Red Onion State Prison
Articles,  Blog

Red Onion State Prison

Narrator: Red Onion State Prison…home to
roughly 830 of Virginia’s 30,000 state responsible offenders. The facility opened in 1998, providing job
opportunities for people in Southwestern Virginia. Assistant Warden Jeffery Artrip was one of
them. Jeffery Artrip, Assistant Warden “Back in
98, I was here when we got the first offenders off the bus. It was different then. We had a population similar to what we have
now.” Narrator: Today, the offender population at
Red Onion consists of men in security levels ranging from Level 5 to the highest level,
Level S. Lower level offenders are housed in buildings A and B. They are granted many
of the privileges associated with lower level prisons in Virginia – outside recreation,
pod recreation, unrestrained movement to chow halls and to the on-site school for educational
opportunities. However, this wasn’t always the case for
offenders at Red Onion. Artrip “Somewhere around 2000, 2001, we
went to all segregation.” David Robinson, CCO: “At that time Red Onion
was a lock down facility 24 hours a day 7 days a week with the exception of recreation
one hour a day and showers. There was about two pods of the total prison
that were cadre that did most of the work internal to the prison. By far the majority of the prison was segregation
unit. Artrip: “Those were the bad years I guess. It was all seg. Staff was overworked. Offenders didn’t have no hope. Earl Barksdale, Warden “The inmates, when
they came here, they knew they were going to be locked down most of the time due to
the serious nature of their crime, their time and their behavior.” Narrator: The all-segregation set-up proved
to be a highly stressful environment for offenders as their abilities to interact with other
offenders and staff deteriorated. The move also affected staff, reducing morale
and increasing the use of sick leave to get away. Artrip “When we were all locked down and
you had that perfect storm, nobody had no relief. There was no light. Staff dealt with the same problems every day.” Narrator: Programming for offenders was limited. Keith Sykes, Counselor: “Basically we had
two programs. You had Anger Management program and we done
a Breaking Barriers program…really not much reentry at all.” Narrator: And many offenders were being released
from Red Onion after years of segregation…returning straight to the communities. Sykes: “We’d give them a bus ticket and
say good luck.” Narrator: Change was needed…and it came
not long after the 2010 arrival of Virginia Department of Corrections Director Harold
Clarke. Clarke: “I recall my first trip to Red Onion
which was the second facility that I stopped by after arriving in Virginia. I saw a very secure facility, an institution
that was focused on command and control. It was very clean. It was very orderly. I saw people who used security very well that
were intent on making sure that they had a safe operation in terms of preventing escapes
and so forth and protecting the staff and offenders.” Narrator: After that first visit, Director
Clarke began to analyze past data on Red Onion. One number concerned him greatly. In the course of one year, around 60 offenders
had been released from segregation at Red Onion directly to community. Clarke: “I thought there was something wrong
with that picture. That had to change. Those offenders are deemed to be very dangerous. So therefore, every place they went in the
facility they were either escorted by one or two individuals in restraints. But then to release them into the community
with no restraints whatsoever and no process from moving from a higher security to a lower,
I found that to be troubling and decided that something had to be done.” Scott Richeson, Deputy Director of Reentry
and Programs: “When Director Clarke, Harold Clarke arrived as our Director in 2010, he
introduced a whole initiative to us to really refocus from short-term public safety, which
is incarcerating people and having them on probation and supervision, to really focusing
our efforts on creating long-term public safety.” Clarke: “I decided that if we are going
to take a risk with these offenders, the risk should take place while they are still in
custody and not once they’re released on an unsuspecting public.” Narrator: In 2011, the department launched
an effort to reform Red Onion State Prison and change the culture for offenders and staff. Richeson: “We realized that we had a situation
where a lot of people had gone into segregation but they really didn’t have a pathway to
get out. We had a think tank of folks that came up
with some ideas that decided to apply the science of evidence based practices to a high
security environment and create a step-down path for people to get out. It required a whole culture change…and staff
are the people that hold the culture, if you will, of a prison, so it required extensive
training of everyone up there. We put everyone through extensive communication
training so they could learn techniques to motivate change rather than just writing charges. A lot of them came out of the training really
energized and feeling like they now were doing more of what they wanted to do. They felt more rewarded in their jobs. They actually began to see people change and
I think…they didn’t realize that people could change and when they started to see
people change, it really increased their desire to help people change even more.” Artrip “Staff and offenders both started
seeing a little light. We needed that change. We couldn’t keep going the way we were going. Staff was stressed at that point too, so when
the change came, it was truly a Healing Environment for us.” Narrator: The Healing Environment…described
as an environment “purposefully created by the way we work together and treat each
other, encouraging all to use their initiative to make positive, progressive changes to improve
lives. It is safe, respectful, and ethical – where
people are both supported and challenged to be accountable for their actions.” It’s the motivation behind the Virginia
Department of Corrections’ Administrative Segregation Step Down Program…this award
winning initiative that is providing a method for offenders in restrictive housing or segregation
to work their way into a general population. But first, Red Onion had to create a general
population inside what was a total segregation facility. To accomplish this, some Security Level S
offenders were moved from Red Onion to nearby Wallens Ridge State Prison. Those Level S offenders who remained at Red
Onion were housed in C-Building. Richeson: “We felt like in the past, we
had made assignment there a little too easy or easier than we wanted if our goal was really
to reduce recidivism. So we added extra levels of review. So rather than a warden being able to assign
someone to that prison, it actually had to go through our classification department as
well as through the warden of Red Onion State Prison as well as be approved by the regional
director up there, the Regional Operations Chief. So it added a level of review that we did
not have before. So it made it harder to get in. Then, once an offender was accepted into the
program, they went through an orientation process that included review by an interdisciplinary
team. That was a team of staff, mental health, counselors,
security, people from different disciplines who looked at at that person with various
