Domestic Terrorists

blog post photo

by Natalie Jaime
Associate Producer

April 17, 2010 — Denver County Jail

Well, we’ve spent a little over four days now filming in Denver, Colorado, and the big story appears to be the melting pot of gangs that exists here. According to Chief Diggins of the Denver County Jail, over half of the inmates here are involved in gang activity, and many belong to a local gang called the Gallant Knights Insane, or GKI. Our goal right now is to identify a GKI character and possibly one or two other gang characters, which shouldn’t be too difficult.

At this point, we have been shooting in both the Denver County Jail and the Denver City Jail (the latter of which is primarily used for booking), but moving forward I think we will spend much more of our time focusing on the County Jail. Unlike the City Jail, the Denver County Jail is old and dilapidated, leading many inmates to make shanks out of the crumbling facility. In addition to that, the County Jail will also begin transferring inmates to a new facility in downtown Denver in a couple of weeks, which would be great to catch on film!

April 20, 2010 — Denver County Jail

One of the overriding themes that we’ve encountered time and time again in jails and prisons around the United States is the heavy burden that mentally ill offenders place on correctional facilities and staff. Over the past two decades, dozens of mental hospitals in the United States have closed down due to budget cuts and government streamlining, leaving many psychiatric patients to fend for themselves on the streets – and often wind up in jail. A recent study even suggests that the severely mentally ill are three times more likely to wind up in jail than in a hospital.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to interview one of the many mentally ill offenders at Denver County Jail, Mario Palomino. On the surface, Palomino appears to be a ‘normal’ career criminal (if there is such a thing). He’s been arrested for everything from violent crimes to petty ones and has been in-and-out of prison for over twenty years. But, very recently, Palomino began opening up to the jail staff about the fact that he was sexually abused as a 4 year-old boy. Palomino blames much of his recent criminal activity on this childhood trauma, along with the drugs and alcohol that he used to cover up his pain. While I am no medical or psychiatric expert, I got the impression from meeting Palomino that his problems do not just stem from a ‘decision’ to become criminal, but from psychological issues that can likely only be confronted with intense therapy and medication. And, unfortunately, many of the officers that we’ve met at Denver County Jail and elsewhere admit that they are not trained to deal with the influx in mentally ill offenders.

April 27, 2010 — Denver County Jail

Today, we had our “personal” interview with Elias Diggins, the chief of the Denver County Jail. While it’s often customary for us to interview the wardens and chiefs of the facilities that we visit, the interviews are usually used for factual purposes only. But in this case, Chief Diggins has a story that could easily be made into a film of its own.

Chief Diggins miraculously stayed on the ‘straight and narrow’ path despite intense pressure from some family and friends to participate in criminal activity. As a result of his childhood experiences, Diggins is now personally invested in reaching out to Denver youth to educate them about gangs and alternatives to gang lifestyle.

But what is perhaps the most shocking about Diggins’ story is the fact that he actually spent much of his childhood visiting his father in the very jail that he now runs. In his interview today, Diggins talked openly about the impression that he first had of the Denver County Jail as a child (as an intimidating, scary place) and how ironic it is that he would eventually grow up to run that very jail. His passion and commitment to improving his community in Denver are truly inspirational and one that movies are made of.

Video Preview: “Domestic Terrorists” — See why Chief Diggins and his deputies call the Denver County Jail the toughest beat that any officer can walk.

Don’t miss Lockdown Gang Central premiering August 3rd at 9P et/pt.