Solitary Nation

Dan Edge


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.

Twitter #LockedUp

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.


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!

Oh! Scumbag!

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?


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.

[ 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


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.

Twitter #frontlinePBS

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.


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!



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?


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.


TODD FICKETT: My dad committed suicide, which the date’s coming up.


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.

[ More on solitary and mental health]

[group session]

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.

[ 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.

[ 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—


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?


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.


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.



Prison State

Dan Edge


DEMETRIA DUNCAN: My mama was locked up, my daddy, my brothers, my cousins, everybody.

ANNOUNCER: There are 2.3 million people locked up in the United States—

KEITH HUFF: I spent more time in prison than I’ve been in society. It’s a shame.

ANNOUNCER: —around half for non-violent crimes.

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: I shouldn’t be in here. I’m in here, basically, for skipping school.

ANNOUNCER: These inmates are costing states billions they can’t afford.

MARK BOLTON, Dir., Louisville Dept. of Corrections: Our number one frequent flyer is not dangerous, but we have probably spent millions dollars on this guy.

ANNOUNCER: FRONTLINE takes you inside one American neighborhood where getting locked up is a part of everyday life—

TED LUCKETT, Deacon, Catholic Charities: This system is set up for them to fail because when they come out of prison, there’s nothing for them.

ANNOUNCER: —and inside one state that is trying to fix a broken system.

Commissioner HASAN DAVIS, KY Dept. of Juvenile Justice, 2012-14: Incarceration has become the response to every social problem that we encounter.

MARK BOLTON: Jail doesn’t work. Prison doesn’t work.

Rep. JOHN TILLEY (D), Kentucky Legislature: We need to distinguish between who we’re mad at and who we’re afraid of.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, Prison State.

Keith’s Story

KEITH HUFF: My name is Keith Huff. I’m from Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve been incarcerated five times in the Kentucky state prison system. I got a total of 27 years in the system.

NARRATOR: Keith Huff is a million-dollar prisoner. The state of Kentucky has spent an estimated $1.1 million incarcerating him. He’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

KEITH HUFF: I do great in prison, for some reason. It’s sad, but I do. I do great in prison, I mean, because I got the structure and people telling me what to do. When I got somebody behind me, on me, I do great in life. I really do.

NARRATOR: Keith is currently serving five years for burglary, theft and impersonating a police officer. He’s set to be released in three months.

KEITH HUFF: I do some stupid stuff. I have been coming in and out of prison since the early ‘80s. Every time I’ve left prison, it’s like a revolving door. It’s just a cycle. It’s a curse. And where I come from, the neighborhood I come from, most everybody get locked up. And I mean everybody.

NARRATOR: Keith is from the Beecher Terrace, a housing project in the west end of Louisville, Kentucky, where around one in six people cycle in and out of prison every year.

KAYLA MILLER: Yes, a lot of people in my family been locked up.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: My big brother been locked up, my daddy.

JAYJUAN: My uncle’s been to prison.

RI-RI KINNISON: Yeah, my daddy. And my granny.

NARRATOR: Kentucky spends more than $15 million a year incarcerating people just from Beecher Terrace and the surrounding neighborhoods.

KAYLA MILLER: My brother Ike has been locked up three or four times.

JODECI CHADWICK: My best friend Eric’s in prison right now.

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: My uncles— well, almost all my uncles.

KENDALE WOOLFOLK: I’d say I was incarcerated 50 times.

JODECI CHADWICK: My granddaddy’s been locked up, my sister been locked up, my cousins, all of them.

NARRATOR: This is the story of a year in the lives of four residents of Beecher Terrace—

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: I got cousins on both sides that have been locked up.

NARRATOR: —men who’ve been in and out of prison for decades.

KEITH HUFF: I spent more time in prison than I been in society. That’s a shame.

NARRATOR: Children getting locked up for the first time.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: When I go to jail, I don’t feel like it teaches me a lesson.

MELLERNEE JONES, Juvenile Court Social Worker: She is so angry, Christel could be headed towards prison if she doesn’t get it right now.

GIRL: My mother been locked up.

MARK BOLTON, Dir., Louisville Dept. of Corrections: You know, the United States locks up more people than any other country in the world.

BOY: Me and my cousin, we got some crack cocaine.

NARRATOR: It’s the story of a place where incarceration is almost inevitable—

Commissioner HASAN DAVIS, KY Dept. of Juvenile Justice, 2012-14: Incarceration has become the response to every social problem that we encounter. They’re doing bad at school, lock them up. A problem in the home, look them up.

NARRATOR: —and of a state trying to break the cycle.

MARK BOLTON: We really have to look at a paradigm shirt in this business of how we operate justice. Jail doesn’t work. Prison doesn’t work.

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: I’m 15 years old. And I’m in here, basically, for skipping school.


Christel’s Story

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: My name is Christel Tribble, and I live in Beecher Terrace. It’s basically a regular ghetto. I know a lot of people that’s been in jail— my dad, my uncles— well, almost all my uncles— my cousins. But I’m my own person. I want to go on American Idol when I get older, or I want to be a detective.

NARRATOR: Christel is 15. She lives with her mother and four brothers and sisters in a two-bedroom apartment on Beecher Terrace. Her father has been locked up most of her life.

ROSE TRIBBLE, Christel’s Mother: I think it played a real big part in Christel’s life, and not good. She really didn’t know him. He didn’t really know her. So it was, like, every time he got out, he was starting over, starting over, starting over. You know, so it— for the child, I think it fills them a lot with anger, which causes a whole lot of problems as they get older.

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: I don’t like him. Every time he told me he was going to come back and stuff like that, be in my life, he lied, so— as I got older, I didn’t care about my daddy anymore. I want to believe that my mama’s my daddy, too, so— oh! I don’t want to talk about it no more.

