Solitary NationView film
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE—
TODD FICKETT, Inmate: It’s like being buried alive.
GORDON PERRY, Inmate: This place is like an insane asylum. Thoughts of suicide come along.
ANNOUNCER: Solitary confinement.
ADAM BRULOTTE, Inmate: You can’t get yourself wound up because you can’t leave that room.
ANNOUNCER: For decades, it’s been used to keep order in America’s prisons.
GORDON PERRY: Makes you mean, makes you violent, and it [expletive] a lot of people’s heads up.
DAVID ALLEN, Unit Manager, Maine State Prison: He severely assaulted one of our staff members.
ANNOUNCER: Now prisons across the nation are asking, is it backfiring?
RODNEY BOUFFARD, Warden, Maine State Prison: You can have them do their whole time in segregation, but I don’t want him living next to me when you release him.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the story of one prison and the warden who wants to reform his isolation unit.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: And I’m not interested in burying you.
GORDON PERRY: I’m already buried, though!
ANNOUNCER: The story of six months in solitary.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Try to be normal again.
TODD FICKETT, Inmate: My name’s Todd Michael Fickett. I’m here for arson, in prison for arson. Down here, it’s like being buried alive. You’re, like— you’re someplace alive, but you’re noplace anybody wants you.
NARRATOR: Todd Fickett has just assaulted a prison officer. He’s been put in an isolation cell as punishment.
TODD FICKETT: My mental state will probably go downhill, like it did last time. I start— I go pretty crazy.
NARRATOR: Todd is facing six months alone in his cell. He’s one of an estimated 80,000 inmates across the United States in solitary confinement.
Friday night in the segregation unit at the Maine State Prison. All the inmates here are in solitary confinement. Almost every day, the prisoners act out against the officers who work the unit. They flood their cells. They pour bodily fluids under their doors. And they cut themselves with razor blades.
Sgt. MICHAEL BURNS, Maine State Prison: 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.
I have three windows covered right now. One of them appears to be self-abusive. 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. If I can’t see him from the back window, I’m going to have to go in and take him out for his own safety.
NARRATOR: Inmates are forbidden from covering their windows in the solitary unit. They could be bleeding to death, or it could be a trick to lure the officers in.
Sgt. MICHAEL BURNS: He’s got it all covered. So now we have to pull him out.
GUARD: Do you have a large fox?
Sgt. MICHAEL BURNS: If I say go rip that door open so these men can go in. If I say “hold,” just hold it with a crack.
GUARD: Any questions at this time?
Sgt. MICHAEL BURNS: I think we’re ready to go and do a cell extraction.
Sgt. PARKER: You know you got to come out. There’s a smart way to do this. This is not it.
NARRATOR: The officers sometimes have to use mace on inmates who won’t comply.
RONALD JONCAS, Inmate: Monsters! This is what they create in here, monsters. And then they drop you into society and tell you go ahead be a good boy. Can’t conduct yourself like a human being when they treat you like an animal.
NARRATOR: In the solitary unit, nights like this are routine. Officers regularly have to remove self-abusive inmates from their cells.
GORDON PERRY, Inmate: This place is like an insane asylum. 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 that’s because they’re stuck in here with nothing to do.
NARRATOR: Gordon Perry, a convicted murderer, has been here for more than a year, longer than any other inmate in the unit.
GORDON PERRY: If 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.
NARRATOR: The maximum security Maine State Prison holds around 900 inmates. It’s home to the most dangerous prisoners in the state. Most of them live in general population. They’re allowed out of their cells each day and can interact with other inmates.
The solitary unit is “the prison within the prison.” Inmates here spend 23 hours a day in their cells. They get an hour of exercise— in a cage. Some are here long-term because they’re judged too dangerous to be around other people. Some are here for their own protection. And others are here as punishment for disruptive behavior.
ADAM BRULOTTE, Inmate: I just went overboard, freaked out, started punching stuff, threw chairs, screaming. And I got maced and tackled. And they’re trying to say I started a riot. They brought me down here. I been down here two days now.
NARRATOR: Twenty-one-year-old Adam Brulotte is serving a four-year sentence for breaking someone’s jaw in a fight. Now he’s in segregation — or “seg,” as the inmates call it — for starting a riot.
