As I became interested in the cases of the juveniles sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) in Colorado, I began studying the cases of the 46 juveniles still serving this sentence (the State of Colorado changed the law in 2006 and no longer sentences juveniles to LWOP; however, the bill changing the law did not allow retroactivity to be extended to the 46). I could not do this without learning about their crimes and their victims and the truth is, this is difficult to do and not feel pain all the way around. The first case I began studying was that of Jacob Ind. I lived in Colorado Springs, the nearest city to Woodland Park where at the age of 15, Jacob Ind murdered his mother and step-father. This happened in late 1992 and in our small city, the story was constantly on the television and in the paper. Jacob’s age, the circumstances of the crime and the allegations of years of abuse to Jacob and his older brother made this a sensational case. The judge in the case made it clear that her hands were tied and after hearing all of the evidence, she was deeply conflicted about the mandatory LWOP sentence she had no choice but to render. After seeing Jacob Ind on the Frontline special, “When Kids Get Life”, I read “The Murder of Jacob”, by Mary Ellen Johnson. The book provides a detailed history of Jacob’s family, his home life and the circumstances before, during and after the crime. Although the book was published ten years ago, not much has changed in Jacob’s life. If, after reading this series of posts you are interested in reading The Murder of Jacob to understand more about this case, please email me at lisa dot eudaemonia at gmail dot com and I’ll mail you a copy.
The purpose of this series of posts is to gain an understanding of how we’re handling the cases of juveniles convicted of very serious crimes and what happens to these juveniles once we’ve locked them up. I don’t pretend to have any answers, but my contention that juvenile LWOP and incarceration for juveniles in adult prisons is wrong remains strong.
This is the first in a series of posts comprised of a list of questions that I sent to Jacob Ind. I asked if he’d allow me to post the answers to any of them he wished to answer on this blog. Jacob doesn’t actually know what a blog is, but he understands the concept and realizes that anyone can read these questions and answers and even comment on them. Prisoners don’t have access to the internet and since he’s been incarcerated since 1992, he’s never used it.
I explained to Jacob that most of us have little or no understanding about the prison system. Because he was sent to prison for Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) at such a young age, Jacob understands prison culture better than he does ours. Because Jacob is now 30 years old, he has also spent more time in the prison system than most, if not all of the other juvenile LWOPs.
Jacob is exceptionally bright and articulate and I believe he understands that my intent in asking these questions is to get a feeling for not only what General Population and Ad-Seg/CSP/Supermax are like, but what it’s like to literally grow up in prison. I find his answers to be thoughtful, as balanced as they can be from someone in his position and a sad picture of what the transition into prison is like for a youthful offender.
Jacob has spent more time in Supermax than he has in General Population. Early in his sentence, he went to Supermax for a period of eight years. That means that he’s spent most of his incarceration in what I think most of us would call solitary confinement. Several months after the airing of “When Kids Get Life” on Frontline (I don’t believe he’s ever seen it), Jacob was returned to Supermax as a result of a comment he made during a lockdown at the prison in Limon that had been in effect for many weeks. Making the comment was a foolish move on his part and during the heightened security environment in the wake of an attack on a guard by a mentally ill prisoner, the result was a transfer to Supermax. He’s been there for several months now and I believe he is in the process of appealing the transfer.
My questions are bolded. Jacob’s answers are as he provided them to me; however, Jacob writes in all capital letters, so the choice to capitalize certain terms was editorial. Comments in brackets are mine also and have been added for clarification.
It seems to me that many of the juveniles who’ve been convicted and sent to adult prisons seem to spend extensive time in administrative-segregation, which I assume means they are confined to a cell, alone for 23 hours a day. From the outside, it looks like someone who would be subject to this punishment, must be a trouble maker and must have done something terribly wrong. Three out of the five Coloradans profiled on “When Kids Get Life” have done time in Supermax and in fact, you were there for eight years previously and now you’ve been sent back. Can you explain why people, especially younger people seem to spend so much time in Ad-Seg? We’re repeatedly told that CSP is where only the worst of the worst hardened criminals are housed. Hasn’t everyone there killed someone in prison or attacked a guard or tried to stage a riot?
