Laura Boswell followed two corrections officers through a series of sliding doors into a silent, two-tiered hall, lined with 11 closed, solid-steel doors. One, on the bottom right, stood open.
The 28-year-old attorney from the Disability Law Center, which advocates for Utah’s disabled, had gone to Uinta 1, the Utah State Prison’s maximum-security wing to check up on 26-year-old inmate Jeremy Haas, following allegations by another inmate of abuse and neglect by the prison. First, she was to inspect Haas’ cell.
What struck her was how narrow it was. Bedding lay on a metal slab that jutted out from the wall, taking up half the cell’s space. There was a small sink, some crumpled papers and a line of small shampoo bottles.
“It was horrifying to me that somebody spends 23 hours a day there,” she says. “I’m not very tall, but I couldn’t have laid down across it.”
Haas was arrested in 2007, a week after his 18th birthday, and charged with robbery, possession of a stolen firearm, discharging a weapon within the city limits and reckless burning. A 2nd District Court judge in Ogden found Haas, who has an IQ of between 58 and 68, competent to stand trial.
Boswell’s colleague at the Disability Law Center, Aaron Kinikini, is the driving force behind a new initiative to bring more accountability to the prison’s treatment of mentally ill inmates. The standard for a defendant to be declared incompetent is so high, he says, “You must be a raving lunatic in front of a judge to have that track taken.”
Haas was sentenced to 1 to 15 years. Kinikini, who’s a former criminal defense attorney, says, “Your garden-variety criminal is probably going to do two years,” on a 1 to 15. Haas has already served six years.
That’s because inmates with mental-health diagnoses—Haas’ attorney described him in court as having “mild mental retardation”—are often unable to cope with the stress and regimentation of prison, which leads them to act up, say other prisoners, mental-health experts and relatives of Uinta 1 inmates. They say that rather than treat their mental-health needs, the prison keeps them in solitary confinement—administrative segregation, as the prison calls it—until they behave.
But “Once in segregation, continued misconduct, often connected to mental illness, can keep the inmates there indefinitely,” wrote Jeffrey L. Menzer, M.D., and Jamie Fellner in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.
City Weekly’s requests to interview staff and management at the prison were denied. In response to e-mailed questions, prison spokesman Steve Gehrke sent a statement noting that clinical considerations and security interests can often be “diametrically opposed, forcing housing and mental-health professionals to make tough decisions on a case-by-case basis. … The prison is asked by society to perform a difficult task, and it always seeks to do so in a way that both maintains security while showing appropriate compassion and care for individuals in its custody.”
The prison noted that there are areas that specifically are intended for treating and housing the mentally ill. However, “in rare circumstances, offenders prove they cannot be housed in that area without jeopardizing safety, and they must be moved for closer monitoring.”
Which brings them to the harsh embrace of Uinta 1.
“THE LOW SIDE”
Jeremy Haas is allowed 25 sheets of paper in Uinta 1. On four connected squares of toilet paper, he writes to City Weekly that those 25 sheets don’t last him long, “as Im a poet & love to write my thoughts & feelings as Im not on any med[ication] & writeing and drawing is the only way I can keep happy.”
Inmates are some of the few people who still correspond via handwritten letters. City Weekly has received correspondence from 10 or more inmates, all expressing concern over housing conditions in Uinta 1. The most eloquent advocate from Uinta 1 is one of its longest residents, Paul Payne, 37, who has been in prison for 21 years, currently serving five to life for aggravated robbery.
City Weekly identified four inmates, all in their 20s, all being held in Uinta 1, all with mental-health issues. Requests to interview Jeremy Haas, Cameron Payne (no relation to Paul Payne), Ryan Allison and Coleman Stonehocker were denied by the prison. The prison also denied City Weekly’s request to tour Uinta 1, citing security measures. A records request seeking the number of mentally ill inmates in the unit and the number of suicide attempts and suicides that have occurred there were denied on the grounds that the prison lacks the resources to compile such data.
The only way to ask inmates questions, then, is by letter. Three of the four responded. While grammar, spelling and syntax may be unorthodox, the words of these four men and those who advocate for them in neighboring cells paint a chilling picture.
Uinta 1 has a total of 96 single cells on two tiers, divided into eight sections. Three 12-cell sections, on what inmates call “the low side,” are used for what the prison calls “intensive management.”
Inmates in intensive management are allowed out one at a time, three times a week, for a 15-minute shower and an hour in a recreation yard. They are cuffed through the port in their cell door and guided backward by an officer holding a leash. Some have to wear a spit hood, a thick mouth-covering cloth with netting that covers an inmate’s head and prevents them from spitting at guards.
