Thank you for the front-page report “Extreme isolation scars state inmates” (part of the “Way Down in the Hole” series about solitary confinement, Dec. 4-7). Last year, my son, who was serving a 50-month sentence for a nonviolent drug offense, was transferred from St. Cloud to Moose Lake, which didn’t have a bed ready for him in general population. So he was put in solitary for no offense. I was not informed and became concerned after not hearing from him for days, but fortunately he was released after “only” six days in solitary, with no explanation, apology, or even an acknowledgment that something had gone wrong.
We didn’t bother protesting. I had turned to the American Civil Liberties Union after being banned from visiting my son for six months (when I protested a visiting policy). The ACLU told me that corrections officers and facilities have “almost total discretion.” It would be their word against mine, and I didn’t want to risk being punished again.
The terrible experience of having a family member in prison has led me to become active in the movement to reform the correctional system, specifically through Jewish Community Action (JCA), which has made the issue one of its advocacy priorities.
I happen to work for the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), and I organized an event in September that brought together experts from CVT and JCA — and my now-released son — to explore the physical, psychological and social effects of solitary confinement. Those effects are heartbreaking. My son experienced some of them after only a few days. Imagine spending years in “seg.”
I hope others will be moved to demand prison reforms after reading this series.
Anne Maertz, St. Paul
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Thanks to Andy Mannix for a powerful series on the use of segregation in Minnesota’s prisons and the impact on the human spirit and brain. NAMI Minnesota is very concerned with the extensive use of this form of punishment and the lack of evidence that it produces the desired results — and in fact produces great harm to individuals.
NAMI Minnesota plans to bring forth legislation next session that will create a graduated scale of responses, limit its use to the most harmful acts and create an incentive program to return to the general population. The use of segregation will be reviewed every 15 days by the warden and by the commissioner after 60 days.
Conditions in segregation will have to meet certain standards. In addition, segregation won’t be used for anyone under the age of 26 — knowing that the brain is still growing — and mental health assessments will be routinely conducted. No inmate will be released directly to the community but will be required to spend at least 30 days in the general population or be provided intensive mental health supports. To create transparency, an annual report on the use of segregation will be required to be submitted to the Legislature.
As a state, we must do better. We want people to be able to return to our communities as better people, with their substance use disorders and mental illnesses treated, and with some education and skills so that they can contribute positively to our society.
Sue Abderholden, St. Paul
The writer is executive director of NAMI Minnesota (the National Alliance on Mental Illness).
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After reading the Star Tribune’s series about solitary confinement, I scratch my head and ask why? What is the purpose?
Are we supposed to feel bad for individuals who could not follow the rules and laws before their freedom was taken away and who, while incarcerated, still cannot follow the rules or laws? If the article does one thing, it should be a wake-up call for such people.
I don’t have much empathy for those who somehow find it hard to adjust when the very basics in life — respect, personal responsibility and being law-abiding — are ignored by these individuals. There are consequences.
David Anderson, Lonsdale, Minn.
Billionaires, elections and all the trouble spots in-between
What delicious irony. Page B1 records the failure of the DFL big-money effort (“Hard questions follow DFL losses,” Dec. 4). Then, on the Opinion Exchange cover, Lori Sturdevant decries Republican big money (“Voters do worry that billionaires buy elections”). Truly breathtaking!
Keith Wilkening, Bloomington
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Upon dissection, Sturdevant has discovered to her horror that Donald Trump has purchased the election with his billions and avers that voters are decidedly worried about the influence of money (i.e., billionaires) on the political process. Interestingly, “billionaires” in Sturdevant’s mind are always Republican. I invite her (and anyone else) to Google “billionaires donating to Hillary Clinton” and see what comes up.
Trump, of course, did not have to dig very deep to finance his campaign. The media pretty much did this for him, covering everything he did for free. Although it was routinely slanted against him, this coverage could not conceal the excitement he was generating, particularly compared to his moribund opponent. His money had nothing to do with it. He was outspent 2 to 1.
Greg Gentling, Rochester
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Sturdevant’s nervous musings on the effects of enormous wealth on the political process and Jon Tevlin’s recounting the early warnings by Chuck Turchick of the inherently corrupt use of private stadium boxes (“Suite issue was raised, ignored years ago,” Dec. 4) seem both entertaining and surreal. The stadium box use by mysterious guests of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority is a minor-league offsides call compared to the game-changing potential to funnel billions of dollars into the president-elect’s pockets from both American taxpayers and foreign interests. Of course we should penalize these local players with a good Minnesota shaming — 15 yards and loss of down — but the really big thieves now are in charge of, among other things, the U.S. treasury, the military, foreign policy and, of course, the domestic intelligence apparatus. Our homegrown prophet Bob Dylan said it all: “Steal a little and they throw you in jail. Steal a lot and they make you king.”
George Hutchinson, Minneapolis
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For voters asking what can be done to keep billionaires from buying elections, Minnesota Citizens for Clean Elections (MnCCE), which Sturdevant mentions, is one viable option. Another is Move to Amend. MTA is a national organization with several chapters throughout Minnesota and in all 50 states. Its goal is to amend the Constitution to reverse the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United that is being used to funnel unlimited billions of dollars through our political system.
Since MTA’s founding in 2010, 19 states and more than 600 municipalities across America are on record petitioning Congress to draft such an amendment. MTA in Minnesota is a grass-roots effort to persuade our Legislature to have Minnesota join this group.
When the public votes, support is consistently better than 80 percent to amend. Republican and Democrat voters both want to see reform. But for our legislators, it is often a conflict of interest. In January, our Legislature will convene and a resolution will be introduced by Sen. John Marty. If you wish to help take our democracy back from the billionaires, here are three simple things you can do:
1) Call your state representatives and encourage their support for Marty’s bill.
2) Join MnCCE and lend your support.
3) Go to www.movetoamend.org, review the petition and sign your name. Nearly 10,000 Minnesotans have signed so far, but more can only help.
James Herrick, Lauderdale