ADAM BRULOTTE: 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! And 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.
NARRATOR: Adam faces two months in solitary.
Todd Fickett is one week into his six-month stay in the solitary unit. Last night, he cut open a vein in his arm. Officers found him passed out in his cell. Self-harm is a punishable offense. His punishment is more time in solitary.
TODD FICKETT: They gave me a Class A bodily injury charge for trying to kill myself, pretty much. They’re trying to punish me for bleeding because it’s blood on their floor. They want me to suffer for it. And that’s going to put me in more of a depressive spiral considering I already have to do enough of it as it is.
NARRATOR: The officers say he’s faking mental illness in an attempt to get moved out of solitary.
DAVID ALLEN, Unit Manager, Maine State Prison: He’s just trying to get what he wants. He knows he’s going to spend a lot of time down in that segregation unit just for the fact that he severely assaulted one of our staff members, and he is trying to manipulate his way out of dealing with the consequences that come with assaulting a staff member.
NARRATOR: Todd is allowed almost nothing in his cell in case he tries to cut himself again. But in solitary, there are ways of outsmarting the officers.
INMATE: We have a bleeder! We have a bleeder!
Sgt. PARKER: Todd, what’s going on?
INMATE: We got a bleeder!
Officer DEGUISTO: Fickett! Hey, Fickett, talk to me, man.
TODD FICKETT: I can’t do that.
Officer DEGUISTO: How come.
TODD FICKETT: I’ve got [expletive] six others talking in my head, smartass.
Officer DEGUISTO: OK.
NARRATOR: One of the inmates has smuggled Todd a razor blade.
Sgt. PARKER: Can you grab a camera and come in here, please?
INMATE: We got a bleeder!
Officer DEGUISTO: Come on, Fickett. Why don’t you take this stuff down?
INMATE: Man in there bleeding to death!
NARRATOR: The officers can’t go into his cell to give him first aid until they’re sure he can’t attack them. They need to handcuff him through the tray slot on his door.
Officer MANNING: Hey, Fickett, do me a favor, put your— that towel over there on your arm, OK? Let’s just at least slow that bleeding down. Put it on your arm. Let’s slow it down.
I need to get medical. Like, a lot.
Officer DEGUISTO: Hey, are you willing to cuff up? Are you willing to come out?
NURSE: Fickett, listen, you need to cuff so I can come in and fix that.
INMATE: Don’t cuff up, Fickett!
INMATE: Drink some of your blood, Fickett!
Officer DEGUISTO: Come on, Fickett. Come on. We’re going to help you. Come on, Fickett.
Officer MANNING: We’ll go right to the classroom.
DAN EDGE, Filmmaker: So another day on the job?
LLAMAR KELLY, Inmate: Another day on the job. That’s a real clean-up, right here. We probably average about 20 of these a month, so— yeah, in the last year, I’ve become an expert on blood, I guess.
DAN EDGE: It doesn’t just mop up, does it.
LLAMAR KELLY: No, it doesn’t. It coagulates, and it’s— 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 everybody down here. I’ve been behind these doors. I know what it’s like to stay down here for years. You know, being behind these walls gets to everybody, and everybody deals with it in their own particular way. As you can imagine, someone being 17, 18 years old in a setting like this, you know, it’s not really— it does a lot with your mind.
Adam’s 25th day in solitary
NARRATOR: Adam thought he could handle solitary. Now he’s not so sure.
ADAM BRULOTTE, Inmate: Yeah, 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 start thinking, and just “Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang” all at once. This really kind of [expletive] with my head. Just trying to get some medication to slow that down for now, but—
NARRATOR: It’s lunchtime in the solitary unit.
DAN EDGE: Why are you pissed off?
ADAM BRULOTTE: Because they are [expletive] with people’s portions!
RONALD JONCAS: That’s a million-dollar shot!
INMATE: On the floor!
NARRATOR: The unrest soon escalates into a full-blown protest.
DAN EDGE: What is all this stuff on the floor?
RONALD JONCAS: It’s probably urine and toilet paper and food.
ADAM BRULOTTE: In half an hour, I’m going to let that loose and be in the hallway.
