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Last week, the newly appointed executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections Rick Raemisch made local and national headlines with an opinion column he wrote for the New York Times.
In “My Night in Solitary,” Raemisch details the 20 hours he recently spent in an “administrative segregation” cell, the official phrase for long-term solitary confinement. He describes how, even after a short stay in the cramped space, he could already sense how dehumanizing and psychologically perilous these maximum-security environments can be, and he makes an impassioned case for reform.
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This wasn’t a publicity stunt. Raemisch has come to Colorado to continue the work started by his predecessor, Tom Clements, another devoted reformer whose crusade against “ad seg” and prison gangs ended in 2013 when parolee Evan Ebel murdered Clements on the front porch of his own home while Clements’ wife watched TV inside.
In a development that came to light earlier this month, Ebel had kidnapped and murdered a pizza deliveryman named Nathan Leon, but not before making Leon record a pre-written rant about the ad seg system.
In our March issue, you’ll find “Call of Duty,” Bryan Schatz’s profile of Raemisch’s early days at the DOC. The comprehensive narrative describes how Raemisch, the former head of the Wisconsin DOC and another longtime reformer, found himself compelled to take over an already-beleaguered department after the tragic loss of its admired leader.
Since last fall, Schatz has accompanied Raemisch on many aspects of his job, including prison visits, internal meetings, and community-building gatherings with both prison employees and the families of crime victims. Schatz also reveals some of the unprecedented security measures that have been installed since Clements’ death for numerous high-level prison and government officials.
Schatz’s account portrays a humble and dedicated public servant who seeks to improve conditions for the entire population of prison inmates, because he knows that almost all of them—97 percent—will one day return to our communities. That Colorado has a second straight corrections director who’s so willing to risk his own safety to preserve it for the rest of us speaks volumes about the character of both men.
Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.