ROSE TRIBBLE: Christel started acting out a little bit when she was in elementary, but she really started acting up when she hit middle school. As she got older, all this stuff was just waiting to come out. It was just waiting.

NARRATOR: Last year, Christel was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and ADHD. After a classroom fight, she was sent to an alternative school for disruptive children. Now she’s stopped showing up and has just been summoned to court for truancy.

ROSE TRIBBLE: This is all coming down on you. You know which way you heading to? Piggy? Do you like it? Are you sure because we back in the court again for truancy. If they got to, if they feel they have to, they could lock you up. Is that what you want? This is stuff that they can do because you gave them permission to.

And look at me. Just think, if you graduate, go to a college, this is something you can talk about with pride because you could share your stories with other kids. You’d be one of the hood project kids that proved a whole lot of people wrong. And I know you can. I know you can. Your family, we know you can. Can’t nobody do nothing about this but you. That’s it, just you. Quit being a knucklehead.

Twitter #LockedUp

MICHELLE ALEXANDER, Assoc. Prof. of Law, Ohio State University: In these communities where incarceration has become so normalized, the system operates practically from cradle to grave. When you’re born, your parent has likely already spent time behind bars.

You’re likely to attend schools that have zero tolerance policies, where police officers patrol the halls, where disputes with teachers are treated as criminal infractions, where a schoolyard fight results in your first arrest. You find that a very, very young age, even the smallest infractions are treated as criminal.

And that’s where it begins. It sends this message whether if you follow the rules or you don’t, you’re going to jail. Just like your uncle, just like your father, just like your brother, just like your neighbor, you, too, are going to jail. It’s part of your destiny.

MARK BOLTON, Dir., Louisville Dept. of Corrections: Hey, how’s it going, man? Anything good going on? Got everything under control?


MARK BOLTON: How’re you doing? How’re you doing?

NARRATOR: Since the 1970s, the number of people locked up in the United States has grown from 300,000 to 2.3 million. Kentucky has been at the center of this prison and jail expansion. The number of inmates here has risen faster than in almost any other state.

MARK BOLTON: Our number one frequent flier has been in and out of here over the last five years about 95 times. He is not dangerous. And throughout the entire criminal justice system, we have probably spent millions of dollars on this guy.

Gentleman, good afternoon. I’m Director Bolton.

NARRATOR: Louisville’s jail is a few hundred yards from Beecher Terrace. It’s home to inmates awaiting trial or serving time for minor offenses.

MARK BOLTON: Keeping busy, huh?

We’ve got a jail capacity of 1,793 beds.

[in prison temporary dorm] Who’s been in here longer than 72 hours, anybody? No, longer than 72 hours.

On any given day, we are trending over 2,000, sometimes as high as 2,100, 2,200.

[in dorm] We’re crowded.

INMATE: Yeah, I know.

MARK BOLTON: I mean, we’re crowded. If I can get you out of here, because I need the space, we’re going to get you out of here.


MARK BOLTON: We’re always over capacity. We’re always having to house inmates in nooks and crannies, on the floor, in any available space that we have.

[to inmate] How’re you doing? Detoxing pretty hard? Yeah? Heroin? Let’s see. Boy, you was using a lot.

At any given time, we’re detoxing up to 90 people. Residential detox beds are full. So more often than not, they come here to jail.

How’re you guys doing?

NEW INMATE: Could be better.

MARK BOLTON: So what are you in here for?




MARK BOLTON: Don’t have room for you here.

We’re locking up people that we’re pissed off at. We ought to be using this space for people that we’re afraid of, violent folks, people that are going to hurt me and you.

We’ve gone through just an explosion of jail and prison construction in this country, costing us billions and billions of dollars to build, and another billions and billions of dollars to operate. And we’ve come, I think, to a fork in the road where we just can’t do that anymore because, number one, we can’t afford it. And secondly, we are locking people up that don’t need to be locked up.

McDuffie’s Story

CHARLES McDUFFIE: My name’s Charles McDuffie, age 67, and I’m here for breaking the law.

NARRATOR: Charles McDuffie is in state prison serving a five-year sentence for burglary.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: I had a drug problem. I turned to drugs for help. It ease your mind for a minute, you know, then you’re right back to where you started from, you know? But here I am, man, still here. Still here.

NARRATOR: Forty-five years ago, McDuffie served with the 11th Cavalry in Vietnam.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: That’s when I first started doing drugs, started drinking, in Vietnam, you know? I started smoking marijuana, and it seemed like it made it easier, you know, to get through it, you know? But getting out [unintelligible] It’s crazy. I seen a lot of killing and stuff, man, you know? It was rough. It was rough.

NARRATOR: Since Vietnam, McDuffie says he’s had almost no mental health treatment. He’s set to be released from prison in two months. Keeping him locked up over the years has cost an estimated $200,000.

BRYAN STEVENSON, Professor, NYU School of Law: Incarcerating people is very, very expensive. Creating an infrastructure to house and control hundreds of thousands of people costs billions of dollars.

And what’s bizarre is that we’ve actually taken money away from systems that are designed to help people stay out of jail and prison — education, health and human services, family services, social services — to fund an investment in incarceration. You invested in jails and prisons almost conceding that there’s a whole community that has to go to jail or prison. We can’t do anything for them other than incarcerate them.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: My mama was locked up, my daddy. My cousins on my mama and my daddy’s side, most of them been locked up. I got uncles, brothers, everybody.

Demetria’s Story

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: I got 11 charges. Who gets 11 charges at the age of 14? Who does that? Like, I don’t even— I don’t— I mean, I really didn’t even peep myself getting that many charges. I didn’t even peep myself going to court that many times. Like, where did all the time go? Where did all of these charges go?

