Isolation left him 'forever torn up.' Critics urge Mecklenburg t - | WBTV Charlotte

Isolation left him 'forever torn up.' Critics urge Mecklenburg to end solitary confinement.

Clergy members and former inmates gathered near the Mecklenburg County jail Thursday afternoon to speak out against the use of solitary confinement in the county. (Credit: Ames Alexander | The Charlotte Observer) Clergy members and former inmates gathered near the Mecklenburg County jail Thursday afternoon to speak out against the use of solitary confinement in the county. (Credit: Ames Alexander | The Charlotte Observer)
Sebastian Goodson said that the 13 years he spent in solitary confinement has permanently scarred him. (Credit: Ames Alexander | The Charlotte Observer) Sebastian Goodson said that the 13 years he spent in solitary confinement has permanently scarred him. (Credit: Ames Alexander | The Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Ames Alexander | The Charlotte Observer) - Sebastian Goodson said he was just 16 when he made the first of his many trips to "the hole."

It was the late 1980s, and Goodson said he was put in solitary confinement after running afoul of detention officers at the old Mecklenburg County jail.

"I didn't know if I was going to make it out of there," he said. "You're crying. Shaking. Shivering."

He later wound up spending a total of 13 years in solitary in state and federal prisons - isolation that he says has left him "forever torn up." To this day, he finds it hard to be around other people.

Goodson was among a group of former inmates and clergy members who gathered in a courtyard near the county jail Thursday afternoon to speak out against the use of solitary confinement - and about what they called the "barbaric" treatment of inmates.

"I know the mental pain it causes," said Goodson, who now works full time and helps raise a 3-year-old son. "...We are not thugs. We are traumatized, hurting, oppressed people trying to figure out how to survive in a city that has no ladder to upward mobility."

Several at Thursday's event spoke out about the psychological damage that solitary confinement can cause - particularly to the young.

A 2016 story in the Observer showed that inmates as young as 16 and 17 are held in solitary confinement in Mecklenburg.

PREVIOUS: Mecklenburg jailers hold some teens in solitary confinement. Critics call that torture

In a statement issued Thursday evening, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael said his administration "adamantly denies any mistreatment of inmates."

Carmichael told the Observer earlier this week that youthful offenders are kept in what is called a Disciplinary Detention Unit only if they've threatened guards or other inmates. They're still provided education, mental health and other services, he said.

Research has shown that solitary confinement can cause depression, anxiety, hallucinations and rage in adults. Experts say the social and sensory deprivation of solitary can be even harder on youths, who aren’t as equipped to handle the stress.

President Obama in 2016 banned solitary for youths in federal custody, saying the practice often has “devastating, lasting psychological consequences.” Later that year, North Carolina officials announced a similar ban for youths in the state prison system.

But in Mecklenburg, the practice of isolating young offenders continues.

The Observer story reported that those inmates spend 23 hours alone each day in 70-square-foot concrete cells, with no access to visitors, phones or library books.

On average, each youth confined to the "disciplinary detention unit" in 2016 spent a total of about three weeks there. But 11 of them were in for more than two months.

Jail officials have said they need to separate troublemakers from the general population.

But those at Thursday's press conference said the practice amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Goodson read a statement from Exodus Foundation President Madeline McClenney, who said that on Jan. 30, she and a volunteer got a tour of the detention unit and spoke with four young men held there. One of them had been in isolation for 60 days, McClenney said.

"All spoke about the mental pain that solitary caused despite interaction with jail staff and access to books," McClenney stated.

Carmichael noted in his statement that the Mecklenburg jail is one of the few jails nationwide accredited by the American Correctional Association. And he said his administration believes "false and misleading information" is being spread by people with "personal agendas."

Carmichael faces two opponents - former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department sergeant Antoine Ensley and former CMPD detective Garry McFadden - in the May 8 Democratic primary. Both opponents have said they want to reform the jail's solitary confinement policies.

With no Republican candidate, the winner of the primary will effectively win a four-year term as sheriff.

Also speaking out against the use of solitary confinement Thursday were Charlotte NAACP President Corine Mack, Rabbi Judy Schindler, of the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University, and Rev. Donnie Garris, of Antioch Baptist Church.

Said Garris: "(Solitary confinement) is crippling people mentally and releasing them back to our community forever changed."

Gemini Boyd, another former inmate who spent many months in solitary in federal prison, said he'll never forget the pain.

"It started messing with my brain," he said. "...It makes your heart beat real fast. I will forever be scarred by solitary confinement." 

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