 9 months for aggravated assault and possession of a firearm, currently in general prison population.]
SAM CAISON: My legal name is Samuel Caison, prefer to be called Sam. I’m currently here for a Class A aggravated assault. Most of my family’s been in and out of prison their whole life. I grew up around this.
I first drank and smoke pot about 10 years old. By age 14, I was shooting heroin and had already done a couple juvenile sentences. The first time I got in trouble, I got sent to a mental hospital. And then I got sent to a juvenile facility for a year.
I spent nine months in seg by myself when I was 16. That was the worst. You know, it was torture pretty much. I would bang my head on doors, cut my myself, pretty much anything I wasn’t supposed to do that I could do with the very little bit I had in my cell.
I turned 18 and got sent up here and pretty much spent the rest of that sentence in seg. Me personally, when I spend too much time inside my head, it’s a dangerous thing.
Cell extractions are like a game. It’s our opportunity to get back at the COs. They mess with one person and spend the rest of their shift doing cell extractions. Dumb as it is, the cell extractions, people cutting up is our TV, so to speak. I cut because it’s my only way to escape. Obviously, being locked up, you don’t have control of nothing, and cutting myself makes me feel in control.
Since I came to population, I just try to bury myself in programs, but I don’t know how any of that’s going to work out. After doing all that time in seg, I’m not a person who likes to talk. It breaks you.
When I’m inside my head too much, I get paranoid about things and ultimately get depressed. Depression’s not a good thing when you’re locked in your cell 23 hours a day.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, 1829 - 1971
Dr. STUART GRASSIAN, Psychiatrist: Solitary confinement has the most fascinating history in the United States. The United States was actually the leader in modern times of introducing solitary confinement to the world. It was actually introduced by the Quakers as a noble experiment in rehabilitation.
There was a belief that you could put a prisoner in his own solitary cell, freed from the evil influences of modern society. And if you put them in that cell, they would become like a penitent monk, free to come close to God and to their own inner being, and they would naturally heal, heal from the evils of the outside society.
It was noble experiment that was an absolute catastrophe. By the 1830s, statistical evidence began to accumulate that there was an inordinate incidence of psychosis, suicide, and that people just deteriorated. By 1890, there was major condemnation of the institution by the United States Supreme Court. And so the experiment with solitary confinement gradually diminished as evidence became unmistakable that this was causing disastrous psychiatric consequences.
NEWSCASTER: In our special segment tonight, the subject is overcrowding, prison overcrowding.
NEWSCASTER: The state has the nation’s largest prison system and also one of the most overcrowded.
NEWSCASTER: —outdated, overcrowded, and near a state of crisis.
NEWSCASTER: With three times as many inmates as—
Prof. CRAIG HANEY, Psychologist, Univ. of CA, Santa Cruz: So after the Quakers’ experiment, the United States abandoned the use of solitary confinement. But then in the 1970s, we began to put unprecedented numbers of people in prison, and so you had terribly overcrowded conditions and prisons that looked like they were about to become out of control.
NEWSCASTER: Prison populations reached an all-time high in this country last month, and one prison burst under the strain. Inmates set fire to 13 buildings and attacked prison guards.
CRAIG HANEY: The other thing that happened is that there were increasing numbers of mentally ill prisoners coming into the prison system. Their behavior was harder to understand. It was harder to control. Prison systems didn’t have the resources to properly deal with them.
NEWSCASTER: Marion, America’s toughest prison. Conditions are so tense, officials now say the prison is in a virtual state of siege.
NEWSCASTER: In October 1983, two inmates already serving life sentences murdered two guards in the same cell block, the same day.
GARY HENMAN, Fmr. Warden, Marion Federal Prison: Well, in 1983, there were two officers within 24 hours that were killed by the Aryan Brotherhood. The staff at Marion were completely demoralized. They felt that we had to do something to protect them from these inmates, and we had to do something to protect inmates from these inmates. The bureau director got involved and said, Lock it down. It wasn’t just a day. It wasn’t a week. It was a permanent lockdown.
NEWSCASTER: The entire prison was locked down. That is, every man was confined to his cell to restore order.
NEWSCASTER: Now there is nearly one guard for every inmate. Unruly inmates can be chained to their concrete slab beds for hours, even days.
GARY HENMAN: The high security, the lockdown, was created out of necessity to maintain control of the inmates, the confidence and protection of the staff that have to face these kinds of individuals on a daily basis. We never wavered our belief that this was a necessity.
Dr. STUART GRASSIAN, Psychiatrist: Their response to it was to employ very large-scale solitary confinement, put a ton of people in solitary, which took away opportunities for programming and opportunities for social interaction. And that model of utter, total control and harsh punishment took off in the United States, so that over time, we developed more and more super-max prisons where everyone’s in solitary confinement.
GARY HENMAN: I think segregation to a point does correct behavior. For the people who felt we were too hard or harsh, well, what alternatives did we have? What choices did we have? Our job is to protect the inmates and the staff and to allow people to get through their time and go out as respectable citizens, that type of thing.
What are you going to do with those people who don’t want that to happen? If you’ve got a better answer— I wish we did. I always said, you know, I wish we had some social medicine or magic wand that we could use to correct people’s behavior. But there’s no such thing.
INMATE: You guys get to go home! I’ve got to stay the [expletive] in here!
[As part of Maine’s reforms, some inmates are being transferred from solitary into the prison’s mental health unit. Todd Fickett has a long history of harming himself in solitary.]
RODNEY BOUFFARD, Warden, Maine State Prison: What we’re going to do with Todd is introduce an individualized program in the mental health unit. We’re going to have a clinician working with Todd until we’re successful at reducing the cutting behavior. And ultimately, at the end of the day, you know, we’ll look at reintegrating Todd back into the general population.
We still believe that he presents a significant danger to the staff and the other inmates. Todd ended up in segregation for a very serious assault. So essentially, we need to be reassured through programming that the likelihood of him engaging in that type of behavior is significantly reduced.
Dr. DAN BANNISH, Director of Mental Health, Maine State Prison: Have a seat there. You must be Mr. Fickett. So next is to figure out how you’re doing and plan our next steps. So fill me in.
TODD FICKETT: Still feel like [expletive].
