Wisconsin Prisoner tells of his experience in segregation

I am writing in support of those who are seeking positive change in Wisconsin prisons; specifically, those who seek change in the segregation/isolation buildings within the prison system. I have personally been in some of the seg. buildings as punishment during the years of my incarceration so that I am aware of much of the waste and unnecessary suffering that takes place inside them.

It is a sad fact-among many concerning corrections issues- that segregation units are a necessary "prison within a prison" which are needed to deter rule violations and keep the relative peace. Though many inmates are too "macho" to admit it, the great majority of us wont a peaceful environment in which to work, study and live so that I believe many staff as well as inmates would be in agreement that order does need to be maintained within the prison system.

However, one of the questions concerning this issue of segregation is, to what degree is it necessary to punish prisoners in order to achieve the sought after objective of changing inmate unacceptable behavior? And at what point does punishment without incentive toward good behavior become only an additional contributor to problem behavior?

My introduction-to the neo-seg units--a new building constructed to hold more inmates than the old a seg unit, began in August of 2000 at Fox lake Correctional Institution(FLCl). Approximately four months later I was transferred to the Wisconsin Secure Prison Facility-then known as the "Supermax" prison-in Boscobel Wisconsin.

In both facilities I experienced sweltering heat during summer months as one of the problems is that there are no windows which can be opened because of the physical construction of the buildings. Winter months were equally physically taxing as the cells became very cold, even though I was fully dressed and covered with blankets.

At FLCI I was permitted personal books as was the case at Supermax. My personal collection in seg. Consisted of English Grammar/ Spanish text books and math books. Supermax also had a library containing educational material. The point is-and not enough emphasis can be added here-is that educational material is a positive which I used to offset or negate the almost entirely negative conditions in which I found myself.

In the WCI seg building no such opportunity for educational material exists. Men there are permitted two (2) paper-back books (mostly western's and novels) per week from the so-called segregation prison library. Many of them are missing pages and lack any educational value outside of the practice gained form reading a written language. I am told that the GBCI is more restrictive and that neither seg facility permits personal books.

I believe that the jury has long-since been in on the question of education pertaining to prisoners i.e. more education equals less recidivism. I entered prison functionally illiterate. Education is a never-ending process and I have a long way to go, but I am pleased to say that I have earned my HSED certificates in vocational education and others along the way, and I am currently seeking higher educational opportunities.

So my question and statement is this: Who does it serve when educational material is denied to prisoners? Believe me, I still wanted to get out of segregation even though I was permitted my books and access to a reasonably good library while in Supermax. Segregation really is psychologically and physically brutal with or without educational material. Denying educational material does not help to bring the initiate in line with institution rules. If all an inmate has to do while in seg. is holler-out it certainly does not serve the inmate hollering or other inmates and staff who are subjected to it.

The denial of educational material to inmates anywhere, for any reason except in the most necessary circumstances, for example, if an inmate began destroying material, does not serve anyone, including the public whose taxes are wasted by such segregation rules which deny access to materials to seg. inmates, thereby contributing to their ignorance, contrary to education and rehabilitation.

I am aware that-statistically-less than one percent of all funding for state and federal prisons in the united states goes towards education, including segregation and general prison populations, and many people are convinced that a better job can be done educationally in these places than is currently being done. Inmates in segregation should at least be permitted to have materials that they or their family purchase for them since, ultimately, everyone benefits.

Also noteworthy is that many inmates are being held In segregation in administrative confinement. As to how long they should be held in seg.in this status, is another issue, but while they are in this status there are rules within the Wisconsin State Administrative Code which provide that administrative confinement is not a punitive status and that personal property which an inmate may possess in general population status which cannot be considered harmful to staff or inmates in seg. should be provided to the innate there. This is not being done.

One final issue that I would like to bring up here is the matter of the cost of postage for those in seg. who are in debt to the state for legal loans and other fees for which the state takes 100% of funds received by the inmate from whatever source until the debt(s) are paid in full.

Outside of the legal loan-money which can only be used by the inmate for legal matters-inmates in debt are permitted one 42 cent embossed envelope per week to use to write to family, loved-ones and friends.

During the 2006 gubernatorial debates Governor Doyle stated that Wisconsin inmates were brought back from out-of -state prisons so they could be closer to family-strengthening fatally ties, so that allowing prisoners to correspond with family more regularly (allowing family to send money into prison for postage-payment for prisoners) can only further this goal and does not seem like an unreasonable request.

I believe that the best way to find out if the soup is fit to eat is to try some yourself. That is, when deciding what is just for others, the decision-maker(s) should at least try to imagine themselves in these places and circumstances under the rules as they are being implemented.

It is clear that, when asked for an opinion, many members of society want their pound of flesh as payment for crimes. The question is, what is reasonable. And how high is the cost to society when the result is counter productive.

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