I Was a Kid in Solitary Confinement

Posted June 15, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Blog iwasakidinsolitary 2017

Alyssa B., author of this blog post, devel­ops laws and prac­tices that sup­port girls and women involved in the jus­tice sys­tem and human traf­fick­ing. She also vol­un­teers with women affect­ed by human traf­fick­ing in Jack­sonville, Flori­da, and is one of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s youth part­ner­ship consultants.

I was sent to adult prison at the age of 16, and it changed my life for­ev­er. I wish that was because I received the ser­vices I need­ed to turn my life around. But, it was because I was on lock­down 23 hours a day and lived with­out pos­i­tive human con­tact and reg­u­lar pro­gram­ming, such as edu­ca­tion, recre­ation and trau­ma care.

Watch a seg­ment fea­tur­ing Alyssa B. on 48 Hours” from CBS News about what lead to her advo­ca­cy for vic­tims of human trafficking

I don’t want you to feel bad for me. I’m shar­ing my expe­ri­ence to make clear that kids in trou­ble with the law might be kids with their own trou­bles, who need help healing.

Before end­ing up in the jus­tice sys­tem, I had already expe­ri­enced severe trau­ma. By the time I was 15 years old, I had run away, abused drugs and been a vic­tim of sex traf­fick­ing. I was tried as an adult for being vio­lent toward the man who bru­tal­ly raped and traf­ficked me.

I was placed in a men­tal health dorm — despite not hav­ing a men­tal health diag­no­sis — because there was no oth­er space for me in the prison. Because I was under 18, I had to be sep­a­rat­ed from all adult pris­on­ers by sight and sound to com­ply with the fed­er­al Prison Rape Elim­i­na­tion Act.

I was in a dorm with legal­ly insane peo­ple. They yelled and screamed at night about things that made no sense to me. I saw peo­ple pep­per sprayed and strapped down to a black restraint chair because they were being too loud” or bang­ing on the doors for too long.” I was a kid, and I was terrified.

Being stuck in a cell for 23 hours a day forced me to relive my trau­ma. Some days I blamed myself for the abuse and neglect I suf­fered. I con­vinced myself that I deserved to be sep­a­rat­ed from the world because I only caused harm.

Oth­er days, I felt ostra­cized, alone and like no one cared. I felt like I was going mad. I start­ed to play games with the walls in my room. I would count the bricks and rearrange them in my mind, like a game of Tetris. I start­ed argu­ments with myself and pre­tend­ed I was both peo­ple in the argument.

I fell into a deep depres­sion and had my first anx­i­ety attack fol­lowed by uncon­trol­lable rage. This began a cycle of sui­cide attempts, dis­so­ci­a­tion, mind games, depres­sion, anx­i­ety, rage and sleep­ing my life away that con­tin­ued until I turned 18 and was moved to an adult dorm.

Based on my devel­op­men­tal age when I com­mit­ted felony-lev­el offens­es, I wish I was placed in a dorm with juve­niles where we received prop­er ser­vices toward reha­bil­i­ta­tion. I wish staff had tak­en the time to ask me what hap­pened to me and what I needed.

Instead of being ther­a­peu­tic, con­fine­ment added to my mis­ery and bound me to my past mis­takes. It’s no won­der there is a high­er recidi­vism rate for juve­niles in the adult sys­tem — espe­cial­ly for the juve­niles stuck in soli­tary confinement.

We need to stop soli­tary for kids, and we need to treat kids like the kids they are. This means build­ing rela­tion­ships with them that make them feel safe, sup­port­ing them and believ­ing that they are human beings with a future. Luck was a huge fac­tor in my sto­ry, because I got the help that I need­ed after I was released. It shouldn’t be by luck that our youth receive appro­pri­ate ser­vices. It should be by design.

Learn about the Foundation’s sup­port of the Stop Soli­tary for Kids Cam­paign.

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