NARRATOR: Demetria grew up on Beecher Terrace. She’s already been to juvenile jail three times. She’s now been charged with assaulting her aunt, her legal guardian, and placed in a shelter run by the juvenile courts. She’s on medication for anxiety disorder.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: I just got a short temper. It’s, like, my anger be taking over. I’m not— I don’t know. When people get on butt with me, I just can’t let nobody talk crazy to me. Like, I feel like I got to say something back.

JACQUELINE BROCK, Juvenile Court Youth Worker: All this fighting, violence— that does not solve the problem, baby, in life. It really doesn’t. It makes it worse. A lot of kids I worked with over the years, they’re dead or they’re in prison doing long time. When I say life, they’re doing life. And that’s not a good life.

NARRATOR: When Demetria was 9, her mother was shot dead. The police say she killed herself. Her family thinks she was murdered.

JACQUELINE BROCK: She’s still having a difficult time in dealing with her mom’s death. Several times, she has expressed to me that’s why she fights, because she’s still mad about her mom’s death.

[to Demetria] You’re going to have to break the cycle. So when do you plan on breaking the cycle?

And at the rate that she’s going, I really fear prison and death for her if she don’t turn some things around.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: No, I do not think I’m no different. I don’t try to get locked up. I don’t think going to jail’s good. But when I go to jail, I don’t feel like it teaches me a lesson. I feel like it just makes me even more madder. It don’t do nothing. I don’t— like, you know how people go, “It taught me a lesson. I never”— it don’t teach me a lesson. It just makes me even more madder, like, so now I have to do all this time, cool, cool. When I get out, now it’s really like world war three.   [unintelligible] exactly what goes through my mind, world war three.

NARRATOR: If Demetria is found guilty of assault, she could face a year in juvenile detention.

Commissioner HASAN DAVIS, KY Dept. of Juvenile Justice, 2012-14: Incarceration has become the response to every social problem that we encounter. They’re doing bad at school, lock them up. If there’s a problem in the home, a behavior problem, you want to lock them up. And so we’ve criminalized the entire population of our young people.

Instead of responding to it appropriately in the community, in the schools, in the home, with social services, we want to do the ultimate response. We want to lock them up and teach them a lesson.

But we could take each one of these inmates and put them up at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York for a month with room service and still not get to the amount of money we’re spending every year for them. I mean, does that make sense?

NARRATOR: It costs the state an average of $87,000 a year to incarcerate a child. Kentucky spends more than $50 million annually locking up juveniles, most of whom have never committed a violent offense.


Rep. JOHN TILLEY (D), Kentucky Legislature: We need to distinguish between who we’re mad at and who we’re afraid of. The United States comprises about 4.5 to 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we incarcerate 24 to 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

And then you look at Kentucky, and over the past decade, from about 2010 backward to about ‘99, we had a prison growth rate of 45 percent. The average for the rest of the country was 13 percent. Kentucky had truly become the epicenter for prison growth. Our spending jumped almost 220 percent to nearly half a billion dollars.

NARRATOR: Now states like Kentucky can no longer afford this growth and are trying to reduce their prison populations. In 2011, the Kentucky legislature passed a law overhauling incarceration in the state. Thousands of non-violent offenders like Keith Huff will be released early over the next decade. Some of the money saved will be spent on treatment for addicts like Charles McDuffie.

Rep. JOHN TILLEY: It’s controversial, but the bill estimates savings of somewhere near a half a billion dollars over a decade. Nobody would dispute that prison serves a core function of government. We need to segregate those individuals who are a threat to public safety. Those individuals that we’re mad at, there may be a better way. There may be treatment. There may be intense supervision. Or there may be any number of things that would serve not only the individual better and his or her family, but society much better, as well.

KEITH HUFF: Well, today, I’m being discharged, and I’m really happy about that. I’m a little kind of jittery, though, but you know, that just come with the turf. But most likely, I’m going to— I’m excited to go home today.

INMATE: Take care of yourself.

INMATE: I got you, brother. Pick your butt on up out of here, man.

INMATE: Take care of yourself, man.

KEITH HUFF: OK, brother. Thank you, man. Y’all take care of yourself. Stay out of trouble, man.

I’m not coming back to penitentiary. Ain’t no ifs or buts, I’m not coming back to the pen. I’m going to do everything in my power to stay out. I don’t care if I have to call anybody to get me some help, I’m not coming back here.

The most beautiful sight in the world!

NARRATOR: Under the Kentucky reforms, Keith is being released six months early. This should save the state more than $15,000 if he doesn’t get sent back to prison.

KEITH HUFF: I’m glad to be released early. But I know it’s going to be really hard, really hard. I don’t know how I’m going to get my Social Security and I don’t even know how I’m going to bet my Medicaid to pay for my medicines. No one going to give me a job because I’m a convicted felon.

ALLISON ROBINSON, Parole Officer: Mr. Huff, I’m Officer Robinson. I will—

NARRATOR: Keith was diagnosed with his schizophrenia in prison. He has a long history of burglary, fraud, theft and substance abuse. Intensive parole supervision is supposed to help him stay out of trouble.

ALLISON ROBINSON: Understand you shall submit to random alcohol and drug testing. Understand that seven nights a week, you’re to be at the address on Marion.


ALLISON ROBINSON: OK, I am not here to send you back to prison. That’s not my goal.

KEITH HUFF: Yes, ma’am.

ALLISON ROBINSON: My goal is that in six months, I can hand you that final discharge. You are this close to being done. You can do this, all right?

KEITH HUFF: Yes, ma’am. I know I can. Thank you.

ALLISON ROBINSON: And communicate with me. Trust me. If something’s going on and I can help you, let me know and I’ll help you.

KEITH HUFF: Yes, ma’am.

