Tyler Himelstieb insisted he was OK: By the time he returned to San Carlos Correctional Facility from the hospital, the medications he’d been missing had kicked in. He was calm, he said. Stable.
Prison staff disagreed. Himelstieb had gone to the hospital hours before to get more than a dozen stitches in his forehead. He’d been off of his meds and had been transferred to San Carlos, where the state of Colorado incarcerates inmates with significant mental health concerns. The change in location and lack of medications were stressors that led him to resort to an old coping mechanism: smashing his head against a wall. When he returned from the hospital, a prison counselor spoke to him briefly — he estimates the conversation lasted three to five minutes — and determined Himelstieb was still a danger to himself.
That decision confined Himelstieb to an empty room and a mattress maybe an inch thick. Using metal cuffs, prison staff locked his wrists and ankles to the bed, his arms kept by his side and his legs shoulder-width apart. A strap across his chest held him flat on his back. His complaints that the restraints were too tight went unheeded. He described it as feeling “stretched,” his body positioned in a way that it naturally resisted. A nurse would later come and wrap his wrists and ankles — by that time blistered and bruised — in gauze before re-securing the metal cuffs.
The pain was “excruciating,” he said. At first, he thought it would only be for a few hours.
“I was just like, ‘Man, if I can get past these four hours, I’ll be OK, I’ll finally get out of these,’” Himelstieb, 35, said in early October from his father’s home in Aurora. He had been released three weeks earlier, more than six years after he was sent to prison for assaulting his then-girlfriend after he’d stopped taking his medications. “Another clinician came to the window (of the cell) and asked how I was doing. And I told her, ‘I’m in a lot of pain, but I’m calm and stable. Can I please get out of these restraints?’”
When another counselor checked on him later, Himelstieb said, the provider told him that he would be “in the restraints at least overnight.”
Himelstieb estimates that he spent roughly 20 hours in the metal restraints, with two breaks to use the bathroom. Himelstieb likened the experience to torture. That’s how Rep. Judy Amabile, a Boulder Democrat, described it, too. She’s now working to reform what she cast as Colorado’s “medieval” use of restraints.
The clinical use of four-point restraints — so-called because they’re applied to each limb — is generally noncontroversial for people who are a danger to themselves or others, experts said. But Colorado’s practice stands out, several told the Denver Post, for its use of metal restraints, its seemingly open-ended timeframe for restraining inmates and the apparent lack of associated treatment or oversight. One expert described Himelstieb’s experience as a “nightmare.”
“I think we really have to wonder in a big way about what are we doing to people with serious and persistent mental illness?” said Amabile, who’s sponsoring a bill to better regulate the use of four-point restraints in Colorado prisons. “And are we doing anything to try to help them, or are we doing things that really have the effect of making it so much worse?”
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Annie Skinner said in a statement that agency personnel only use four-point restraints when necessary and under the close monitoring of staff. Citing privacy laws, she declined to comment on Himelstieb’s account or other specific allegations. The agency, she continued, “welcomes the opportunity to examine our policies and procedures.”
— Full story via Seth Klamann, The Denver Post
Colorado prisons’ restraint techniques amount to “torture” and need reform, lawmaker says
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