Dr. DAN BANNISH: Still don’t feel very good.
TODD FICKETT: No.
Dr. DAN BANNISH: Can you tell me a little more about— you feel like [expletive]. What does that mean?
TODD FICKETT: Still want to cut.
Dr. DAN BANNISH: You still want to what?
TODD FICKETT: Still want to kill myself.
Dr. DAN BANNISH: All right.
Without even knowing the guy very well, I don’t— I can tell you he doesn’t enjoy this. The intent isn’t to engender any sympathy, the intent many times is to make an officer do things, They feel totally controlled, and this is what they learn. And it’s a learned behavior, is that, that you can control others with this.
But it’s a kind of pathological way of control because it doesn’t gain them anything, it just— just for the briefest of time, they feel some sense of control. And then they’re left stuck again, and usually in worse physical shape.
We’re just at the beginning. He’s still struggling. He’s still going to have to do his seg time, and he doesn’t want to do it. So there’s that kid side of him that just doesn’t want to have to— “You can’t make me” kind of thing, and I’d like to help him through that process.
ADAM BRULOTTE: I’ve been down here 40 days now. I’m not eating or drinking. They’re going to tell me to drink something, and I’m going to say no. And they’re going to be, like, “Well, just give him what he wants, education, deck of cards and medication, not even— not even medication I could even possibly abuse, anti-depressant and something to slow me down. A day in this cell is like three days out there. It drags! I want my education.
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: You’re going to be getting your GED, OK?
ADAM BRULOTTE: Well, I want to [expletive] do some testing tomorrow. I haven’t ate or drank anything, and I’m not going to.
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: OK.
ADAM BRULOTTE: You can put me in the deepest— I want a [expletive] GED.
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: Absolutely.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Or I’ll snap.
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: You know what? That’s— that’s a legitimate request, but you snapping isn’t going to get it to you. What you need to do at this point is let me try to help you.
ADAM BRULOTTE: I’m [expletive] I’m this close! This close!
I’m not [expletive]. I believe in nothing!
RODNEY BOUFFARD, Warden, Maine State Prison: Brulotte is a young man. Brulotte is impulsive, and essentially, he’s going to have to engage in programs. He’s going to have to demonstrate the behaviors that we’re looking for before we’re ready to reintegrate him in general population. He’s going to have to show us and demonstrate to us that the likelihood of him being involved with an assault or a crime has diminished significantly.
Listen, you got four months left. You start behaving, and we’ll figure something out. You know, let me tell you that if you put some behavior together, then we’ll take a look at— at some point moving you out of here so you can be released.
[Three days later]
ADAM BRULOTTE: [expletive] bullshit! You treat us like animals, we will act like animals!
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: Do you want to come out and talk, Brulotte, about all this stuff that’s going on?
ADAM BRULOTTE: I will after I fight!
Capt. DAVID ALLEN, Manager, Solitary Unit: Well, right now, we have an inmate that’s covered his window. We can’t see in. He’s actually plugged his toilet, flooded the toilet out, pushed feces out the cell doors. He’s covered our back window so we can’t look into the back window and see him, either. So we have some concerns for what he’s doing in his cell for his own safety.
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: We have a prisoner that has boarded up on the long corridor, refusing all staff orders.
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: Unit Manager Allen will be conducting and operating the extraction team. I will be assuming incident command, 10-3.
Mr. Brulotte, how are you feeling today?
ADAM BRULOTTE: Better.
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: That’s good to hear. All right
ADAM BRULOTTE: It’s freezing in that room. There’s only the door, and there’s a crack in it this much. I can barely sleep down here. My mind just races and races and races. I mean, I do push-ups, I eat, I [expletive], I [expletive] jerk off. I do all I can to keep busy. All I really want to do is go to school. I’m leaving in, like, 170 days. I’m down to days now
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: Yeah. We got staff on board that can help you.
ADAM BRULOTTE: No, I need [expletive] to do. I need to go to school. I want my GED. That’s all I ask. I’m not going to go out there and scram for another job selling drugs and [expletive] because I don’t have no education.
Sgt. DENNIS DUPERRE: That’s fair, OK? I told you at your door yesterday, give me shot. Give me a chance. If I fill you full of [expletive], then you do what you think you got to do, OK, and we’ll do what we got to do, all right? We’ll do our best we can to get you the help you need, OK, but I need you to do your part, OK? You need to keep your head screwed on straight, OK? Thanks for coming out and talking, all right?
Dr. STUART GRASSIAN, Psychiatrist: Solitary confinement is toxic to mental function. There’s a particular illness that results from being in solitary confinement. It’s a delirium. It’s a neuro-psychiatric— almost a medical or neurologic disease. And what we see in humans, we see it in animals. I mean, we see it in mammals.
Dr. HARRY HARLOW: Now suppose that in addition to an environment that is merely strange, we produce one that’s really frightening.
Dr. STUART GRASSIAN: Dr. Harry Harlow in the 1950s did some experimentation with monkeys, studying the effect of social isolation. And one of his experiments involved taking monkeys who had been raised with other monkeys, so they were socialized, and OK, and then putting them in what amounted to a solitary confinement chamber.
Dr. HARRY HARLOW: Distressed, he may die for want of love.
Dr. STUART GRASSIAN: You’d see them rocking and shaking and sort of ritualistic, compulsive behavior. And after some period of time, they brought them out and put them into a cage with other animals. And these monkeys were massively impaired. They were frightened, hiding, and then they would have sudden aggression, attacking each other, very different behavior, very abnormal behavior. There was no recovery. These animals didn’t recover from this.
One of the important clinical findings with solitary confinement is that people deprived of adequate levels of stimulation are actually intolerant of stimulation. They overreact. They become hyper-responsive it and they can’t stand it. That’s why you see guys getting out of solitary, and they just hide in their rooms. They just can’t stand the stimulation.
There has been a recent study that actually showed that this is a reality in the brain. It was a study from the Balkan conflict in which it looked at prisoners released from confinement and looked at their brainwaves. Some of these guys had hyper-responsive reactions, had spike reactions to a visual stimulus.