lenses on regarding their needs. We also give them an assessment that would
tell us what are their risks and what are their needs. The purpose of doing a risks and needs assessment
is really to see if there are needs that we can address that mitigate those risks. So, all that would have to occur before someone
actually gets assigned to Level S. Narrator: Level S offenders are confined to
their individual cells…only exiting when escorted securely to things like rec, showers
and visitation. Security Level 6 was introduced and placed
in D-Building. Richeson: “Six is really, we call it a proving
ground, but it’s where the person really has full restraints off for the first time. So they do have more liberties but it is more
restricted in terms of privileges. They may work, they may be in one of the special
pods, but they’re going to be working on the housing unit. That becomes a proving ground before they’re
able to go to a general population setting.” Narrator: Security Level 5 offenders were
moved from Wallens Ridge to Red Onion State Prison and placed in General Populations settings
in Buildings A and B. Richeson: “That is a GP unit that we have
at other prisons as well. That’s full privileges that they would have
at other Level 5’s in the state. They would have free movement around the prison. It’s controlled movement but they are not
restrained. They could go to school, go to the classroom,
go to work, go to the recreation yard, totally unrestrained.” Narrator: Programming is available at all
levels. The Challenge Series, Thinking for Change,
Cognitive Self Change, Preps, Anger Management, Ready to Work, Resources for Successful Living
– these are some of the programs in place to help offenders move through the step-down
process and prepare for reentry. For Level S offenders, programming begins
in the cell. Richeson: “They are totally in the cell
with the counselor working with them on that book and he’ll turn in the journal and work
on it more. In step down phase one, he begins the journals
in his cell and then he can progress to using a therapeutic module. These are modules that are secured and each
offender has their own module but they’re in a circle so they can interact with each
other and interact with a facilitator. That’s been a wonderful security tool that
has enhanced our ability to get people out of their cell and interacting with others. If the person is successful in the therapeutic
module and with their programming and attitude, then they can step down to the next phase,
step down two. There, they start out in the therapeutic modules
and if their programming goes well, and their attitude and behavior, then their next step
would be to do programming in the therapeutic chairs. The therapeutic chairs are desks where they
do have some restraints on but one arm is free so they can take notes and they can interact
with others. The next step is that offenders can get in
small groups with others. And that would be in Security Level 6, which
is the next step down. Narrator: To facilitate these programs, the
department created new positions called Treatment Officers. C.B. Walker, Treatment Officer: “A Treatment
Officer is a position that is a bridge between security and treatment. We escort offenders to class and then we actually
facilitate the class also.” Andrew Freeman, Treatment Officer: “We communicate
a whole lot more with treatment because we’re really trying to prepare them to go back. We have the same contacts as a regular CO
does. It’s just that we have a little bit more
verbal communication with them.” Adrian Payne, Treatment Officer: “We have
to talk with them. We have to get on another level with them
to help see how they think and try to help them change the way they think.” Barksdale: “Treatment officers…they are
unique individuals. They are very essential to the operation and
changing the mindset of the offenders. They used to look at an officer as being an
officer in blue, the pig, 5-oh. But now they’re looking at an officer that
will come to them and talk to them in a manner of dialoguing in a working dialogue session…where
the inmate can feel comfortable telling the officer something and the officer can tell
him about his process of thinking.” Robinson: “If you say to the offender ‘why
are you really doing that, you need to think about that. What are the causes and effects of what you’re
getting ready to do? If you do X then Y is going to happen. Have you thought about that? So we really changed the way staff communicated
with offenders.” Payne: “You have to have the utmost level
of professionalism. I like knowing that I can help them. Because if I can help them be a better person,
maybe they can be a better dad to their kids or husband or spouse, be better to one of
my floor officers or coworkers, to my Unit Manager. If I can make them to be just a little bit
better, then I’ve done something in the world.” Walker: “I’ve seen great progress out
of it…not only from segregation back into a general population setting but also from
prison back into the community. I’ve seen a lot of success stories.” Narrator: One of those success stories is
Malcolm Springs. He’s serving 104 years in prison after being
convicted of several violent crimes. He first arrived at Red Onion nine years ago. Malcolm Springs: “When I first came here
at Red Onion, I was young, I was acting out a lot. I didn’t care about nothing. When I first got here, they really didn’t
have no set program. No step down program. Once they got the step down program, it helped
me process through and learn a lot of things on how to act differently, how to think differently. I know how to control my anger better. Instead of just snapping out, I think about
the situation. I can control it better by doing that. I was in C Building, that’s level S. Then
I did the program, the Challenge Series, and then I went to D Building. That’s level six. I took Thinking for a Change and now I’m
in population. Basically if you come in here and do what
you’ve got to do, it will be a smooth process. You can make it hard or you can make it easy. They’re going to give you everything you
need for you to do what you’ve got to do…to go through the programs and succeed. If you don’t want that, then you won’t
succeed.” Richeson: “Once someone is assigned to the
program, they are identified as to whether they would go into an Intensive Management
Track or a Special Management Track. The tracks are based on really the person’s
behavior as well as their risks and needs in the assessments that we did. But their pattern of behavior…and it has
more to do with their internal, in prison behavior than it does crimes on the street
although not necessarily. If someone is placed in a Special Management
track, that is someone who typically has had disruptive behavior in prison, was a behavior
management problem, getting a lot of internal infractions, things like that. The other track, the Intensive Management,
are people who have really created more heinous crimes while they’re in prison. So it is really three main groupings of people
in IM. It is people who have really showed the capability
and really the intent to commit extreme and deadly violence in prison. Vito Hoehn: “I’m in Red Onion because
in 2012 of August, I stabbed another inmate over a gang fight.” Narrator: Vito Hoehn is on the Intensive Management
Track. Hoehn: “I was at Wallens Ridge originally