ALLISON ROBINSON: OK? So if something—

KEITH HUFF: I’m not going back to Beecher Terrace this time because I want to get a fresh start in my life.

Glad to be with you.

NARRATOR: Keith has found a room in a group home for ex-prisoners.

KEITH HUFF: You won’t have no problem out of me.


KEITH HUFF: I don’t use drugs and alcohol, so I’m pretty— I get along well with everybody, and I appreciate you giving me the opportunity, ma’am.

HOME MANAGER: And that’s what it’s all about. Ted’s got this program to try to help people get themselves that second chance.

KEITH HUFF: Yes, ma’am. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity.

ROBERT: Everyone deserves a second chance.

KEITH HUFF: That’s right.

TED LUCKETT, Deacon, Catholic Charities: Of course, this is Robert’s third or fourth. [laughter]

KEITH HUFF: Yeah, man. No, we’ve been in prison together.

TED LUCKETT, Deacon, Catholic Charities: His biggest challenge is right now surviving. The state is trying to pick up a little bit, but it’s still terrible.

KEITH HUFF: I ain’t got no coat or nothing.

TED LUCKETT: The system’s set up for them to fail because when they come out of prison, there’s nothing for them. And Keith was released from prison with just the clothes on his back, no money, not even a winter coat. He come out with his khaki pants, his sweatshirt, and that was it, and not a dime in his pocket.

If it wasn’t for this, house where would he be? I mean, he’d be homeless and without a dime in his pocket. If I’m a criminal, what’s the first thing I’m going to do? I’m going to get me some money, and the only way I know how to get money is— is to do it my way. And they’re right back in where they started.

KEITH HUFF: I’m really scared, to be honest about it. My parole conditions state that I have to stay off of drugs and alcohol, and I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I only have 30 days supply of my medicine, but I’m hopeful.

It feel good to be free! I know I got a role ahead of me of getting my life together. But I want somebody to have something to say good about me. I just want to leave something behind to say, “Well, at least he did change. He tried to change.”

I’m overjoyed today, and I thank the Lord for giving me another opportunity to— to go on with my life.

[ More on challenges after prison]

NARRATOR: The Kentucky prison reforms did not address juvenile incarceration. The state locks up more than a thousand children each year for minor offenses like truancy.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: [playing monopoly] Bank error in your favor! Get out of jail free! Go to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

BOY: I’m already in jail.

NARRATOR: Fourteen-year old Demetria is still at the juvenile shelter. She’s due in court soon for the assault on her aunt, who she’s lived with since her mother was killed. This weekend would have been her mother’s birthday.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: Miss Collins, can I please go to my mama’s grave site on Sunday for her birthday?

COUNSELOR: You know that that’s considered a special pass, but because you are not on the right track to earn a home pass, getting a special visit on Sunday is an incentive. So what plans do you have set for yourself to be able to earn a special visit? Because you ain’t been on the right track, mama.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: I’m going to be good for the rest of the week, I promise.

COUNSELOR: You do what you’re supposed to do from now until Friday, and I will consider it.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: I’m going to follow my behavior plan.

SUPERVISOR: Your behavior contract? You do what you supposed to do from now until Friday, and we’ll think about a pass on Sunday. But I’m not going to tell you yes today and then you act terrible the rest of the week. But I will say that I will consider it if your behavior is good from today to the end of the week. But the bottom line is even if you do whatever you supposed to do in here and your aunt says no, then it’s no. I know you can do it, Demetria. It’s up to you to do it.


[on the phone] Hello. How’re you doing? On Sunday, can you come and get me and take me to my Mama’s gravesite? Why? Why? I say I know you all are going. So why can’t you come get me, take me, then bring me back? You don’t have to come here. You’re right.

Why would you keep me here on my mama’s birthday? Why? You don’t guide me. You don’t help me at all. You bring me down. You do not guide me. On my mama’s grave, you do not guide me, you bring me down! No, none of you all guide me. All you got to do is talk about me. I guide myself.

I said, look at you, you never have cared! You never have. No, I’m here because you don’t care. I’m going to be here on my mama’s birthday because you don’t care.

COUNSELOR: Start saying your goodbyes.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: My time’s up, but I love you.

COUNSELOR: Go take a few minutes, Demetria. Go take a few minutes. If you’re going to cry, well, you’re going right in the back.

NARRATOR: Three days later, Demetria’s mother’s birthday. She has a pass to leave the facility at 1:00 PM and is still hoping her aunt will come and get her.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: I’m going to start banging on the window. You know you’re supposed to be here.

NARRATOR: If Demetria leaves on her own, she’ll be charged with escape and sent to juvenile jail.

Demetria would later flee the court shelter.

[ Watch on line]

NARRATOR: Back on Beecher Terrace, 15-year old Christel has been skipping school again. She leaves the house each morning, but then doesn’t show up for class. Now her mother says she has no choice but to get a court order called a “beyond control” warrant so she won’t be prosecuted for Christel’s truancy.

ROSE TRIBBLE: She has been messing up, period. We have had problems almost every day. Every day. This past week, I think she went to school Monday, and that’s probably the only day she went to school. The only thing I can do is take an out of control warrant to protect myself as far as all the absences that she’s had. There’s nothing else I can do. I don’t know how to help my daughter.

NARRATOR: Christel has also picked up another charge for resisting arrest after a classroom fight. Her court date is approaching, and now she faces jail.

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: My life’s messed up. I’m in a school full of bad people, full of bad kids. I’m 15, I’m in the court system, and I probably got, like, six charges right now. I’m going to be locked up. And I can’t do it! I have a lot of problems. Life is not perfect. It’s not perfect.