And they looked at who those fellows were. Semi-starvation? No. Length of time in prison? No. Beatings? No. There was only two things that predicted it, head trauma to the point of unconsciousness, and a period of time in solitary confinement.
[A number of studies show that inmates who have spent time in solitary are more likely to reoffend than those who haven’t.]
SAM CAISON: You lose all feeling. You become immune to everything. You’re not the same after spending so much time by yourself in those conditions. I don’t care who you are, you don’t come out the same person.
I did 11 months in a seg unit and went from there straight home. I tried to tell my mom and everybody I didn’t want anybody around. I got home, there was five people there, and I felt like there was 5,000 people there. And ultimately, for my first couple of months, I locked myself in my camper until my mom and everybody tried to explain to me I’m not in prison. I shouldn’t live like that! [chokes up]
I ultimately tried to force myself to live like I was still in seg because I didn’t know what to do. And when I stopped, I was out of control. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went from the most restrictive place I’ve ever been to no restrictions at all. And ultimately, I ended up shooting somebody and coming back.
[As a result of the reforms, some of the prison’s most dangerous inmates have been moved to general population.]
[Richard Stahursky, serving 19 years for armed robbery]
RICHARD STAHURSKY: Name’s Richard Stahursky, 29297. I was convicted of robbery and a crime of violence and possession of a stolen firearm. Sent me here.
I was always getting in trouble as a kid. Pretty much, I grew up around violence. And when I was real young, I was in a place for young kids who have, like, behavior problems and whatnot. And then when I was 17, I went to a regular prison. I did most of my sentence in seg. I think it had an effect on me because it made me where I don’t care, doesn’t bother me.
And then it just progressed from there. Got out, went in, got out, went in. Then I end up in seg here. In 2003, I was out in population, and I stabbed an inmate 23 times. I got placed in segregation and stabbed another inmate out here in the rec cages and assaulted a bunch of COs, lit a couple fires, escaped out of my cell. You name it, I’ve done it.
And then they let me out into population. And to be honest with you, I was weirded out because you’re in a cell 23 hours a day, you’re not used to people walking behind you, talking to you out loud. And getting out felt really weird, kind of like first day at a school, except, like, 100 times worse, you know what I mean? It’s weird being around groups of people after being so segregated for so long.
[Todd Fickett has been in the mental health unit for a month without self-harming.]
TODD FICKETT: [on the phone] How’re you doing? You get my letter? So how are you and Mom doing?
I got to finally talk to my daughter for the first time ever, and she actually said, “Hi, Daddy. I love you.” So that was good.
DAN EDGE, Producer: How’d it make you feel?
TODD FICKETT: It made me feel like a new guy. Wouldn’t say man per se because I’m only 21. But made me feel like a new guy. Made me feel all fuzzy.
Dr. DAN BANNISH, Director of Mental Health: Mr. Fickett is somebody who tries to elicit that he’s not help-able and he’s just into being a nasty guy. But I don’t believe that, and I told him that. So he sometimes tries to test me and see if I can be brought down to believing that he’s really a horrible human being. No. I mean, he’s too young to throw away.
I like puzzles, so I got one for you, Kirkley and Griffin. I’m going to each give you something to do. I think you’re going to enjoy this. I got to see if I can put this on a piece of paper. So I got to get a piece of paper for you. All right, let me get this piece of paper. Now we’re into puzzles time!
INMATE: Oh, my God!
Dr. DAN BANNISH: You see how enjoyable these guys are? I mean, they really are— they are— they don’t want to be grumpy. They don’t want to be upset. They want contact that’s meaningful.
I got a present for you. There we go. [laughs] This is a good one. No conferring with each other, either!
So the idea is to see if there’s a way to keep mental health in their cell without my having to be there. So we use a transitional object, something that represents me.
We’ll see if you got that by Monday.
If you notice, I didn’t just hand them pieces of paper, I made contact with each of them. We had a nice interaction, so— so— and I’ve got them off the grumpy kinds of, “I’m upset” and everything, and reconnected, engaged with them.
And then I’ll be there to follow up with this piece, and they’ll be all excited, especially if they’ve accomplished this thing. The other thing that they’re unaware of is the actual thing that they’re working on has a clinical component attached to it that I’ll be then using the next time I meet them because the solution has to do with other ways of looking at problems.
It’s very healthy to struggle. There’s nothing wrong with struggle. So what have you got?
TODD FICKETT: How does a ball go in one direction, stop, go back in the opposite direction without touching anything at all after it leave your hands? You want me to tell you, or do you want to try to figure it out?
Dr. DAN BANNISH: Oh, I always want to try to figure it out.
We can’t just bury these guys. As a psychologist, I’m looking into what’s effective, what works. Why do we keep doing things that don’t work or make things worse? Why don’t we figure something else out? So every time I meet with him, you know, it’s much more of an uplifting kind of thing. We’ll goof with each other.
Goes in one direction, stops, goes back in the opposite direction—
TODD FICKETT: Goes back in the opposite direction—
Dr. DAN BANNISH: —goes back in the opposite direction.
TODD FICKETT: —without touching anything at all.
Dr. DAN BANNISH: I’m not there to judge him. And I don’t have him just as being this nasty kid. He doesn’t want to end up where he knows he’s going to end up. He’s a kid.
[Eight months into the warden’s reforms, the number of inmates in solitary is falling rapidly.]
RODNEY BOUFFARD, Warden, Maine State Prison: There’s no question in my mind that we’re actually seeing some positive effects of what we’re doing. I can tell you that the number of fights have dropped. The number of use of weapons has dropped. Transports to the emergency room have dropped. The use of constant watches has dropped. So overall, it’s had a positive impact. But we’re just beginning. The reality is, is we’re just beginning.
Prof. CRAIG HANEY, Psychologist, Univ of California, Santa Cruz: Prison systems around the country are very, very slowly beginning to see that solitary confinement is not a panacea, that in many instances, it creates many more problems than it solves, it’s very, very expensive, and that there are much more cost-effective and intelligent ways of addressing these problems than the supermax solitary confinement solution we’ve been using.
NEWSCASTER: The Bureau of Prisons has started a review of solitary confinement at all federal prisons. Colorado, Maine and Georgia are already scaling back.
NEWSCASTER: New York State has agreed to place unprecedented restrictions on the use of solitary confinement in its prisons.