Sgt. PARKER: What’s going on?
ADAM BRULOTTE: Nothing.
INMATE: Oh, [expletive]! Oh, [expletive]! There it goes! Yeah!
NARRATOR: Adam’s punishment for flooding the unit will be more time in solitary.
Solitary confinement began in the United States in the 1800s as a progressive experiment to see if isolation would reform criminals. It was soon largely abandoned because prisoners didn’t reform, they lost their minds.
But in the 1980s, solitary re-emerged as a way to stamp out prison violence. The United States now has more inmates in isolation than any other Western country.
[www.pbs.org: Inside the rise of solitary]
RODNEY BOUFFARD, Warden, Maine State Prison: The use of segregation has its place when you have real dangerous prisoners, but from my perspective, it is overused probably throughout the United States. It’s really dangerous, OK? 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 you release him. The normal person, they’re going to be thinking, if you punish them, you’re going make them better. And the reality is the exact opposite happens.
NARRATOR: States across the country are now starting to rethink their use of segregation. Three years ago, Maine began to send fewer inmates into solitary and moved prisoners with serious mental illness out of the unit. Now the prison’s new warden is trying to take the reforms even further.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: [to inmate] I want you out on the other side of that door because that’s good for you, to be this side of the door and not that side. And you can hold me accountable. I want you to be in there—
We need to make every attempt at moving them out of those cells and moving them into general population. 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.
NARRATOR: But the warden can’t simply release violent, unstable prisoners back into general population. Adam started a riot. Todd assaulted an officer. Gordon stabbed another inmate with a screwdriver. And some of the prisoners in solitary are even more dangerous.
PETER GIBBS, Inmate: I strangled a correctional officer and hid him under my bed. And then another one came in the pod, and I knocked him out and dragged him into a utility closet and beat his head in with a mop wringer. And I got— so I’ve been in prison a long time. That was— that was when I was 16.
NARRATOR: Peter Gibbs has been in and out of solitary for over 30 years. He wants to be transferred to a prison in his home state and has threatened to murder the warden if it doesn’t happen.
PETER GIBBS: I will assault, attack, stab, do whatever I have to do to get out of your facility.
NARRATOR: In most prisons, he could expect to be stuck in solitary indefinitely.
PETER GIBBS: I will kill one of your inmates. I don’t have nothing to lose.
NARRATOR: But the warden wants his team to consider moving even Peter Gibbs back to general population.
PETER GIBBS: I want out of here. My children can’t come see me. I’m not rich. We’re not rich, you know, so they don’t have the money to come here, you know?
RODNEY BOUFFARD: So Mr. Gibbs, what do we need to do to get out of this hole that we’re in, OK?
PETER GIBBS: I need to be
RODNEY BOUFFARD: OK, and—
PETER GIBBS: And that— that makes me sociable.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: OK, I’m going to follow that up.
You can’t keep on threatening to kill me. If you’re threatening to kill me, you know, I’m probably not going to let you out of this room. And if you threaten to kill anybody— one thing I know about you, Mr. Gibbs, that I know, is you’re good for your word.
PETER GIBBS: I thought it would get me back to New Hampshire. I thought— if you tell them, “We don’t want Mr Gibbs here,” they have to take me back!
PRISON OFFICIAL: They don’t have to take you back.
PETER GIBBS: Then I’ll homicide one of your inmates! And then you guys can do what you—
PRISON OFFICIAL: What they’ll do — let me finish — is they’ll make arrangements for you to go from here to another state— New Jersey, Maryland—
PETER GIBBS: New Jersey’s refused me! Rhode Island’s refused me because of my mental health issues!
RODNEY BOUFFARD: It seems to me that you’d like to see your wife and your two daughters.
PETER GIBBS: Yes, that’s the most important thing.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: And it seems to me that you’d like get back out in general population.
PRISON OFFICIAL: What we’re going to do—
PETER GIBBS: As long as somewhere down the road, we can convince New Hampshire Mr. Gibbs is doing unreal, he’s changed, and maybe take me back.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: Look, what I can control is how do I move Mr. Gibbs out of the seg unit, OK?
NARRATOR: Gibbs will have to prove he is no longer a threat before he’s moved out of solitary.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: You know you start with baby steps, right?