I wrote a prayer. It’s my prayer to God. “I pray to you, God, just please help me. I don’t know who I am anymore. I need your help. I’m tired and I just want some rest. I just want to sleep. I’m just tired, period. I’m ready to give my life up. I am ready die. I want to do it myself. That’s why I need you, so I know where I belong.”

NARRATOR: Three nights before her court hearing, Christel overdoses on pills she stole from her mother.

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: “I’m a lying, evil, crazy, pathetic problem child. I have nothing to live for, or nothing to become. I’m useless. And I’m so ready to go. And if I shall go to hell, then that’s where I was meant to me. I don’t deserve your love or mercy, or life in general. Just please, I beg you, just help me. Amen.”

ROSE TRIBBLE: When I went in to see Christel, Christel was still laying in the bed. She’s been crying a lot and she’s red around the eyes. So I just sat on the— we both sat on the bed with her, you know, and I just talked to her. I felt bad seeing her in there like that, responsible, sort of like I failed her. And I wanted her to be out, too. [weeps]

NARRATOR: Under Kentucky’s prison reforms, Charles McDuffie is being released into drug rehab.

DISCHARGE OFFICER: Have any questions about anything?



GUARD: Good luck to you, man.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: All right. All right, man. All right.

Oh, I love it. I love it! I even got some new shoes to walk out with. [laughs] I love it, man. Yeah.

Take me out!

I ain’t coming back. Hopefully, I’m not. I know it’s not going to be easy. I know that it’s going to be hard. But my plan is I’m not coming back. I like my freedom.

NARRATOR: McDuffie will spend six months in a drug treatment facility.


INTAKE OFFICER: I’m going to ask you these questions. Do you have any drugs on you? No smoke, no weed, no spice, no pills?


INTAKE OFFICER: You’re going to get asked that a hundred million times.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: That’s good. That’s a good thing.

GROUP MEMBERS: [in unison] We, the residents of St Ann’s, have come to believe that those who have had problems in the past deserve a chance to make a positive change.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: I mean, I’m— I think it’s nuts. [laughs] But I got myself in this situation, so I got to deal with it.

GROUP MEMBERS: [in unison] Hey, McDuffie!

CHARLES McDUFFIE: I’m a Vietnam veteran, and I’ve been clean since March 25th, 2011. [applause] I hope to do the program to stay clean. I just thank everybody for welcoming me to the group.

I don’t like it. But I look at it like this. If it helps me stay clean and not ever use drugs again, you know, I’m all for it, you know?

NARRATOR: Inmates released early under the prison reforms have to report regularly to their parole officer. But Keith Huff has gone missing.

ALLISON ROBINSON, Parole Officer: Keith at this point has been declared an absconder. Being declared an absconder means that you are a fugitive. It means that I will be turning his case over to our fugitive task force to locate him.

I’m highly disappointed. In the first meeting with Keith, I really honestly felt that he was genuine, he was ready to change. He’s been in and out of the system for 40 years, so I really thought he was ready. He had less than six months to be completely done with this.

I attempted to call his cell phone number, did a home visit, worried, of course, you know, because he’s had medical problems. So at this point, not knowing anything else that’s going on, I’m just horribly disappointed.

NARRATOR: A month has passed since Christel’s overdose. Her court date for resisting arrest and truancy has been rescheduled for today. She could be sent to juvenile jail, but the court is offering an alternative.

SHERRY HURLEY, Juvenile Public Defender: Well, you’ve got the truancies here and here. The “beyond control” is back here. But then right there, it’s the disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.


SHERRY HURLEY: Their offer is to plead guilty to the resisting arrest. They would ask that you go on home incarceration.

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: Be on the watch?

SHERRY HURLEY: Be on the watch for a period of time. If you’re on the watch, you got to go to school every day because not going to school is a violation. Good behavior at home, good behavior at school, go to school— I mean, it’s kind of like you’re at a point right now where you got to make a decision of, you know, I’m going to change, or you know, things are going to go downhill real fast.

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: I’m going to take the deal.

SHERRY HURLEY: Are you sure?

Judge DEANA “DEE” McDONALD, Jefferson County District Court: All right, Miss Tribble, this is a document marked “admission of guilt.” Have you had plenty of time today to go over everything on this document with your attorney, Ms. Hurley?


Judge DEANA McDONALD: All right, Miss Tribble, how do you plead to the charge of resisting arrest, guilty or not guilty?


Judge DEANA McDONALD: The sentence for that today is 20 days on HIP. And you are to attend school daily with no unexcused absences, OK?


Judge DEANA McDONALD: All right, that’s all for today. Thank you.

I hate having to lock children up. It is used as a last resort. I don’t believe detention is a deterrent with adolescents. We have reduced the population in our detention facility since I’ve been on the bench by 30 percent. We took money and redirected it into the home incarceration electronic monitoring, which allows us to let children go home far more often than it used to.

MELLERNEE JONES, Juvenile Court Social Worker: Know what this is? It’s getting thick, Christel! Getting thick!

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: And it’s not going to get no thicker.

MELLERNEE JONES: Is that the last time?

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: Yeah, it’s the last time.

MELLERNEE JONES: All right, what leg you want it on?


MELLERNEE JONES: Being on HIP means if you have any issues at school or at home, then we don’t talk about it, you just get locked up and come to the youth center. Is that going to be a problem?

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: It’s not going to be a problem.

MELLERNEE JONES: We’re not going to get locked up?


MELLERNEE JONES: It’s not too tight?

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: Not too tight.

MELLERNEE JONES: When you hear that click, you’re on HIP. You don’t get off until?


MELLERNEE JONES: Good luck. Once you get home, it’s going to send us a page that everything’s hooked up correctly. If I don’t get the page, then I’ll be calling you. Christel, 20 days.