NEWSCASTER: The president says, quote, “Solitary confinement has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences.”
Prof. CRAIG HANEY: In each place, the consequence of depopulating the segregation and supermax units has been a very positive one. It’s actually resulted in an overall reduction in the amount of violence in the larger prison system, which is something no one— no one predicted.
NEWSCASTER: After a series of reforms, the number of Mississippi inmates in solitary confinement is down 75 percent. Closing Unit 32 saved Mississippi $6 million a year.
Prof. CRAIG HANEY: Let me tell you what I think may be going on, which is that the existence of solitary confinement has allowed correctional systems to deal with problems by putting people in the hole, by sending them off to solitary confinement and never having to think it through beyond that.
The absence of having that as a quick solution forces them to take a different attitude about things, to deescalate problems before they get to be too severe, to try to get to the bottom of why it is there’s conflict between prisoners. And you’re going to get to the root of the problem. You’re going to actually try to address the problem in the here and now, rather than saying, “Well, there’s always supermax.”
[The 52 inmates left in solitary at the Maine State Prison are angry they haven’t been moved out.]
[Gordon Perry, serving life for murdering a police officer, in solitary for stabbing another inmate]
GORDON PERRY: You guys are running out of time! I told you I’m trying to do it the easy way, but I’ve been down here too long to keeping playing their [expletive] games.
I started this sentence in 1997, capital murder. I was a crazy young kid, 21 years old, didn’t care about nothing. I’ve been down in isolation for about a year now.
If I don’t get some answers by 3:00 o’clock, I’m covering my window! And if I don’t get good enough answers after that, they’re extracting me! It’ll be a miracle if I don’t get extracted today. It will be a miracle. They’re going to be calling when my window’s covered.
The only way you ever get anything around here is to act up. Sitting back being good for a year ain’t [expletive] working. I’m getting smoke blown up my [expletive] ass every which way I look.
RODNEY BOUFFARD, WARDEN: How’re you doing?
GORDON PERRY: I’m pretty pissed off. You got a couple of assaults in 17 years. How hard is it to move me? So I got to be out of here pretty soon.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: Because of what you’ve done here, you know, we’re going to move you out very slowly, OK? What I need to know is when I move you out there, are you going to be safe?
GORDON PERRY: Am I going to be safe?
RODNEY BOUFFARD: You’re going to be safe. I need to know that the other inmates are going to be safe, as well.
GORDON PERRY: I ain’t got no plans to go after anybody, but guys got me down here for a year. I’m all set with the stabbings. I’m ready to go out and try to enjoy myself a little bit.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: OK. I’m willing to look at moving you along, but it’s going to be a while. We’ve got to work the process. And I’m not interested in burying you.
GORDON PERRY: I’m already— I’m already buried, though. I already been down here a year.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: We’ll evaluate it and we’ll look at moving you along, and we’ll talk next week, OK? All right? Have a good weekend.
[Gordon Perry has been taking the rehabilitation classes for 3 months.]
GROUP LEADER: So where did we leave off last time? I think it’s page 32. It’ll be under 32, right? [unintelligible] in this last week and we touched on it again, this week, but tell me how you see it. Open-mindedness— what is the fault [sp?] [unintelligible]. Why is it a problem for you?
GORDON PERRY: I don’t have too much open-mindedness for the rules in here.
GROUP LEADER: And tell us why. There’s always a reason, so let us know.
GORDON PERRY: Because I’m a criminal and I don’t like the rules that you guys have.
GROUP LEADER: What happens when you follow the rules? Tell us.
GORDON PERRY: You’re not as happy. Honestly, I mean, you want me to tell you the truth.
That program is bullshit. Everybody knows it.
DAN Edge, Producer: Do you want to change?
GORDON PERRY: Change for what? Change into what? I’m here forever. There’s nothing for me to— I’m a criminal. I mean, I’m not going to jump on the other side or anything. So I am what I am. I mean, I’m not going to- I don’t even want to do this program. I just want to get out of seg.
I think my character’s pretty good overall. If you don’t want to change, you ain’t going to change.
Capt. DAVID ALLEN, Manager, Solitary Unit: Gordon Perry— Right now, he is doing everything we ask for him to do. He comes out and cleans. He doesn’t give my staff a hard time. He does group. I don’t have any problems with him.
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: Does he want to come out?
Capt. DAVID ALLEN: He does
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: Yeah. In fact, I looked at his journal book the other night. He’s fully engaged in his journal. He’s actually completed the first one.
Capt. DAVID ALLEN: You going to get my recommendation for him to go out.
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: He’s ready.
Dr. DAN BANNISH, Director of Mental Health, Maine State Prison: You got to remember this guy is a predator, somebody you got to watch everywhere.
RODNEY BOUFFARD, Warden: I’m not keeping him there. If he’s showing that he’s behaving and doing what he needs to do, we’re going to move him along. At some point, you got to give somebody a second chance. If they’re doing what we’re asking them to do, they’re moving through the system.
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: All right, let’s do it.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: He’s ready.
Capt. DAVID ALLEN: Yeah, he is.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: You know, he’s a very dangerous individual, but our obligation is to continue to provide him with the opportunity to change. I don’t hesitate on the decision at all. You never can tell what’s going to change somebody around, whether it’s a five-minute discussion or 300 hours of therapy. Essentially, I still believe that we can change him.
GORDON PERRY: I’m happy, content. But if I stab somebody and I get shipped out, I won’t freak out. I really don’t care. My realistic, honest plan is to live as good as I can in here. That is my plan. I’m just hanging out. That’s what I’m doing, hanging out, making the best of a bad situation.
[Adam Brulotte has not progressed from solitary to general population due to repeated bad behavior.]
ADAM BRULOTTE: Done trying to be good. I’m going home in 90 days. All I have to do is 90 more and I’m done, I’m going home. Yeah, my mental health diminished, slowly but surely. It would do it to anybody. I lasted a while. Now I just think [expletive] it.
They put me in the coldest cell in this whole prison as punishment. I don’t know, this is America, not Russia. It’s just [expletive] cold in here. What I’ll do is I’m going to open a vein and throw blood all over myself, refuse medical attention until I get a warmer cell, make myself bleed a little bit.
