Notes from Sand Ridge by Chas. A.
While our oldest patient made it to 103, we did have a recent death here. This may lead some to believe that they will never leave this place alive. Nor do some care; there is a certain comfort level here that may not be available during community release.
Is there any alternative to this civil commitment scheme which places 275 convicted sex offenders in very close proximity to each other. We are learning to be social as opposed to the anti-social activities which victimized people,young and old.
A dissenting opinion is delivered (7/29/07 WIS State Journal) by Sharon Patrick, a member of the Sand Ridge steering committee: "If anything, they are over socialized. We're providing these guys with a free lunch...the longer they're (the patients) are in this institution, the less they're going to want to get out." Ouch! But she is right.
She is correct on two accounts: in this "closed" society, the sex offenders tend to group (socialize) by class. The aggressive rapists try to take the high road and act superior, the incest offenders occupy the middle ground, and the highly manipulative child offenders stick in an underclass of scorn. Granted, it was worse in prison where the rapists could hide their conviction by their aggressive nature. These is another sub-culture: the homosexual community; when you put people together who are subject to sexual entanglements, trouble can brew. Read: "love triangles." These serious relationships formed here (out of desperation or choice) can lead to serious trouble when a friend is "disrespected" by another or intimidated in any manner. Good friends are apt to offer assistance and the treatment modality falls by the wayside. These social liaisons become more important than any progress possible in treatment and become a severe hindrance.
Secondly, the comfort level here can be very high. I have as good a medical coverage as the governor,and it doesn't cost a week's wages (per visit) as is the policy in prison. The food is good. The pay is a disappointment after having been lowered from $6.50 to $2 per hour. They are talking about raising it to $2.50 as an incentive to those who remain on the same job for six months. Enrichment activities are multitudinous: leisure gardening, hobby and music (as in some prisons); cooking class, card making, U.S. geography, book club and the annual Talent Show. REG tournament and leagues are ongoing. Some specialized REG activities can involve 8-12 patients and two highly paid REG therapists who are assigned. Guys can be active and busy or sit on the unit playing cards or hide out in their rooms.
The food and kitchen activities on F Unit, however, lead to disparate societies from the rest of the facility. Only the "haves" can afford to purchase the gourmet food from local groceries while the others try to ingratiate themselves into this elite group or just steal from the unit refrigerators. The canisters for our gas grills cost $16 to the unit budget and are available almost any time upon request. The grilled corn on the cob was excellent back in summer. My pork chops didn't make it out there; they were pilfered from the freezer. Many guys gain 15 pounds within the first six weeks of residency. More than a few become obese. Dr. Thornton is right: "Therapy is like losing weight; it takes a lot of personal discipline. Meanwhile, the (19) guys on skill Care Unit have settled in to a "paid retirement" venue courtesy of Wisconsin taxpayers. They have round the clock nursing care and air conditioning.
After all these "social activities" are successfully completed and a guy is released to the community, they become cut off from all Sand Ridge associations, positive or: negative, and become isolated in their new placement. Many will revert to smoking and video game habits. Such still plagues some of the younger guys ("gamers") here. People who can't live in this solitary physical atmosphere (opposite from Sand ridge) can go "stir crazy" and become at risk to reoffend. Many get revoked and rejoin this (dysfunctional) society. Want to see how they really think and act (after years of therapy?) Check out the behavior and conversations "among friends" on the yard where no one is closely supervising.
So it would seem that legislators would have to be out of their minds to approve the expansion that is proposed in the current budget. It would double capacity by 2009. As it stands, DHFS can hardly hire enough therapists to staff the few (2-12) hours of therapy that are scheduled per man per week. I attend therapy two days a week but the state has to feed and house me all seven days, 52 weeks per year (after year.) Court hearings are routinely postponed. So many "setbacks" are almost programmed into this experience, it may take years or decades to complete. Several guys have been under this (980) regimen for 13 years. Various stages of treatment are constantly being revised.
Perhaps a "line item" veto will nix this self-fulfilling prophesy: "Build it and they will come."
There might be a hidden agenda with the proposed plans for expansion (wrecking our garden enterprise)as with a capacity of 500-600, this "white elephant" could be converted to a maximum security prison to treat incarcerated sex offenders who were in the last half of their sentence. The only problem might be for Sand Ridge staffers to get these new clients to give up their prison mentality: "It's us against them."
It would be more cost efficient to have a director/warden and assistant in place for 600 men as opposed to the present 275. Staff therapists are already in place. Yes, it would be a costly maximum security facility but could probably be accomplished for half the current cost of approx. $100,000. They might have to install a few watch towers but everything else is in place.
The current 980 committees could easily be moved to special housing in the communities, at the end of airport runways, in FEMA trailers, or isolated locations. Send a minibus around two days a week to pick them up and take them to therapy sessions. If they exhibit any violations or suspicious behavior, revoke them and send them back to prison, an outcome few here would choose. This was the original intent of the law: to offer a "least restrictive" placement as the first option. That was the main selling point when the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld 980 as not unconstitutional. (Note the Abrahamson dissent.)
Many other states have implemented this system, most notably Texas, a state famous for locking up a sizeable portion of their population.
By the time you read this, we may have the budget answer. Build the expansion and let the other areas of state budget continue to get short shrift: U.W.tuition continues to rise. Local school districts continue to be squeezed/ bridges and highways are in disrepair, and taxes continue to rise. Or sanity can prevail and 980 be modified to reflect the true needs of this population as well as fiscal responsibility.
Until then, I'll just stay here and enjoy life. I wouldn't be this safe on the street.