Whatcom County Jail Trauma Chart

This is a summary chart of an ethnographic research study of seventy-nine (79) people who have been dealing directly with the law and justice system in Whatcom County. The case study interviews were conducted by Joy Gilfilen, a civic systems researcher and President of the Restorative Community Coalition for nine years. Her goal was to talk with people who were directed impacted by an arrest in the family, to map out their experience and to find out from them where the system is broken and could be improved.

An unexpected finding was discovering the intense, high impact emotional trauma that is endured when someone is suddenly accused of a crime, taken captive, held in an hostile environment under duress, scrutized and examined in a highly intense compressed timeframes where they have no protection and no capacity to defend themselves. This chart synthesizes the emotional shocks endured, along with the physical, familial, mental and psychological impacts on the people interviewed in the case study group.

This diagram is limited to illustrating what kinds of impacts are felt during the time that elapses between a 911 call to the time an arrested person gets to their 1st Appearance in Court – which could be up to 72 hours. During that period of time their body (corpus) becomes a commodity that the authorities control.

1st Appearance: 
None of the symptoms shown on this chart are mitigated prior to 1st Appearance in court.  This is when the person arrested and accused of a crime  first finds out the charges filed against them by the Prosecutor, their value is set by the bail that is brokered, and their right to be free is negotiated, and they are assigned a Public Defender to essentially manage the paperwork of the courts for the accused.

This chart doesn’t show this economic or legal sequence of impacts and losses.  It does not include the impacts of economic, social, or job related ripple effects that follow as a as a consequence of an arrest, nor does it include the emotional impacts of what happens when a person is held in jail pending court, plea bargaining,or probation. That information will be provided in a separate document.

The synthesis of symptoms described in this chart are limited to what happens at the onset of a situation – from the point of a 911 call. This is when an unsuspecting accused person is suddenly placed in an extreme hazardous emotional and psychological conditions that are unfamiliar, debilitating, and whole-systems traumatizing.

The Accelerating Impact – RADD-RAT Symptoms: 
The interviews showed that even when people were perfectly well before the incident, the experience of dealing with the initial shock of whatever happened escalates in a short time to produce Radicalized Acute Distress under Duress (RADD) symptoms. The interviews showed how people at the point of being held captive, especially in the jail, then experience compounding traumatic emotions defined as Repetitive Accelerating Trauma (RAT) symptoms.

The intense accumulation of unrelieved emotional pressure compresses creating sustained emotional terror. Many described it as living in two worlds, confused by the inability

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3-Step Civic Strategy:
Emotional Resilience Tools


After an arrest, an individual is thrown into an accelerated pattern of self-destructive emotional chaos.  This arrest shock overwhelms their reasoning and coping skills. They experience acute emotional trauma such as shame, guilt, fear, sorrow, and then feelings of abandonment, betrayal, and isolation.  Their world turns upside down as their freedom, rights, and voice are taken away.  Stunned they go into emotional shock and lose the ability to think rationally, or do the things that they normally could do.  Whether or not they are guilty,  immediately they are hit with financial losses that affect their families, and everything starts into a downward spiral – all in the first 24-72 hours – far before they talk to any defender.


Using our Five Harm Reduction tools (where possible and logical) we intercept the spiralling emotional devastation caused by an incident.  With straight talk, we help people early on, to understand accountability, process the grief and sorrow, and de-escalate further trauma to themself and others.  Then immediately move them towards resolutionary action.

This supports reconciliation and recovery for all parties, bringing better health and wellness to everyone with dignity.  We provide people mentoring to overcome the shock of trauma, so they can see what happened with new eyes – so they can take accountability and develop emotional stability.  This may include taking restorative justice action immediately.  It may include doing therapy and outreach, connecting people to mental health services, or helping people connect to their legal support, to a reconciliation specialist or to housing support.  At this early point in a cycle, they may need a case manager or a court mentor to help them navigate a totally unfamiliar system that is control by rigid laws.


Right now, people who have been arrested and lost everything have no safe place to go as they deal with the consequences.  They have often been homeless, in an abusive situation, or after leaving jail they need to re-acclimate from living in highly structured facilities with little opportunity to think independently. We have found that it is easier to re-enter society successfully, when a person is not so vulnerable to being preyed upon, and instead have mentoring to live better.  They feel stronger when they are safe, warm, fed, and with a good night’s sleep.  People are more likely to be able to meet the requirements of re-entry, of obtaining employment or enrolling in educational classes or on-the-job training to further ensure a stable lifestyle.