PETER GIBBS: Well, what are you looking at for, like, a time period? Can you start giving me some stuff in my cell, maybe, like—
NARRATOR: But the senior prison staff are concerned.
MIKE TAUSEK, Deputy Warden: He’s a long way from— from my perspective because I have to be in a pod. Any one of us could be in general population with this guy. So I don’t want to see someone die, an officer die because we’re trying to kind of get him settled as we wait for New Hampshire to—
RODNEY BOUFFARD: It’s just going to be a process.
NARRATOR: It’s been 24 hours since Todd Fickett cut open a vein. But rather than punish him, the warden has moved him to the prison’s mental health unit for the next three months. When that time is up, he’ll have to return to solitary. But for now, he’ll be treated by the prison psychologist.
DAN BANNISH, Ph.D., Director of Mental Health, Maine State Prison: Next is to figure out how you’re doing and plan our next steps. So fill me in.
TODD FICKETT: I still feel like [expletive].
DAN BANNISH: Still don’t feel very good.
TODD FICKETT: No.
DAN BANNISH: Can you tell me a little more about— you feel like [expletive]. What does that mean?
TODD FICKETT: Still want to kill.
DAN BANNISH: You still want to what?
TODD FICKETT: Still want to kill myself.
DAN BANNISH: All right. So that started when?
Without even knowing the guy very well — and I don’t — I can tell you he doesn’t enjoy this. The intent isn’t to engender any sympathy, it’s— 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 you can control others with this. But it’s a kind of pathological way of control because it doesn’t gain them anything. Just for the briefest of time, they feel some sense of control, and then their life’s stuck again, and usually in worse physical shape.
NARRATOR: The mental health wing is a very different place from the solitary unit. Most of the inmates here have serious mental illness. Before Maine began its reforms, many of them were in solitary. But this unit is about treatment, not punishment.
DAN BANNISH: It’s different. It’s instead of a depressing clank of the prison, it’s trying to create something a little different. Every breath, every movement, every person, every— everything in there is clinical. There isn’t a non-clinical thing we do. Everything is geared towards skill developments, relationship building, appropriate interactions. So everything about it is becoming social. They’re used to being— coming from environments where people hurt each other and are anti-social, and this is a whole build-up of how you relate to people and you have to practice it every single day.
NARRATOR: Todd will still be kept separate from other inmates, but he’ll have frequent meetings with Dr. Bannish.
DAN BANNISH: He’s 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.
PETER GIBBS: I want to be maced!
NARRATOR: The warden’s effort to help Todd has created a new problem back on the solitary unit. The other inmates think it isn’t fair.
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 keep playing their [expletive] games.
PETER GIBBS: Soon maybe I can get some cookies and milk.
NARRATOR: Peter Gibbs is still threatening to kill prison staff and inmates and now says he will cut himself if he doesn’t get what he wants.
PETER GIBBS: This is what I have to start doing. People have done stuff. They’ve gotten rewarded for it. I sit in my cell, I mind my own business, but there’s no rewards!
GORDON PERRY: Hey, Gibbs!
PETER GIBBS: Gordon!
NARRATOR: Peter is not the only inmate causing trouble.
GORDON PERRY: Hey, how you feeling about not getting that meeting today?
NARRATOR: After a year in solitary, Gordon Perry is also running out of patience.
PETER GIBBS: Told me the same thing, he was going to see me this week.
GORDON PERRY: 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.
PETER GIBBS: Unreal how they force people’s hands here!
GORDON PERRY: I want to give them a little bit more time because when I cover that window up, I’m serious. This ain’t my first rodeo. I got a pretty good set-up, and we’re going to [expletive] hopefully fight the team.
NARRATOR: Now the warden and his staff have to talk down two of the most dangerous inmates on the unit.
GORDON PERRY: The only way you ever get anything around here is to act up. I’m sitting back, being good for a year, ain’t [expletive] working. All I’m getting is smoke blown up my [expletive] ass every which way I look.
Sgt. PARKER: This is going to disqualify you from going to New Hampshire. If you do this kind of [expletive], it’s not going to happen.
