What Happens When Inmates Go From 'The Box' to Release? They Come Back.


USA Today’s Kevin Johnson has followed the lives of nine inmates who were all released from solitary confinement on the same day in 2002. All of the men were felons, Texans, and while all of them hoped to remain out of prison, none of them were given a transition period between “the box” and the street. Now, 13 years later, all nine men have returned to prison. Some have even been thrown back into solitary, set up to fail by a self-defeating system.

After release, the men suffered from vertigo, depression, addiction, and overall “sensory paralysis” due to the radical transition between a windowless 6-by-10 foot cell and the world at large. Stuart Grassian, a Harvard University psychiatrist who has studied the long-term effects of isolation on offenders, told Johnson, “if the public understood what kind of condition these people are in when they (are freed), they would be appalled.”

Several of the inmates Johnson followed have gang ties. In Texas, inmates with gang affiliations are put into solitary unless they disavow their gang. If the men do repudiate their gang—an act that is considered lethal by most inmates—then they are allowed to serve their sentence with the general population. Though prison officials admit it’s “difficult” for inmates to make the transition from solitary to freedom, putting gang members in isolation has cut homicides within the prison system by half and is therefore a practice they will continue to maintain (a similar isolation policy in California prison’s was recently banned thanks to a class action law suit).

Inmates who are sent to solitary confinement are routinely barred from substance abuse programs or any transitional services— such as housing, counseling, job assistance—as additional punishment. “When they do get out, they don’t survive on the outside for very long,” Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told Johnson. “These environments require people to develop survival strategies to get them through the days, weeks and years” in isolation. “They are utterly dysfunctional when they get out.”

On the day all nine men were released in 2002, the only services they received were a $100 and a bus ticket. Their fates are listed below:

  • Angel Coronado was released after a three year prison sentence for running over his friend while drunk (his friend survived). He spent two of three years in solitary after guards found two homemade shanks in his cell. After his release in 2002, Coronado still suffered from an untreated cocaine addiction and returned to prison four times in 13 years. He suffers from weekly bouts of depression that leave him non-verbal. His most recent release was August of this year; he is currently unemployed. Johnson chronicled Coronado’s first day of freedom here.
  • Two years after his release, convicted murderer Bruce Neil Butler was arrested for burglary. Johnson notes that in recent parole papers Butler is described as possessing “elements of brutality” that make him a “continuing threat to public safety.” Butler is scheduled for release in 2025.
  • Adam Morales, a gang member and convicted burglar, served 10 years in solitary confinement before his release in 2002. During his two years of freedom, Morales described having vertigo that left him so off balance he would have to walk with his back against a wall in order not to fall. He was arrested in 2004 for shooting up his apartment while drunk. Though Morales biggest offense is a weapons charge with no one injured, he is now serving 35 years in solitary confinement because of his gang ties.
  • Silvestre Segovia has ties to the Mexican Mafia and served 10 years solitary confinement for involuntary manslaughter and robbery. After his release, Segovia racked up three DUIs in five months. Unwilling to renounce his gang affiliation, Segovia has returned to solitary confinement. He has six more years left his sentence. Here’s a dispatch Johnson filed on Segovia in 2005 when he was employed as a construction worker.
  • Five of the other men, who are unnamed, have returned to prison at least once in the last thirteen years. Some have returned multiple times and been placed back in solitary.

You can watch Johnson interview Segovia here.

Image: Getty

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