Tag Archives: When Kids Get Life

What I Learned in Supermax, a Guest Post from Mary Ellen Johnson

Mary Ellen Johnson met Jacob Ind a few months after he killed his parents at age 15. She’s the director of The Pendulum Foundation, which serves kids serving life. She alternately thanks and curses Jacob for providing entree into a world she never knew existed.

“Something went horribly wrong.”

Jacob’s letter arrived a week after Limon Correctional Facility had been abruptly locked down. Continue reading


Illinois Continues to Debate Second Chances for JLWOPs

The Washington Post released a piece on the debate about Juvenile LWOPs in Illinois here.

Please note that my previous post from guest blogger, Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins from Illinois Victims expands on the quote in the Washington Post.

From Inside Supermax: Part 8 of 8

This is the last of 8 posts. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is here. Part 5 is here. Part 6 is here. Part 7 is here.

You must have run the scenario through your head a million times of what you’ll do if you’re released. What are some of the things you envision?



I think of my freedom All the Time. I daydream about what I want to do daily. When I was younger, my daydreams reflected my youth – I wanted to ride the rails and see the country or go into careers which take years to be established, in like physics or teaching at a university. Continue reading

From Inside Supermax: Part 7 of 8

This is the 7th of 8 posts. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is here. Part 5 is here. Part 6 is here.

What do you look most forward to each day?


I don’t really look forward to anything in here on a day to day basis. I guess you can say that I look forward to “It Takes a Thief” at 3 PM every day because that marks the point in my day when it very quickly turns into bed time. Each day in CSP is a day I’m just trying to kill. That’s what I hate about mornings so much here. It marks the slowest part of the day when I’m climbing the cliffs to reach the 3 PM peak and can coast my way back down. Continue reading

From Inside Supermax: Part 6 of 8

This is the 6th of 8 posts. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is here. Part 5 is here.

Based on the circumstances of your home life and then of the murders, anyone would have to believe that you should have received intense therapy in order to try to heal and work through the abuse you endured and also to work through the ramifications of your actions as a result. I’ve been told you’ve never had any kind of mental health treatment at all. Have you taken steps to try to work through these issues in other ways? How have you coped?



I haven’t had any kind of formal therapy to speak of in here. Mental health in prison is concerned with keeping people alive and from hurting others. Being healthy is waaaay down the list. I did receive some help when I was in CSP the first time. This was smack dab in the middle of when I was focusing on being the man I wanted to be, and that included being “normal”. Continue reading

From Inside Supermax: Part 5 of 8

This is the 5th of 8 posts. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is here.

Based on the system’s focus primarily on punishment, do you think that there are young offenders who arrive in prison with some potential for change and growth, but due to circumstances within the system actually become more dangerous and violent over time?



Because the system is so adversarial, rehabilitation is retarded. With the staunch “us” versus “them” mentality created by an overly punitive environment, the kids who enter the system with potential, end up being driven into the arms of the Convict Culture. Why would a kid want to shape up when that is what the system wants them to do, the system which creates so many barriers that all their personal relationships crumble, the system which imposes inane and frivolous restrictions, which seem to be designed only to make life miserable?


I’ve seen kids ruined by the system. When I was in county jail I met a 17 year old kid named, Mike who looked like he was 13. He was a good kid, scared to death and hyperactive, but not violent and was charged as an adult for property crimes. To me, that’s an outrage. Adult prison is no place for a kid who likes to steal.


Well, adult prison turned that small, frail, scared kid into a hardened criminal. He has since been in and out of prison and become part of the upper ladder of Convict society. I’ve heard stories about him over the years, about what a knucklehead he is, and it sucks. I know damned well that if treated and given an environment which isn’t hostile to change, he would’ve become somebody. I remember the kid in county jail who was scared to fight, but loved to have silly fun like playing tag with a cup on his head (the object being to not have the cup fall off). That kid is dead. DOC killed him.


From Inside Supermax: Part 4 of 8

This is the 4th of 8 posts. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

Can you describe what phases of growing up you went through from the time of your incarceration at fifteen through now? You were obviously in a very out of touch place back then, so I can only imagine your adjustment to prison must have been very difficult. Can you pinpoint different times when you were able to look back and see how much you’d changed?



