The Restorative CommUnity Coalition

~Reclaiming Lives Since 2006~

September Newsletter

Jail, Sheriff’s and Carceral Policymaking

Jails, Sheriffs and Carceral Policymaking is a useful article about the “hidden to the public” story of the business of incarceration that verifies the hands-on research done in Whatcom County by the Restorative CommUnity Coalition. When we started, our work was striving to help people who got out of imprisonment to learn how to reorient themselves to a changed world – successfully. So we started with reentry. Then we realized that there was also a problem with court navigation, with emergency help for families when 911 was called and families needed help dealing with someone who got arrested. Then there is the problem of helping those families whose main provider was removed from the household, and then we ran into the jail industry. Head-on.

We realized that the jail industry building contractors/consultants had written a business plan for passing more taxes and building a 2450 bed jail in our county…for a population at the time of around 200,00 people. It didn’t make sense. We already had three jails, three earmarked taxes were already funding their operations above and beyond what used to be spent on them. Then there was another tax for Behavioral Health Services.

We had a problem. It was an upside down problem we had not encountered before. We knew it was being promoted aggressively by the Whatcom County Sheriff, the Whatcom County Executive, and the Whatcom County Prosecutor. Why weren’t they promoting prevention, early intervention, education, substance use treatment, reentry, trauma recovery, and more services to keep people out of jail and keep them productive in the community? Why were they not growing taxpayers, not prisoners? Why were they promoting building a mega-jail instead that would hobble all the healthy taxpayers to pay for it?

We started studying on the problem, standing up against the jail taxes, standing up for humane justice. Today we now know it was a problem with our top law enforcement CEO’s running a jail industry speculation business plan to market. The goal was to enroll taxpayers in the community to underwrite what turns out to be a long term investment in incarceration real estate to boost the schol to prison pipeline growth on the I-5 corridor to Canada.

This is an article that starts to get into the heart of how the jail industry expansion game infiltrates the local community through the law enforcement CEO’s.

In our case, the issue started out by blaming the people for rising crime. It wasn’t quite true, but it worked to get people scared. Then the game moved to where the Sheriff was claiming he “didn’t have enough money” to manage it all – things were going to rack and ruin, so he wanted a new jail and new funding. We discovered that he had mismanaged the downtown jail to the point he could claim it was unsafe, and dangerous – due to overcrowding, operations failures, etc. We started studying on the problem, and realized we had a bigger problem: The consultants has written their “jail capacity needs assessment” as if it was a spec sheet for jail industry speculators to be impressed – so the civic leaders would buy the jail building plan because it was good business for government expansion.

There is more to come, but read this article to get an idea of what was the “more to come” story.

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Irene then turned to helping others break free of our dysfunctional justice system, founding the Restorative Community Coalition in 2006. She turns 80 this week.


From the desk of Irene Morgan, Founder…

As many of you may know, I founded the Restorative CommUnity Coalition in 2006 and have been an advocate for the voiceless and underserved for the majority of my life.

This letter is written as a birthday gift to myself. I have a lot on my 80-year-old chest that needs to be delivered to the rightful owners, i.e., ‘The Operations’ within our ‘system.’ I am referring to: our politicians, government, especially the courts (the injustice system), the police (bringers of bodies/people to the injustice system), and the workers within all these categories (the slaves of ‘the system’).

There are only a very few who know or see this entire picture and know the roles that are played in this game. I’ve known for a very long time that there is ‘something’ wrong with how our society works. While nosing in and around the community, working and volunteering in non-profits for over three decades, I’ve gathered bits and pieces – building a picture of the nonsensical puzzle.

As a small child my family moved to a small farm in rural Whatcom County where I have lived for 75 years, so I have a very unique view, experience, and perspective of the history and, now, current events of this community.

I’ve sat in MANY meetings, presentations, and mappings, hearing and learning about the ‘continuum of care’ with the programs offered by the system. ‘The Operations’ of the system are VERY proud of the lists and the services they provide our citizens in need.

What ‘The Operations’ don’t tell us is that they are mostly token programs that serve a VERY few, and no, most people DO NOT have a ‘continuum of care.’ The barriers and cracks in the system that most experience keep them in a state of dysfunction and chaos, which from my experience is deliberate and contrived. WHY? To keep ‘the system’ intact because the system ‘works for the system’ – NOT the people going through the system.