Inmate Jacob Vigil writes that the yard is “a tiny outside rec area with no work out/exercise equipment. In cold weather, the whole section has to share a flimsy dirty coat that does not keep you warm.” Inmates are allowed no visits, are offered no life-skills or other programs, and no personal phone calls. Legal access is only through the unit’s caseworker.
Inmates describe sections of Uinta 1 as akin to a 19th century asylum, where “95 percent of the time you can’t hear [neighboring cellmates] due to all these mental-health cases banging, yelling, crying, screaming, fighting [guards], breaking sprinklers, etc,” writes inmate Curtis Allgier, who’s currently awaiting trial on a capital murder charge for allegedly killing prison guard Stephen Anderson.
Paul Payne stresses he doesn’t want to dehumanize his fellow inmates by focusing only on their mental illness. “They are really likeable, and it’s the system’s abuses and failures that are ruining ... these guys and setting them all up to do a lot of time in prison,” he writes. “For instance, these guys have been duped by more seasoned prisoners into breaking their sprinklers which beyond all logic and sense is a third-degree felony.”
Kinikini argues that “there’s no valid or legal-based treatment for keeping someone in a hole. There just isn’t.” His and Boswell’s priority, he continues, is getting Haas and inmates in similar situations out of solitary confinement.
Boswell says that people outside of prison might have an impression that those housed in solitary confinement are there for horrendous acts. But, after her visit to “the hole,” she says, “What was so horrifying to me was here is a kid who has done none of that, but that’s where he found himself.” She pauses, her eyes glassy with unshed tears. “It’s a really rotten place.”
LIVING IN THE HOLE
Uinta 1 wasn’t always this draconian. According to several inmates’ recollections via letters, when Uinta 1 opened in the late 1980s, each of the eight sections had a television. Inmates were allowed to order from the commissary, could work for a few dollars a month, play handball and study with school self-help programs. But with each new captain transferred by the prison to run the unit, freedoms were taken away. They went from three hours out of their cell each day to one hour every other day, lost the right to work and lost access to commissary. The prison welded metal shutters onto the windows so inmates couldn’t see other inmates across the tier and welded plates to the bottom and side of the cell door.
One recently released inmate who did time in Uinta 1 is Tim Redmond. Redmond was sentenced to five years in prison for tampering with a witness. He was sent to supermax for the final six weeks of his incarceration after, he says, a disputed incident during softball. “I knew it wasn’t supposed to be a nice place, and it isn’t,” Redmond says.
He was initially kept naked, he says, in a room so filthy that when he scraped his foot along the floor, it was covered in human hair. For the first three weeks, he didn’t get out of the cell except for a five-minute shower every other day. When he was transferred to another cell, every 15 minutes, day and night, a guard would open and close the slot, which squeaked, and shine a light in. “You can’t do anything. It’s like being a zoo and someone walks up to your cage.”
Redmond saw how easily it was to lose touch with reality. “I saw people going downhill each day, then I realized I was going downhill. They break people down fast in that situation. People who aren’t mentally ill become so. Your perception of reality is within that cell.”
He knew both Jeremy Haas and Ryan Allison during his six weeks in Uinta 1. “Everything is hopeless,” Redmond says. “All you can do is do your best to exist.” He never saw any of the faces of the men who were his neighbors, with whom he would shout back and forth by lying on the floor of his cell, his mouth by the tiny slit between the door and the ground. “The sad part is you never do [see their faces]. They’re just voices.”
THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT
Coleman Stonehocker has been in Uinta 1 for three months, but the 25-year-old’s understanding of solitary confinement dates back before then. He writes he has severe attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and traits of Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder and anxiety. While in a secure unit for juveniles, he was kept in a room alone with a camera. His mother, Deborah Stone, shows photographs of bruises all over her then-teenage son’s face and arms, which, he says, came from staff restraining him. He eventually hanged himself but was cut down alive. His treatment there “really put my mind where I could not trust anyone,” Stonehocker writes.
Issues with addiction and gang membership led him to burglarizing homes and pawning the proceeds for drugs. He was sentenced to 1 to 15 years for two counts of burglary, a conviction he does not dispute. In prison, he was refused his medication. “Without the meds for ADHD, people useliy don’t like me and end up trying to do me harm,” he writes.
In prison, he decided he wanted to leave gang life. That, he writes, angered a gang member, who threatened him. The prison moved him to another unit, but he was assaulted several times by gang members. He asked to be moved to another unit or prison, but instead they told him he was going to “max.” Handcuffed alone in a hallway, scared he was about to be killed, “I ended up flipping out more, they put me on suicide watch.”
