Colo. teen convicted
of mother's murder, sentenced to life without parole
By Latoya Hunter - CourtTV.com
January 28, 2000
CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (Court TV) — When the
mother of 16-year-old Nathan Ybanez threatened to send him away to
military school, the troublesome teen rebelled. But what Ybanez did
went far beyond a typical parent-son screaming match or even running
away from home — he killed his mother.
Ybanez got what he wanted but he's not celebrating.
Though the teen doesn't have to worry about being sent away to a dreary,
overly-disciplined military school, he will spend the rest of his life
in prison. He has been convicted of first-degree murder in his mother's
slaying and has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.
On Friday, June 5, 1998, Nathan Ybanez and his friend,
Erik Jensen, bludgeoned and strangled 43-year-old Julie Ybanez. A police
officer found Nathan in a deserted park with his mother's bloody corpse.
The defense insisted that, although Nathan played a part, he is not
guilty of first degree murder like his friend, Erik Jensen. Jensen, now
18, has already been convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
Defense lawyers said Ybanez should be found guilty of a lesser charge
because Jensen was the real instigator and their client was just a
Julie Ybanez had reason to fear that her son was
being led astray. Ybanez reportedly was a normal teen until he
befriended Jensen and other members of a band the defendant joined
called "Troublebound." Ybanez seemed to be bound for trouble indeed. He
started cutting school, taking drugs and running away to a friend's home.
When Julie Ybanez, who was separated from her husband,
could no longer handle her son, the frustrated mother decided to enroll
him in a Missouri military school. At about 9 p.m. on the day Mrs.
Ybanez was to take him to Missouri, Nathan and Erik attacked her in her
According to a medical examiner, she received 20
blows to the head with fireplace tongs and was also strangled.
Prosecutors were uncertain which happened first and who the strangler
was, according to the defense. Ybanez denied doing the choking, which
was declared the cause of death.
After the gruesome killing, prosecutors said Nathan
and Erik phoned a "Troublebound" member to request help cleaning up the
crime scene. Brett Baker has assisted in building the cases against the
two boys in exchange for immunity. Baker said Nathan was the real
mastermind in the murder. According to Baker, Nathan told him Erik
Jensen was "scared sh--less" about the whole thing.
Scars of abuse concealed
By Miles Moffeit - DenverPost.com
October 28, 2006
The secrets of Nathan Ybanez's home life began spilling out in late
The 15-year-old told friends his dad was beating him.
Parents of a schoolmate alerted police that they believed he was being
abused. And one night, Ybanez called the Douglas County Sheriff's Office
himself after wandering the streets for two days.
"Nathan said he is unable to live at home with his
parents," an officer wrote in a report, adding that the teenager
wouldn't explain why he had run away. "Nathan requested social services
be contacted for relocation."
The deputy instead returned Ybanez to
his mother, but the Sheriff's Office refuses to say whether child
welfare workers were called. Eight months later, the boy beat and
strangled his mother, Julie, with a fireplace tool in their Highlands
"I had to kill my mom so she wouldn't hurt me anymore,"
Ybanez later told friends.
His path to prison was speedy. The Douglas County
district attorney exercised his discretion to bypass the juvenile
justice system, filing first-degree murder charges in adult criminal
court. At trial, Ybanez's defense attorney, hired by his father, didn't
call a single witness on his behalf and at one point remarked to jurors
that his client may have a "hole" in his soul.
The verdict was guilty, carrying the mandatory
maximum sentence: life without parole.
Yet jurors and the public never heard Ybanez's story
of abuse. They never heard testimony from relatives who witnessed his
father, Roger Ybanez, handling him violently. They never saw the
sheriff's report containing his plea for help. They never heard his
testimony about being raped by his parents.
And they never heard scientific research or expert
testimony that could have shown he fits the profile of a battered kid
whose inner turmoil reached a flash point. That evidence could have
built a foundation for a self-defense or crime- of-passion strategy.
"Nathan basically walked into this trial with
absolutely no chance of winning," said Terrence Johnson, Ybanez's new
lawyer, who is trying to get the verdict overturned by challenging his
trial defense as ineffective.
Craig Truman, Ybanez's trial lawyer, refused to be
interviewed without a release
from the court. Roger Ybanez said he never abused his son sexually
or physically. "I definitely deny all of that," he said.
But he confirmed instances in which witnesses
described him acting violently and demeaningly toward his son. He
acknowledged that he or Julie shoved Nathan, threw him and struck
him with objects when he was as young as 3.
"Like every parent, you may see something like that,"
Roger Ybanez said of the assault allegations. "But I'm saying it was
more the rare occasion. His friends convinced him he was being abused."
At least four teenagers in Colorado have been sent
away for life without parole in connection with a parent killing during
the past 15 years. The state does not keep statistics specifically
tracking such crimes, but at least a half-dozen other parricide
offenders have been sent through the juvenile system to be treated and
To child-advocacy organizations, Ybanez's conviction
symbolizes how the state's judicial system has moved from rehabilitation
to extreme punishment.
Colorado's mandatory life- without-parole sentence
for murder, coupled with broad discretionary powers for prosecutors to
charge juveniles as adults, increases the chances that a parent killer
will be sealed behind bars without rehabilitation, said Mary Ellen
Johnson, mother of Terrence Johnson and director of The Pendulum
Foundation, a Colorado Springs-based nonprofit advocacy group trying to
scale back stiff adult penalties for juveniles. Yet, "many of these kids
have proven they can be rehabilitated," she said.
A lawmaker who seeks sentencing reform agrees.
"These are special cases, and there should be a way
to mitigate the punishment, not send them away forever," said state Rep.
Lynn Hefley, R-Colorado Springs. At least two parricide offenders in
Colorado have proved they can turn their lives around in a big way after
serving prison time. One is a surgeon. The other works as a manager for
an international firm.
In addition to Ybanez's case, two others in Colorado
illustrate what can go wrong when a juvenile parent killer is tried in
In each case, questions of inadequate defense were
raised. Guardians were not appointed early to represent the best
interests of the juveniles. In one case, the juvenile faced police
interrogators without the help of an adult.
The crime of parricide is grossly misunderstood, said
Paul Mones, an Oregon lawyer who has represented more than 200 parricide
Kids in Ybanez's shoes defy the murderer stereotype,
Mones said. They usually don't have violent histories. They often
believe killing their parents is their only way out of torment. The vast
majority are psychologically damaged, not insane or mentally ill.
Though some Colorado offenders have been channeled
into rehabilitation programs after their crimes, Ybanez wasn't as lucky.
His case came after 1991, when mandatory life-without-parole sentences
took effect for first-degree murder.
