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The officers put on helmets, gas masks, vests, gloves and leg and elbow pads and tried to feed a tool into the cell so they could fill it with chemical irritant. But when an officer opened the metal slot, Musawwir threw a cup containing a mixture of urine and feces at his head. On four separate instances, Musawwir was charged with felony fourth-degree assault of an officer, and he picked up more than two additional years in prison.

Expecting the Broken Brain to Do Mental Pushups

The charges also meant more solitary time and the loss of small privileges like books, visits with family and daily exercise time. For one hour each day, inmates in solitary are allowed access to a common space that includes an exercise area. Some inmates are granted access to television and radio. Three years ago, Colorado came under fire from human rights organizations for its aggressive use of solitary in a supermax unit similar to the one Musawwir lived in.

On any given day in , between and mentally ill prisoners were held in isolation, staying a median of 16 months, according to a report from the ACLU. In , the state Legislature banned placing inmates with serious mental illnesses in solitary. The prison system also created a new unit called a Residential Treatment Program.

Inmates with mental illnesses are segregated from general population, but they still go to classes and spend more time out of their cells with other inmates. They are also guaranteed adequate mental health care time each week. Colorado prisons have cut their solitary population by two-thirds since the ban. There are other tools. And hopefully Minnesota will start using them. In late , Oak Park Heights prison finally moved Musawwir out of solitary confinement on a probationary basis, meaning he will go back if he gets in trouble again.

He is expected to be released from prison in After years of therapy, he said the voices have subsided. He credits his recovery to finally getting released from the isolating conditions of solitary confinement and into a social environment. He struggles to comprehend why they kept him in solitary for so long.

No calls, no mail, no exercise time. Worse yet: The guards close both doors to the cells, so inmates in solitary confinement hear nothing but their own thoughts. Rolenc has been in solitary for a month now, with 11 more to go. Already, his mind is playing tricks on him.

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He hardly sleeps, and when he does he has nightmares that he gets out of prison and the cops bust him with a pistol. He runs away but they always catch him.

Wellness Wednesday: Give yourself 10 knee push-ups

When I step foot out of these gates I never want to see the inside of a jail or prison another day in my life, he writes in his journal. I gotta make that a reality. He will be alone for 23, sometimes 24 hours a day. Over the course of a year, he will be permitted one visit, from his mother and his 5-year-old son. His punishment comes when many states are reconsidering the practice of isolating prisoners.

At least 30 have passed new laws or policies limiting how prisons can use solitary confinement to punish inmates.

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Minnesota, where more than prisoners have spent at least a year in solitary during the last decade, is not among them. The Star Tribune spoke to dozens of inmates who have served lengthy solitary sentences. In letters, phone calls and supervised interviews in prison they described the torment of spending months or years alone in closed quarters, under perpetual supervision and with little or nothing to occupy their mind.

Some told of the psychosis that ensued. One man said he passed the time by killing small bugs he found in his cell. Another likened his experience to a caged lion at the zoo. The Department of Corrections denied an in-person interview with Rolenc, who was released from solitary in late November, citing potential further trauma to his victim.

To tell his story, Rolenc agreed to share family letters and his handwritten journal in which he meticulously documented life in the hole. Together, they provide a rare, real-time glimpse into the mind of a person living in long-term isolation. When he closes his eyes, he sees the horrific incident that landed him in solitary. The guilt is heavy, like waves crashing against the inside of his skull. Rolenc and Shay argued. Shay hit him in the head and kicked him in the shin. When Rolenc got up to end the visit, she slapped him with an open hand across the face, according to prison disciplinary documents.

I lost it, Rolenc writes. I punched her a couple times then threw her on the ground and stomped her a couple times not in the head though In front of my son. To his mom. Two weeks later, he is summoned to an in-house disciplinary hearing. Rolenc does not have a lawyer with him. The prison charges him with assault, aggravated assault, attempted homicide and disorderly conduct.

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They offer him days in the hole, with days added to the four years he started serving in If he tries to fight it, they could push for an even longer stay in solitary. He signs the contract but wonders if he made a mistake. On Dec. He asks if she will teach him to cook when he gets out of prison so he can make breakfast for Jamaal. He wants to make French toast.

Even weeks later, Sharon tears up at the sentiment. Sharon, who works in communications for a Twin Cities college, always thought Keegan would be a Rhodes scholar — not a criminal. She tries to pinpoint the moment things went so wrong.

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Keegan grew up in middle-class Minneapolis neighborhoods, and Sharon recalls his exceptional acumen for academics at a young age. In elementary school, he started taking classes with students in the grade ahead. He excelled at football and basketball, and he dreamed of playing in college.

The future seemed full of possibilities. He went to prison for selling drugs before Keegan was born, and Sharon always imagined their relationship, maintained mostly through letters and the occasional phone call, caused internal anguish with her son. When Keegan was 7, Sharon married Paul Coe, a white man. She tried to find a black role model for her son by enrolling him in Big Brother programs, but they were always placed at the bottom of the waiting list, she remembered.

Keegan started getting in trouble in middle school. One semester, his principal suspended him 11 times for mouthing off and arguing with teachers. Sharon realized her son was hanging out with gang members, so she moved him to different schools around the city, but trouble followed to each one. In high school he was convicted of possessing prescription pain pills. Keegan graduated from Washburn High School in , and Sharon thought he had finally outrun his problems with the law when he moved two hours west to Willmar, Minn. No one was hurt, but the incident came just weeks after the high-profile death of Terrell Mayes, a 3-year-old shot by a stray bullet, and prosecutors charged Keegan with eight felonies, including drive-by shooting and second-degree assault.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman made an example out of the Rolenc to the press, identifying him as a member of the Tre Tre gang and linking the assault to the same pattern that caused the Mayes killing. Winter has come, and the ACU is cold. Rolenc sits under three blankets, and his nose is still running. He starts sleeping until 2 or 3 p. He calls Shay. Her lip is badly split and she might need plastic surgery. Their son has been talking about the time Daddy punched Mom. He wants to tell Jamaal that what he did was wrong, and that no man should ever put his hands on a woman.

I need to find other ways besides violence and intimidation to get what I want, he writes. Phase one means he gets five books and one phone call a week. Maybe even a radio. He tries to make the best of the time. Maybe he can be a lawyer or paralegal. During the weeknights, correctional officers leave the exterior cell door open, and Rolenc stays up all night playing chess with his cell neighbors by tearing pieces of paper, drawing a board and shouting out moves. I told him I wish I could call every day but they only let me once a week, but that I think about him every day all day.

Man I miss my lil dude. When Keegan told her about his sentence, Sharon had read articles about other states rethinking the use of solitary confinement. She was shocked that Minnesota still gave out yearlong terms, she said. She found herself overcome with fear about who would come out of that cell after days of solitude.

That fierce protectiveness. That social animal. That kind, loving, big-hearted young man. Mark Dayton.

If you remain silent, how will this ever change? No programming, no job, no classes? How on earth does this prepare him to succeed after prison? Reiser assured her that he was aware of the mental health concerns of solitary, and the department would assign a therapist to keep an eye on him. He wakes up in the middle of the night and finds a light has turned on, even though the switch is across the room.