In Uinta 1, Stonehocker complains, he can’t get phone calls, visits or shampoo. If he puts in a request for a mental-health visitor, he gets charged a dollar and the visit lasts only a few minutes. “I rather talk to my neighbor—he at least won’t lie to me,” he writes. His window is blocked, he gets no sunlight “and my mind goes crazy.” He writes that he is trying to move back up through the privilege levels from the low side of Uinta 1, which has the harshest lock-down restrictions, to the high side, where inmates have three hours instead of one hour out of the cell every other day and can congregate. But, he adds, “If you have one c-note, which the guards can give you for anything just because they don’t like you, you have another 30 days in that section.”
Stonehocker struggles to keep his mind healthy, he writes. It’s unfair, he argues, that having turned his back on gang life, the prison punishes him by taking away his privileges, locking him up in solitary and now he has to earn his privileges back by doing time in the hole. “It makes me not want to care about life,” he writes. “I know I do belong here for my crimes but I believe I also deserve help for my mind, this is the USA right? I have come to relize the system is just as criminal as the offenders, if not more. It’s crazy.”
A LOST CHILD
Pleasant View resident Alison Payne also wonders who “the good guys and who the bad guys are.” Four inmates have written to her, expressing their concern for her son, 29-year-old Cameron Payne.
In 2007, Cameron Payne crashed a motorcycle, which caved in the left side of his head, causing severe brain trauma. As a result, his mother says, “He’s emotionally and mentally 11 years old.” The traumatic brain injury [TBI] also took away much of Cameron’s personality, rendering him both easy to manipulate and difficult to care for. “We know we lost our son that night,” Alison Payne says. She looks down at photographs of her son trying to form a smile with his nerve-damaged features, and cries. “That’s what you get, that’s what you’re left with” after a TBI, she says.
After Cameron was convicted of aggravated assault in August 2010, Cameron’s attorney, Ron Nichols, wrote in a sentencing memorandum that “a prison recommendation will be the same as a death sentence for Cameron.” Nichols describes him as “between a third grader and an unruly teenager” in the memorandum, and noted that because the TBI had taken away his verbal filter, Cameron’s inappropriate comments “make people incredibly angry and reactionary.”
Nichols predicted that, given Payne’s “eggshell head,” he would likely be beaten to death in prison, or put in a lockdown facility.
On Oct. 22, 2010, 2nd District Court Judge Noel Hyde sentenced Cameron to 1 to 15 years and ordered that any programs or facilities at the prison that could help with his medical issues be provided.
Instead, Alison Payne says, Cameron has received no treatment since he was incarcerated almost two years ago. His prison caseworker told her that whatever the judge ordered was beside the point: “They run that place how they want to run it, he told me.” The prison decided he was normal, she says, and put him in general population.
Cameron’s parents tried to get the prison to give him his medication but say they were told it wasn’t cost-effective.
While the prison can’t comment on specific cases, it noted in its statement to City Weekly that “clinical professionals must be particularly careful about prescribing medications inside prison due to the tendency for drugs to be abused.”
It wasn’t long before Alison Payne says Cameron’s unorthodox behavior got him sent to Uinta 1.
“They’re treating him like a real person, that he’ll obey because you tell him to,” Alison Payne says. “They never give anything but deprivation. He’s gone beyond stir crazy.”
NEVER GO HOME AGAIN
Once in Uinta 1, Cameron became a target for manipulative inmates looking to amuse themselves, fellow Uinta 1 inmate Paul Payne wrote in a motion to re-open Cameron’s case and have him moved to the medical unit, Olympus, “which houses the mentally ill, those with brain trauma.”
While some inmates, Paul Payne writes, try to keep Cameron occupied with constructive things, exercises and reading, “when that voice of reason is not there, he is led astray.” Paul Payne continued that Cameron is on a section with “several outcasts/sex offenders/victimizers, and they act like they are the guard speaking on the intercom and give Cameron ‘a direct order’ to lock himself in the shower.” When the actual guards came to get him out, a tussle ensued, Paul writes, leading to Cameron being handcuffed and slammed to the ground.
That resulted in Cameron Payne ending up in “the hole,” in Section 4, Curtis Allgier wrote in a letter to Cameron’s parents, “where you can’t order anything [from commissary] but 5 envelopes a week, not even soap! The bright-ass lights are on 24/7, they come look in your cell every 15 min. and there are people yelling, banging, fighting SWAT, rubbing shit everywhere, etc. every day, all day! It’s the worst of the worst for sure!”