when I first came into the system. I stayed out of trouble. I got transferred to Keen Mountain State Prison. While I was at Keen Mountain, I got into a
big fight and I went inside somebody’s cell and I beat them up real bad. Got sent to Sussex I because of my bad behavior
from Keen Mountain and then while I was as Sussex, I did the stabbing. That’s one thing that I’ve learned about
being in IM is that, when you get in trouble you have to face your responsibilities. You have to be accountable for your actions. I was actually on my way next door. I was offered the opportunity to go next door. At the time I was offered that opportunity,
I had some things I was taking care of and I didn’t want any distractions trying to
reach a goal, personal goals of mine. So I declined to go next door. But, with that being said, two weeks after
that, I got in a little bit of trouble. I do want to go now. I’m not going to decline anymore to go back
to population. I definitely want to go out there. I’m motivated now. I think I’m ready. That’s my main motivation…to prove to
myself that I’m able to go out there and use this program and what I learned in here
to go out there and behave like I’m supposed to be. Temperament is everything. So that’s the type of skills that they’re
teaching us. Just stop and think. What’s proper to say, what’s improper
to say? And pay attention to what the other person
is saying because I think a lot of things that we get in trouble in prison over is that
we don’t stop and listen to each other. This is my third time in prison, so. I get people asking me, ‘You didn’t learn
the first time? You didn’t learn the second time? Are you learning now, the third time? To be honest with you…even though it’s
my third time in prison, I actually didn’t learn anything my first four years in prison. I was still doing the same thing I was doing
on the street. When I came to prison, I was still selling
drugs. I was still gang-banging. I was still committing acts of violence…I
was still running in people’s cell and robbing them like I was still on the street. Nothing changed because I was in prison. The only thing that changed was I didn’t
have the ability to leave when I wanted to. That was the only thing that was different
for me. So it took this incident that I’m up here
at Red Onion for to really open my eyes and say hey, I need to change. This is not for me anymore. I think I’ve matured enough to where I’m
ready to go to population. I believe I can handle myself without getting
in trouble. Obviously this is a prison and we can’t
control what another man does. So I’m going to defend myself because, like
I said, I can’t control what another man does. As far as me doing anything or initiating
anything, I’m confident that I won’t do that because of A, that’s not my belief
system in my religion and two, as far as the skills I’ve learned here is to kind of take
a step back and evaluate the situation. If it’s possible for me to walk away, I
will. That’s one of the skills I’m learning
here is to be patient. Don’t be so quick to anger. Relax a little bit.” Richeson: “Whether you are an SM or IM,
I think of them as parallel tracks, you do have the same pathway to a point. There are three levels in each Level S category. There’s an IM Zero and SM Zero, an IM 1
and SM 1, and an IM 2 and SM 2. Those are step down tracks. We do have evidence based manuals. They’re given certain manuals at different
points of the program. So if you’re in SM Zero or IM Zero, to advance
to the next level, to the IM 1, you would need to complete certain manuals. You also have to have certain behaviors as
well as certain attitudes and those are evaluated weekly by the unit staff and then there are
more formal reviews. Once you’re in Level Six, Intensive Management
has a closed pod that they may go to where they have extra privileges. They have step downs in there – step down
one and we are just creating a second step down in intensive management where they get
even more and more privileges.” Narrator: In each step, offenders are challenged
to think differently, talk about their behaviors and set goals. The process takes time. Often the biggest hurdle for offenders is
accepting the terms of the program and staying the course…something Lars Hanson understands. Serving a life sentence for murder, Hanson
arrived at Red Onion in 2012, at Security Level S.
Lars Hanson: “When I first came up here, they have a system where you’re either Special
Management or Intensive Management. Intensive Management is for guys more serious. I was classified for Intensive Management. At the time I was kind of in my…I hit a
point in my life where, everyone in prison hits rock bottom sometimes and at the time
that’s what happened.” Narrator: Hanson was encouraged to begin the
Step Down Program. Hanson: “I basically went through the Challenge
Series programs and progressed from Level S IM which allowed me to go to IM Closed Pod
which is Level 6 but it’s still really close management. It’s supposed to be general population but
it’s really ran like segregation because of how serious the guys’ charges are. I was over there and I progressed through
that and went through the programs Thinking for a Change, Anger Management. I did Anger Management. I was given a job. They monitored me to see how I was doing. I was actually reviewed by the DOC and they
felt comfortable letting me out and I went from the IM to the SM step down. I went through Thinking for a Change there
and progressed out. Now I’m back in general population at Security
Level 5. It’s really up to the person if they really
want to take from it. I took from it and basically tried to gear
all that to where I really knew how to think instead of just acting or reacting. It can always be worse. So that’s why I’m kind of mellow now. I basically appreciate what I do have and
I’m so thankful I’m not still in Level S, especially. That really broke me down. It’s bad. A person has to be in that situation really
to…it’s easy for someone to look from the outside looking in, but when you have
to be put in that and have to live through it years on end, that’s where the challenge
comes in. That’s where you have to have a strong mind. Some people do, some people don’t. Hopefully I can progress down to a lower security
level when I actually have more privileges, where basically the system can basically trust
me to not screw up. It’s basically I earn, by my actions I can
basically earn certain privileges and stuff like that. I’m a lot happier, I’ll tell you that. I’m thankful. I’m grateful. I appreciate it. I don’t take it for granted.” Richeson: “Another category of folks who
would be in Intensive Management are folks that have had really significant escapes – not
someone who was on a road camp and walked away from their assignment impulsively but
someone who really was in a higher security prison and had a significant escape. So they might be in Intensive Management and
even more so if they have a pattern of escapes. And then the third category in Intensive Management
is, very few, but it’s folks that have a really high profile notorious crime. And we have them in that track because often
other offenders will have them at risk and will try to make a name for themselves by
harming a high profile offender because their crimes are so serious. That’s what gets you in the Intensive Management
track. In addition to regular status reviews at the