Many prosecutors, such as Derry Rice, believe a life
sentence is fitting for such a heinous crime. "This is the killing of a
mother," Rice said. "That's something we shouldn't forget."
Veterans on both sides agree that juries deserve to
understand a family's environment leading up to such murders.
University of South Florida criminology professor
Kathleen Heide found many common characteristics among adolescent
parricide offenders. They are typically abused. Their parents isolated
them from normal social contact. They had made attempts to get help from
adults or authorities but were unsuccessful. They led "passive" lives
with no prior criminal records.
Mones said 99 percent of his clients were abused
physically, sexually or emotionally. And in most of the cases, the
slaying was an exercise in excess - multiple stab wounds, multiple
gunshots fired and often attempts to hide the crime and the youth's role
"For many years nobody could understand why a kid
could kill a parent," said Mones, who was not involved in Ybanez's legal
representation. "Now we know that in most cases it's inextricably
related to their treatment by parents. There's nothing that would
indicate they were capable of killing. It's similar to battered women.
The pain from the abuse just builds up and becomes a greater and greater
Like the battered-woman defense, battered-child
defenses are admissible under Colorado law and have been used
sporadically across the country, though most states don't address the
concept in specific statutes, leaving it open to court interpretation.
"These are extremely complex legal cases," said Mones,
who has won clemency for two parricide offenders in other states.
To ensure a fair trial, lawyers must deeply
investigate the family history, he said. They must interview relatives
and neighbors on "all sides" of the house to discover whether they
witnessed abuse or suspicious activity. Doctors must conduct intensive
exams to look for signs of physical abuse, and psychiatrists must plumb
the client's memories for a history of trauma.
None of this was done in Ybanez's case - until
appellate lawyers got involved.
Then, his emotional scars began emerging with clarity.
So did the physical scars across his lower back.
"He acted scared"
It wasn't long after Nathan Ybanez drifted into their
lives that his friends and neighbors sensed his unease and growing fears.
The slender, dark-haired boy who had moved from Omaha
to Highlands Ranch exuded a strange vibe, they say, something they
couldn't define at first. He was quiet, friendly and easygoing,
especially when he was skateboarding or slouched in a chair playing his
But when his parents were around, his personality
shut down, they said. He became wired with tension.
"It was a complete transformation," said his friend
Erik Jensen, a fellow classmate at Highlands Ranch High School who later
was convicted of assisting in the murder. "He acted scared around them."
Ybanez was born in Davenport, Iowa, to a father who,
after serving in the armed forces, dabbled in the bakery business and
worked as a golf professional, among other jobs. His mother was an
intensely devoted Christian, and as Ybanez grew older, relatives said,
she believed he was falling under the influence of Satan through music
and corrupt friends. He said she tracked his movements obsessively,
saying she had to protect him.
His childhood was a blur of people, schools and
neighborhoods. His dad kept the family on the move with his service
assignments and various business interests. They were intensely private
and possessive. "We had little interaction with people," Ybanez said.
His parents set rigid rules that he was forbidden
from breaking, sometimes over matters as simple as how to sweep the
Some got a glimpse of the family tension behind
closed doors. Relatives witnessed Roger pushing, grabbing or striking a
cowered Nathan on several occasions, according to interviews with family
members. They also witnessed Roger threatening to hit Julie.
"He would be considered abusive," said Roger's sister
Tina Thompson. "I've seen him yank him (Nathan) around and hit him."
His outbursts were often laced with insults. He had
names for his son: "stupid" and "worthless."
Roger Ybanez acknowledged he's "sure I probably" did
use those names when angry. Since Nathan was as young as 3, Roger also
recalled that he and Julie would strike him "on the rear end and back"
with long-handled kitchen spoons if he threw tantrums.
Family members say Roger's behavior might be partly
explained by a violent family cycle stretching back to their now-deceased
Roger's father, said Thompson and her mother, beat
Roger and sexually abused one of Roger's sisters. Roger's father was
later suspected by police, but never charged, with killing the sister.
"There are traits that can be passed down," Thompson
An attempt to help
At Highlands Ranch High School, it didn't take long
for Ybanez to find mutual interests with Erik Jensen and Brett Baker.
The two had an opening in their punk-rock band, Trouble Bound, for a
guitarist. Ybanez fit the bill.
In the beginning, his friends suspected something was
wrong at home because he rarely spoke of his parents and tended to spend
as much time as he could at his band mates' homes, especially Jensen's.
The band practiced in his basement.
In the fall of 1997, Ybanez mentioned that his
parents' marriage was falling apart and that his father had moved out.
He also began confiding in Jensen about other problems.
"He beats me," Jensen recalls Ybanez saying about his
father. "If I do this, he beats me. If I do that, he beats me."
Tell someone, find some help, Jensen remembers urging
him. Jensen later told his father, Curt, about the conversation, as well
as a school counselor, he said. Both boys would later get in trouble
with their parents for smoking pot and skipping school.
Julie grew more possessive of Nathan, sometimes tape-recording
his phone conversations, he said. He plunged into drinking binges, even
in the morning, to "numb myself."
Records with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office
reflect that, around the same time, Ybanez ran away at least twice after
being reported missing by his parents. They reported that he had fled
after arguments about drug use and discipline.
His parents threatened to send him to a Christian
military school. His mom confiscated some of his albums, telling him "Satan
was the masterful musician," Nathan recalls. Both parents wanted him to
stay away from his band mates.
One night, Ybanez made a midnight dash from his house
in his underwear to Baker's house. He showed up on the porch, crying,
telling Baker's parents that he had fled a raging father who had shaken
him awake in the middle of the night and trashed his room, "breaking all
kinds of stuff." His father, he said, also threw him against the wall
and choked him while his mother stood by without intervening.
The next morning, Douglas County sheriff's deputies,
notified by Ybanez's parents that he had run away, showed up at the
Bakers' house and returned him home.
His parents placed him in a mental hospital,
Centennial Peaks in Louisville. According to Nathan's psychologist, Dr.
Rich ard Spiegle, records from that hospital stay show he reported a "choking"
Julie told Pat Jensen, Erik's mom, that she feared
"She said she was afraid Roger would hurt him," Pat
remembers Julie saying.
The Bakers and Jensens called a meeting to talk. They
swapped concerns. "We asked ourselves, what are we going to do about
these things?" Curt Jensen said. "Both Roger and the police were
basically telling us not to get involved. Roger had a strange rapport
with the police. Pat said, let's go to social services. And the Bakers
said, please do that.
So the Jensens took their concerns to Douglas County
Social Services offices, telling a caseworker that authorities should
investigate Nathan's home life. "We filled out a report and everything,"
Curt Jensen said. "This was a big, big step for us."