While working with people with conviction histories, I’ve experienced myriad situations that defy common sense within ‘the system.’ A friend I’ve had for 10 years, with a mental health history, called me for help; he’d been arrested again. Long story short – I shared his experience of being dropped through crack after crack after crack! AND no one took responsibility for his or her failures. If I hadn’t been involved, ‘the system’ would have taken over and he would be back in jail – rotting – because ‘the system works – for the system.’ The most ridiculous thing is – it’s all fixable! It can be fixed with common sense: Fill the gaps! Take responsibility. Be accountable. Possibly the biggest hurdle is a change in attitude from the ‘Operations Department’ and the service providers.

There are many who look with disdain on our citizens who have conviction histories– using names like, bimbos, losers, frequent fliers, and worse. I’ve followed and helped dozens of these folks as a Court Navigator (a program I developed when I saw its value) and none of them would have been successful without our help. The trauma that comes from an arrest, the probable loss of a job, the fees and fines that rack up, are devastating. The chaos within the courts: public defenders, probation, myriad program appointments, treatment, etc. is almost impossible to navigate without support. The shame and depression that is experienced is debilitating. The relief and hope that comes from community support is truly awesome to experience.

Since the inception of Restorative CommUnity Coalition, I have been considered an intruder on the scene of the jail expansion efforts. I have been disrespected, shut down, uninvited, rejected, disallowed, and silenced by the powers that be. I have even been accused of taking a wrecking ball to a 20-year long jail growth project, for which I am VERY proud. I am devoted to being a voice for this insane 20th Century plan to cripple our county financially. Jails are closing down and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of empty jail beds in our state. The population in our jail needs to be reduced, yes, even more! Do your homework.

Our punitive “justice” system is archaic and demeaning and very lucrative. My goal is to educate and advocate for more ‘Defund Police’ funds to be used to expand these token programs into offering more support of this population so they can be the functional citizens we expect them to be AND they WANT to be! My vision for the ReStoreALife Center is one of the stopgaps needed. We have a long list of helpful programs and business plans for housing, employment, parenting, living skills, treatment, Restorative Justice circles, conflict resolution, emotional resilience and wellness training that can and should be implemented to solve these issues.

We, as citizens of Whatcom County, have an opportunity to raise our voices in support of this segment of our population. If more of them don’t have the chance to succeed – we ALL suffer – with more taxes (if that’s possible), less public safety, more crime, continued useless arrests, and failures of our courts. It creates an economic ball and chain that debilitates our seniors, middle class, and all segments of our community. Our current practices are NOT RIGHT.

If this gives you pause – or if it gives you hope – please contact us and see how you can join the masses knowing that your one-degree of change WILL make a difference.

Wishing you all Blessings and good health in ALL ways,

Irene Lincoln Morgan



Founder, Restorative Community Coalition

Reprinted from Northwest Citizen



This poster was created to synthesize the emotional distress people experience as a result of a crisis, arrest, and then jailing happens.

It was started as a public inquiry since the Vera Institute of Justice recommended that the Coalition might want to do this research ourselves since there was no such research available at the time that the VERA Institute of Justice was doing a study in Whatcom County’s overall performance and it’s justice system process.

So, in 2018 Joy Gilfilen, President of the Restorative CommUnity Coalition, did an in-person, hands-on ethnographic research study on the impacts of an arrest on people, and to diagram what happens inside the emergency responder system from the point of an incident is reported, prior to an arrest, then what happened in the 24-72 hours before an arrested person goes to court and meets a public defender.

In this case, Joy interviewed 79 people who she had worked with as they were involved in the process. While 53 of the people had been arrested, another 26 were family members, loved ones or 1st responders dealing with the crisis impacts directly, or in the aftermath.

You can order this high-gloss poster for your office, for use with clients, for educating people about how jail trauma affects our entire community, and to understand why it starts a self-destructive process that costs everyone in our community when the trauma is not intercepted. See a more detailed description of the research conducted below.

The Study Details and Process:
Year – 2018
Interviewer: Joy Gilfilen
People Interviewed: – 79 Total – both male and female, 2 LGBTQ – All over 18 – All age groups – 53 were people who had been arrested and jailed in Whatcom County – 26 were friends, parents, family, partners, bosses, hospital or mental health providers, police, employees of the justice system including prosecutors, defenders, clerks, judges, probation and substance use providers, social service providers.

These interviews were conducted in 2018 over a period of several months.

Intake process: Joy asked people to talk with her for between 2-5 hours each to discuss the impact of the arrest on them and their families. The ultimate goal was to find out from them what could be done to fix the problems people have with the arrest, jail and justice system. Where were the hidden glitches that people fall into that the system could correct?