prison, there is a DOC executive level team that travels to the prison twice per year
to provide an outside review of each offender’s case. And the team also confirms his appropriate
stepdown path assignment. This team may make changes to the offender’s
path if they feel it is warranted. The external review team is comprised of high
level DOC headquarters and regional staff including the mental health director, the
offender classification chief, the reentry and programs director, the chief nurse and
the operation chiefs from other regions who don’t house Level S offenders. Narrator : For the Step Down Program to be
successful, participating offenders must value the incentives that come with the lower levels
of security. There are those who have successfully moved
down in security level only to be moved back up as a result of infractions or charges. A harsh reality when it comes to the Step
Down Program is that prison culture can sometimes block progress…if offenders allow it…as
explained by offender Michael Kelly. He has served 12 years of a 38 year sentence
for two armed robberies. He’s been at Red Onion for the last five
years. Michael Kelley: “It’s super worth it. Yea, if you want to be out more and have recreation
and stuff like that right, yea it’s super worth it. That doesn’t matter if somebody disrespects
you. It don’t matter. The program don’t matter. If somebody disrespects me today, I’ll have
to throw away the last eighteen months of my life, of doing the program and trying to
make it out of here. If somebody disrespects me today, I’ve got
to throw all that shit out the window. Because if I don’t do something today, tomorrow,
whatever individual seen it or whoever gets word that I let somebody disrespect me and
let them get away with it, tomorrow, I’ll have a bigger problem with more individuals
and more inmates will feel like they can disrespect me and do whatever to me and treat me like
I’m some type of bitch. I can’t live like that. In order to maintain my respect, sometimes
I have to act out in violence to other inmates or whatever the case may be so I can maintain
my respect in this environment. I’d rather live with my respect and have
all these different consequences, these harsh consequences than to not have my respect and
be living through prison like a bitch. Everything! Everything! It trumps everything! It has to. That’s the only way that I can survive. Richeson: “If you’re in the SM track,
you can advance down through the step down in restrictive housing to several specialized
pods. There’s a SIP Pod, a SAM Pod and a general
Step-Down Pod. The SIP Pod stands for Secure Integrated Pod. Those are for folks that have had problems
getting along, socializing with others. It’s not as much as they are violent. But that they don’t want to and they’re
scared. They might create disruptive behavior in order
to avoid getting put in general population. So one of our thoughts with this program is
if we could group those folks who are scared together, they’re more likely to get along
and adjust better in this pod. The second Step-Down Pod, SAM, is called Secure
Allied Management. That’s for folks who are easily led, easily
bullied. They might be folks who have some mental health
needs. They might be folks with limited mental capabilities. They go there for the same thinking…if we
can group them together, we have more attention of mental health staff there, special programming
for them, they’re more likely to have a more successful adjustment.” Atrip: “Those guys are the ones that kind
of got lost in the shuffle due to their low functioning when we were in long-term seg
before. Those are guys that, as an officer, you liked
them being in your pod because they never went anywhere. They never asked for nothing. They never caught no charges.” Narrator: Managing mental health offenders
is a critical element in corrections. Qualified Mental Health Professionals or QMHPs
work with offenders who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions. For some, mental health issues can delay or
prevent successful completion of the Step Down program. Mental health issues can also make advancing
to general population a safety and security concern. Stephanie Fletcher, QMHP: “But we do have
several. Yea, this is exciting. The development of special pod communities
for mental health offenders offers them a chance to step out of segregation and toward
general populations through more secured environments that come with privileges…like the new symptoms
management horticulture class developed by QMHP Stephanie Fletcher. Fletcher: “It’s part of our effort to
try to help the offenders understand and recognize what healthy relationships look like…in
connection with their mental illness… and helping them understand what that looks like
so that they can develop healthy relationships in their life while they’re here and in
hopes that when they’ll get back out on the street, that they will know how to nurture
those relationships and be more successful.” Dr. Denise Malone, Chief of Mental Health
Services: “We tried to use groups that do have a research basis in other words, that
have demonstrated effectiveness and outcomes. Where we are getting a lot of bang for our
buck is we are focusing on self-management. So we are focusing on emotional regulation. We are focusing on coping skills, teach people
adaptive skills. And also what do I do with these emotions
once I realize I have them. I’ve labeled them. I don’t need them to spill out all over
the people in the chow hall or in the program I’m sitting in so we are trying to teach
people to more effectively handle their emotions and make more effective behavioral choices.” Antonio Parker: It’s about growing, right. Life is a continual growing process through
the decisions that we make. It is like change is constant. That’s what happens in the horticulture
class. You see a constant change in the way things
come up…in the way things grow. You have to improvise as you go along with
the change.” Fletcher: “It’s healing to have your hands
in the soil and to be able to just nurture something which is not something that we really
get to see the offenders do here because it is such a high level of security. It gives them the opportunity to invest in
something and reap a little bit of the reward and interact with each other in an environment
that isn’t about keeping security. They may have never seen a healthy relationship,
even in terms of interacting with parents or siblings or people in the community. If you’ve never seen it, how do you know
how to replicate it? How do you know how to have healthy relationships? It’s our hope that we can show them what
a healthy relationship looks like and help them develop those relationships. Even if they spend the rest of their life
or they have to spend the rest of their life at Red Onion or another institution, they
can still have healthy relationships with their family at home through writing and communicating
or they can develop friendships here that can make their time here a little bit easier.” Narrator: Quincy Jones has been at Red Onion
for five years. A self-described introvert, Jones says the
Step Down Program and the new Treatment Officers have given him a social outlet he didn’t
have before. Quincy Jones: “It’s worked for me…giving
me more room to do different things with myself…coming out of the cell more, being able to socialize. It’s just a better environment where I can