PETER GIBBS: Of course it’s going to happen! I’ve seen him make deals, like, left and right with people for putting this [expletive] up in the window.
GORDON PERRY: 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, Warden, Maine State Prison: Because of what you’ve done here, we’re going to move you out very slowly. 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: I need to know that the other inmates are going to be safe, as well.
GORDON PERRY: It ain’t happening. You 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: I’m willing to look at moving you along, but it’s going to be— 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— but I’m already buried, though. I already been down here a year.
PETER GIBBS: I want to be maced.
Sgt. PARKER: I don’t want to mace you, Gibbs.
PETER GIBBS: I need to be maced.
Sgt. PARKER: You don’t need to be maced.
PETER GIBBS: I have to be.
Sgt. PARKER: No, you don’t. There’s no reason for this [expletive].
PETER GIBBS: If I cut [expletive] up, will you mace me?
Sgt. PARKER: No. There’s no reason for any of that stuff.
PETER GIBBS: You can’t give me a little blast, like a— just a little burst?
Sgt. PARKER: No, I’m not going to give you a blast, all right? I understand you’re frustrated—
PETER GIBBS: No, you don’t understand.
Sgt. PARKER: I do. We had that conversation.
PETER GIBBS: You have no clue!
Sgt. PARKER: Don’t think it’s lost on me that you’re locked in a box for 23 hours a day.
PETER GIBBS: I don’t care about that! This is like being— this— this to me is nothing. That’s what’s so sad about segregation—
Sgt. PARKER: Yeah?
PETER GIBBS: —is after years and years and years, you become retarded to it.
Sgt. PARKER: You’re smarter than that.
PETER GIBBS: I’m all [expletive] up.
Sgt. PARKER: Yeah, but you’re smarter than that, Gibbs.
PETER GIBBS: I’m [expletive] up from it.
Sgt. PARKER: You’re smarter than that.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: OK, so we’ll evaluate it, and we’ll look at moving you along. And we’ll talk next week, OK? OK, have a good weekend.
PETER GIBBS: I can’t even get [expletive] maced in this place!
NARRATOR: Adam is becoming increasingly unstable. Last night, he covered his window and threatened to cut himself. Because of his behavior, his original 60 days of solitary has increased to more than 100 days.
Sgt. DUPERRE: Mr. Brulotte, how you feeling today?
ADAM BRULOTTE: Better.
Sgt. DUPERRE: That’s good to hear.
ADAM BRULOTTE: All I really want to do is go to school and not go to C pod, and do my own time. I leave in, like, 170 days.
NARRATOR: Adam is anxious about life after prison. He’s desperate to take his GED to give himself a chance of employment when he’s released.
ADAM BRULOTTE: I let you guys know 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. DUPERRE: I told you at your door yesterday, give me a 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. We’ll do our best to get you the help you need, but I need you to do your part. You need to keep your head on— screwed on straight, OK?
TODD FICKETT: I can just— I still want to try to figure out—
NARRATOR: Todd has now been in the mental health unit for a month. He’s starting to open up about his family.
TODD FICKETT: Why do you think I’m asking for the court to make sure I’m the father?
DAN BANNISH, Ph.D., Director of Mental Health, Maine State Prison: So if you’re not?
TODD FICKETT: If I’m not, I’m still going to love my kid. It’s my kid either way.
DAN BANNISH: And In some ways that, that’s very— that’s noble. A lot of people wouldn’t. So where’s that come from? Where’s this nobility come from?
TODD FICKETT: It comes from the fact that I didn’t have a father.
DAN BANNISH: OK.
TODD FICKETT: My dad committed suicide, which the date’s coming up.
DAN BANNISH: OK.
TODD FICKETT: It’s the 24th.
DAN BANNISH: OK, so Christmas Eve.
He’s really— he’s somebody who tries to elicit that he’s not— he’s not help-able and he’s just into being a nasty guy. But I don’t believe that, and I’ve told him I don’t.
TODD FICKETT: Do you want me to tell you, or do you want to try and figure it out?
DAN BANNISH: Oh, I always want to try to figure it out. I like puzzles, so—
TODD FICKETT: OK. You figure it out. I’ll ask you—
DAN BANNISH: You ask me about that, yeah.