They never heard from an investigator. Neither did
Officials with the Douglas County sheriff and social
services refused to discuss how they handled reports linked to Ybanez,
citing privacy laws protecting juveniles and those reporting abuse.
Centennial Peaks Hospital officials did not respond to repeated requests
"Conflict of interest"
About 4 a.m. on June 6, 1998, a Douglas County deputy
steered his patrol car into Daniels Park in Highlands Ranch and spotted
a blue Lexus with its headlights on.
As he drove closer, he saw the trunk lid open and a
boy standing next to a sleeping bag.
It was Nathan Ybanez. Inside the sleeping bag was his
dead mother. He had planned to bury her in the park.
Nathan's parents had told him earlier that morning
that they had decided to send him away; that they wouldn't tolerate his
running away, his drug use.
Earlier that night, after Erik Jensen picked Ybanez
up from work and took him home, Ybanez lunged at his mother with the
fireplace tool. Jensen, then 17, walked in on the assault and admits
being handed the implement by Ybanez and dropping it near her head.
Jensen and Brett Baker, who was called over, helped Ybanez clean up the
crime scene and carry his mother's body to the car trunk.
"This was a situation where I was just a kid trying
to help my friend who was hurting, not really realizing what was
happening," Jensen said. "I was in a daze. I do know one thing: This is
a kid who didn't have malice in his heart. He didn't know what would
happen to him when his father came for him that night."
Jensen was charged with murder, though he has always
maintained he didn't assault Julie, and was sentenced to life without
parole. Baker, who Rice said had previous offenses of harassment and
reckless endangerment in Doug las County, struck a plea deal to avoid
being charged and is free.
At trial, the prosecution argued that Ybanez had
acted with deliberation, using a fireplace tool to beat and strangle his
mother during a struggle. She received 20 blows to the head and three
Even though Baker didn't witness the murder, Rice put
him on the stand to explain that Ybanez remarked that he was going to
kill his mother beforehand, showing premeditation. Baker also testified
that Jensen described after the murder how he had helped Ybanez kill her.
Ybanez's new lawyers and family members agree that
Ybanez was steamrolled by the legal system, in part because his father,
his alleged abuser, was allowed to guide the defense process. "It was a
total conflict of interest," Terrence Johnson said.
The trial testimony took only a day. The prosecution
called nine witnesses, including Roger Ybanez. Truman called none.
Ybanez's defense boiled down to this: He fell into
the wrong crowd of drug-addled kids who convinced him he was being
abused, steering him toward murder. Instead of chronicling abuse during
the testimony, Truman mocked the notion.
"Your father, Roger Ybanez, can't discipline you,"
Truman quoted Nathan's friends as saying. "Your mom can't tell you who
your friends are. You've got rights. You're being abused, and we're
going to help you.
"And after several times, Nathan came to believe it."
The topic of abuse surfaced again briefly when the
prosecution put Roger Ybanez on the stand. In the course of explaining
his turbulent household and how his son was becoming rebellious, he
briefly admitted to one fight he provoked with his son.
"I got extremely upset and trashed his room a little
bit, grabbed him and threw him up against the wall and told him at this
time that he needed to pay attention to what was going on."
Truman didn't explore that episode under cross-examination.
In closing arguments, he asked jurors to hand Nathan
Ybanez a second-degree murder conviction instead of first-degree. The
jury came back with first-degree, triggering life without parole.
At least three family members now say they wished
they had had the opportunity to testify during the trial.
"Nathan wasn't represented to the full benefit under
his lawyer," said Tina Thompson, Roger's sister and now a criminology
student. "I've known Julie since I was 12 years old, and she was my best
friend. I've lost a lot. But I also know that, for one-time offenders,
regardless of offense at this point, I feel like the law was carried out
in the worst way possible."
Detecting hidden pain
Ybanez's conviction shows how vital it is for a
lawyer to piece together a parricide offender's past, his supporters say.
Once the fragments of his background are
reconstructed before a jury, the full picture may not be of a monster
but of a child-abuse victim.
Responsibility also rests with the trial judge and
prosecutor to fully explore abuse allegations and whether such claims or
evidence could pose a trial conflict - such as when an alleged abuser is
paying for the defense lawyer, said Terrence Johnson. The trial judge,
upon hearing mention of abuse allegations during the proceedings, could
have called a mistrial or acted to ensure that a guardian ad litem or
independent counsel was appointed.
That's one of the nuances of direct-file law: Once
the child enters adult court, those protections are not guaranteed,
It wasn't until Erik Jensen's appellate counsel began
investigating flaws in his trial that any intensive effort to explore
Ybanez's home environment began.
During a prison interview with Jensen's new lawyer,
Jeff Pagliuca, Ybanez said Jensen didn't have a role in the killing.
Then Pagliuca quizzed Ybanez about his background, searching for
indications of abuse. But Ybanez skirted the questions.
"Sometimes I have these dreams," Ybanez told him.
As he was leaving the prison, Pagliuca thought to
himself, "This kid fits the profile of a sexual-abuse victim."
He shared his findings with the Jensens, who, in turn,
shared the findings with Terrence Johnson. He agreed to begin
investigating Ybanez's conviction and family history.
Johnson, in turn, enlisted Spiegle, a forensic
psychologist and former child therapist with expertise in identifying
abused children and those with fraudulent claims. His job would be to
determine what prompted Ybanez to kill.
"The first thing I have to assume with many of these
kids is that they are lying and that they are trying to get themselves
out of trouble," Spiegle said. From the beginning, Ybanez struck him as
"Sexual-abuse victims, by nature, don't trust people
and are slow to reveal their secrets. They also have difficulty
remembering things because of their physical and sexual trauma."
After nine months, the doctor found an intriguing
opening into Ybanez's psyche - and past. Ybanez explained that he was
uncomfortable with intimacy. He also said that when he works out in the
prison gym, he doesn't like to have his shirt off, that he almost always
remains fully clothed. He mentioned that, while showering, inmates
remarked about the scars on his back, scars he didn't know were there.
"I asked him to lift up his shirt, and, after
hesitation, he did," Spiegle said.
Spiegle noticed four marks stretching horizontally
across the back of Ybanez's waist. The doctor later sought out an expert
from the Kempe Children's Center in Denver to examine the scars. He
ruled that the marks were likely caused by lashings.
In future therapy sessions and correspondence, Ybanez
would describe to Spiegle startling accounts of abuse, from physical
torment to sexual assaults. He testified last year in a court hearing
that his mother forced him to have sex with her in a Disneyland hotel.
He said his father forced him to have oral sex with him during showers.