This was a summary of Joy’s observations afterwards. The chart was distributed back to the participants to get their feedback on the gleanings. They validated that the charts really captured their experiences overall, and were stunned at the comprehensiveness and accuracy of it to their experiences. Blindspots: Unexpected Findings from Jail Trauma Research

Wow! Check out this County in Oregon! While Whatcom County could easily have been the leader in justice reform, we just got ACE’s by Multnomah! Whatcom County could learn from them! And there is more to do, if the County will stop pretending that they need to build a jail – a public safety building – instead of providing the public’s safety! People need help right now more than ever! Follow the new leaders, and then learn and change!

Wapato Jail – a real boondoggle for Oregon. What a huge waste of taxpayers dollars, and a nightmare for the community. The County overbuilt the jail. They oversold the jail industry plan and convinced the civic leaders to buy the plan.

This whole boondoggle caused huge problems for taxpayers. Now it is likely to be demolished. This is a real lesson for Whatcom County taxpayers to not buy the Whatcom County law enforcement elected officials story that they need a new jail. We need accountability, not more taxes.

What happens to people when they get arrested? Most people don’t know because no-one really wants to talk about it.

Why not? Joy Gilfilen, President of the Restorative Community Coalition, did a quest to find out. It is disturbing to the soul. People who get arrested go through dramatic arrest shock and jail trauma before they ever even get to 1st Appearance. Before they meet any Public Defender, before bail. There is no safety zone at all.

Joy interviewed 79 people in an ethnographic research study inquiry:

  • 53 people had been arrested and went through the Whatcom County Jail and Justice System from beginning to end. All were still dealing with a lifetime of ripple effects.
  • These interviews caused her to interview another 26 who were friends, family, employers, criminal defense attorneys. There were employees of the system – police, defenders, prosecutors, clerks and other staff, jailers, emergency responders, hospital and mental health providers, and investigative writers. There were people of diverse demographics, education and financial class.
  • Of the 79 people, all were deeply concerned about the system. They were willing to talk about it for the purpose of hoping they could help fix it, and they had worked with the Coalition and had built up a level of trust. These were not easy conversations – for the subject is emotionally traumatizing to talk about. Each of the conversations were approximately 3 to 5 hours each.

Unexpectedly, Joy found in every case that the trauma starts at 1st contact with the law enforcement – often typically at the point of a 911 or EMS call.

  1. The incident triggers a whole string of events…from immediate reactions, then through an arrest, booking and jail.
  2. All along there are unanticipated and surprising costs that accrue inside and outside the justice system.
  3. Unexpected things happen to everyone who gets involved – there is no preparing for the process.
  4. Investigations and evaluations compound and more costs accrue sometimes before charging and often right away – as if people are guilty upon arrest.
  5. Eventually people get to court – and enter the halls and chambers of an interminable justice system where the language is unknown, the hoops, excessive fines, fees and extra costs overwhelm.

This study was enlightening – and shocking – when Joy recognized how many people are directly emotionally and dramatically harmed at the point of 1st Contact with a 911 or law enforcement call.

The extreme implicit bias and pre-conceptions of people is set up before anyone realizes what happens. Ironically this is due to excessive rules and regulation style measures being put in place. The impacts have increased as a result of technology, fear-mongering, and habitualized responses by institutions.

All of this is a recipe for creating and inflicting extreme trauma that derail entire families. A single arrest can throw an entire family into deep poverty for life. The arrest itself can cause breakups, mental illness, generational destruction. The good news is that once we understand what happens, we can see that the habits of doing this can be changed, and it is possible to intercept the cycle early.

This is podcast 1 of a multi-set of JoyTalks: Blindspots.
There will be a several in this series of Blindspots. LOCALLY we now know it is possible to intervene earlier in the process and stop the recidivism cycle BEFORE it starts, saving taxpayers potentially millions of dollars in unsustainable punishment systems. And it is probable that we can do this in this county if our officials can see the return on investment to the taxpayers. Once intercepted, it can change the habit patterns of entire institutional systems that are co-dependent on arresting people. It is to that end that Joy did this work to understand the needs of this population, and to understand how to speak with law enforcement and bureaucratic officials who have no way to hear this information.

Blindspots 1.2: Whatcom County Jail Trauma Research Study Episode 2
about discovering the false pre-assumptions that people make about an arrest.

