In 2016, the ACLU of Nebraska released Growing Up Locked Down finding that young Nebraskans in state and county facilities were regularly being subjected to solitary confinment for weeks and months at a time. Senator Patty Pansing Brooks has introduced LB870 to ensure alternatives to solitary confinment are used in facilities with young Nebraskans. This is the story of a young Nebraskan who spent her 16th birthday in solitary confinment. Her family asked that her full name not be used.
Many 16-year-olds spend their birthdays with their family and friends. I spent my 16th birthday this past March trapped in solitary confinement.
You may be wondering how a teenage girl ended up in solitary confinement in Nebraska. As I spent hours alone and locked up, I was wondering the same thing.
Rewind to just a few weeks earlier and I was living with my mom and dad and 8 brothers and sisters. In my neighborhood, I was a typical high school girl. I loved cooking, singing, and hanging out with my friends. I had no idea what was about to happen to me.
In late February, I had to go to court to review how I was doing on juvenile probation for a drug offense. I tested positive for marijuana and missed my curfew so my probation officer told the judge I should be removed from my home. I had a panic attack. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I saw my parents and I wanted to stand up to hug them, or go to them, or something. The deputies in the courtroom grabbed me and held me down. The prosecutor charged me with attempted escape, but I wasn’t trying to escape. I just wanted to be closer to my parents. The judge ordered that I be locked up in county jail for the night. I was just 15. Can you imagine waking up at home expecting a normal day and trying to fall asleep that night in a jail cell with no clothes and no one to talk to? I couldn’t until it happened to me.
Because of marijuana and running late, I was away from everything I had ever known while I was locked in a room alone waiting for my trial on the new charges.
I was then sent almost four hours away from my home to a young adult detention center in Madison, NE. Because of marijuana and running late, I was away from everything I had ever known while I was locked in a room alone waiting for my trial on the new charges.
My cell was about the size of a queen-sized bed. The only thing I was allowed to have in my room was a book.
Prior to this experience, I didn’t know what solitary confinement meant or why people would be sent there. My cell was about the size of a queen-sized bed. The only thing I was allowed to have in my room was a book. There was a small bed, a desk and a chair.
There was no counselor to talk to about what I was going through. I was only able to talk to my mom every few days, sometimes for only three minutes. When I first got there, I had to “earn” soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste. They took my pillow away as punishment. I spent countless hours isolated from everything and everyone. I felt myself becoming less “me” every day.
After a couple weeks in Madison, the judge told me I was going to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Geneva. I just could not believe the judge’s decision. I had heard Geneva was a place for girls that did the worst crimes in the state and that lots of fights happened there. How was that a good place for me? I told the judge that I wanted to go home on house arrest. They took me to Geneva from the courtroom that day. I had never been so upset and scared before in my whole life. On the way there, I think the woman guard who was driving me must have felt bad for me because she stopped at a fast food restaurant to buy me something to eat.
While I was at Geneva, I was in a constant state of depression. I had anxiety attacks and when I tried to get help for them, no one cared. While I was there, at least two girls attempted suicide and many others talked about it. I can honestly say that for the first time in my life, I thought about hurting myself too. Just like at Madison, I spent a lot of my time alone, confined to my cell, desperate for anything that reminded me of my old life. At different times while I was locked up in Madison and Geneva, I was not allowed talk with my lawyers and my family. Thankfully my family fought back to get me out and to help me share my story.
I chose to come forward with my story to help other people. I want people to know that the kids like me who are locked up and put in solitary confinement aren’t monsters. No one, especially a kid, deserves to be locked away and forgotten. I still feel the effects of being put in solitary confinement. A lot of kids are there for much longer than I was and, unlike me, have no support from their families. I can only imagine how bad it is for them. All of these young people should have a voice and I hope sharing my story helps more Nebraskans listen to those who are still locked up and can’t tell their stories. Juvenile solitary needs to end in Nebraska. We might not be able to stop solitary in other places but we can make a positive change right here at home. Solitary for kids doesn’t solve anything. It only hurts kids like me, and our future in Nebraska.