Roger Ybanez has denied sexually abusing Nathan, and relatives said they
never witnessed sexual abuse in the home.
When Nathan was 7, he remembers one day in particular
when his mother, in a burst of anger, thrashed his back over and over
with a large spoon. The memories came out in painful sessions.
"This was a good person with a good mind who was
destroyed as a child," Spiegle said. "Over the years, he built up so
much intense pain and frustration, he exploded in an act of violence. It
was a surge of emotional rage."
The handling of both youths' cases led Jensen's
parents to launch The Pendulum Foundation, a nonprofit organization in
Colorado Springs that supports rehabilitation options for teen offenders
instead of harsh sentencing through adult courts.
"Erik convinced us we were in a unique position,"
said Curt Jensen, a venture capitalist. "Most families of juvenile
offenders are not well off financially. We had the means to allow a
voice to be heard. Erik said this was our destiny. Many other kids and
their families needed help, and no group or movement for kids in the
criminal system was around. The kids are lost."
Erik Jensen's personal destiny lies in writing
fantasy adventure books. He has just published a 605-page tome called "Orphan
Mage." He also started the website-based Next Day Foundation, which
gives troubled teens advice on coping with abuse and other problems.
His book is about a young group of outcasts who
struggle with an "ever-expanding tide of darkness."
"If only I was smarter"
From the Sterling Correctional Facility, Ybanez, now
24, awaits the filing of the appeal early this year that he believes
will finally shed light on the truth of his desperate actions.
He says he's sorry.
He says he's not a monster.
"I was in a place where no one should ever be, where
there was no hope, and I felt completely trapped on the verge of death,"
he says. "I was broken. I had no control. I think now: If only I was
smarter; if only I could have figured out a different way to end the
He realizes the public may be skeptical of his claims
but says he doesn't care.
"You don't know whether people are truthful most of
the time," he says. "It takes people awhile to get to know me, to
understand what I've done. Think of someone who steals bread. They are
not stealing just to steal. They may want to feed their family. There
can be other reasons for these crimes other than a cold heart."
Sometimes a letter arrives from someone who says they
are trying to understand him, sometimes from someone deep in his past.
Such as Jonnique Peter, a classmate from the eighth grade who wants to
encourage him to remain strong and to know that anyone who believes he
is "this hellion kid from the womb" is believing a lie.
He and Erik Jensen write each other occasionally.
They share their prison experiences. How Jensen is writing books. How
Ybanez is teaching himself chemistry and Buddhism.
"I feel guilty, not so much about the murder itself,
but that I didn't protect him, that I didn't save him," Jensen says. "Nate's
in prison partly because of me, that I didn't do more for him to help
him escape. It bothers me that people don't understand him.
"It's like, if you beat a dog, are you surprised when
he bites back? Now he's there and I'm here for life. It's something
we're still trying to get our heads around."
In his diaries and letters, Ybanez writes about how
he often feels safer in prison than when he lived with his parents.
"I'm not as ashamed anymore. I'm not as tense or
afraid. ... Prison changes you forever. Its marks never really fade. But
it's possible to bear them, and even do amazing things, if you're able
to find your way to a home out there. If you're able to develop bonds
that bring smiles and laughter instead of cuts and bruises."
Profile Nathan Ybanez & Erik Jensen
Frontline - PBS.org
Erik was there when Nate killed his mother after
years of abuse; Nate says Erik didn't do anything, but they're both
serving life without parole for her death.
A History of Abuse
By the time 14-year-old Nathan Ybanez moved to
Highlands Ranch, Colo., in 1996, his family had left a trail of over 30
different addresses. Nate, his strict evangelical Christian mother Julie
and his father Roger bounced from Iowa to Germany to Virginia to
Illinois, steered by Roger's capricious career ambitions -- insurance
salesman, baker, golf pro -- and the volatility of the couple's marriage.
But moving to a new city never fixed the underlying
tensions in the Ybanez family. "Both of my parents were unhappy, I think.
My father, he was kind of a violent man at times. And my mother, she was
unstable," Nate told FRONTLINE. "It was hard to tell what kind of a mood
she was going to be in and how she would react to things."
He feared his father's violent temper, but Nate told
FRONTLINE that his relationship with his mother was the source of even
greater suffering and confusion. Julie was extremely controlling of his
behavior -- she was known to tap his phone and follow him when he went
out -- and her emotional instability led to a warped and abusive
relationship with her son. She would call Nate when he was out with
friends, begging him to come home to comfort her, Nate recalled. "A lot
of times she would bring that down to the level [of], you know, you
don't want to come home because you don't love me, or stuff like that,"
he told FRONTLINE.
When Roger was away, Julie's neediness grew into
sexual abuse. "A lot of times it would happen like this," Nate told
FRONTLINE. "She's crying or something's sad, so I don't like to see her
cry, so I ask her what's wrong. I try to get her to talk about whatever
it was that was making her sad, and a lot of times it would involve me
coming and giving her hugs and staying in bed with her and letting her
unload. And a few times that evolved into her doing sexual things to me
that she shouldn't have been doing."
"I knew that it wasn't right, but
I wasn't sure about my place in the whole area of what was going on
with my family and the world in general. I'd been kept apart from a
lot of outside things," Nate added. "These kind of things [sexual
abuse] make me feel like I wish I could cut off my own skin. That's
how I feel. Even today. So I don't like talking about them."
Nate had always had difficulty making friends. But
working in a Highlands Ranch pizzeria, he met Brett Baker. Brett
introduced him to Erik Jensen, and the pair invited Nate to become the
new guitarist in their punk rock band, Troublebound.
Erik, the oldest child of a well-to-do venture
capitalist, lived in a big house where Troublebound got together to
practice. Nate became a regular at Erik's house.
It was not long before and Erik and his parents began
to suspect that Nate was having trouble at home. Erik told FRONTLINE
that what Nate was experiencing wasn't "normal teen angst, where he's
not happy that he didn't get to go to the Homecoming game. He's not
happy that something really bad's happening to him."
Nate was reluctant to talk about his home situation
with anyone. "With my close friends, they knew that I had a lot of
problems in my family," he told FRONTLINE, "but I tried to keep
everything away from [them]. I didn't like talking about any of this
stuff because it's embarrassing. I just wanted to be seen as a normal
"Something Had to Happen"
But Nate's home situation made normal
impossible. Erik and Brett, who were embarrassed to ask Nate about the
problems they suspected, asked their parents to try to intervene. The
parents were concerned enough to contact a social worker, but no
caseworker was ever assigned to investigate. The Jensens say they were
told social services didn't have the resources to take care of after
teenage boys who should be able to look out for themselves. The agency
has denied that that is their policy. "I think he gave up on the system
and he gave up on anybody else helping him besides himself," Erik told
Nate began drinking heavily. "I was into doing some
drugs that I shouldn't have been doing. And I was drinking exceptionally
a lot," he told FRONTLINE. "For me it was like I felt like I had to
drink, like it was the only way to maintain."