Joy had no idea she herself would have blindspots even after years of researching the issues and working with people.

For example, she discovered that most people who get arrested go through such a dramatic arrest shock and jail trauma (before they ever even go to 1st Appearance and before they meet their Public Defender) that they are struck speechless – and can’t even talk about it. Not only are they silenced by the police and the courtrooms by warning: “You have the right to remain silent…” it is almost impossible for them to speak on their own defense, for the system is set up to not provide any opportunity to question anything, nor to get help if the system is not protecting anyone.

It is difficult to comprehend the impact, and they can’t make sense of it…it is almost like they have a split-reality experience. This caused Joy to start looking closer.

This study yielded some new information and wake up calls on how mental illness symptoms can be caused by this extreme shock. Even if people did not have those symptoms before the incident, virtually all of them feel the impact during the process and “don’t want to talk about it.” It causes deep fear and an inability to think straight.

Joy found that typically most people running the system just assume that the mental distress and emotional illness symptoms they often see in court pre-existed the arrest. And she also found that many of the professionals working in the system end up with trauma themselves, and don’t want to talk about it either.

It is a false presumption, and to not talk about it creates a blindspot at all levels. This is the 2nd in the series episodes.

Repetitive Acute Trauma (RAT) follows the initial shock of being that accused person who was in a crisis that led to an accusation, arrest, and now jailing.

Videos of Blindspots: Unexpected Findings from Jail Trauma Research – 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 discuss the initial Radicalized Acute Distress under Duress (RADD) feelings and symptoms that precede this video. Each of these videos relates directly to the emotional stress, that becomes distress and eventually total overwhelm to people who end up in the jail system the first time.

Joy Gilfilen, President of the Restorative Community Coalition, did a study of 79 people – 53 who entered the Whatcom County Jail and went through the courts and the justice system to find out what happened to them. Then interview 26 more who were family members, or people involved in the justice system.

These were intense conversations with people who had a tough time even talking about it – even after having been out of the system and were not technically at risk. Even discussing it years later causes re-traumatizing, and most people want to just forget and pretend it didn’t happen. The emotional trauma lasts a lifetime. The reaction is universal…each person was completely unprepared for the emotional assault on the physical, mental and emotional body, nor were they anticipating the after shocks.

Surprisingly, Joy found out in reviewing the data afterwards, all of those arrested were not considered “criminals” before they got arrested the first time. Their experience of going from innocent to instantly guilty and jailed in extreme hostile conditions as if guilty without any protection was mind-altering. It leads to people saying they felt they went into a vortex where there were “split realities” or like their minds just “shattered and broke”. It was surreal, where they could not comprehend or make sense of what was happening to them.

Joy did this study for many reasons, but when helping people at exiting the jail, she found that everyone pretty much says some version of: “I just can’t talk about it.” Or, “I don’t want to talk about it…I just can’t talk right now.” They deflect with “I’m ok. I just don’t want to talk about it.” And out of respect, we don’t ask. Joy found that the shock was so bad it was “unspeakable”.

Joy also interviewed 26 family members, friends, employers, 1st Responders, mental health professionals, defenders, prosecutors and others involved in the 911 incident or the process that followed.

She found that they too, pretend all is well, but that they are also disoriented and shocked from what happens to people. And they are shocked at what happened to them if they were the ones who called 911 for help for their loved one, or for someone in distress. To find their loved be arrested instead of helped is shocking. And to then themselves suddenly becoming the subject of an arrest – creates a similar disconnect from reality. In fact, it can throw the entire family into distress – which splits the mind of these who called for help, trusting the system.

This led to some people saying, “I will never call 911 to get help again.” The results are unspeakable. This summarizes what Joy learned from those 79 people.

Joy created this Blindspots – the Whatcom County Jail Trauma Chart – and the RADD-RAT chart to synthesize what happens.

It shows others the enormous emotions that many people exiting the jail system have gone through. This explains why many are radically traumatized and need help just thinking straight. And it is a clear indication of why people then cannot navigate the system, and why recidivism escalates afterwards. The arresting of people when they called 911 to get help destroys their belief that they are safe in America. It takes alot of work to recover that trust and to put families back together.

JoyTalks Episode 3 details what people reported happened to them emotionally when they are arrested. This part of the study is not about guilt or innocence, it is simply what people go through, and may help people understand how mental illness develops in the aftermath of an incident that leads to an arrest.

