Mr. Stephen Johnson
Mr. Stephen Johnson is a friendly, animated, and talkative individual. He doesn't seem to fit the profile of a corrections activist, but as he told us about his experience with the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, we realized that he was exactly that. Not by choice perhaps, but by circumstance and experience alone, Mr. Johnson was thrust into the role of self-advocate and advocate for others who were unfortunate enough to experience an encounter with the George W. Hill facility and its staff. Mr. Johnson was so distressed by his experience at George W. Hill Correctional Facility that he contemplated suicide - as he puts it, "giving up his life.” He indicated that he became active with the issue of corrections reform to ensure that others would not suffer the same way that he did.
Upon meeting Stephen, he informed us that he had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as the result of an accident in the 1990's. As a result of this injury he languished in a coma for approximately five months and he eventually regained consciousness and an amazingly high level of functionality. He is college educated and has held responsible and complex positions in the tech field. Stephen admits to having a DUI on his record, for which he received an Accelerated Rehabilitative Discharge (ARD) disposition. According to him, his only other criminal prosecution (the one that brought him to GWH), was for "terroristic threats,” to which he pleaded no contest in 2012.
Upon arriving at George W. Hill, Stephen claims to have been placed in some kind of isolation ("a white room"), perhaps solitary confinement or a medical/psychiatric cell. During this confinement, Stephen was left in solitary for approximately ten days and his total confinement lasted from July through September 2012, a total of 35 days. Stephen told us that it took his mother about seventeen days to track him down and find out that he was being held at George W. Hill. Once Ms. Green located her son, she posted approximately $2,500.00 bail and it still took about two weeks to secure Mr. Johnson's release from the facility. Note: We have reached out to Ms. Green via text at Stephen's suggestion for verification of details and for her personal experience, but to date, she has not responded.
Regarding his experience at George W. Hill, Stephen said that although he was never assaulted by guards, staff, or inmates, he was "treated roughly, harshly, and disrespectfully and the people there acted like they were low class.” Mr. Johnson never went outside while there, and never signed up for any rehabilitative programs or classes. He indicated that he met with Block Counselors once each week for about twenty minutes, but he characterized these meetings as "totally unhelpful.” He also stated that he met with "medical staff,” but did not indicate the purpose of these meetings or if he considered them helpful or not. Most distressing to Stephen was his inability to make a phone call once he arrived at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility ostensibly because "their phone was not working.” Mr. Johnson's primary concerns about his care and custody experience at GWH revolve around not getting information and or support while there. According to Stephen, he did not receive a "rule book" or any guidelines about correctional policies so he did not know what was proper behavior or what to expect. Also, he felt that there was no one at the facility at the time of his intake (or during his 35 day stay), that was advocating for him and expressing his issues and concerns.
Mr. Johnson's activism began in 2015 when, in a sincere effort to improve conditions at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility and to ensure that other inmates did not suffer the same distress that he experienced, he attended a Prison Board meeting. He brought his concerns to this entity responsible for the prison and received nothing but a perfunctory hearing. He spoke to many people about his concerns, including Mario Civera, County Council Member, John Hosier, President of the Prison Board, and James F. Mattera, Director of Community Education Centers. No one did anything to address his concerns or change any of the conditions existing within the George W. Hill Correctional Facility. Mr. Johnson contacted others outside of Delaware County, including the PA State Police, the PA Governor's Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to name just a few notables. According to Mr. Johnson, to date, no person, agency, or institution has taken steps to even show they take his concerns seriously. We were provided with copious amounts of documentation detailing Mr. Johnson's efforts, including: newspaper articles about suicides at George W. Hill, correspondence with Prison Board members, prison officials, journalists, and probation officers.
Mr. Johnson has worked hard to bring his issues and concerns to the attention of responsible parties, but has gotten no real support, so far.
Note: pseudonyms have been used to protect the privacy of the individuals who shared their story with us.