OFFICER: I have an inmate with self-injurious behavior. I need A and B responders and medical, please. 10-4, primary and secondary.
INMATE: We got a bleeder!
OFFICER: Brulotte, what’s up?
ADAM BRULOTTE: [expletive] you! I want a [expletive] warmer room! This [expletive] [expletive] is an icebox!
OFFICER: Put your hands here, and I’ll cuff you up.
ADAM BRULOTTE: [expletive] you! I want a warmer room— all this [expletive]
OFFICER: Put your hands through the tray slot.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Stop it. Stop! [unintelligible] [expletive] I’ve been asking all day! Nobody’s sleeping in a [expletive] cold room!
OFFICER: At this point— at this point, hollering all that stuff won’t do any better.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Trying not to.
INMATE: That blood is pouring out of him at the back. You need to bring him to medical.
ADAM BRULOTTE: This is bull[expletive] Need to stop the bull[expletive]! Leave me alone! [expletive] medical, I want a [expletive] warmer room. I hate the cold. Shouldn’t have to [expletive] do this.
INMATE: You need to bring him to medical.
INMATE: Red man, how do you feel?
ADAM BRULOTTE: [expletive] pissed! They put me in a [expletive] icebox!
DAN EDGE, Producer: We’ve seen Adam Brulotte deteriorate since he arrived in seg. Was segregation the right place for a person like Adam?
RODNEY BOUFFARD: Well, you just defined why we don’t like to use segregation. But sometimes, it’s necessary. Mr. Brulotte was engaged in some very, very serious behavior while he was in general population, so without a doubt, it was the right place for him.
DAN EDGE: Did he spend too long in seg?
RODNEY BOUFFARD: You know, that’s a real hard question to answer. There’s a lot of gray area in some of the decisions that we make. There’s no exact science to any one of these guys. You have to try to figure them out as we go along. But ultimately, when we’re moving him back into the general population, you know, we have to be certain that the staff are going to be safe, that the other inmates are going to be safe, and that he’s going to be safe.
DAN EDGE: Before you went to seg, did you ever imagine that you would cut yourself like that?
ADAM BRULOTTE: No. Never. I didn’t even know what it was. I seen a couple people doing it, so then I started doing it.
I’m going to try to be normal again. Just the routine every day gets to you. I been down here four months, and I’ve gotten in trouble, like, 30 times, been extracted umpteen times, flooded my whole room out a couple times, just stuff to pass the time away. And I guess they don’t like that. They think I’m crazy for it. But you got to do something.
[Adam is finally moved into the mental health unit. Seven weeks later, he is released from prison.]
[The number of inmates in solitary is down from more than 100 to 46]
RODNEY BOUFFARD: We have some inmates that are incredibly dangerous, but even those inmates, we’ve got to work with them. We’ve been able to reduce our segregation population by 50 percent. We saved about a million dollars a year.
I’m very confident that this process is going to work. And obviously, if there’s any negative outcome, we’re going to look at that negative outcome. But frankly, I’m absolutely convinced that what we’re doing is going to work. And it is working.
[In the months that followed, Warden Bouffard left the prison to run a psychiatric hospital. The solitary reforms continued, but a brutal murder threw the prison into crisis.]
NEWSCASTER: State Police have formally charged a Maine State Prison inmate with murdering another inmate.
NEWSCASTER: Police say Richard Stahursky took two makeshift knives and stabbed a convicted child molester.
NEWSCASTER: How is it possible a murder can go unnoticed, an inmate beaten, tied up and stabbed 87 times?
NEWSCASTER: Investigators say Stahursky used a piece of metal bedframe as a makeshift knife.
[Richard Stahursky is back in solitary after the murder in general population.]
RICHARD STAHURSKY: I’ve been locked up a little over 14 years, and I’ve been in seg a little over 12. What does that tell you? I did six years in seg. You know what they do? They take people, put them right back in population. Instead of integrating me out there, just threw me out there. You know how I felt? Felt so weird just being around people. I never felt like that before, you know— you know what I mean, just having people walk behind me, having them, like— I don’t know. I kind of felt like real paranoid, like, Oh, is this dude going to try something? Maybe I should get him first.
[Stahursky was given a life sentence for the killing.]
RICHARD STAHURSKY: I’ve never hurt anybody that I felt that didn’t deserve it. Staff members— any staff member I ever put my hands on— I didn’t stab any of them. I had multiple opportunities to. I have not done that.
When I was done, I walked up to the desk, the female that was on had her back to me. I threw the two shanks on the desk, and I told her, I said, “I’m not here to hurt you.” I held my hands up like this. The woman told me turn around, put my hands behind my back, cuffed me up.
I turned around, put my hands behind my back. She froze up. I think she was kind of a little in shock. She didn’t know what the hell was going on. She’s, like, “Is that your blood? Is that somebody’s blood? Is that yours?” I said, “Hello. Don’t ask no questions. Just cuff me up. Call your code.”
Am I a violent inmate? I can be, yes. You put me in certain situations, I am going to be like that. That’s not no secret, though. Anybody knows that.
[Shortly after the murder, Maine appointed a new state commissioner of corrections.]
JOSEPH FITZPATRICK, Commissioner, MDOC: We take an event like that extremely seriously. But at the same time, we recognize given that we’re working with a very high-risk population, the key is not to overreact to an incident like that and change an entire system, or take a giant step backwards out of fear.
My background is in training as a clinical psychologist. It is an unusual situation to find a psychologist overseeing or running a prison system. And as a psychologist, I think mission of the Department of Corrections can’t just be about management or control. It’s got to be about mitigating risk. And to mitigate risk, you need treatment and programming. To have treatment and programming, individuals can’t be locked down. They’ve got to be interacting.
So I think the key around that homicide, which was horrific, was to treat it appropriately, hold the offender accountable, but not sabotage a system that was moving in an appropriate direction.
[The commissioner accelerated the solitary reforms with new programs and education. A new treatment unit was opened for inmates with serious mental illness. A special structured living unit was created for inmates to transition out of solitary.]
[By early 2016, there are just 39 prisoners in solitary.]