On June 5th, 1996, Julie told Nate that she was
sending him to a Christian boot camp in Missouri. Nate was terrified by
this prospect. "It seemed to me that something had to happen -- had to
happen that day," he told FRONTLINE.
That night, Erik, high on marijuana, picked Nate up
after his shift at Einsten Bros. Bagels, and the pair drove to Nate's
place. Nate went up and told Erik to check on him if he wasn't back in
No one knows exactly what happened in the Ybanez's
apartment that night. When Nate hadn't reappeared 20 minutes later, Erik
went up to the apartment, and Julie let him in. Erik says he went to
wait in Nate's bedroom, but then began to hear the sounds of an argument
-- people "fighting to the death," he later said on the stand -- and
came out when Nate called for him to bring some plastic wrap.
Erik walked into a bloody scene -- Nate had beaten
his mother over the head with a pair of fireplace tongs and was
attempting to strangle her. Stoned and shocked by the gore, Erik says he
doesn't clearly know what happened next, but he thinks he collapsed onto
the bloody carpet after Nate handed him the tongs.
Julie died from suffocation after Nate choked her
with the tongs. Then the boys called Brett Baker to help clean up and
help dispose of the evidence in dumpsters. They also threw away some of
Julie's things to make it seem like she and Nate had skipped town.
Looking back on that night, Erik told FRONTLINE, "I
basically just went along with the flow, and I think Nate did, too. Once
the floodgate came down -- and all that stuff that happened to him all
came out at once -- he was just rolling along like I was."
The Aftermath of the Crime
The next morning, a police officer on patrol spotted Nate in a public
park, standing over his mother's body. "I was kind of blank afterwards,"
Nate told FRONTLINE about that time. "Not really relief, but just -- I
don't know. ... You're just blank. You're just existing." Nate was
charged as an adult with first-degree murder.
Erik and Brett were arrested a few days later,
charged as accessories in the murder. Both were released on bail.
But nearly two months later, the police re-arrested
Erik and charged him as an adult with first-degree murder, based on
testimony Brett Baker agreed to give as part of a plea bargain. Brett
told prosecutors that Erik knew in advance about the murder and had told
him he hit Julie with the tongs three times.
In exchange for this testimony, the prosecution gave
Brett total immunity from charges in the murder, shortened the sentence
he was serving in a juvenile facility for earlier charges of harassment
and reckless endangerment, and agreed not to revoke his probation
stemming from other previous charges.
Erik went on trial first, in August 1999. After plea
negotiations for second-degree murder fell through in the wake of the
Columbine school shootings, Erik's attorney argued that his client was
too high to be cognizant of what was going on that night. The jury
rejected Erik's marijuana defense and convicted him of first-degree
murder, which in Colorado carrie a mandatory sentence of life without
parole at that time.
Nate's trial, which commenced in October 1999 and was
televised on Court TV, lasted less than three days. In many instances,
juveniles charged with serious crimes are assigned a guardian ad
litum, an independent legal advisor. But in Nate's case, his father
was allowed to advise him and pay for his counsel, despite a clear
conflict of interest and allegations of abuse. The tension between
father and son was made publicly evident by an audio tape played during
a motion to throw out Nate's confession, in which Roger is heard cursing
him angrily before storming out of the room.
Nate's attorney called no witnesses during the trial.
He based his defense on the argument that Nate's friends had corrupted
him into thinking he was being abused and that Erik provided the spark
that turned talk about killing Julie into a reality. In his closing
arguments, Nate's counsel acknowledged that Nate had killed his mother
but asked jurors to find him guilty of second-degree murder. The jury
convicted Nate of first-degree murder, carrying a mandatory sentence of
life without parole.
Nate is currently planning to appeal his conviction
based on ineffective assistance of counsel.
Erik is currently preparing an appeal to the Colorado
Life in Prison
In prison, Nate has earned his GED and practices
meditation. "I'm better in prison than I was when I was free," Nate told
FRONTLINE, comparing prison to his home life. He and Erik have also both
developed their writing and visual art talents while serving time.
Erik has begun writing fantasy novels; his parents
recently published the first in a trilogy he's completing. He also
started a Web site called the Next Day Foundation that counsels abused
teens. His parents, who visit every week, formed the Pendulum Foundation
to bring attention to juvenile justice issues.
Nate and Erik write each other occasionally. "We
write each other about every six months," Erik told FRONTLINE. "[Nate's]
really into physics and philosophy and stuff, so we trade back theories
here and there and stuff. We don't really talk about prison too much,
because there's not a whole lot to say. We do the same thing every day."
Erik and Nate worry that they will not be able to
survive forever in prison if all their avenues of appeal should fail. "Slowly
and ceaselessly, this prison system is destroying those good, human
qualities I still possess," Nate wrote in an excerpt of his journal
published by the Rocky Mountain News. "If the truly important
parts of myself get taken, I hope I will have awareness enough to kill
Erik echoed this sentiment. "In ten years, I'll
either be on the streets or dead," he told FRONTLINE. "It's just not
worth it to go on here. It's like a mockery, really. It would make me
feel like I've let myself down."
Journal entry from Nathan Ybanez
September 20, 2005
Editor's Note: These are excerpts from a journal written by Nathan
Ybanez, who is serving life without parole after killing his mother.
Except for items in parentheses, which give context, the information
appears in its original form, unedited.
Concentration Camp of the Soul: Life inside a
A prison journal by Nathan Ybanez, who entered prison
at 16 and is now 24. He's serving life without parole.
4/14/05: Today was canteen day. Everything is
always so hectic on canteen day. All the men scramble around frantically
to settle debts. Here people deal in food and hygiene. Objectively I can
stand back and look at the humor of two grown men wanting to fight each
other over a few soups and a bar of soap, but I don't laugh. Here people
hardly have anything so small things become very important.
I don't buy much canteen. I try to live mostly off
what they feed us, but it's hard sometimes. The portions are often small,
and a third of the meals are hard to force down. Many of the men in here
freak out if they don't have canteen. I think the act of eating helps
them forget where they area a little.
Day 2: Today and yesterday were hectic days.