Christel’s at that crossroads. She could finally get it now and decide, OK, you know, they’re right, I do have to go to school, I do need to get my stuff together. But she’s on that level where she can go either way because she is so angry, she could be headed towards prison if she doesn’t get it right, right now. I hate to say that about any kid, but it is a reality.

NARRATOR: Three days later, Christel skips school.

[ Share your thoughts]

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: When the police came, I didn’t know what was going on. And I got arrested. You just never want to be in the predicament.

INTAKE OFFICER: Tribble, Christel. Christel, have you currently or recently been pregnant?


INTAKE OFFICER: Have you ever attempted suicide, caused harm to yourself?



CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: A long time ago.

INTAKE OFFICER: Are you thinking about it now?


INTAKE OFFICER: Did you have a history of violent behavior?


INTAKE OFFICER: On a scale of one to ten, how sad are you?


INTAKE OFFICER: On a scale of one to ten, how mad are you?


NARRATOR: Christel faces up to 65 days in juvenile detention.

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: It’s confusing. You get chained up, like I’m a criminal. I’m here with people for robbery and other stuff. I’m— people that actually did stuff. I had the handcuffs. The handcuffs was chained around my waist and it had a lock on it, like I was going to break loose or kill somebody. So I don’t get it. I’m 15 years old. I was on HIP, and I’m in here basically for skipping school.


NARRATOR: A year after the Kentucky reforms were rolled out, prison and jail numbers are slowly starting to fall.

MARK BOLTON, Dir., Louisville Dept. of Corrections: You all right?

INMATE: Yes, sir.

MARK BOLTON: You look happy today.

INMATE: I’m always happy.

MARK BOLTON: I know you are.

INMATE: I’m still alive.

MARK BOLTON: I hear you. Beats the alternative, doesn’t it.

We’re starting to see, I think, some positive results from that, but certainly not to the extent that I was hoping for.

NARRATOR: Some of the inmates who were released early have already been re-arrested and locked up again in Louisville’s jail. Many are mentally ill.

MARK BOLTON: Hey, man, what’s happening? How’ve you been?

INMATE: I’m doing fine, man. I keep coming back to jail.

MARK BOLTON: I remember you. I know you keep coming back to jail. What you keep coming back to jail for? But you’re always so happy when you come here. What are you back for this time, man?

One of the big challenges we have here is our frequent flier population, and that is our chronic and persistent mentally ill folks come that come to us on a regular basis. These are individuals that by and large are not violent or a threat. They have a mental illness. They also may have substance abuse issues.

And we do a pretty good job of cleaning them up, getting them back on their medication, only to release them right back out to the streets, a limited supply of medication, and that cycle just starts all over again. They end up right back in here, and we do it all over again. You know, the true definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the results to be different.

NARRATOR: Keith Huff, who’s been on the run, has just been caught by the police. He’d stopped taking his medications and was back on Beecher Terrace.

KEITH HUFF: Well, I’m in Jefferson County jail right now. I’m here for violating my parole. I been in this jail probably 30, 40 times. You know, I was really trying to do the right thing. But at the end of the day, I’m kind of disappointed in myself because I stopped taking my medicine, and you don’t think rationally, like you should think. I made some bad choices because I didn’t take my medicine. So really, I did it to myself. That’s basically what happened.

NARRATOR: Keith will now be sent back to state prison.

OFFICER: The alleged violations are as follows— absconding mandatory re-entry supervision, use of a controlled substance, cocaine, failure to attend treatment for substance abuse. That’s what you’ve been charged with.

BRYAN STEVENSON, Professor, NYU School of Law: When we release people from prison, the risk of going back to prison is very, very high, not because you’re going to commit a new crime, but because we create these conditions for release that are very difficult to satisfy.

You have to pay $30 or $40 or $50 a month. You have to report on a regular schedule. You may have to be employed. You can’t move. There are a whole host of things you cannot do, and lots of people who are struggling with re-entry fail to do them. And you see these technical violations sending thousands of people back to jail or prison, sometimes for years, maybe even decades.

KEITH HUFF: You kick me out on the street, and you tell me do this and do that. But at the end of the day, I don’t have clothes. I don’t have food. I don’t have no transportation. It’s not easy. What do you expect that man to do?

INTERVIEWER: When you look ahead at the rest of your life, what’s going to happen to you?

KEITH HUFF: I don’t know. I’m just being honest with you. I don’t really know. Right now, I don’t really care. [weeps] I really don’t.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: Sometimes I can be just laying here, trying to get to sleep, and sometimes these nightmares won’t let me go to sleep.

NARRATOR: Charles McDuffie has now been in rehab for a month. He is having nightmares about Vietnam.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: Feels real. I wake up sweating. One day, everything were wet, pillow case, sheet and everything.

STACY COLEMAN, Counselor, St. Ann Treatment Center: Mr. McDuffie suffers not only from the disease of addiction, but he also has some post-traumatic stress issues stemming from his service during Vietnam. According to him, he had 19 confirmed kills. But one, that has, as he says, his friend— that he brought back with him that he still has dreams about, nightmares.

NARRATOR: The treatment facility has arranged for McDuffie to have therapy for post-traumatic stress.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: McDuffie, family.

GROUP: Hey, McDuffie.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: I went to Vietnam when I was 19 years old. Come back, I was 23. I knew something was wrong with me, definitely, but I didn’t know what it was, you know? I got a lot of dark memories about Vietnam. A little incident happened that I can’t— I can’t get over.

I killed a Vietcong that didn’t have a weapon. I shot that man about 30 times. I can see that little man right today, you know, begging me not to kill him. But I did, you know? He was telling me he had kids, he had a baby son— “Me got baby son. Me got baby son.” And I killed that man, you know?