Our vision is to serve and develop housing for more than 150 at risk residents in multiple locations – short stay to longer retraining programs. The model uses an “each one, teach one” style of coaching and mentoring, that focuses on health, addiction recovery, functional literacy, life skills training, job retraining, and community living. It also focuses on case management, relationships, and restorative justice principles.

We start small, by fulfilling the basic human needs of safety – where they can go to simply think and wind down, and start the healing process.   They learn how to self-manage and self-regulate in relationships with others, then how to go back into the workforce.


Retraining in a new field of education and employment is typically necessary.  Their old situation was insufficient, and didn’t work to start with, and now they have a record that stops easy employment.  So, they need a new path to economic self-sufficiency.  The need for education is beyond gaining a GED.  More than 40% of Whatcom County inmates are of second grade levels, and may have only basic reading, writing, and math skills. They will need tutoring, or a trade skill to develop.

We will team up with other service providers to help people look anew at what is available to them,in order to meet the market demand where it is today.  Some can enroll in local classes. For those who have no marketable skill, our goal is develop self-sufficient businesses and hands-on learning programs where they can be taught how to work from entry-level up.  We will work with existing non-profits who offer solutions, then with employers and entrepreneurs to create new opportunities and apprenticeship programs.  Job coaches will be mentors who understand; have lived the experience themselves, and been successful, working hard to get back to work after their arrest or incarceration.


After analyzing data about Whatcom County’s Justice system for the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force, dated November 2017, the Vera Institute of Justice published a report that identified “the following factors contributing to jail overuse in Whatcom County:

  • Most admissions (62%) into the jail had non-felony charges as the most serious charge.
  • Charges related to substance use are a significant driver of both admissions and lengths of stay.
  • People who are pre-trial make up a significant portion of the Average Daily Population of the jail.
  • It is likely that some of the people in the jail have behavioral health needs that would be better served in the community Nearly one-third (32%) of people  admitted to jail were referred to jail behavioral health services.
  • The Whatcom County Superior, District, and Bellingham Municipal Courts are not meeting prescribed time standards for resolving cases.
  • Native American, Black, and Hispanic people are over-represented in the jail population.”

Our Coalition has been interviewing people who have been arrested, jailed and who have gone through the justice system.  We have found that at the street level analysis that virtually all the people who get arrested for non-violent situations, are getting arrested because they are emotionally hurting in the first place.  Their emotional vulnerability caused them to make a mistake of some kind that turned into an accident or unfortunate incident.  Specifically they may have used poor judgement, were impaired by self-medicating with alcohol or with legal or illegal drugs, or they were distressed and dealing with an emotional upheaval in their life.

We found that a high number of these people would be far better served by being diverted out of the “jail and punishment based system” to get help with emotional resilience, conflict resolution, social coping and life skills.  It would yield a far better return to the citizens, to their families and to our community rather than throwing them into a destructive spiral that causes them to losing their capacity to get back to work.

Reading the chart above shows the debilitating sequence of destruction that afflicts families after a family member makes a mistake and gets into trouble by an arrest and jailing.

It is counterproductive to a healthy community, and directly contributes to poverty.

It’s complicated.

It’s ultimately a contrarian lose/lose/lose game.

People try to simplify the question of the growth of mass incarceration as a Good Guy vs. Bad Guy problem.  Or as a good vs. evil problem.  Or as a safety problem, like how we used the Sheriff out west to solve the range wars before we had modern day crime-fighters.

No.  These are all false hero-villian misnomers that have been cultivated by decades of avoiding the original class or racial biases that arose from from slavery and genocide and developed into mass incarceration.

They avoid examining the misuse of the law and justice system as it has been commandeering and by a big business economic game that runs the power grid of a civic community.  It is a game running  below the surface, hidden in plain sight in polite, privileged social circles – where people don’t want to talk about the misery of conflict and the devastation of their family members by a flawed system.

It hurts.

So instead, leaders of commerce and industry, of institutions and the law deny, avoid and coverup to pretend that it is ok to keep doing the same thing.  Typically because we don’t know how to solve such a huge, systemic  problem.