The cops know somebody is tattooing in the pod ././. but they haven't
been able to find it. They hate when they can't find things. So, they've
been kind of harassing everyone. Shaking down everyone's rooms and
acting hostile. In case you're wondering, a "shake-down" is when you are
forced out of your room by 2 guards who tear everything in your cell up
looking for stuff they can take from you. Most of us don't have very
much, but regardless I've never seen a cop leave from a shake down
without a garbage bag full of stuff. Then, after they've shook you down,
you've got to go put everything back in order because it's like a
tornado hit it. And hope nothing dear to you has been taken because
you'll have to fight tooth and nail to get it back if you get it back at
Day 3: (In the past) I've had to stand my
ground and be prepared to kill a couple men because they were preying on
me. But, I'm fortunate and happy to say I've never been forced to stab
anybody, and I haven't been raped. There have been a few times I was
completely terrified. There have been times I felt the hands of death
near. But because I stood my ground with strength I'm now left alone.
But, to get to a place where people leave you alone your personality has
to change. You really do have to be willing to seriously injure or kill
people if the need arises, and you have to be prepared to die because if
things go to that level it's a possibility. Now, most times things can
be resolved with a fight. Still, prison permanently changes you in that
regard. You have to become hard, or break apart.
(On the frustrations of prison life and following
rules and orders that sometimes make no sense:) Like Chinese water
torture. Eventually that drip comes which sends you over the edge into
madness. And the people outside looking in think, "How foolish! It was
only a drop of water!"
In the same way I both saw and felt the potential for
these men to explode. And it made me angry as well. On the streets you
can go home to get away from the frustrations of the world, or at least
to some place with peace. Here, you go nowhere. You can't. And there is
no place of peace. So when I see somebody snap over something seemingly
small, I don't laugh.
Day 4: Today was an all right day. But I got
very tired. That happens a lot in here. I get tired for no reason. Even
after sleeping all night. Maybe it's because I never sleep well. Maybe
it's because this place steals my energy.
Day 5: I've been really stoked about stealing
these new heavy-duty sporks from chow. You see, in prison you don't get
any silverware. You get really flimsy sporks and knives. That might not
seem like a bad thing to you, but try eating a slab of meat, or
something you really need a fork for with a plastic Spork and knife.
After about a week of struggling with your food you really miss metal
Generally, there are two ways people in here feel
about all the loss. Some people get really angry about the little things.
Others miss the big things.
Because I got locked up so young (16) I didn't get to
do hardly any of the big things. I've driven a car less than 10 times.
Never even had a driver's license. I can count on one hand the number of
girlfriends I've had. Only 2 of them were real. The others just kid
crushes. And I never had sex with any of them. (Yea, ha, ha. Laugh, but
I were abused and had a bad childhood so sex was a real issue with me.)
I was waiting for the right girl. I've never been in a bar. Never been
to an art gallery. Never paid taxes. You get the idea never really did
Now, of these two viewpoints. I'd say the first one
predisposes a person towards institutionalization. And the other
protects them from it-- or leads to death and suicide and lots of
violence. Recognizing this, I cultivate my pain. I don't wanna forget
how much I hate this place or desire my freedom. 'Cause if that happens
there's no point in living anymore. And if I die, I'd rather it be
somebody killing me while I'm trying to escape, than killing myself.
Today my friend I play guitar with left. I don't know
where he went, but I know he won't be coming back. That's another thing
that's hard about prison. This isolation, or alienation, whatever; the
point is you can't find anybody to get close to because you, or they,
always get moved. Every time they move one of your friends it's a cold
truth you may never see them again in this life. And it hurts. So, the
longer someone is in prison the less friends they make. They get tired
of everyone being taken away from them. Eventually, they hardly speak to
anybody, and that's sad, because many of these people have a lot to
share, but it will die away with them. I'm still a "youngster," still a
fool, because I still allow myself to develop bonds with people. I still
let people touch my heart. But, slowly and ceaselessly, this prison
system is destroying those good, human qualities I still possess. I tell
myself all the time I won't let these people and this system mold me,
but the truth of the matter is it is happening in small ways. If the
truly important parts of myself get taken I hope I have enough awareness
to kill myself.
Day 7: Today was a good day. I got to go to
the law library and study the law in the morning. I have to study the
law if I want a chance to get out of here.
And, I got a letter from a friend. I write to that
said she graduated from college. Mail is extremely important to guys in
here. For many people, it's all they have that keeps them going. So,
here's to good days! They should be cherished.
She sent me an invitation to her graduation. It made
me fell?like I was happy, but falling at the same time. I was so touched
that she thought enough about me to send me something. But I was sad
cause I can't be in that world. I never even graduated high school, so I
don't know what it's like to feel that sense of accomplishment, but I
would really love to be there to congratulate this girl. It's strange
getting things like that in the mail because they are links to a world
I've never known. You wish you were there, even though you don't know
what it's like. You figure because everyone looks so happy it's gotta be
a wonderful place.
Day 9: Today, I typed up a flyer describing
how to order from the Tattered Cover Bookstore. My plan is to somehow
get copies of it, and flood this prison with them. Why? Because we
aren't allowed to have catalogues here. Sound stupid? Senseless? It is.
It seems this prison really doesn't want any inmates ordering books,
magazines, and newspapers. They make it so difficult. In fact, it's even
difficult to get to the library here. They only allow us to go to the
library (well, my unit at least) 3 days a week. Two of those days I work.
And, when I do have time to go, it's very difficult to get a pass. Only
a certain amount of people are allowed at the library, so you need a
pass to go there. Because so many people need to go, there' always a
So, you see, nothing is easy in here. Yesterday I
spent an hour waiting to try to go to the library. Surprising, as it may
seem, there's not that long of a wait. I won't even go into the hostile
atmosphere you meet when you get to the library.
Anyway, the last 3 days I 've been dead tired for no
reason. I find, periodically, that happens to me. I can barely walk to
chow. I was commenting on it to another inmate who's been down (been
locked up) many years. He said, "It's this place that does it to you. It
just drags you down-- steals your energy. Don't matter how much sleep
you get. It's not your body that's tired." He's right.
Day 10: In a cell there are two bunks. That
means two people. The cell is about 15' long by 8 ' feet wide. The bunks
are at the back end. They are about 3' wide. And on one side of the cell,
there is a 2' wide desk. All things are steel or concrete. Oh, and
there's a steel combination toilet/sink next to the door. That's not
very much space for two adult people. Especially when, on average, 14-16
hours there together. On lock-down you'll spend 23 hours there together.
Think about how much tension can exist between two people living in the
same house. That's the same house! Now imagine that tension being
reduced and compacted into a single small room. Insane. It can be very
insane. Especially in a place that is full of negativity. And many of
the people here have many deep problems. So, it's very difficult to find
peace here. As I said, every thing here is steel or concrete. No carpet
of course. And that has a large impact when you fight in these cells.