I remember how out of touch with reality I was when I first got arrested [Jacob had recently turned fifteen and a freshman in high school]. I readily admitted that I killed two people but I had no clue that I was in trouble. I couldn’t understand why I was shackled in the police station and I was far more worried about getting in trouble for the two buds of marijuana in my room than anything else – I knew I could get in trouble for that, but murder? That was completely outside of my scope of understanding.


That breech with reality really effected how I saw being locked up. To me it seemed far more like summer camp and an adventure than it did county jail or prison. My legal troubles were far removed from my thoughts. I couldn’t understand the consequences or importance of what was going on so I just convinced myself I’d get out whenever, and focused on my day to day situation.


In county jail, I was segregated with other kids facing adult time so I just wanted to fit in the best I could – which wasn’t easy being a white middle class kid from the mountains among inner city gang youth (well, as “inner city” as Colorado Springs gets). I learned from day one that they respected stupidity and acting up. I turned into a class clown of sorts. I was the go-to guy when we were bored and needed someone to yell at the guards or pull silly hi-jinx for fun. Anything having to do with the outside world or court was unimportant. What was important was my environment.


This continued as I moved to the Department of Corrections after my conviction. The life sentence didn’t matter to me, I was on an adventure. I lived a very sheltered life growing up and did not have much of a taste for the real world. Now all of a sudden I was around lots of people from every walk of life. I wanted to experience everything through them and find out who I was at the same time. I was just a teenager at the time, so I was still learning and searching, like all kids. Still, at that point I was far more interested in my daily life than facing my past, my crimes or my future. Those thoughts were too painful and there were far too many distractions to hide in.


At 17, I was sent to a Supermax facility. I had a rebar form spike, which the top rung Convicts convinced me I needed, but got caught with it. It was a bent up old rusty piece with a blunt point. It couldn’t be used to stab anybody, but it was still considered “dangerous contraband”. I was placed on Ad-Seg probation with the promise that “one more” write up would result in me being moved to Supermax. Two months later I was written up for a clothesline and the Captain made good on his promise.


For the first couple of months in Supermax, I considered it just another adventure. I was around a new class of Convicts, the real bad-asses, so I followed my county jail M.O. and acted up to impress them since we had nothing better to do and CSP was a much wilder place in those days.


Eventually though, I ran out of places to hide. Supermax is such a bleak place that I had to face myself, own up to my crimes, and deal with my childhood. It took years of struggle and pain. For years there remained a desire to be one of the cool guys and immerse myself in their negativity – the system is wholly evil in every way and to be resisted at every turn, Convicts are always right and the true measure of what is a good person, there is a romanticism about being an outlaw, weakness must be ridiculed, etc.


I grew out of that once I saw the inherent contradictions and double standards. I saw that many of the tough guys were insecure and inwardly weak, they had just built up a support system, so to speak, which would make them feel good and allow them to escape to an alternate reality where they are not a pariah. Eventually, the fake manhood of prison conflicted too much with my vision of manhood; true men aren’t bullies, they stand up for the weak, they stand for what is right no matter the consequences, they build up their community instead of tearing it down and preying on others…I realized that I wasn’t the man I wanted to be, I didn’t like who I was beginning to become, so I had to rebuild myself.


A big part of that was taking responsibility for my actions. I had felt no responsibility for killing my parents and hurting so many people as a result. It was their fault I killed them, they shouldn’t have treated me like they did. I ended up trying to convince myself that I was acting in vengeance against two absolutely evil creatures with no human worth – I glorified myself and dehumanized them. Becoming a man I could be proud of required that I be honest with myself. I acted out of weakness and fear and my parents, despite their actions, were just very hurt people trying to deal with their own demons. My actions weren’t noble and pure, they were ignorant, hurtful and wrong. Putting myself in the shoes of those I’ve hurt gave me a whole new perspective.


Before, while I was growing, all I cared about was myself and adapting to my surroundings. I’ve since come to the point that I hate my surroundings and don’t want to conform to them. There’s nothing cool about prison and the lost souls in here, being a somebody in prison is worse than being a nobody in the real world. My focus now is on helping others realize this in hopes I can vicariously live through them as they wash the filth of prison off themselves and become people who matter, real people, people I would give anything to be.