It is actually a bold faced lie on DOC’s part to say that Supermax is for the “worst of the worst” and that they need so many Supermax beds. Colorado is a low violence state. Systems like California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, etc. have far more incidents of beatings, stabbings, rapes, and assaults on cops [note: when Jacob refers to cops, he’s referring to corrections officers], per capita, than Colorado. By comparison, Colorado is a “soft” prison system. Yet, when compared to other states, Colorado has a disproportionately high number of Supermax beds. It takes so much more money to run a Supermax Unit that they are compelled to keep it filled at all costs to justify the expense. As a result, they have guys in here who are here for protection instead of their danger to security (because Colorado doesn’t have a protective custody, some guys act up just so they can come or stay here and be safe) and guys here who, in any other state would never be Ad-Seged.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some legitimately scary people here. There are people in CSP for escapes, killing inmates, assaulting staff, rape, etc., but I know guys who have spent time here for absurd reasons. A perfect example is [name omitted]. He ended up in Supermax for sending a letter to [omitted] County Jail in which he called someone up there a “teller”. He said nothing of attacking the guy or anything like that and the letter wasn’t even delivered. For that he spent over a year locked in a cage like an animal and treated on par with guys who rape their cell mates or who kill others.
Most common, however, is for guys to be here for some ambiguous accusation of “Security Threat Group” (gang) activity. In Colorado anybody can be labeled as an STG member and it cannot be disputed or challenged. I had a friend they labeled as both a “Blood” and a “White Supremacist”. We all got a chuckle out of that because it is so ridiculous. “White Supremacist” is their favorite label for whites because it is so generic and easy to “prove”. If a white guy in here has any white friends, some are sure to be “racist” and that makes him guilty by association.
Mexicans and Blacks have it just as bad in some ways and easier in other ways when it comes to STG labels. The majority of minorities coming into prison belong to a gang so those who aren’t in a gang still end up making friends with mostly members of one gang type or another. That allows DOC to easily claim that they’re associates of that group, but because there are more formally organized gangs with minorities it is easier for DOC to identify true members and not just associates.
What is hard on the young minority kids coming into prison is that they’re expected to remain loyal to their gang and some of the older gang members are not above exploiting the youthful urge to be accepted and to fit in. Black youth seem to be better off than Mexican kids because the Nation of Islam has enough of a following in here that if a Black kid chooses to drop his gang for The Nation, he’ll mostly be left alone. The Mexican kids don’t have a group like that, so if they leave their gangs they do so without any support. Prison is a scary place and with all the other pressures on a kid, he is not likely to abandon his support group.
That is what gets most of the juvenile offenders in trouble and sent to Supermax. DOC has the view that if they go astray it will “send a message” and scare them straight. Instead of recognizing the vulnerable position the kids are in and taking steps to intervene and redirect the youth, they lock them away until they are more manageable. The first time I went to Supermax, the mantra was “you’re young and have life” to justify keeping me here for so long. It had nothing to do with behavior, they just figured that since I was young and caught with a piece of rebar that I would be a menace until I was older.
That’s the boat Andrew Medina was in. If it wasn’t for the new mental health program which sidestepped the draconian members of the review board, he’d still be there. [Andrew Medina was shown on the Frontline Special, “When Kids Get Life” in May of 2007. At that time he had been in Supermax for over five years. He has subsequently been moved to General Population in the Centennial facility in Colorado]. That guy took his classes and stayed out of trouble, but it didn’t matter. He was young, looks very young, and has life so he wasn’t fit to be released. DOC locks away its perceived problems instead of dealing with them. It is far easier to send kids to Supermax instead of creating programs suited for their adjustment to prison. It’s the same old prejudice that youthful offenders are “Super Predators”. The truth is that we were just like any other kids and, like all kids, were liable to get into childish mischief and stupid trouble, like mouthing off to cops [note: Jacob is referring to corrections officers inside prison, not to the crimes that got the youthful offenders there]. Juvenile systems country-wide manage to deal with it without resorting to Supermax prisons, but then again, juvenile systems are designed to deal with kids, adult prison isn’t.