With all the tension it's normal that there would be a lot of fights.
Because there really is nothing to do here, but these
people force us to be "full-time assigned" (work 8 hours a day) people
end up being forced into classes they've already taken 2 or 3 times.
I've taken anger management 3 times. And none of it was worth anything.
What has been helpful are my own private studies. There are, basically,
No educational programs here. But I've studied many things on my own.
And the spiritual stuff here is negative. All the Christians are
delusional, and covering up personal problems with empty actions and
words, instead of being naked and going through the pain of fixing them.
The meditation the Buddhists teach is good though. I'm not a Buddhist,
but learning to be aware of and control your thoughts and emotions is
great. I wish everyone learned it.
It's hard to find peace in here. If there was a place
where each of us could find some alone time it would be easier, but
there is no alone time here. And it's loud. Noise all the time. I blast
my fan and radio so I don't have to hear the yelling and keys and all
the things that make me want to scream and cut my brain to pieces. A
consistent sound is easier to deal with. One thing this place does to
make me strong. Somebody could try to kill me right now, and I don't
think it would bother me much. I''m in a constant struggle as it is, so
it actually might be a bit of relief.
These steel bunks are difficult to sleep on. Between
your body and the steel is a plastic foam mat that is about 1 ½ " thick.
Everything is so soft where you guys live. Do you realize that? Hugs are
soft. Don't underestimate their value. There are no hugs here. Well!
Back to my studies.
Day 11: Tonight it's silent in here. Like
whoever makes the world each day decided to give us a break. There's no
yelling, no ringing metal, no jingling keys, no stomping boots, no
slamming doors, no jarring laughter, or roaring vents. Nothing. And it
is so blessed I wish I could have just a little bit of silent peace
every week. I won't get greedy and ask for it every day. Just one time a
week. But, this is so rare. The vents are always on. They are so loud.
You wouldn't think that, but they're like those jets. I've grown used to
them over the years, but then a night like tonight will come along and
remind me of how things are supposed to be. And I feel my soul just
relax. And it's surprising because you thought you were relaxed. But you
weren't. You'd just grown used the tension. So, I'm thankful for this
night when I'm reminded of how things should be. And I breathe in the
Day 12: I'm bubbling with frustration and
anger today. I know, logically, it's futile, but things have just "gotten"
to me today. That drip of water that could send me over the edge is
getting mighty close. Good thing it's lock-down. So many little
frustrations today. For the last 2 days there've been all these "visitors"
here. "Visitors" are people dressed in civilian clothes with nametags
who are escorted around the prison by other cops. The cops talk to them
and show them the prison, us inmates, and everything else. I hate
visitors. I have no idea who these people are.
It's an angering experience having these people watch you. All of us
feel it to be very disrespectful. It's like this is a zoo and they
consider us some strange breed.
To these people we aren't human. To them we are sub-human.
What we think or how we feel doesn't matter. They way I feel, it's
enough punishment to be here and be persecuted for the rest of your life
because you have a felony on your record. They don't need to gawk at us.
Another thing-these "visitors" don't see real prison because the guards
clean up their acts when they're around.
The law makes no room for the surrounding
circumstances of a crime. Most people in here have things that, if they
were known, make their "crime: seem like it's reasonable. We all do
things that re wrong. We all make mistakes. And there should be
compassion for those who are not perfect. We should try to make them
better people so they can make right the things they've done wrong.
Day 13: Today I went to a college class Adam's
State College is offering called "Development of Civilization." I don't
qualify for this class. In order to qualify you must be under 25 and
have less than 3 years to your P-E-D (Parole Eligibility Date). Because
the state of Colorado gives people so many years few people qualify to
take the college course they're offering. But, I asked respectfully if I
could sit in and listen without receiving credit. At first the
instructor was hesitant. He said DOC had a negative stance towards the
college program and he was bound by what they said. But he let me stay
in the end. There are 12 people in the class, and it was delayed a week
because there almost weren't enough people who qualified to even hold
the class. But I'm glad they are holding because that means I get to
Now, DOC did say that if we don't "qualify" to take
the class we can pay for it. But the cost is $375. That is a lot of
money for someone who has no way to make money.
In here (remember I said you're forced to work) they pay you 60 cents a
day if you work all day. That translates to $12 month. With that $12 you
have to buy everything you need (soap, stamps, etc?) and pay for medical
($5 a visit) if you need to go. On top of that, most people have to pay
money (restitution) to the court, which means 20% of everything they
make is taken immediately by DOC. Twenty per cent of $12 is $2.40. So,
you can see it's difficult to get an education here. But, I 'm happy
they are finally offering something positive for these guys in here.
It's cool to see these guys excited about learning. The instructor even
allowed me to check out a textbook.
Day 14: (On his lack of sympathy for inmates
who have been beaten by other inmates:) I feel like they shouldn't dwell
on their hardships, but should continue on with life. That's a sign of
strength. Giving in to your pain is almost like giving up, and that's
wrong. Maybe I shouldn't feel this way, but I do. If I felt the pain of
everyone I meet who's in suffering I wouldn't survive. So, I've changed
my way of interacting with the world. Plus, physical pain is so minor!
It all heals rather quickly. But metal and emotional pain wound so
deeply sometimes they never heal.
I've seen a lot of people get f----- up in here. And
it almost never fazes me. It did when I first came to prison, but no
longer. Perhaps that's another sign of institutionalization. But it
enables me to function so I can work towards bettering myself and
attaining my freedom.
A lot of people say they're going to kill themselves
in here, or try. When I was in a different "facility" than I am now I
probably saw 10 people climb outside the rail on the third tier (probably
30-35') and prepare themselves to jump headfirst. Remember, it's all
steel and concrete here, so you can imagine the mess. When this would
happen you'd have guys come out, group up and start cheering.
"Hey! Jump! Do it! You're f------ worthless!"
Now I never saw anybody actually jump. But there've
been instances where people did. And lots of times they didn't die!
That's probably worse than dying.
The main reason everyone cheered for these guys to kill themselves was
because most of the time the person out on the rail had stabbed a lot of
people in the back, or something along those lines. They weren't
considered "good" people.
Maybe another reason these guys in here cease caring
about other people is because the world ceased caring about them.
Some of the things in here are hard to express or
explain. If you care you're vulnerable. If you care about something the
possibility exists for you to feel afraid. And there's nothing worse
than feeling alone and afraid. Since you're always alone in here, at
least you can kill off your fear. Since I've trained myself not to feel
upset by physical pain or death there's not much that causes me to fear.