JOSEPH FITZPATRICK: There’s going to be mistakes. There’s going to be missteps. There’s going to be major incidents. But I do think it’s working. We’re seeing a reduction in assaults, and the numbers have continued to go down in the seg unit. So that tells me that we we’re doing a better job at keeping people out and of getting them out sooner. I also think that we’re doing a better job of equipping them when they leave so that they have more of a chance of being successful when they return to their housing unit.
But quite honestly, even as a psychologist, I’d tell you that we’re never going to compromise safety and security for the staff or for the offenders in the name of treatment. It has to be a balancing act.
[For the last 18 months, Todd Fickett has been in and out of solitary, but he’s continued the rehabilitation classes.]
TODD FICKETT: I do have a different attitude from two years ago. The programming that I’ve done since I’ve been in prison taught me how to change my frame of mind. These groups aren’t just something to occupy your mind, though. These groups are supposed to help you change yourself. So I can— I can’t— I can say part of it is to give me something to do, yes, but these groups have also helped me see a better person in myself than I was before.
Actually, going back a couple years ago, my mind would go into these little circuits, where it’s like I’d be aggravated real quickly or I’d be going through a depression real quick like, and I’ve been trying to work over the past two years to change that. And as of right now, I can probably tell you I will never cut again. I don’t plan on it. I don’t want it.
Some days, do I actually think back on what I did? Some days, I’ve thought, said, Hey, yeah, I wasn’t only hurting me, I was hurting some of these COs. I was hurting inmates who had problems with it, just staring at the blood. I’ve hurt my family.
I don’t think it was right for me to do any of it, but like I said, the past is the past. You can’t change it, so—
[Since 2012, the prison says self-harm has dropped 80 percent.]
Dr. DAN BANNISH, Director of Mental Health, Maine State Prison: Things just plain had to change. We just plain had to change the way we’re doing business. Self-injurious behavior in segregation hasn’t stopped, but we’ve significantly decreased it largely by just not punishing it. So that was the first change in culture that, you know, punishment doesn’t work.
Now it’s all about treatment. How do we work together so you get better? And we will do whatever’s necessary to make you better.
That’s very mature. You’re 21?
TODD FICKETT: Yeah.
Dr. DAN BANNISH: Not “matchure,” it’s mature. I tell everybody that.
Mr. Fickett was still pretty young, so you still had a chance to look at some potential change for him.
So do you feel the same?
So he was put in seg for four times, five times. But each time he leaves, he’s moved further. He’s really kind of getting it. And he realizes we didn’t send him to seg to really show him who’s boss and kick him in the ass. It’s been in seg because you really messed up. We’re not going to let you hurt people. We’re not going to let you do this. That’s not helpful to you as a human being. It’s not going to get you out of here. And we’re going to stop you and we’ll stop you every time, and then we’re going to move you forward again.
[Prisoners are now entitled to a review board where they can make a case for release from solitary.]
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: Fickett, how are you?
TODD FICKETT: Obviously, we know the reason why I’m down here. Three years ago, I assaulted an officer. I’ve done my time, OK? The past year, I was trying to move on with changing myself. I have put in for several groups to better myself, to get out to my family, to do my time. I’ve come from a long ways of fighting, of assaulting, cutting up, of doing stupid things, to now because I’m trying to change. I’m trying to move on.
WARDEN: OK, and what kind of programs have you done?
TODD FICKETT: Since I’ve been down here, I’ve done the challenge program. I’ve done psychology, incarceration, coping skill groups and a couple of anger management groups back when I was in medium, so I’ve done groups over the years.
CLASSIFICATIONS OFFICIAL: When was the last time you cut?
TODD FICKETT: Last time I cut was April 17th, 2014.
WARDEN: I think that you’re sincere in your willingness to change. Is that true?
TODD FICKETT: Yes, it is.
WARDEN: And I think that you’ve been well behaved in the in [unintelligible] years since you’ve been down there.
TODD FICKETT: Yes, sir.
WARDEN: Our decision is that you’ll do your seg time, and then you’ll be referred to the structured living unit. OK. Good outcome?
TODD FICKETT: That’s a good outcome.
WARDEN: All right, so don’t prove us wrong. Take advantage of the programming that we have for you and do the best you can.
TODD FICKETT: Yes, sir.
WARDEN: Good luck, and work hard, OK?
TODD FICKETT: Yes, sir.
WARDEN: Thank you.
[Fickett has been moved to the new structured living unit for inmates transitioning out of solitary. In the new unit, inmates must take classes in behavior change and anger management.]
CLASS LEADER: On a scale of 1 to 10, where you sit now, where do you feel that you are in terms of open-mindedness, a 2? You know, while we may be willing to change—
JOSEPH FITZPATRICK, Commissioner, MDOC: We are creating a unit where we’re putting very dangerous individuals in very close proximity and giving them a significant amount of freedom to interact. And so we almost have to be a little bit more on our toes that this is a high-risk population. So what you really need to do is create incentives, get away from the punishment model, create the incentives that will start to keep them moving in the right direction.
But there may be individuals that don’t make it in that unit, someone who defies the rules and decides, “I don’t want to get healthy.” And you have to make some hard decisions sometimes that that individual might not be appropriate for that unit and they could find themselves back in segregation.
[Gordon Perry has been in the structured living unit for four months. He is suspected of running a gang.]
GORDON PERRY: I’m happy I’m not in seg because I’ve been down there so long. But as far as that being a place where you can better yourself, I think it’s the exact opposite. I think it’s a place that just breeds better criminals. In order to survive and live good, you have to kind of— you have to break rules. You have to learn how to be a better criminal so you don’t get caught and you can kind of live a little bit, you know, figure out ways to make money that help you survive in here a little bit better.
[Nine days later, an inmate is brutally assaulted in the structured living unit.]
Capt. DAVID ALLEN: It is tense on the unit now. We had a pretty severe assault, where one inmate actually ended up striking another inmate with a padlock about 15 times. It made it very difficult, with the number of inmates in the pod, for us to secure that scene, also protect the inmates that were involved in the incident.
We have some very dangerous guys in there, and putting those types of personalities all in one area— it can be extremely challenging to manage. It can be extremely challenging to do it in a safe manner, as well.