He’s gotten some goodness somewhere because he has some nice things about him that he doesn’t show very often. We will see if he’s willing to do the work necessary, but he’s too young to throw away.
I got one for you, Kirkley and Griffin—
NARRATOR: Dr. Bannish uses unorthodox methods to engage the inmates.
DAN BANNISH: I think you’re going to enjoy this.
NARRATOR: Today, he’s giving them puzzles to solve.
DAN BANNISH: See how enjoyable these guys are. I mean, they really are. They— they don’t want to be grumpy. They don’t want to be upset. They want contact that’s meaningful.
This is a good one! We’ll see if you got that by Monday. No conferring with each other!
TODD FICKETT: You can’t take it.
Adam’s 38th day in solitary
ADAM BRULOTTE: I’m leaving in four-and-a-half months, they put me on the [expletive] bottom of the list. I’m about to freak out!
Sgt. DUPERRE: They didn’t— no, they didn’t come down, and it was addressed, OK? So—
NARRATOR: Two weeks have passed since Adam was told he’d be able to take his GED.
Sgt. DUPERRE: Yes, they do. You’re going to be getting your GED, OK?
ADAM BRULOTTE: Well, I want to [expletive] do some testing tomorrow.
Sgt. DUPERRE: Absolutely.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Or I’ll snap.
Sgt. DUPERRE: You know what? That’s— that’s a legitimate request, but you snapping isn’t going to get it to you. Give me a shot at trying to [expletive] help you out with the GED bit.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Yeah, and that’s been two weeks. This close! This [expletive] close!
INMATE: You believe that [expletive] , you’ll believe any [expletive] thing.
ADAM BRULOTTE: I’m not [expletive] believing nothing!
INMATE: Big house of lies.
3 days later
ADAM BRULOTTE: [expletive] bullshit! You treat us like animals, we will act like animals!
Sgt. 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!
NARRATOR: Adam pushes feces under the door. The punishment will be yet more time in solitary.
[www.pbs.org: More on solitary and mental health]
GORDON PERRY: Well, my fault would be trying to go by the rules. I don’t have too much open-mindedness for the rules in here.
Officer MENDOZA: And tell us why. There’s always a reason, so let us know.
GORDON PERRY: Obviously, because I’m a criminal and I don’t like the rules that you guys have.
Officer MENDOZA: Besides that.
NARRATOR: After more than a year in solitary, Gordon Perry is in a room with other prisoners. He and Adam have joined a new program being offered to inmates in the segregation unit.
Officer MENDOZA: All you have to do is make the choice at the time that something is presented to you, “Am I going to push poop on my window? Am I going to”—
NARRATOR: Prisoners are asked to talk honestly about how they make decisions. The weekly classes are supposed to help them become less violent.
ADAM BRULOTTE: I show pride, I try to go, like, too far, and I start to get hard-headed. Yeah. Oh, yeah, I think I’ll be so much cooler if I break this guy’s eye socket.
GORDON PERRY: If your pride’s good, you don’t back down on [expletive], people are going to give you respect. So that’s a positive of that.
Officer MENDOZA: All right, what’s the negative with the pride?
GORDON PERRY: Oh, if you’re a bitch, then people got to treat you like a bitch, so then you don’t get no respect
Officer MENDOZA: But that’s no pride. Let’s talk about actually having pride.
GORDON PERRY: Oh, the negative of it? Going to SMU because you got to bang somebody else because they put you in that situation.
That program is bull[expletive]. Everybody knows it. I don’t even want to do this program. I just want to get out of seg.
DAN EDGE: 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 think my character’s pretty good overall. You know, unless you’re my enemy, it’s— it’s pretty good, I think. So that program has nothing for me.
[www.pbs.org: How solitary's being reformed]
TODD FICKETT: [on the phone] You got an iPhone? That’s some sick stuff.
NARRATOR: Todd has six weeks left in the mental health unit before he must return to solitary. He’s been allowed to call his family and even got to speak to his 2-year old daughter.
TODD FICKETT: I love you.
That’s the first time I’ve ever spoken to her.
DAN EDGE: How did it make you feel?
TODD FICKETT: It made me feel like a new guy. I kind of feel that I want to go in the right direction so I can do what I need to do. That way, I can create a better future for me and my kids.
