At 14 years of age, I found myself desperate for help. I needed one person to listen to me. Instead, I looked around at the small, cold, bare room my body was in instead. I was all alone.

White walls stared at me with no windows for a glimpse of light. There was no sink, no toilet. Sometimes, I was granted a thin, bare mattress. These conditions reinforced dissociation of my mind. A camera ominously stared down at me from the ceiling, possessing no warmth or comfort.

There was no human connection or support within the four walls of the locked room in which I had found myself. My healing most certainly did not take place there.

Reasons for my placements in solitary in a local psychiatric facility -- where I spent roughly six months -- began the first night I was admitted, when staff refused to explain the content of form in an age-appropriate manner and so I refused to sign it. I was told to drag a mattress to a hidden, secured room. Staff locked me inside with it.

Another time, standing up for myself against discrimination towards identities I hold landed me in solitary. Often, I found myself locked away for being honest about my deep depression and my urges to hurt myself. The problem with this was that the only time I ever actually hurt myself inside of that facility was when I was in solitary. No one seemed to care despite their argument of that dreaded room being for my safety in the first place.

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks has introduced LB230. The bill would bring an end to juveniles being placed in solitary due to problematic reasons such as punishment, staffing shortages or in retaliation against the young person. Alarmingly, these punitive justifications are still happening in Nebraska, and LB230 would be a powerful step toward ending them.

The bill would also require certain minimum standards for rooms used for confinement. Youth in confinement would have equal access to meals, family, contact, legal assistance and educational programming.

The bill would also require that youth in confinement have access to appropriate mental health and medical care. Further, it would mandate that youth are held only until the immediate and significant risk is resolved and any confinement for longer than one hour during a 24-hour period must be documented and approved by a supervisor.

In other words, should LB230 be passed into law, the injustice of the lengthy sentence of trauma that was placed upon my own shoulders by solitary confinement would be prevented for current and future Nebraska juveniles in youth facilities.

Now age 33 and a Bachelor of Social Work practicum student, I can examine LB230 from both a personal and professional social work lens and see that it is a huge step toward limiting further harm to current and future Nebraska youth. Current practices are not best practices, and that demands a deeper consideration by Nebraskans of how juveniles in facilities in the state are being treated.

It stands to reason that, if Nebraska desires to have juvenile facilities that want to operate within these best practices, LB230 needs to be passed into law and those facilities then need to comply with the standards it sets forth. The effects of solitary have been proven to cause damage to youths’ still-developing prefrontal cortex, a critical brain region linked to impulse control and organization of behavior, speech and reasoning.

That is what solitary did to me. You can leave solitary, but solitary confinement does not leave you.

If the youth in our juvenile facilities are to be supported rather than disregarded, then facilities should avoid isolating them at all costs.

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Dylan P. Murphy is a social work intern for ACLU Nebraska who lives in Omaha.


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