The variety of emotions and the gravity of them is astonishing. Until you hear people tell it, repeatedly by different folks, it is hard to comprehend – and it better explains to those who have never gone through it what happens to the mind, and why it is traumatizing at an extraordinary level.

The immediate and then compound ripple effects that come from just an arrest process, then a jailing process are serious and last a lifetime. All this happens before a court is even involved or a person is charged with a crime.

Blindspots: Unexpected Findings of Jail Trauma Research Study

Blindspots: Unexpected Findings from Jail Trauma Research

The immediate and then compound ripple effects that come from just an arrest process, then a jailing process are serious and last a lifetime. All this happens before a court is even involved or a person is charged with a crime.

This chart is a reflective diagram that Joy Gilfilen produced after deep many-hour long interviews with 79 people who have been involved with the Whatcom County Jail and Justice System. She interviewed 53 people who had been arrested and jailed previously. They were folks who had worked with her in reentry processes and were willing to open up emotionally (it is traumatizing to talk about – even second hand). They did it to help others, and help the system be reformed. The experience of finding out the depth of the trauma on people, caused Joy to interview 26 other people who were involved to seek confirmation of the impacts. She found out that there were hidden, secondary, and many layered psychological impacts and side-effects that lasted their lifetimes.

Joy interviewed loved ones, employers, 1st Responders, prosecutors and defenders, court, law enforcement, and emergency room staff who were involved. “These charts are rough to read, and raw. For we are not talking about the long term impacts on a person and their families. These charts are only about what happens in the first 24-72 hours after a crisis precipitated an arrest,” says Joy. “It was shocking to find that people go through a kind of “split-brain” or “split reality” experience that jars the soul deeply – because it cuts the foundation of safety in our lives away at the roots.” Why? “In every case, people needed help. They did not need an arrest to make lives worse – massively worse. People were involved in an accident where someone was hurt. Or they got in an argument with a friend, or were having trouble with legal medications or were dealing with chemical addictions, or deep emotional distress from a divorce, firing or death of another. They were in trouble, and needed help, yet it turned into an arrest and the psychological impacts were jarring – almost like a tsunami that no one expected. “I was blindsided as an interviewer, for I had never read anything about this. No-one talks about this in the Task Force, or justice system conversations. That talk is all about the crime – what happens AFTER people are arrested and go to court. It is not about what happened BEFORE people are charged in court. We have a gap. By the time they get to court, they are non-functional and emotionally traumatized by the process and are told to “remain silent”. “I found that people experience such unspeakable deep grief – they can’t even talk about it. They are in an early stage of something I called Complex Post Traumatic Shock and cannot think straight. “This is at the base of the problem: A human being made an error in judgement of some kind. They are already emotionally vulnerable, scared and grieving. Then, rather than receiving any help, they are prejudiced against (pre-judged): betrayed by the alleged “protectors” they are handcuffed, isolated and punished, disregarded, dismissed, thrown into a kind of purgatory – a hostile, terrifying environment where there is NO SAFETY. Only judgement, blame, shame and condemnation.” These charts are not about what else happens to people after they go to court the first time. This is only about the initial psychological shock and emotional impact of what happens in the space between the crisis and court.

Whatcom County Jail Trauma Chart

Whatcom County Jail Trauma Chart

The red and black side is the Whatcom County Jail Trauma side of the chart that lists the RADD-RAT symptoms – “Radicalized Acute Distress Under Duress” and the escalating “Repetitive Accelerating Trauma” that people arrested go through in the first 24-72 hours. The mostly yellow and black side is what happens to everyone including the family, friends and others involved. This impact is the unseen, subliminal Unexpected Findings that lie silently in social circles, hidden behind the “shameful” story of the “criminal”. The dramatic loss of reputation, the escalating and uncontrollable costs, the emotional shock and the long-term psychological impacts of having freedom taken away and families thrown into investigations and examination where a whole new reality appears. Inmates and even families are shunned and can end up living inside a kind of “hostile emotional purgatory” that they cannot escape from or even talk about. They are “branded” and labelled as networks, friends and allies disappear – often with the first news reports. Most of us only scratch the surface of the alleged “crime” itself and the court responses. Joy continues, “Even after 10 years studying thousands of people and helping with reentry and recovery in the families, I was stunned when I discovered the hurt is so deep and so tumultuous to the psyche that no-one ever wants to talk about it again. That hurt is silenced and buried, but the ripple effects continue for lifetimes, even generations.”

Our September Newsletter is all about local events of immediate interest:




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