The problem has been covered up by the story that punishment is the antidote to crime, and that increasing taxes are the antidote to a failing business model.  The story has sold and propped up entire market segments.  And it has worked to help us stay busy so we, the people, don’t have to address the debilitating fact that abuse addiction, punishment, jail to prison pipeline business patterns have been formed in our marketplace and they are truly business patterns, sales systems, and dramas that do not work for a country that prides itself on the ideal of freedom.

This story that people are “criminals who deserve to be punished” is a flawed belief that is unsustainable.

It is a story this is debilitating, and it is harming people for real.

It has taken years to examine and diagram the sales, marketing and business problem up close and personal in our local jail and justice system.  It started as research into how it was that our top three elected law enforcement officials kept striving to pass a huge jail tax to build a big prison-like, (but supposedly local jail).  But they did not have a true Needs Assessment and the plan did not pass muster, so over time the voters kept raising objections and resistance and we kept voting it down.

But these officials (with a 44 year veteran prosecutor) kept trying to bully us into buying it.  So our Coalition started researching it.  We went deeper and deeper into the social and political psychosis of the problem.  Today we have finally diagrammed the flawed business model to our satisfaction.

This illustration is the story of how the money drives the hidden dynamics of the game.  It is a diagram of how the big money is extracted from citizens to flow through and drive a highly complex tax addictive and abuse driven business model.  It illustrates how the market for government and jail services locally is just one conversation.  That spawns the demand for state and regional business growth in different sectors,.  Then how it guts and consumes the people and the families who get caught in the system.

In other words, the business model (sold as being tough on crime, or as public safety) is underwritten by the people through our taxes and our trust of the legal authorities.  The people who become the prey are those who are poor, abused and broken by trauma and fear become the commodity.  that churns through the system repeatedly.  Each person who fails increases in value to the economic system.  So as the recidivism rate increases, the mass incarceration industry expands.  It is a vicious and closed loop  system that profits on the destruction of people.

The good news is that the story is a poor habit.  Fear a poor habit, the business model is a poor habit.


And destructive habits can be changed and replaced by regenerative habits that yield a different result.

Over decades as the costs of jailing people have escalated and the criminal justice system has failed economically and socially, the politicians, the media and the industries that profit from mass incarceration have covered up the problem.  WE can change the habit when we understand it.

Hear is the habit of behavior we can change, as people across the nation:

  • The problem has been an emotional hot potato.  So people are vulnerable to manipulation.  So, lets simply talk about it.
  • Fiscally it has been a nightmare for the local, state and national economy.  So let’s stop putting money into jail expansion and instead invest iin people, in health, in recovery. We will get a better return for the taxpayers dollars.
  • It is a political nightmare since leadership has been lacking solutions.  Well, the next few years are significant times to bring up innovative solutions and implement them.  Let’s do that.

This whole thing is a trillion dollar media, marketing and political self-destructive business economy that is profiteering off the self-destruction.  So let’s stop buying into it…let’s build an economy that revitalizes our local communities, our people.  Let’s start healing people from the grassroots up. Start looking for solutions in your community, and share them.

Invest in people, instead of extracting from them.  It works. It is a self-renewing business model.  We will be sharing more soon.

Statement on Nationwide Prison Strike

NEW YORK, NY – Today, incarcerated men and women in prisons across 17 states began a  19 day strike to draw attention to the poor conditions they face and to demand change for all those who live and work in prisons across the country.

Nicholas Turner, President of the Vera Institute of Justice, released the following statement:

“Our country has a long and fraught history of dehumanizing incarceration, rooted in racial oppression. The fundamental experience remains one of hardship and isolation that produces irreparable harm. It is imperative that Americans listen closely to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. Through the Nationwide Prison Strike, the committee and its allies are forcefully protesting conditions that affect the lives of 2.2 million people who are locked up, their families and their communities. These are conditions that the American public has neglected – malignly – for years. Different from other elements of justice reform where people can see evidence that undermines the flawed assumptions that the system is working – videos of police brutality, imposition of bail in public courtrooms – most people are blind when it comes to prison conditions. What happens behind those grey walls is obscured from public view. This is what the committee is telling us.

Radical change and reimagining is needed—not only to disrupt the habit of current practices, but also to break with historical legacy. We stand with the men and women in prisons nationwide who are peacefully advocating for their rights, and we urge the reshaping of the practice of imprisonment by grounding it in a foundational commitment to human dignity.”

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