Alison Payne wrote to warden Alfred Bigelow, saying her son’s treatment was “cruel and inhumane.” Bigelow wrote back that Cameron was “housed appropriately,” allowing the prison “to maintain his safety, staff safety and other inmates’ safety.”
She says she sees a ray of hope in that the unit’s captain and caseworker have been responsive to her concerns, but she worries about the psychological impact of long-term solitary confinement on someone with a traumatic brain injury. “They’ve probably made him so he can never come home again.”
Ryan Allison, who’s 20, was in state-care facilities since he was “a young age,” according to 4th District Court documents, resulting in unspecified “mental problems,” nursing staff told a deputy after Allison was arrested. Allison writes that he’s been diagnosed with “bipolar, depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder and reactive-attachment disorder.”
When Allison turned 18, his Department of Child & Family Services caseworker put him in a foster home for teenagers with drug and violence issues. Two months after his 18th birthday, according to court documents, on April 11, 2010, Allison inhaled “Axe body spray in an attempt to get high,” then refused to go with the foster family to a barbecue. He pointed a kitchen knife at a relative of the foster father and was charged with three misdemeanors.
Allison initially appeared before 4th District court Judge Fred Howard in Provo. After a month in Utah County Jail, where, he writes, “I was constantly harming myself, attempting suicide and struggling with hallucinations,” he threatened to kill both a deputy and Judge Howard, resulting in him being charged with a third-degree felony for threatening a judge.
He threatened the judge, Allison writes, because Howard had talked “about possibly sending me to prison after I was told they would release me from jail on probation if someone could find an apartment for me.”
Judge Howard recused himself, to be replaced by Judge Claudia Laycock, who found Allison competent to stand trial. Allison pleaded guilty to threat or use of a dangerous weapon in a fight on Sept. 1, 2010, but a month later, changed his plea to Guilty Mentally Ill, although he says he doesn’t know why. “My public defender and judge kind of made that choice for me so they could get me into the [Utah] State Hospital to get me some help.”
Laycock gave him a suspended five years in prison for threatening a judge and sent him to the Utah State Hospital for 18 months for treatment. Post-treatment, she would then revisit the sentencing.
At the Provo-based mental hospital, Allison attended groups to help him with substance abuse, depression and “impulsively acting out,” but he also attacked staff and patients and broke chairs, closets and shelves and fire sprinklers. He claims he tried to break the neck of a man he was sick of “talking trash on me.”
In March 2011, the hospital returned Allison to the county jail. Laycock found that the hospital couldn’t care for him, so she sent him to prison for five years.
In a letter to the Board of Pardons, she wrote, “This is a young man who needs more help than you and I can provide for him. Unfortunately, the prison is the last resort for a defendant with his violent and disturbed background.”
While not specifically referring to Allison, the prison notes in its statement to City Weekly that, “Some of the offenders we currently house have spent time in the State Hospital but have been deemed too violent to remain there and are subsequently returned to our institution.”
Despite the judge’s recommendation to the board that Allison be put in the prison’s mental-health unit, Allison writes that he was placed in general population. “I was very angry and depressed.” He attempted suicide his third day there. After just two weeks, he threatened to stab an officer and was sent to Uinta 1. There, he “started to go off,” he writes, fighting guards, attacking officers through the cuff board on his cell door.
He’s been in Uinta 1 for a year and five months. Paul Payne argues that Allison uses “stories of violence in his past to try to minimize threats of confrontation” from other inmates. He writes that Allison “is a big-hearted guy,” albeit one who is very thin because “he forgets to eat.” In his letter, Allison writes that he speaks with “mental-health staff regularly and sometimes they give me self-help books.”
Jeremy Haas’ life, according to his letters to City Weekly, has been a quest for love. His father frightened him with his violence, according to Haas, and his attempts to get high led only to more trouble. He joined a gang while at a Cottonwood Heights treatment center. “I wanted to fit in. I wanted to feel, I need, I wanted friends cuse I did not really have many friends so I thought if I put my loyalty to a gang then I’ll ways have friends!”
He writes that in Weber County Jail, he ended up in maximum security because, to prove his loyalty, he fought so much with the cops to where, “it was just hurting me.” He continued the same pattern, he writes, in prison, “and they put me in a big-ass hole now I can’t get out but try to be better and do better for I can go home ... I miss home!! I miss my family. I hate this box I live in.”
When he got to prison, “I want to kill myself my first day cuse I new I fucked up big time. I could not find out what to do as they tuck me off all my meds and I could not get them back.” He attempted suicide numerous times, once trying to hang himself with a sock.