DAN EDGE: How are you going to cope with seg this time?
TODD FICKETT: Hopefully, better. I’m on this nice new medication that makes me feel good.
[www.pbs.org: Watch on line]
Capt. ALLEN: If we go down through it, I’d like to take a look at who we would be considering—
NARRATOR: The warden has been in the job for six months. He faces some tough choices.
RODNEY BOUFFARD, Warden: I truly don’t see him as somebody significantly mentally ill.
NARRATOR: The longer he leaves inmates in solitary, the more disturbed they could become.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: When he’s completed that program, then he can go to general pop.
NARRATOR: But moving them out too soon would endanger staff and other prisoners.
Capt. ALLEN: Gordon Perry.
NARRATOR: Now he’s ready to take a risk with one of the prison’s most dangerous inmates.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: 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. All right, let’s do it.
Capt. ALLEN: Friday.
GORDON PERRY: That’s the day when it’s all set in stone?
Capt. ALLEN: I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent set in stone, but—
GORDON PERRY: Oh, you already promised me. It has to be.
Capt. ALLEN: No, no.
GORDON PERRY: You already gave me your word.
Capt. ALLEN: You’re going out. We’ll get you out Friday morning.
GORDON PERRY: Friday morning?
NARRATOR: Last week, Adam was let out of solitary to study for his GED. But within days, he was sent back after starting another riot. Now he’s in more trouble for pushing feces out of his door again.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Yeah, my mental health diminished. Slowly but surely. It would to anybody. I lasted a while, now I just think [expletive] it. They put me in the coldest cell in this prison as punishment. It’s supposed to be like a certain— I don’t know this is America, not Russia. It’s just [expletive] cold in here.
NARRATOR: Gordon Perry is leaving solitary. It’s a reward for doing the classes, and a month of good behavior in his cell. He’s headed for a step-down unit for prisoners transitioning out of solitary. Inmates here are allowed out of their cells for a few hours each day, and required to take more classes. If Gordon does well, he will eventually move to a unit with fewer restrictions.
RODNEY BOUFFARD: You know, he’s a very dangerous individual. But essentially, I still believe that we can change him. Our obligation is to continue to provide him with the opportunity to change. I don’t hesitate on the decision at all.
GORDON PERRY: I’m just hanging out. That’s what I’m doing. My realistic, honest plan is to live as good as I can in here. But it’s a fantasy to think you’re going to change somebody that doesn’t want to change.
NARRATOR: Time is running out for Todd Fickett. He has just one week left on the mental health unit. The prospect of returning to solitary is taking its toll.
TODD FICKETT: I’m aggravated.
Capt. ALLEN: Again? Why are you aggravated?
TODD FICKETT: I’m aggravated because the plan I’m on, I seem to try to follow, and nobody else is following it right now.
Capt. ALLEN: What do you mean?
NARRATOR: Now he’s just found out he has even more solitary time to serve than he thought.
Capt. ALLEN: That is 50 days. You have 100 days of D-time to do.
TODD FICKETT: Yeah, and we were cutting it in half to 50.
Capt. ALLEN: No, we weren’t.
TODD FICKETT: We’re halfway through 50 was 25.
Capt. ALLEN: No, we weren’t. It’s 50 days here and then we will meet— [crosstalk] Then we will meet and discuss where you go from there.
TODD FICKETT: How the hell am I going through 100?
Capt. ALLEN: Because you have 100 days. It says half. You still have quite a bit of D-time to do, and you’re going to have to serve that D-time.
TODD FICKETT: Yeah, 15 days— two weeks.
Capt. ALLEN: No.
TODD FICKETT: Put me back in my room. I don’t need this [expletive].
Capt. ALLEN: OK, listen—
TODD FICKETT: No.
Capt. ALLEN: Listen— hang onto him for a second. Hang on for a second. I would think twice about doing anything, though.
Officer PEEK: Todd, you all right? You going to keep hitting that for a little while or what?
TODD FICKETT: Huh?
Officer PEEK: You going to keep hitting that for a little while?
TODD FICKETT: I’m probably going to hit the wall soon.
Officer PEEK: Don’t do that.