GORDON PERRY: I’m pretty much [expletive]. [laughs] Once again, I am in seg. They’re trying to tie me into that assault, something about I’m the big factor of it all. They’ll probably [unintelligible] me up [unintelligible] . I mean, I expect the worst. They are going to screw me the best they can, and the best they can is to keep me here for a couple, 2, 3, 4 years, whatever they decide they want to do.
Capt. DAVID ALLEN: We locked the unit down. We searched everybody. During that search process, we discovered six inmates that had tattoos “DM” on them, which meant “Deadly Minds.” Prisoner Perry was actually the one leading that little crew, and out of the last five assaults in here, four of them were done by people with the DM tattoo.
So we would have to say he’s definitely influencing younger prisoners to be involved in the gang and to assault other inmates.
LAUREN MUCCIOLO, Producer: What’s your opinion on Perry? Is he somebody who can change?
Capt. DAVID ALLEN: Probably not. Probably not. I haven’t seen any change in him. But that doesn’t mean that we stop trying to do that. We try to give them, you know, the best chance to change as we possibly can. And sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we’re not, you know?
[After years in and out of solitary, Sam Caison is now in general population. Since he came to prison, he’s joined a white supremacist group and gotten racist and neo-Nazi tattoos.]
SAM CAISON: I can’t live with minorities. There’s a list of people I can’t live with. I— I’m a violent person. But Monday morning, I’m getting released to the free world.
This sentence is the first sentence that I haven’t spent 90 percent of my time in in seg. I’ve done a lot of programming. I guess it’s the first sentence where I realized this isn’t the life that I want to live. I mean, I’ve been in and out since I was 9.
Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t going home because the anxiety’s so bad. For somebody like me that’s spent most of my life locked up, it’s easier to say, “All right, I’m going back to prison for however many years.” It’s not easy to go back to the streets.
I definitely think that all the solitary time I’ve done, it’s changed me, maybe not permanently, but it won’t be easy to change back. I mean, as far as functioning in the real world, I think it’s affected me the in extreme.
You know, I was out for six months, and I still couldn’t go into Walmart without either being high or having a panic attack, like. It may just be because I’ve spent so much time out of the real world, but my honest opinion is because it’s— it’s because I’ve spent so much time in a cell by myself. I feel like I— I still carry it, but I don’t feel like it’s going to affect me as much as it has in the past.
I don’t want to come back here again. All I can do is take it one day at a time, try to do the right thing and hope that it works.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Been out a while now. It was kind of rough starting out. You from a little cell and nobody around and it’s just you, and you look out this little window and see life go by the guards go by, and they go home. They come back. You’re still there.
And then they finally let you go. Now you’re surrounded by everybody, and they’re all in your face. Even if they’re 10 feet away from you, you’re still aware of them and looking, even though if they have nothing to do with you, because there’s just too many people.
DAN EDGE, Producer: The last time I interviewed you, you said you were going to try and be normal again.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Yeah. I try. I think I’ve done an all right job, I guess. I don’t know. Ask other people. I think I’m pretty normal. At least I’m not, you know, in a home or something, crazy people, I thought I’d end up at.
But you definitely feel paranoid when you get out. At the beginning, it was too much for me, way too much for me. I ran away, didn’t want to deal with anything, don’t think I could at the time.
And I met up with my cousin Mikey, and we bought a tent and some camping equipment and went out in the middle of the woods and camped there for, like, six months because I couldn’t handle it out here, couldn’t handle getting an apartment, couldn’t get a job, so I had no money, no transportation, no nothing.
A week went by, we had a nice little fortress made up out there, all camoed out. And I don’t know, it just makes you totally relaxed sitting out there. No way in hell someone’s going to show up out there unless they’re lost. Don’t have to answer to anybody. Me and one other person, pretty much your cellmate out in the woods, is what we called each other, “cellies.” I just wanted to be me myself and get my head right, and I couldn’t do that with people around, so the woods helped. I was lost, so—
[Since Adam’s release, he’s done multiple short jail sentences for driving without a license, an assault and unpaid court fines. He now has a job at a local convenience store.]
ADAM BRULOTTE: Life has been pretty good to me this past year. I have a job and I’ve got a place to live and I have a girlfriend that’s supportive. And the people around town have kind of forgiven me and know that I’ve changed. I’m a lot happier than before, and it feels good to go to work every day and make a paycheck, come home and be able to relax.
I’ve been in a relationship for a year with my girlfriend Taylor. Definitely thinking of the future much brighter than before.
TAYLOR, Adam’s Girlfriend: I’m just hopeful, very hopeful for him. I know he’s not going to go back to jail again. I’ve been adamant that I don’t want that to happen, anyway.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Yeah, she tells me all the time, “Never go back, never go back.” So that helps also that she supports me a lot in that category. So if I go back, she’d be mad.
TAYLOR: I know he doesn’t want to, either. So that helps. The both of us don’t want him to go back. I know he won’t.
ADAM BRULOTTE: It helps hearing it, though. Every once in a while, you need to hear it.
Seg definitely damaged me. I don’t like to— I don’t like to have people screaming around me at all because that’s all you hear in there. Anxiety— I’ve never even had that before. I had to deal with that when I got out to even realize what it was and just— it leaves a scar on you that you won’t forget. And you can’t heal it, no matter how good you are. You can try and block it out, but it’s still going to be there. And you still think about it. You get flashbacks, get anxiety, and you’ve got to walk away, just get away from people.
[Later that night, Adam is arrested for his outstanding court fines]
York County Jail
ADAM BRULOTTE: Yesterday, cops showed up at my door with a warrant for my arrest for unpaid fines. It’s, like, the fourth time it’s happened. No matter how good I’ve been, it happens every time. I was doing fine yesterday, nothing, fine. Had supper, laid down with my girlfriend, and. ‘Knock, knock, knock, cops.” They’re going to bring you to jail for no real reason at all, no justified reason anyways.
All the good things I’ve done, for what? I’ve had to sit here and think about that all night. They’re still going to come and arrest you. They’re still going to bring you to jail. I’ve done nothing wrong. I got to come up with $900 dollars to get out of here, almost $1,000. I can’t pay it. There’s nothing I can do about it. That’s the worst part.