Paul Payne describes Haas “as a really caring person and people in here will take advantage of that if they can.” For five months, Haas and Paul Payne were almost neighbors, being within shouting distance in cells 1 and 9 in Section 3. Payne learned that Haas’ mispronunciation of words was something the young man viewed as making him unique. Payne tried to help him sound out words, but “he is super hard headed and willful. We’d argue like two hillbilly brothers.”
Payne recalled how in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch read the newspaper aloud to his daughter. So, Payne employed the same strategy with Haas, organizing it so they would read from the same material so Haas “could learn word recognition (syllables, root words, etc.), so I would read to him every night, and he would follow and read back the last sentence of each paragraph. … It was both heartbreaking and admirable that he would struggle through these endeavors in front of all these other prisoners (some who actually ridiculed him just like the [Utah State Prison] admin!).”
In January 2012, Haas alleged, through Payne’s written grievance, that because he said “fuck you,” he was denied dental treatment. The grievance officer noted that he left out of his story that he had been asked several times not to say “fuck,” but continued to use the expletive. “Your right to free speech exists only as far as it does not impinge the rights of others,” the officer wrote. An official’s “right to work in an environment in which the word ‘fuck’ is not used was impinged by your use of the word.”
Haas and Payne wrote several times to the warden requesting that they have neighboring cells, as Haas couldn’t hear Payne that well. Bigelow wrote back March 1, 2012, “It is admirable that Inmate Payne is assisting you with your learning, but your constant outburst of negative behavior and attitude towards staff leads us to believe you are not learning to control your verbal outbursts.”
Haas was moved to another section in Uinta 1.
In a short note, he holds little back, writing that he tried to kill himself because “I do not feel I shud be alive I feel like I sined to much & Im no good to any one I personly hate my self & I want to find love.”
“We Will Do What We Can Do”
Coleman Stonehocker’s mother, Deborah Stone, and Jeremy Haas’ mother, Jacqueline Krum, attended the Disability Law Center’s Sept. 12, 2012, public meeting to set their goals for the next two years. “I’d like to see more help in the jails, in the prison for people with handicaps,” Stone said. “I know they’re being warehoused.”
Krum told the DLC staff that she saw Haas the previous Saturday after a year without seeing him because of his privilege matrix—privileges, such as seeing visitors, are taken by the prison when inmates break rules. “He’s not on his meds,” she said. “He’s gotten worse. He has this really bad tick. He was talking to somebody who wasn’t there.”
Afterward, Krum met with Kinikini and learned he and Boswell were going to check up on Haas. “Tell me what you can do, so I don’t get my hopes up,” she said.
Kinikini was silent for a moment. “I can’t get him out of prison. But I can try and get in there on a regular basis.” The conditions they are living under, he told her, were leading to more time being tacked on to their sentences. “Our mission is a reduction in the using of solitary confinement as a treatment tool. We will do what we can do.”
When a guard led Laura Boswell to meet with Haas, she was shocked when she sat down in front of the barred cell and looked at the young man in the orange jumpsuit and white T-shirt. City Weekly had shown Boswell prison photographs of Haas, but now, “He was very, very thin,” she says. “That was what was startling. He was just kind of sad.”
She tried to explain to him who she worked for, that she was there to check up on him. His arms were covered with what appeared to be tattoos. On one hand was the word Lotus, a reference to Homer’s The Odyssey, a book he and Paul Payne had read together. When Boswell asked about it, she says Haas told her it was about being strong, about protection and surviving.
Haas was polite to her, which made Boswell feel guilty. “No one has come to check up and see him, yet he’s being wonderfully polite and complimentary, despite the dehumanizing situation he finds himself in,” she marvels. “At some point, though, you do give up. I hope there’s something we can do before that happens.”
The next step, Kinikini says, is to secure Haas’ records and try to determine when the prison put him in solitary. After that, they plan to make a reasonable accommodation request that Haas be moved.
Haas is only two years younger than she is, and Boswell couldn’t help but compare their lives. While she sleeps in her Ikea bed, he sleeps on a metal slab. When Boswell left Uinta 1, she told Kinikini, “He’s in a dark place, maybe near to giving up.”
One thing Haas said to her struck her to the core. “He told me, ‘I would have cleaned up my cell if I knew you were stopping by.’”
Note: On Oct. 1, 2012, at 6 p.m. Utah State Prison staff will attend a quarterly focus meeting at Adult Probation & Parole (36 W. Fremont St., Salt Lake City), where agencies and individuals, including inmates’ relatives, can raise concerns.