And since I don't have any relationships of any depth in here there's
not much to fear emotionally. So, I'm kind of protected. I know the rest
of the dudes in here, or at least a majority feel the same. That's why
many cut themselves off from their loved ones on the streets. It's not
that they don't love them — they love them too much. If you hold onto
something like that in here it'll end up killing you.
Of course, I'm not as smart as the rest of these guys.
I still allow myself to write people — to stay connected to them, and
love them. Maybe it'll be my downfall.
Day 15: So in prison you never see any water
except for what comes out of the shower or the sink. In fact, the most
water you see is what's in the toilet. Sometimes the mop bucket. Missing
water isn't one of the obvious things you'd think about, when it comes
to prison. But you definitely feel the loss. I imagine what it used to
feel like to swim — to have my whole body submerged in water. But it's
hard to remember. I think it felt relaxing and vivifying.
The way the showers work here is a button. There's a
nozzle (metal, like all things here) and water sprays out of it. There
are no temperature controls, so you can't make the water comfortable.
You just push the button, and after about 3 seconds the water shoots
out. It stays on for a pre-determined amount of time and then you have
to push the button again. Many times the water is either uncomfortably
cold (read, like an ice-box) or hot (read, scalding). And, the showers
are right in the middle of the pod, so there's no real privacy. Yes, you
do have a shower curtain, but it's clear plastic on top and bottom so
the cop can see you.
When you first get to prison you have trouble getting
used to the showers. You feel tense and vulnerable — and you are. When I
first go here I wore all my clothes to the shower. I didn't want to walk
anywhere without being fully dressed. I knew it was dangerous.
Especially if you're young, small sized and good-looking. I was all
those things. And extremely homophobic. But, with time you get used to
it. So, I don't wear much anymore. And the uncomfortable feeling of
showering doesn't bother me much anymore either. I don't look at water
as something relaxing anymore. It's just practical. Prison is full of
these things. Stuff that used to bring you comfort on the streets brings
you little to no comfort in here. Because of this you grow harder. You
loose your manners. But, in other ways, you learn to be respectful. It's
almost like this is a different culture. Norms that are followed out
there don't mean much in here. And norms that don't even exist out there
become quite important in here.
We don't have faucets here. Remember I said your sink
is also your toilet. The sink puts out water like a drinking fountain.
It's like a drinking fountain with two buttons — one for hot and one for
cold. And, because you have to keep pushing the buttons to keep the arc
of water going, it gets annoying. But, you can get most things
accomplished with it. Except wash your clothes. You get written up for
washing your own clothes here. Does that sound strange? That's because
it's another one of those rules that doesn't make sense. You're also not
allowed to hang your clothing so they can dry if they're wet. These are
things you could get written up for.
Day 16: I'm sitting here looking out of my
window. The windows in this cell are placed in the middle of the wall
opposite the sliding steel door. There are two. Each is about the length
of your pen high, and a yardstick wide 6" deep. A skinny guy like me
might barely be capable of squeezing my head into it sideways. It's
Plexiglas, and doesn't open of course. But at least I can see the grassy
hillside beyond the fences (there's 3 of them, ringed with razor-wire
and one is electrified with 10,000 volts). For some reason, in Ad Seg (solitary)
they place metal plates on the outside of the windows so you can't see
out of them. There's no security reason for this because the windows are
exactly the same as these ones. So, it's obviously a way to cause you
torment mentally. And in some holes you don't have any windows. I was in
one that felt like a dungeon. It was very dark there. And not much space
to do push-ups. We laughed about being there at the time, but it wasn't
funny. Anyway, you probably wouldn't think depriving someone of fresh
air and the ability to see the outside sky and ground is very important.
But, it actually affects you deeply subconsciously. These days, out
there, everyone spends so much time indoors the thought of losing the
outdoors doesn't seem too harsh. But, I can tell you — when I saw a sky
without fences, or metal grating between it and my eyes for the first
time, after coming out of Ad Seg (I spent 2 years there) I was
overwhelmed. I wanted to breathe all of it in. It was so?peaceful and
liberating. Unfortunately, they put me back in lockdown for 7 more days
before releasing me into population. All of us were mad about that. We'd
figured we'd done our time.
Then, when I went to court they escorted me through a
normal parking lot before placing me in a van (inside the van is a cage
like a kennel for humans). I felt like crying. I was so surprised by the
horizon. There were no walls! No fences! Nothing! I could see as far as
my eyes could see. And there were trees! The experience is very hard to
describe. It's like seeing the most beautiful thing in the world —
something directly connected to the divine, something transcendental —
for the first time. It was awe inspiring and magnificent. My breath
stopped. I couldn't believe I'd forgotten what things looked like
without walls, razor wire, and fences. I wonder how many other things
This is another way prisoners are different than all
of you. We've seen things from a perspective you can't imagine. Because
of this we think differently than you. We attach importance to things
you don't think twice about. And we get angry about these seemingly
unimportant things being interfered with or taken. Our reactions seem
extreme, but if you experienced what we experience you'd see the
rational nature of how we act.
For instance, in Ad Seg and the hole they have a
tendency to not give you your "hour-out" into the outside cage when
they're lazy or have a facility lock-down or something of that nature.
When an inmate doesn't get their hour out they react violently a lot of
the time. Of course these cops think, "How irrational! It's only an hour
and you're acting like a madman!" But to the inmate that 1-hour out of
his/her cell 5 times a week might be the only thing that keeps them
feeling human and sane. There's so much depression in here usually it's
only a handful of things that keep you holding on. The love of just one
of those things could make you upset enough to kill somebody. Is a
prisoner wrong to severely hurt or kill someone who causes him/her such
pain and torment they don't feel as thought they can even exist anymore!
Is anybody wrong for that? I don't know. But I sympathize with people
pushed to that level. I see it nearly every day. One thing is for sure —
regardless of morals, you can only push a human being so far before they
break. When something breaks it doesn't just injure itself, it injures
anyone around it the broken pieces reach.
There are people out there (you might be one) who
think prison needs to be about torture and torment. But few people think
to the future when those people who've been tortured and tormented over
the years are released back into society. They commit more crimes. And
the level of crime is nearly always greater. This is because of the pain
they've experienced; nobody here respects the law. In prison you learn
to hate the law.
In India there was (and largely still is) a caste
system. At the bottom rung (in fact mostly not even considered a true
caste) were the pariahs, the "untouchables." These were criminals,
prisoners, and slaves. They weren't even considered to be human and was
looked on with disgust. I see these people in here. WE are the pariahs.
And no matter how fancy the words are you use, or how clean you make the
prison appear, the fact is these poor souls are considered throwaways by
you — society. Look within yourself and those around you objectively and
you'll see what I'm saying is true.