I think it was murder— I mean, to me, the way I feel about it, you know? That was it, man. That was it. I become a crack addict. Crack is the devil, for real. But today, I’m clean and sober. I feel good about myself. That’s about it. That’s about it. [group claps]

NARRATOR: Demetria has been re-arrested after escaping from the juvenile shelter.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: I just got locked up. I left the group home, but the police got me in Beecher Terrace. I’m mad. But what can I do? Can’t run from here, or I would have done did it.

Twitter #LockedUp

NARRATOR: Demetria could be released on home incarceration, but her aunt has told the courts she’s not ready to take her back.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: She want me to be locked up. And no— she’s the only parent I know that does that. Any other parent is fighting to get their child out of jail. She’s, “Keep her detained, and do this and do that.” Wait! I’m not with none of that.

I don’t like asking people, “Can you take me in? Can I live with you?” No, I’m just not that type of person. I don’t like to need nobody. I don’t like feeling like I need nobody.

It’s making me more mad. Locked up do not make you, “Oh, my God, I’m never going to do this again. Oh, my God.” No, it make— it might make some people think that, but not me.

Commissioner HASAN DAVIS, KY Dept. of Juvenile Justice, 2012-14: I’m really sad to say that the data plays out really clearly that once a child is involved with us formally, it increases the likelihood that they continue to be involved with us or move to the adult system.

When you hear those doors lock behind you and somebody has to start calling for keys and for numbers every time you move, and somebody’s watching you 24 hours a day, how do you help but internalize that, especially as a child? How do you help but internalize that “This must be my natural habitat”?

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: When I came in here, I was heartbroken. I was heartbroken when I get put in handcuffs. I felt like I was getting torn apart. I shouldn’t be in here. No, I just shouldn’t. This is not my place.

NARRATOR: Christel is now going to face the judge whose court order she violated. Her jail sentence could be extended.

Judge DEANA “DEE” McDONALD, Jefferson County District Court: All right, Christel Tribble. Miss Tribble, you stand before the court on a motion to hold you in contempt for violation of my court order of home incarceration. It’s my understanding that you are admitting to contempt for violation of HIP, is that correct?


Judge DEANA McDONALD: All right, Miss Tribble, I’m placing you on probation to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Miss Tribble, you understand you are going to be on a curfew now. And if you violate your curfew, they’ll bring you back to me. Do you understand what the next step is?


Judge DEANA McDONALD: Any further violations of my order will result in a much longer stay at the detention center. Are you clear?


Judge DEANA McDONALD: Make sure you are. All right, you will be released back on the HIP program. That’s all for today. Thank you.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: Thank you. Do you have any questions on anything?

NARRATOR: The judge has given Christel one last chance. She’ll be allowed to go back home, but she’ll be on probation for six months.

ROSE TRIBBLE: How’re you doing, criminal! [laughter] [crosstalk]

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: I got to get it done. I know!

When I’m 18, all this stuff going to be gone. I’m going to finish school. I’m going to go to college. I’m going to get me a job. I’m not a screw-up. I’m not going to be one. Seems like it now, but wait until you see me in the future. I’m going to be something when I grow up.

FRIEND: Hey, Piggy!

ROSE TRIBBLE: I think she’ll be OK. She’s just tired of going back and forth to court, and she don’t like for nobody to tell her what to do. But she knows now that there’s really nothing else but camp or being removed from the home. You know, you’ve used up everything else. So she know it’s getting real now. [laughs]

NARRATOR: After three months of rehab, McDuffie’s therapist is encouraging him to confront his past by writing a letter to the man he killed.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: I thought it was stupid, you know? She said, “No, just try it.” She said, “Write a letter to apologize,” you know? So I did.

When I was in Vietnam, I did something that I thought was wrong. To me, it was murder. I lived with this for years. I have nightmares because of it. I did drugs to ease my problems. But it still comes back just about every day.

So I want you to know that I’m sorry. I’ve lost a lot thinking about you for all of the years. I’m sorry, and I am telling you goodbye forever. I’ve suffered enough from you. No more. I’m not sick anymore, so now I’m able to deal with you.

I got a sense of relief, you know? i don’t feel so guilty now, you know? I feel like guilt— you know, I feel guilt, shame for all the years, you know? There are things that come with war, you know? I’m realizing all this. All this stuff is just coming to me, you know, and it make— it give me a sense of relief, you know? I feel— I feel good today. I feel good today. I feel better than I’ve felt for a long time.


NARRATOR: Demetria has been locked up for six weeks. The judge is trying to figure out what to do with her.

Judge DEANA “DEE” McDONALD, Jefferson County District Court: Whenever you guys are ready, you let me know. OK. All right, let’s call her in. Demetria Duncan.

How’re you doing?


Judge DEANA McDONALD: A little jumpy? We’re here for sentencing on contempt stipulation—

NARRATOR: Demetria is hoping she can be sent back home to her aunt.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: There have been more significant problems here recently. We’re not denying any of that. But I really think she can do this.

Judge DEANA McDONALD: Well, correct me if I’m mistaken, Miss Duncan, but you told me in court that you didn’t want to live with your aunt.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: But I do want to go home now.

Judge DEANA McDONALD: Well, it’s amazing what the detention center will do for you. All right, my problem is, it is a volatile home situation between Demetria and her aunt. She’s violated every other release that I’ve given her. You stood in front of me, Miss Duncan, and told me you were not going to violate, and you were gone within 24 hours.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: But I promise I’m not going to leave.

Judge DEANA McDONALD: I know, but you promised me before, OK? I can’t trust your promise anymore. That’s my problem. So I’m not going to release you pending dispo, OK? She’s remanded to LMYDC pending dispo. That’s all for today.

NARRATOR: Demetria is ultimately sent to a state detention camp for teenage offenders.