spend more time actually mentioning what’s going on inside myself, things I do inside
the cell, outside the cell, going for rec, just get to move around more so other than
staying stuck inside the cell. You go to class. They have this little class where you come
out with other guys in the cell. We just come out and you go over stuff like
different skills, communication skills, things how you can cope with other peers, other inmates
so it helps you balance out your duration while you’re incarcerated. We did a lot of role play. We could ask, ‘What would you do in this
situation right here?’ A lot of times, during the role play, a lot
of people would learn from each other. Some of the stuff that you see somebody else
doing, you’d think like, I don’t think I would have took that avenue. But then you say, ‘maybe that would work.’ Them little classes like that…them little
sessions like that…we basically did a lot of role playing. That seems to help a lot. It takes a lot for me to get comfortable with
a person so you really have to…and doing the step down, it gives me a chance to open
up whereas if I’m in that cell, I don’t have that opportunity to open up to the staff
so it makes me more antisocial. But now that I’m out here in the step down,
I’m able to open up more because I’m able to spend time on the floor with other staff
and stuff like that. Outside of that, we would be unable to build
anything. I used to be very impatient, which sometimes
I still am but I’m working up. But like this, when we get to come out like
this and socialize at that group that they allow us to sit at, it gives me a chance to
open up. The more I open up and the more comfortable
I get, the more you hear me talk and the more I’m able to realize that man I can be patient
with this person. But if you don’t give me that opportunity,
I’m a stay impatient. So now that I have the opportunity, it helps
me with my patience with others as well as myself. I done got my GED. I get certificates. I’ve been charge free. I aint been doing anything crazy. I spend time with God. I have a lot to look forward to and I don’t
have a life sentence. I am going home one day soon. So it’s no sense of throwing my life away
like that when I still have the doors open for me.” Narrator: One of the doors open to offenders
at Red Onion State Prison is the one that leads to an education. In the center of the compound sits a new school
where classes are offered to offenders. Brad Jett teaches at Red Onion, a position
he’s held for 18 years. For most of his career, teaching was done
using only a long-distance method of recording videos and sending lesson packets to students
in their cells. That changed three years ago when classrooms
were construction at Red Onion. Brad Jett, Teacher: “We were long distance
for 15 years. We went over to the classroom here the last
three and it’s transitioned exceptional. We have six different levels of adult basic
education which is our program. We have students who are level one, non-readers. We have students who are level six, ready
to get their GED. The biggest portion we have are levels three
and four. That’s going to be about a 6th to 8th grade
level that we see. That’s what we focus on the most. We focus with them on the subjects that get
them ready to go back and reenter society. We focus on the literacy subjects – math,
reading and language.” Robinson: “Red Onion has the largest compliance
of offenders going to school than any other school in our system. There are more people that go to school there
than any of our other prisons. Jett: “I get the question asked a lot, ‘Why
do they even have school there?’ If you don’t work here, if you’re not
in corrections, you may not understand but correction is a very broad term. We’re doing all this for reentry. Probably half of my class is going to be going
home within the next ten to fifteen years. We work on getting them ready, giving them
a tool for their tool belt. That way, when they get out, they’re going
to have a chance to be successful.” Pam Ashbrook, Librarian: “So, this one little
thing here is just regular fiction. Then we have our urban books here. Then we have our classics down here. They are then alphabetized by the author. Narrator: In addition to the school, a central
library provides offenders with a variety of reading materials. Pam Ashbrook is the librarian at Red Onion
State Prison. She returned to Southwestern Virginia after
years working in public libraries, school libraries, the Department of Defense and the
Department of the Navy. Ashbrook: “I have a lot of people that will
ask me, when they know that I work at a super max, they say, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’
and I said, I’m very aware of where I am. I’m very aware of the offenders that are
here. But I said I’ve never been afraid a day
since I’ve been here because we have wonderful officers and things that work here. We have people who can barely read. We have some people that aren’t able to
read…some of those because they have mental deficiencies and things like that. They simply are unable to read. We have people that are incredibly intelligent.” Narrator: Running a prison library is not
a one-person job. So, Ashbrook has the benefit of hiring offenders
to help prepare books for delivery and re-shelve books are they are returned. Ashbrook: “I really enjoy my workers and
they are very hard working. This is a huge library. We have over 8000 books in here. We have about 1300 books a month that we circulate
out. One person could not do this. I depend heavily on them to take care of those
things because I have other things that I have to do too. So, they’re good.” Narrator: And working in the library is a
privilege not lost on offenders Benjamin Cary and Roy Fincher…an honor they’re both
very proud to have earned. Card3:Cary:00023 It’s all about the individual,
the inmate and how he conducts himself. The inmate can make his stay here harder than
what it could be. If you mind your business and keep your head
down and just…if your mission, if your goal is to get from off the facility and get closer
to your home, then you can make it. In our situation, if you stay charge free
for a long amount of time, you get a better position. For me and him, we in the best position because
we’re in the honor pod and we’ve got this job where we come out. So our stay here is more easier than a lot
of other inmates. Card3:Fincher:00023 “It start with yourself. You’ve got to want that change. If you don’t want that change, then like
he said, you’re going to make your stay here harder than what it is. Me and him both…we’ve been knowing each
other for years. We’re at the point where we done made so
much progress in our lives like, in the positive…completing programs and all that stuff. So, I done been almost three years charge
free and it’s the longest…I’ve been locked up eleven years and it’s the longest
I’ve been charge free out my old bid. It comes from within yourself. You’ve got to want that change.” Narrator: Change…How one views change can
weigh heavily on their decisions. Whether it’s fear of change, a lack of desire
to experience change or the unwillingness to complete the tasks required to bring about
change, there are several offenders at Red Onion who elect not to participate in the
Step Down program. Barksdale: “We have some who are happy in