TODD FICKETT: I’m [expletive] pissed.
Officer PEEK: Can’t let you do that. You know that.
TODD FICKETT: I’m going to seg anyways. They want to [expletive] with my plan, put me in goddamn seg. I’ll hit every cop that comes through that [expletive] door, and I’ll get maced every goddamn day. I don’t give a [expletive].
Officer PEEK: We don’t want you doing that. You going to be all right?
Adam’s 106th day in solitary
INMATE: We got a bleeder! Red man!
Sgt. BURNS: Brulotte, what’s up?
ADAM BRULOTTE: [expletive] you! I want a [expletive] warmer room! This [expletive] is an icebox!
Sgt. BURNS: Put your hands up here and I’ll cuff you up.
ADAM BRULOTTE: [expletive] you! I want a [expletive] warmer room. This is [expletive]! I want to see mental health!
NARRATOR: Four months ago, Adam Brulotte thought he could handle solitary confinement. Now he’s cut open a vein on his arm and poured blood all over himself and his cell.
ADAM BRULOTTE: Stop!
Sgt. BURNS: Calm down.
ADAM BRULOTTE: No, I been [expletive] calm. I’ve been asking you all day! I’m not going to sleep in a [expletive] cold room!
PETER GIBBS: That blood is pouring out of him in the back. You need to bring him to medical.
ADAM BRULOTTE: This is [expletive] Shouldn’t have to [expletive] do this!
PETER GIBBS: Put him on something and bring him to medical.
INMATE: Red Man, how do you feel?
ADAM BRULOTTE: [expletive] pissed. You [expletive] put me in a [expletive] icebox!
DAN EDGE, Filmmaker: We’ve seen Adam Brulotte deteriorate since he arrived in seg. From someone who’d never hurt himself before, he cut up very badly, put feces out of the door, did some pretty strange stuff. Was segregation the right place for a person like Adam?
RODNEY BOUFFARD, Warden: 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. We 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.
7 days later
[Mental Health Unit]
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. And I seen a couple people doing it, so then I started doing it.
DAN EDGE: Do you think it’s changed you forever?
ADAM BRULOTTE: I don’t know. I have to find out. 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.
TODD FICKETT: I am moving back to seg. This ought to be fun, kind of exciting for some reason.
GUARD: Open Alpha 210, please, Alpha 210.
Capt. ALLEN: He has made a lot of progress in A wing. He does have his setbacks where he does make threats that he’s going to do something to himself. But overall, we’ve gotten quite a bit of good behavior and we haven’t had any self-abusive behavior. What I’m hoping is that when he does go to spike, the coping skills that we’ve worked with mental health, he’s going to ease up, and maybe we can— we’ll level it off just like we had a couple of occasions over in A.
INMATE: Fickett, how was [expletive] A wing?
DAN BANNISH, Ph.D., Director of Mental Health: In Mr. Fickett’s case, it is a dilemma, but he assaulted someone very seriously. Within a correctional setting, you have to have a consequence for that somehow. Even if it— even if it doesn’t benefit the inmate so much, you have a staff here. So it is a sensitive issue that has to do not only with the treatment of the inmates but with the management of an institution and the people who work within it.
NARRATOR: Todd faces at least three more months of solitary.
After filming finished, Adam Brulotte was moved back to general population. He was released from prison in March 2014.
After three months in the step-down unit, Gordon Perry was caught with contraband and sent back to solitary. Within hours, he cut open a vein.
Peter Gibbs is still in solitary.
PETER GIBBS: Right on the edge of having a complete nervous breakdown.
NARRATOR: There are no plans to release him.
[Since 2011, the number of inmates in solitary at the Maine State Prison has fallen by 50 percent. But in February 2014, a prisoner released from solitary murdered another inmate. The victim was stabbed 87 times. The warden is still trying to reduce the number of inmates in solitary.]
GUARD: I have an inmate that has started self-abusive behavior. I need a responder—
INMATE: Here we go again!
NARRATOR: Todd Fickett lasted just three hours.
INMATE: Hopefully, next time you [expletive] die, Fickett!
TODD FICKETT: That’d be nice.
NARRATOR: His wounds will be stitched up. Then he’ll be back in solitary.