Judge DEANA McDONALD: I don’t want to lock a youth up. That is not ever what I want to do. But as a last resort, if I cannot get them to come to court, if I cannot get them to quit committing crimes, if I cannot get them to do what they need to be doing, then sometimes that has to be done, if for no other reason than to make sure they don’t commit any further crimes and to protect the community that we all live in.

It is a removal of the child from the home. I certainly don’t view that as punishment. A child may view that as punishment, but it is treatment. It is treatment where the child doesn’t have the freedom of saying no.

NARRATOR: It’s 18 months since the prison reforms took effect. They are starting to have an impact. By 2013, there were 1,300 fewer prisoners in Kentucky and almost 3,000 more places in drug treatment programs. Now the state is also planning to reform its juvenile justice system. Kentucky has become a model, and other states are implementing similar changes.

[ More on Kentucky’s reforms]

BRYAN STEVENSON, Professor, NYU School of Law: We have now seen the national rate of incarceration finally slow and get to the point where it hasn’t increased in the way it has over the last 40 years. And I think the big question is whether we can sustain that.

I think our consciousness about what we’ve done is starting to grow. We recognize that we can’t incarcerate ourselves out of some of these social problems. But we’ll need a few years of steady decline before we can actually declare an end to an era.

NARRATOR: In the jail next to Beecher Terrace, it’s business as usual.

MARK BOLTON, Dir., Louisville Dept. of Corrections: So we’re back above 2000 this morning?

PRISON STAFF MEMBER: Yeah, 2004 this morning.


There’s been some progress, but I think there’s a lot more progress to be made.

NARRATOR: Dozens of new drug addicts and mentally ill offenders continue to arrive every day.

MARK BOLTON: Hi. How are you?

I think locking up folks that are a clear and present danger to the community obviously makes the streets safer. Locking up people for not paying their traffic fines, locking up people for possession of small amounts of drugs or marijuana, locking up people who are intoxicated in public, locking up people that are mentally ill— well, that certainly does not work and that does not keep the community any more safe.

KEITH HUFF: I’m back in state prison, right where I started at. Now, what I’m going to do when I get out, I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m going to go at. I don’t know how to eat, clothe myself, none of that. So I just got to deal with what God give me.

INTERVIEWER: So this is all going to happen again in—

KEITH HUFF: I don’t know. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen four or five months from now. I know after four or five months, I know Department of Corrections got to turn me loose. What I do after that— I don’t know what my future hold. I just don’t know. When you don’t have nothing and you don’t have hope, what the hell do you have?

NARRATOR: McDuffie has completed his rehab and is a free man. So far, he’s stayed clean.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: Well, I’m excited today because I’m going to see some people I haven’t seen for a long time.

VETERAN: Are you one of us brothers?


VETERAN: Welcome home.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: All right, man. All right!

VETERAN: The guys are inside.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: And I’m going to meet some guys that I fought with. I haven’t seen them in 46 years.

I want to check in. I’m McDuffie. I was in the 11th Cav.

1st WOMAN: Thank you. Thank you for your service, sir.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: You’re welcome. You’re welcome any time.

1st WOMAN: And welcome home.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: Thank you. Thank you.

1st WOMAN: I’m glad you came. Give me a hug!

CHARLES McDUFFIE: All right! All right. All right.

2nd WOMAN: Welcome home.

VETERAN: How you doing, brother?


VETERAN: Good to see you.

2nd VETERAN: Welcome home, brother.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: Thank you. Same here, man. Welcome home.

We fought together. You know, we’re like brothers, you know? Something else.

McKee, Man! How’re you doing?

McKEE: I’m doing great.


McKEE: I remember you used to do all that singing for us.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: Oh, man. Feel good.

McKEE: After all these years, man. Long time, long time.

CHARLES McDUFFIE: That will never go away, the Vietnam war. I mean, man, that will never go away.

I feel real strong. I think I’m going to be all right this time. I don’t want to get caught back on that cycle again. I’m doing good.

I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.

McKEE’S WIFE: He’s talked a lot about you. Nice to meet you.

ROSE TRIBBLE: Christel’s been on probation for two months, and she’s been staying out of trouble. It’s like she’s looking through new eyes. She’s doing what she got to do, you know?

It’s way better than it was. It’s way better. She’s been at school. She hasn’t had no problems with none of the teachers, none with no kids. You know, she’s doing her work. It’s it’s better. She’s finally faced the fact that she’ll never win an argument with me, you know? [laughs]

CHRISTEL TRIBBLE: I feel like I’ve changed. Yeah, I’m determined to stay out of the court system. I think they’re trying to get me locked up, and if I prove them wrong, I’ll make them all look stupid, right?

ROSE TRIBBLE: I don’t think she’s going to be one of those statistics. I’m not saying that because she’s my child. Well, yeah, partially, I am saying that because she’s my child because I’m one that’s going to push hard to keep her steering the right way.

About a year ago, if you’d asked me, I probably would have said I think she’s going to wind up in penitentiary at the rate that she was going. But it looks better, though, now. Looks a whole lot better. It does.

NARRATOR: Demetria spent almost a year locked up.

DEMETRIA DUNCAN: Yeah, times like this is, like, when I wish my mama was alive because I don’t think I’d be doing all this if my mama was alive. But it is what it is. She’s not here, so— I just don’t care no more. I just don’t care. Like, I don’t care. Not like I give a [expletive] I don’t give [expletive]. You know, I don’t care. Every time they catch me, I’m going to run. I’m going to keep running until. I don’t care.

NARRATOR: Demetria was released back home to her aunt in early 2014, but then violated the terms of her probation. She is now on the run.



Frontline Journalism Fund

Supporting Investigative Reporting

Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, the Ford Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.

Privacy Policy   Journalistic Guidelines   PBS Privacy Policy   PBS Terms of Use   Corporate Sponsorship
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2016 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.