seg because they feel protective. They have their single cell, they don’t
have to be around anyone, right there they can say there are three hots and a cot…the
meals come to them. They have rec and showers and they don’t
have to interact with any other inmates.” Artrip: “People bring them their food, tell
them when to get up. It’s more structured. Unfortunately, a lot of offenders deal with
structure more than they do responsibilities.” Walker: “We just ask them to give it a chance. If they keep refusing, we keep offering the
chance. We keep telling them there’s more out there
then just segregation. Take a few programs. Give it a try. Get out of segregation. There’s better than this for you.” Malone: “When the offenders themselves start
to understand that the programming is actually a rehearsal of skills and actually is for
their betterment, then we see that they hook into more programming. They’re like, ‘wow, I’m surprised that
I didn’t want to come out. Oh, I’ve done so well in this group. Can I take that group?’ So oftentimes it’s just introducing them
the new milieu and that created behavioral momentum we call it.” Richeson: One example of how much we care
about reentry and getting people successfully out of Level S is we have implemented a reentry
program at the Level S in both phases. So for example, if someone is in IM Level
S, there is a reentry program that they go to before they go out. Our real goal with that is that we do not
want someone going from an environment where they’re locked up for much of the day to
the community. If there is a risk to be taken we want to
take that in corrections. So, we want to let those folks out of restraints,
walking independently, freedom within the pod before they go out to the community.” Narrator: How did you end up at Red Onion? Romeco Williams: “I ended up at Red Onion
by assaulting an officer at Greensville” Narrator: Romeco Williams was serving eight
and a half years on drug charges. Acquiring additional assault charges while
incarcerated earned him more time and a transfer to Red Onion. Williams: “I had came to a point where I
feared going home. My first release date was 2014. My brother went to the feds for selling firearms. I was the first one to give him a firearm. I have three kids who don’t know me. I got very depressed in my negative thoughts. I began to get institutionalized where I felt
as though I would be better off staying in prison than going home. ”
Narrator: On this date, Williams is in the Intensive Management Re-entry pod after working
his way down from Administrative Segregation in C-Building. He’s scheduled to be released in ten months. Williams: “I have a job over here. I come out here. It’s more programs over here as well. I can go to the shower or into rec without
restraints and shackles over here. In the Thinking for a Change program, they
have a section called Attitudes, Beliefs and Principals. It got me to realize that if you have certain
attitudes, beliefs and principals that you have had for a long time over the years that
may not be right, it would be hard making the transition but all of your belief principals
may not be correct. So it made me examine myself. As Socrates say, the unexamined life is not
worth living. I’ve written four books since I’ve been
incarcerated. So I’m working on getting those edited and
published. I want to do gang intervention because I really
care about the youth. I want to try to balance a lot of wrong that
I’ve done. I’ve done a lot of wrong in my life. I want to try to give back.”=======================
Clarke: “We have to keep on trying to be better. Because, as we become better, we are creating
second chances for human beings, the offenders, and as we become better, we are creating good
beginnings and new beginnings for the children of those offenders who find themselves in
that quagmire of crime and punishment. We all know that those kids are the ones that
are at risk. We have an opportunity to break that cycle.” Richeson: “The climate of the prison is
one of helping people change and creating internal motivation for people to behave rather
than just external, we versus them. We have the same goal as the offenders. We all want them, and they should want themselves
to do better. That’s the goal so I think it’s a much
better environment for staff. Sgt. Jordan Fleming: “Red Onion has changed
a lot in ten years, not only staff, but with inmates in general.” Narrator: Sergeant Jordan Fleming is one of
many employees at Red Onion who have watched the transformation unfold for both offenders
and staff. Fleming: “You get to know the offender better
than what you knew before and what you thought about them before. You interact with them a lot more than you
usually do. When I first started, a lot of these guys
who I thought once would never be treatable…who caused all kinds of stuff, bad behavior, assault
staff, inmates. I’ve seen them go through the programs. I’ve seen them enter out and then go to
the other side of the yard and remain charge free.” Walker: “There is a big breakthrough moment
when they realize that they have the power to change their life. They realize that we don’t have, we’re
not in control of their life. Their probation officer, their judge or lawyer
is not in control of their life. But they realize that their actions and behaviors
control their life.” Freeman: “Yea, there’s a couple that we
recently graduated from T4C that’s over in population right now that we never thought
would make it anywhere near that far.” Sykes: “In the last five years, the changes
that we’ve made, yea, I think it’s helped out the people here. As far as from us going from almost a total
segregation and you’re having so much stress on people and so many things to do versus
more of a population setting now…it’s just great that we’ve got these guys out
of seg in order to make it easier on staff.” Barksdale: “They’re here. They’re getting them the opportunity to
think about why they got here, what they need to do to get away from here, and that they
need to do to make a change in their life if they plan on returning to society. Artrip: “We’ve got a good program now…Step
Down program. I’ve seen a lot of offenders who I never
thought would get out of seg that’s now walking over in Level 5 and are being productive.” Clarke: “It is very encouraging, to go to
Red Onion and see staff in uniform delivering programs to the offenders at the institution. It was very encouraging as well to hear the
offenders say to myself and to elected officials who toured the facility with me that for the
first time, they can see light at the end of the tunnel. They believe that there is a way out and they’re
willing to take a look at themselves to change behaviors to be able to step down from that
facility to lower level institutions. Narrator: By operating the step-down program
and taking a calculated risk on the inside, Virginia has made a real difference in both
the lives of offenders and staff in the state’s highest security prisons. While volatile offenders can still be assigned
to segregation, there is now a clear pathway out of restrictive housing if they choose
to take it. Even when an offender has a life sentence,
he can make a positive contribution to his environment impacting those around him who
will one day be back in the community. The Virginia Department of Corrections is
in the business of helping people make better choices, creating lasting public safety.


