Updated: Jun 8
My name is Philip Wilson. I will be 43 this May. I am currently serving the 26th year of my incarceration. I was 17 when my co-defendants and I were incarcerated on October 4th of 1994.
We were the first juveniles in the state of Alaska to be charged under the automatic waiver law. As such, I was placed directly into an adult facility rather than going to juvenile detention. It was a terrifying experience. The staff and inmates both went out of their way to antagonize and intimidate us. I was sure I was going to be raped and murdered within the first week. Being the first juveniles to be housed at Cook Inlet Pre-trial, the staff weren’t entirely sure what to do with us, so they put us into segregation, with all the troublemakers serving punitive time. From the first day, staff and inmates told me that I would never get out of prison, to focus on surviving and not worry about getting released. So, I did everything I could to get the approval of the inmates around me, which got me into a lot of trouble and formed a pattern of behavior that would continue for the following five years.
I felt shame for my crime and a responsibility for my co-defendants. I was too scared to show anything that could be perceived as weakness. I was intimidated by those around me and was being stalked by every child molester in the pod. So, I was determined to be strong, even if it was a false image that only fooled myself. I was filled with a hopelessness that grew and grew until I finally gave up. I told my co-defendants to blame everything on me, and shortly afterwards I hung myself in a cell in booking.
Seeing how much I hurt my sister and little brother by attempting to take my own life was crushing. I no longer valued my life but couldn’t bear hurting them any further, so I did not make another attempt at suicide.
After accumulating a significant number of disciplinary reports, the facility reclassified me as max-custody and placed me into solitary 23 hours a day for the remainder of my stay at Cook Inlet (4 to 6 months). On September 29th, 1995 I was determined to be a “worst offender” by the Judge and sentenced to 99 years. I still remember the transport officers making jokes and teasing me about it. The Classification Sargent at Cook Inlet told me she was going to return me to general population based on my staying out of trouble and giving me an opportunity at a fresh start when I got to Spring Creek. I was transferred the week before my hearing and when I arrived at Spring Creek the Classification Officer there told me since I was young, serving such a long sentence, and was already in the hole, so she was going to leave me in solitary for an additional year just “to see how I act”. While in segregation, I got my GED and at the end of that year of solitary, I was given the opportunity to get out of the hole if I volunteered to be transferred to Arizona. I quickly agreed.
Once I was transferred to Arizona I continued to act out and get into trouble until 1999. That year there was a situation between myself and another inmate. The other inmate was oblivious to it, but my thoughts were full of violence.
I was waiting for the other inmate to return to the pod in which we both lived when the thought entered my mind “what am I doing?” At that moment I knew something had to change. I didn't know what or how, just that if something didn't change, I would eventually kill again, take my own life, or both. So, on an impulse, I went to the programs building, knocked on the door of the director of the substance abuse program, and asked for help. In that program I learned to identify my thinking errors, change the way I think, and to process the emotional trauma I carried from childhood abuse. I learned to take accountability for my actions and develop a sense of self-worth that for the first time wasn't dependent solely upon the social approval of others. It was the first time in my life I remember being OK with being me. The counselors treated me as a human being despite the horrible things I had done in my life. They gave me the courage to change. For once I didn't feel alone and worthless. During the years that I spent in the residential program I healed and matured emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The quality of the counselors combined with a core group of participants who genuinely were trying to change made for an amazingly effective program and a fantastic success rate of its graduates.
Some of the problems that have had the greatest effect on me, and my rehabilitation were Victims Impact and Concerned Offenders for Youth Awareness [C.O.Y.A.]. In the victim’s impact class, victims of crimes came into the prison and told their stories and how the crimes have impacted their lives. Listening to their stories was extremely hard to do. I had completely disassociated the act of my crimes from the victims, and to hear these people's pain and trauma knowing that I had inflicted the same thing on others was the most shameful and haunting experience of my life. While at the same time being one of most human and loving experiences too. The connection to empathy for others developed through that program was life altering.
Concerned Offenders for Youth Awareness was a program that I participated in for years. C.O.Y.A. was a program in which I was given the opportunity to speak with at risk youth who were in emotional and environmental situations I could relate to, who gone unchecked could very likely travel the same road I did, ending in prison. It was an educational program where I spoke about my experiences and the negative influences that led me to prison, as well as some of the applicable positive changes I've made that could prevent them from making the same horrible decisions. Seeing the positive influence I had on the juveniles and hearing the success stories from their counselors opened my eyes to the awareness that I really had something to offer others, and was truly capable of affecting a positive change in those around me. It felt good to be the person I wish I would have had in my own life; someone who could have encouraged the development of a healthy self-worth and supported healthy decision-making.
I believe the policy of putting inmates in segregation for years at a time, and the restriction of programs to this with shorter sentences exacerbated my juvenile delinquency and turned me into a far worse person than when I first came to prison. It seems to me that DOC’s motives were to extinguish any hope within me in an effort to get me to accept the idea that prison was it for me, without foresight or consideration into what embodying prison as my new norm would mean for my behavior. These experiences developed significant hurdles that I had to overcome in the pursuit of my own rehabilitation.
I am proud of the person I have become, yet I wonder what more could I be today, what more could I have accomplished if I hadn't had to overcome the damage developed during my formative years in prison, or if these programs were available sooner. On the same note I think how many of my peers were overwhelmed by hopelessness, and the hurdles to rehabilitation created by this environment, who are now unrecognizably consumed by drug addiction and criminal behavior.
In the years since I've first made the decision to change and took the risk of asking for help, I have completed every rehabilitative opportunity offered to me. In addition to completing the Offender Management plan, along with a number of vocational training programs, I have earned my Associates Degree and stay active in the community by volunteering and donating to charity events. I am currently helping facilitate group workshops in my facility where I'm finishing my training as a facilitator for “Hands of Peace”, Alternatives to Violence Program.
If one day granted the opportunity to reenter society, I plan to seek employment as a commercial electrician, a skill I have gained during my incarceration, and to further find ways to use my experiences to help others through volunteer work. The current obstacles I am facing are what seems to be a return to the policy that programs are for people with short sentences and the inability to take my college education further. A requirement to earning an accredited bachelor’s degree is a certain amount of the credits must be earned online or on campus.
I am OMP complete, reaching the limits of the rehabilitative opportunities for the incarcerated. I have pursued my own rehabilitation growing as an individual into a person I can be proud to be. I am no longer a threat to others and have the ability and drive to be a healthy and positive member of society. Unfortunately, there is no way for this to be taken into consideration for a reduction of sentence or other opportunity to reenter society as a healthy and rehabilitated human being. It seems now that my pursuits are primarily limited to seeking a sense of purpose in an effort to fend off the stagnation inherent to this environment, as prison is not a healthy environment for healthy people.