So now I’m angry. The anxiety is going through me. I’m kind of sad because I’m crushed of all the good things I’ve done. It just means nothing to anybody besides me and my girlfriend.
I could possibly lose my job. That’s going to be damn near impossible to get again. I can’t even sleep because I’m sweaty and [expletive] heart’s racing. I can’t get comfortable at all, so—
And I’m stuck in this pod, general population. I don’t like being surrounded by people anymore. It gives me anxiety. I don’t like big crowds. I think they just kept me in my own cell for so long, it’s hard for me to be in general population. Can’t trust anybody. You don’t want to talk to anybody. I just want to sit by myself.
It’s a risk doing something stupid in here because surrounded by stupid people, you’re going to do something stupid. It’s a matter of time. It’s like you have no one in here. You’re lost, surrounded by people that have no idea who you are and think they know who you’re going to be. I will fight anybody right now that comes up and bursts my bubble because I’m not in the right state of mind. Fight or flight mode, instant anxiety, instant “Get the [expletive] away from me.” I cannot handle this.
I mean, when is it going to end? I don’t think I’ll ever be the same as before I ever went to seg. It just never leaves you. You don’t forget it.
[By June 2016, the number of inmates in solitary at the Maine State Prison is at an all-time low. The 23 men still here are considered the most dangerous and difficult in the state.]
Dr. DAN BANNISH, Director of Mental Health: There are certain people who are just so dangerous, and you have to respect that. They need to know we can’t afford to put you elsewhere because you will hurt people, including us, if we let you out.
With true psychopaths who have killed people and will do it again, I don’t know that there is any good definitive treatment in the world that’s been developed.
OFFICER: Are you going to strangle me with my tie?
Mr. Stahursky, he has no problem killing. There have been those that I’ve met where, literally, it doesn’t matter. They would see you as just a hunk of whatever and don’t recognize that when you’re killing somebody, you’re killing another human being.
LAUREN MUCCIOLO: Do you think you’re a psychopath?
RICHARD STAHURSKY: [laughs] No, I don’t think I’m a psychopath. I think I made some serious, dangerous decisions in my life. I guess everybody’s, like, “Oh, he’s really dangerous.” So I can’t go anywhere around here without them thinking I’m Hannibal Lecter. They don’t trust me as far as they can throw me. I don’t blame them. But no, I don’t think I’m a psychopath. I ain’t crazy, I’m just misunderstood.
[Stahursky is now eligible for a review of his placement in solitary]
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: On February 26th, our last review with him.
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: He was here six months. We had a six-month review.
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: What’s the next step?
WARDEN: We’ll have a chat with him and proceed with caution.
CLASSIFICATIONS OFFICIAL: I mean, the concern is there’s a lot of big players in that pod.
WARDEN: There are.
CLASSIFICATIONS OFFICIAL: There shouldn’t be one more. We all know that.
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: We should bring Stahursky up here.
WARDEN: Good morning.
RICHARD STAHURSKY: Wow.
WARDEN: Have a seat. You’re here for your review. What do you have to say?
RICHARD STAHURSKY: I take full responsibility for my actions.
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: OK.
RICHARD STAHURSKY: I’m not blaming the administration for me being in seg, you know what I’m saying? I’m not blaming anybody for all the crimes that I committed in this facility, the assaults. You know, I mean, that should count towards something right.
REVIEW BOARD MEMBERS: It does. It does. [crosstalk]
RICHARD STAHURSKY: So, I mean, I’d like to know where do we go from here? You know what I mean? I’m not looking for opportunities to be stuck here. My whole point is to move forward.
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: I think we take one step at a time. And the next step is, we’ll work the case plan like we’ve talked about with some of the more specific programming and education. [unintelligible] down the road is a potential out-of-state placement at some point. But we’ve got to go one step at a time. We’re not going to make all these decisions today.
RICHARD STAHURSKY: This future ain’t, like, 10 years out and [unintelligible]
REVIEW BOARD MEMBER: No, it’s not.
RICHARD STAHURSKY: I’ve done a lot of time already in seg.
WARDEN I guess what we’ve said here today is that we’re not quite there yet, OK? Continue with your college education, programming, good behavior, and then we’ll look at you again in six months. OK? Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re doing all the right things OK? Very good.
RICHARD STAHURSKY: Thank you.
Dr. DAN BANNISH: Ultimately, over the last couple of years, we’ve kind of gone through our system, we find out it’s relatively a small group of guys who are extremely dangerous, and we have to keep them isolated from other human beings or they’ll hurt them. You have to protect the rest of the community. You can’t just say, “Well, we’ll try stuff out, and jeez, over a 10-year period, he’s only killed three.” You have to make sure your community is protected.
So there will always be certain individuals within seg who are just plain dangerous and should stay there, so— but that’s a very small number.
[Between 2011 and 2017, the Maine State Prison reduced the number of inmates in solitary from more than 100 to 8. More than 30 states are now attempting solitary reforms.]
[Adam Brulotte was eventually released from county jail. He lost his job shortly afterwards. Todd Fickett stopped cutting himself and progressed into general population. He will be eligible for release in 2024.]
[Gordon Perry was given another chance to leave solitary. He is currently in general population. Richard Stahursky was transferred to a prison in New Jersey, where he was put in solitary.]
[Sam Caison lasted two months on the outside before being arrested on a domestic violence charge.]
SAM CAISON: I got arrested May 31st, and I’ve been sitting here in max ever since. Things unraveled faster than they ever had. I mean, I don’t know if it’s just my seg time or all the time I spent locked up, but if I feel like somebody’s trying to intimidate me, it’s like a switch turns on.
I’m a violent felon. I’m not somebody that should ever be left to his own thoughts. Addicts feel that the drugs call their name. I feel that that razor calls my name. I still think that the best thing for me is treatment, some kind of help, because I over-analyze everything and I think everybody’s out to get me, and then I start cutting up.
It’s nobody’s fault but my own. I’m the convict. I’m the man with the violent record. I cannot turn off the prison mentality. I know that I don’t think like a normal person.
[Sam Caison is now in general population at the Maine State Prison.]
[The prison is continuing its effort to reduce the use of solitary confinement.]