  • C. G.

    There should be some agreement to companies that inmates work for inside prison should also have jobs for those same inmates once they get into the freeworld. The only reason they do not is simply because profits are 100x better paying that same person in prison to work for them at .30 per hour then say 15.00 an hr to the same people who are released into the freeworld after working and earning those same companies so many insane profits and tax deductions using prisoners as 100% of there employess. Don't hate the player,hate the game! Just as an addict chooses to use these companies choose to not improve or "rehabilitate" inmates.Why bother, so you can gain those same employees again for another 3to5years in just a few months later . System is completely broken and is chosen not to be fixed!

  • C. G.

    And if you notice the choice of words most use like "treatment" and "ehabilitation " inside a prison sounds alot like the Reich used with the "jewish problem". And the guards are in the line of fire and get injured and take all the flack on how the "system"dosent help it hurts. They are part of the same system as the inmates, they are not at fault.

  • Kenshin Shimayama

    "I decided if we were going to take a risk with these inmates, it should be while they were still incarcerated in the facility rather than after they were released onto an unsuspecting public." – what a concept! So unfortunate that common sense and rehabilitation oriented thought processes like these are considered revolutionary and innovative within the prison system. After all, it's supposed to be a "department of corrections" not a department of punishments. This guy should be hired to create a new uniform modus operandi for every prison & jail in america, especially since america makes up only 5% of the world's population yet we are responsible for over 20% of the world's incarceration.

  • jerson hernandezz

    Bullshit, those inmates are having a field day at the prison. They must getting away with murder there, the prison is just creating this video to get more public support for more funding

  • nivek m

    Give the cunts bread and water every day , but put a noose in each cell so they can hang them selves 8f they want to saves money

  • nccrawford

    This is some of the worst narration I've ever heard. Did she take a handful of Quaaludes before going into the booth to record this???

  • Mr Watto

    104 years, wow. Americans really do get heavy sentences.
    Here in England, the most people get is 32 years pretty much & think only 50 people or so with that time.
    There are some mental health institutions that you can have indefinite I believe, but NOTHING like USA.

  • JAD SR

    Blah blah blah, why would any of these correction employees want to reduce recitivism? Then they would lose their job. There are many layers to an onion.

  • Jennifer

    Sorry, boring to watch it could of been filmed so it’s more interesting to watch. The staff sound like their batteries are running low 🤔😬.

  • Sarah I V Sutter

    I love it so very much! The architecture of it is amazing, fascinating and gorgeous to see, the cells are great and comfortable, the buildings are very well created – simply all and everything is perfect for me and for these inmates who are doing their time inside the Red Onion State Prison! I love all of the maximum security institutions in the USA, especially the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (USP Florence ADMAX, ADX Florence) the best institution in the world! 😍😍😍😍😍😘😘😘😘😘 Lovely greetings from Sarah and have a great day and enjoy your time and stay safe out there and take care of you all together and I love you all together 🙋💖🙋💖🙋💖🙋💖🙋💖

  • Mary MacElveen

    For a long time I was one of those people who thought that convicted people should be thrown away in prison and never to be heard from again. This video truly opened my eyes since there are prisoners who will one day be released back into our communities and we need to train them so they don’t repeat a crime that’ll hurt a victim. also I believe that it’s safer for those who work at the prisons. There is a saying and I will paraphrase train the mind and the body will follow. Thank you for making this video.

  • HuMan Being 34/7

    Gee I wonder what happens to a human who faces This torturous place? Everybody knows that environmental conditions form us.

    You seem to think what we know isn’t true. Torture and abuse and is what heals?

    O’Kerrie Wilkins is living at red onion and he is innocent of the crime he was convicted of. I suspect many more are innocent too, what does places like this do to the innocent? God only knows, well we Could know if we did research.

  • HuMan Being 34/7

    My son was murdered August 28, 2001. I had a lucid vision as to what happened. At the end of my vision I was given a clear message that rang through my body like the liberty bell “it was not a black man”.

    Of coarse a black man goes down because a detective had a vendetta against him O’Kerrie Wilkins sits in red onion prison for the murder of My son and that conviction made matters worse for me, the mother.

    I fail to understand how convicting someone who did not do the crime is supposed to help. It devastated me.

  • joshua roach

    I'm a free man.
    And yet I'm so proud of y'all and I thank God 🙏 for y'all giving those guys a chance and helping them

  • joshua roach

    That's good how y'all reform them before they come to the free world.

    I have heard of people getting out of max for years and go right into the community and kill them selves cause they couldn't live with the mental break down of being in max lock down and not getting the chance of Reformation

  • Kelley Richman

    lars hanson is such a sweet guy. we became friends for a couple years and im happy for him that he's out of seg.

  • Kenneth Southard

    Therapeutic module? It's a cage! Therapeutic Chair? Strapped down to a desk! Treatment Officer? Guard giving a class.

    Who came up with this doublespeak?

    I get it, these are dangerous people and have earned this, but these euphemisms sound ridiculous.

