Monday, April 23, 2012

Colton Harris-Moore, The Barefoot Bandit's Maximum Issues

There's been a lot of news action recently, with John Henry Browne talking to an AP reporter about Colton being locked down in maximum security. It's worth me doing another post to update the one I wrote on March 30th about Colt and the chances he'll spend a considerable amount of time in max.

The facts are that Colton Harris-Moore is now in the Washington State Penitentiary  at Walla Walla and is being held in their IMU – Intensive Mangagement Unit. IMU is high-level maximum security, which includes the worst and most-dangerous adult offenders as well as inmates on death row.

In IMU, Colton gets five hours outside of his solitary confinement cell, and three showers per week. He doesn’t mix with other inmates, and his only human contact so far has been with prison guards and officials.

Prior to this, Colton was held at the Washington State prison in Shelton, which serves as a sort-of induction center where inmates are given medical and mental tests to determine where they’ll be sent. Apparently they don’t learn enough there, because officials at Walla Walla are saying they need another seven weeks, which Colton will spend in solitary at their IMU, to evaluate where they’re going to put him next. It’s not an uncommon practice for prisons to segregate new prisoners before assigning them a permanent unit, but this double evaluation within the Washington State DOC seems redundant.

After his capture in the Bahamas, Colton was held in solitary at SeaTac Federal Detention Center for at least six months. Interestingly, he requested he stay segregated even after he was deemed eligible to move into the general population. As I detail in The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale ofColton Harris-Moore, Colton did not do too well juvenile prison. As once source who served time with Colt in County told me, “There were a lot of guys who had trouble with him, but didn’t go after him only because they didn’t want to go on lockdown.” However, a prison buddy from his time at the Greenhill juvenile state facility told me about a number of times where Colton was chased into his room and beaten after getting into arguments with other boys.

Colton eventually did move into general population at SeaTac and by all accounts did fine. There’s often a big difference between the kinds of inmates you find in a federal facility and a state prison, especially maximum security. Feds house a lot of swindlers, fraudsters and other white-collar crooks. Murderers, rapists, gang-bangers and other violent and dangerous felons: you’ll find them in state prisons.

One class of people you’ll find in all prisons, but especially at the local level, are the mentally ill. It’s estimated there are at least 350,000 mentally ill people in US prisons, a number that skyrocketed after the wholesale closings of state hospitals in the 80s and 90s. Huge numbers of the mentally ill were pushed onto the streets, and many now simply revolve through the prison system time and again.    

Two issues that come up with solitary confinement are physical safety and mental well-being. Colton is, of course, a big guy at 6’5”, but by all accounts he’s not a fighter and nothing in all of my research says he’s confrontational or violent. He will be physically safe in solitary unless he got into a confrontation with guards, which seems extremely unlikely given his history.

The mental issue, though, is critical. Special advisors to the United Nations have testified that solitary confinement “can amount to torture.” Those prisoners with mental issues are particularly prone to damage since often part of the segregation means that along with little human contact and extremely limited opportunities for fresh air and exercise, the inmates in IMU are not given the same access to education and counseling opportunities, or even the distractions of TV and radio, as the general population.

We all know the argument that these are prisoners and they deserve to be locked away and not given a cushy existence. And yes, Colt is a criminal who committed dozens of felonies and deserves to spend years behind bars. However, the short-sightedness that I see in our justice system is that it leans way too much toward retribution than rehabilitation, and often seems to forget that these people are coming back to our communities one day. Do we want them to come back simply as better crooks, having gotten their masters degrees in Criminal U? Do we want them to come back with their mental problems worse? Do we want non-violent offenders turned violent because of what they’ve had to do to survive inside or simply because they’ve lost all hope in a “justice” system?

Colton will be out of prison and back in society at age 25, with a long life ahead of him. People that I’m talking to in our communities in the islands – the ones most affected by Colton Harris-Moore’s crimes – are very concerned about what Colt will be like when he gets out. They’re hoping for second-chance Colt, a man who takes  advantage of the educational opportunities and specialized counseling (being paid for by friends who’ve  known him for years and who see him as eminently salvageable) to help him move beyond the challenges he still faces due to the lingering effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the traumas of his childhood, and his own poor record of decision-making.

What they fear is a Colt who’s been further beaten down by yet another “system.” A Colt who has whatever optimism for a functional life further beaten out of him or driven out of him by too much time alone in a box, and who winds up simply learning to become a better, and perhaps more dangerous, criminal.              

A number of letters have been written to the governor – including some by victims who had their homes on Camano Island burglarized multiple times by Colton. The letters have asked for her to intervene, to get Colton Harris-Moore out of maximum security and into a facility where he can start the serious work on his rehabilitation. Colton’s defense team has been working behind the scenes for the same thing. By John Henry Browne taking this issue public, it’s safe to say that those efforts have failed – so far.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Part 1 & 2 of The Barefoot Bandit's Seattle Media Day

The good folks at Seattle's King 5 Morning News had me on last Thursday to talk about Colton and my new book, The Barefoot Bandit. I used to work in television, but always on the other side of the camera and almost exclusively out on location, so it was fascinating to take part in a high-tech studio shoot.

As a former cameraman, it was a little disconcerting to not see one anywhere in the studio. All six of the cameras were robotic and directed via an out-of-site control room. The only people in the large, dark stage were the talent, anchors Joyce Taylor and Greg Copeland along with the weather reporter. When it was time for my segment, three Transformer-like cameras began moving themselves across the studio to line up the angles on the "chat" set.

I clipped a mic on my sportcoat and sat by myself for a few minutes until they went to commercial and Greg came over from the anchor desk. The show's director spoke to him continuously through his earpiece, but I couldn't hear any of it.

We did the scheduled segment (it's impossible for me to figure out how long they last while they're happening; the time goes by very fast. On a television set, though, the interviewer has a view of a timer flashed on the teleprompter as well as signals or voice alerts from the director so he or she knows when we're running out of time.

After the segment, they went back to commercial. As I was leaving, I walked over to the anchor desk to say hello to Joyce. She asked more about the book and potential movie, and then she and the director were suddenly having an earpiece conversation and decided that the audience might like to hear what Joyce and I were talking about, too. They asked me to stay for another segment during which both Greg and Joyce would ask questions.

As a sign of the fascination people have with this subject, in almost every interview I've done so far, I've been "held over" for extra segments.

So, at this KING 5 link you'll first see the initial talk and then a long hold on the book cover as the second segment is introduced. The director hadn't prepared to run an extra six minutes on this, but did a good job of improv by re-running some stock footage of Colton to intercut with the live shots of us on set.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Barefoot Bandit Media and Events

It’ll be a busy Thursday April 5th for interviews and book events for the release of The Barefoot Bandit.

At around 8:15, I’ll be on Seattle’s King 5 TV Morning News. Then at noon I'll be part of The Conversation with Ross Reynolds on Seattle area NPR radio stations. NPR will also be giving away copies of the book to some lucky donors during their pledge drive.

Then it's down to Tacoma to tape an episode of the PBS book review cable show, Well Read.

We’ll then top it off the 5th with a cool event down at the University Bookstore in the U District of downtown Seattle at 7-9pm. 

On Saturday I’ll be at Joint Base Lewis McChord, but that event is open only to those with a military id.

Next week will bring the first national TV interview since the release of the book. Stay tuned for exact date and time.