Last August, we took you on a tour of the North Dakota State Penitentiary’s revamped solitary confinement unit. A year later, we look at the real changes prisoners are experiencing.
We spoke with a few, who compared the old with the new.
Not that long ago, the old ‘Administrative Segregation Unit’ was the State Pen’s equivalent of solitary confinement. As KX News reported in August, it was a 23-hour-a-day lockdown.
“Single-cell, that’s it. That’s all you got,” Inmate Jerry Homes shared.
“You’re lucky if you got to see a newspaper a month,” added Thomas Mason.
“They just…like I said, they just forget about you back there. It’s not like they do it intentionally, but it happens,” said Brandon Davis.
Holmes was just released from the new Behavioral Health Intervention Unit, or BIU, in September.
“Mindset is 100 percent better. You know, because you’re not crammed in a hole, like coming out of a box,” he shared.
Brandon Davis has spent time in the old Administrative Segregation Unit, or ASU, and the new BIU. He says the biggest difference is just having someone to talk to. Now they have interaction and counseling to work toward a solution.
“Because if you bottle in your issues, it overwhelms a person. Like, I have my own problems and when you’re isolated and you have these issues, you have nowhere to release them, or no one to talk to them about,” said Davis.
Most of the inmates we spoke with say the addition of therapy and behavioral health treatment for inmates in BIU has been the reason they have a whole new lease on life.
“They never turned their backs on me. Even though I lashed out at them, they still broke down those walls that I have. They still kept coming, kept coming, kept coming. And that showed me, you know, maybe there are some people that care,” explained Davis.
Thomas Mason has been a prisoner here for 20 years. When he came in:
“pretty much didn’t like anybody. I came in alone, I told myself I was going to leave alone,” shared Mason.
Now he’ll tell you he’s a whole new man, and one of BIU’s peer support specialists, another new addition since last fall. He’s no longer required to live in BIU but is housed there by choice, to be another listening ear.
“They have to have some of the lived experience, so they themselves have experience: mental health issues and/or substance abuse issues, and of course, the incarceration,” explained Clinical Supervisor Shelly Paul.
If you’re having a bad day, people like Mason get it, and these guys can actually feel supported. Davis says, like his peer support specialist, he used to be closed off to everyone.
It’s all about a change in mindset.
“As I’ve gotten older, it’s like, ‘well, I need to learn to talk to people’. Because when I get out into society, I can’t keep that same mentality I have when I’m in here,” Davis shared.
Davis says while BIU has helped him in small doses, it helps staff immediately secure the prison if someone is acting out.
He says long-term solitary confinement of any kind, can still cause problems, especially in prisons, where mental health is already compromised.