  • Bradley Woods

    How can someone be in segregation for years then let out back on the street with no help makes no sense it’s all to break down a human mind so they reoffend not help um all bout reoffending making money per offender sheriffs courts bailiffs probation coarses canteen 💴

  • Joseph Peter Lund

    My best friend from high school is serving an 89 year sentence there. I send him money once a month, I try to visit a few times a year. He caught his wife with another man and it cost him 89. He snapped.

  • Racist White Guy

    I’m sorry I realize somebody needs to do these jobs but most of these guards seem like fucking compleat narcissistic pricks. And why would there ever be any female working anywhere in a male prison?

  • Djms&capo DeMorais

    Typical corrupt socialist/communist countries.Create jobs paid by public money to unemployable subbumans,destroying pristine land,money laundering with friends etc

  • Lea Blev

    Bull shit, you do the damn crime, you have no damn rights, what about the people they have killed or slaughtered. I don't feel sorry for none of them, they don't deserve schooling, and freebies.

  • Shawn Jerome

    I did the cognitive self-change also known as CSC in prison and I got to tell you it was the most rewarding program I ever did and it changed my life dramatically for the better I owe everything to the facilitators in the Vermont department of corrections of the CSC program they helped me,big time

  • Linda Thrall

    Give Red Onion Correctional Centre credit for what they are doing with the inmates and trying to help the inmates to be better people when they get released from prison

  • Omega Minus

    Propaganda for the for profit prison system, bought and paid for by the for profit prison system. Do they really think people are that stupid?

  • TWSTF 8

    Ugh some of these convicts are also extremely well established con artists too lol they've got nothing but time to sit and think about how they can best take advantage of people, and most of them, take away everything they have to lose, and they will not hesitate to strike out, put you on the floor.

  • Julie Mitchell

    What nazi thought putting very violent offenders in 24/7 lock down for decades back out into the free world? The fear & paranoia these convicts must experience made them that much more dangerous.

  • Julie Mitchell

    I'm really proud of these men who take this second chance so they can live lives with purpose & help others. God bless them 🙏

  • Trucker Tee

    Been here. 2004-2005 this place is a living hell. If your black they was warning your family’s not too stay at local motels if they came too visit. Knew a guy who family had rocks thrown thru their car and motel Windows.

  • Nick Gears

    this is like a movie where inmates are brainwashed, exactly whatthey are doing, mind programming. we never see general population. torture, have to sit in a cage, then arms strapped to a chair if your good, then legs chained, like training animals

  • Blackbeard0531

    Everyone has their own "module"? Lady, those are called cages. Don't sugar coat the fact that these dudes are locked in tiny cages.

  • Bodhi Mind

    Red Onion State Prizzz…….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzz zzzzzz those prisoners are deemed very zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzz

  • Joseph R

    For the SAM convicts he really only had to say “this is the group of inmates that Forest Gump and his simple yet happy pal Bubba would be a part of.”

  • Rob

    The officer IS a fucking pig, any person who genuinely wanted to help rehabilitate these inmates would never work in such a corrupt disgusting environment.

  • wolfofrhodeisland X

    Tell you what man the people from Virginia are some "unique individuals".i truly have sympathy for the prisoners in red onion.most do deserve jail just not that shit hole… is nothing but bad 👎

  • L.D. Boone

    It's a shame people's comments are focused on how the narrator sucks, how dumb the guards look and sound, and how the inmates are locked in cages. Guess all prison documentaries should be about hopelessness, violence and abusive CO's. That's Hollywood for you.
    BTW, South West Virginia is in the south. We speak slower. Live slower. And appreciate life. Not trying to rush through it

  • Island Mamaz

    My husband is here as of Monday!! He's a MF GORILLA so I'm not to worried but I'm just worried about his mental health status!! He has PTSD & he don't bother you unless you bother him so stay out his way he's a MF BEAST in the streets & a GORILLA in prison! IDK when I'll be able to see him!! I'm so😷😷 he got transferred from DCC DILLWYN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, I hate the VA DOC all together #PERIODD

  • Island Mamaz

    I hope my husband gets to call me I have not spoken to him since Sunday!!! DCC is foul!! They transferred him while I waiting for him in a video visit smh

  • matthew holmes

    $50 and a bus ticket is what I got when I left Powhatan in 93. This after a lengthy juvenile criminal history (5 Juvenile detention homes, 2 group homes, 14 foster homes, 3 boys schools, job corp.. Then as an adult 5 city jails, 6 prisons, 2 road camps. Then I got out after a 10 year bit with that whole $50. Woo Hoo! I was a time and battle hardened convict who one day I'm a convict in prison then the next I'm released upon society. Everyone expected me to go back! I made the choice that I would not let what circumstances society forces on me to be the reason I go back to prison. 26 Years later and I still make a conscience decision each day to keep the Convict inside me in check. Don't get me wrong. I have no desire to be a criminal in any way. I don't even drink or use drugs. But too often I have to let someone get away with speaking in a disrespectful manner that in prison, I would have peeled their wigs back (Tie a pad lock on a rope or belt that's wrapped around my wrist held in my hand that I would smash over some fools head a dozen times or so. That's what I had a rep for doing.) The way I describe it to people is that one day I was in a cage with many pissed off lions just like myself. Then the next day I was put out in society and told to play nice with a field full of cute little bunnies. I can not tell you how many times in the last 26 years I wanted to break some fools jaw for flapping their mouths off! Think about this – "I" have kept the Convict in me in check for 26 years. I'm just one man! Most don't make the same decisions I did! Most who have been in my shoes will kill again if they get out. It's not because they are bad people. It's about training and conditioning! When you go into the system, becoming a killer is just part of the training and conditioning you get in there. NOT being one is a choice "I" make though despite how society likes to push my buttons! There's millions out there who have been in my shoes, what choices do you leave them!?

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