Every day, an elderly man arrives at the lawn in front of the governor’s residence in Lincoln at 7 a.m. sharp. He then puts up his folding chair and a couple of protesting signs on the ground and sits there waiting for the governor to address him. This silent protest ends each day at about 4 p.m.
The man is Paul Feilmann, a former mental health specialist, who now volunteers at prisons. He wants to point out the urgency of tackling the reform of the criminal justice system in Nebraska. And this is his way of doing that. He claimed that the situation at state prisons and underage rehabilitation centers was alarming and that something needed to be done before something terrible happened.
This 63-year-old man found the motivation for his actions after hearing the reports on the poor conditions in several imprisonment facilities in the State of Nebraska. The most significant challenges these facilities have to face on a daily basis are the shortage of staff and high circulation of substitutes.
When you add a problem of overcrowding to the previous issue, you get a vicious circle that is hard to find a plausible solution for. There are about 1,900 people above the maximum capacity of prisons. And this data has been an incentive for a federal lawsuit.
Mr. Fielmann claims that this is not a problem of mismanagement. He simply states that there is not enough space for the ever-growing number of prisoners. He points out that he is not happy with the effort made to overcome these problems that are getting more severe every day.
The Response of the Officials
The governor regularly passes by Mr. Fielmann and his posters. However, no one has addressed this man so far. When asked about this silent protest, the governor’s spokesperson stated that the governor gathered a working group last month that reviewed the conditions in both prisons for adults and rehabilitation centers for juvenile offenders. He then invited the protester to get familiar with the official strategic plan issued by the Department of Correction and some other efforts Nebraska officials had made.
Mr. Fielmann now volunteers at two rehab organizations for ex-convicts. But this spring, he fervently supported the bill in the state’s legislature that demanded a review of every case where a prisoner had spent more than three months in a solitary unit.
Mr. Fielmann makes good use of his time spent in front of the governor’s home. He talks to people passing by and has live Facebook streams every hour, where he explains the motives and goals of his protest.
The Response of the Public
People gladly approach him and share their views on these complex and painful issues. Some of these people have served their time in prison and now want to express their opinion. One of these ex-prisoners said that the key to keeping children out of jail was discipline.
There were officials among those who have visited Fielmann so far. One of them was Douglas County Jail director, and another one was an official from the same county in charge of dealing with juvenile offenders.
Fielmann concluded that he had chosen the governor’s lawn because he believed the governor had the political power to propose a bill that would deal with these criminal justice issues.
He also said he believed that this reform of the system had to include the whole community much more. He also hoped that helping underage offenders whose parents were in prison would be one of the measures as well as turning ex-convicts into productive citizens.
Fielmann also stated that he protested to raise awareness of the public about the urgency of the criminal justice reform in Nebraska.