Brooke Hogan and Nick Hogan
Steve Granitz/WireImage; Dan Steinberg/AP
07/29/2008 at 02:00 PM EDT
Jail has changed Nick Hogan for the worse, sister Brooke says.
"They had broken his spirit," Brooke Hogan, 20, tells PEOPLE. "When they put him in solitary, he was on the outs. I was worried about him, and his safety, and his well-being."
But now that Nick's out of a 28-day stint in solitary where he was rapidly losing weight, and in the general population with more privileges, he's turning back into the little brother she knew.
"We get to visit him three times a week like everybody else, but it sucks," she says. "I can't just walk over to his room and give him a hug, or talk to him, or confide in him. ... At least he's not locked in hell, basically. And his personality is slowly coming back. I bring that out of him."
Nick, who just turned 18, is serving an eight-month jail sentence
for reckless driving in an August 2007 car accident
in Clearwater, Fla., that left friend John Graziano
incapacitated for life.
Brooke, who is currently starring in her own reality show, Brooke Knows Best
, on VH1 says her brother's fame has caused him trouble in jail – but nothing he can't handle.
"He's been threatened," she says. "Thank God he's big and he can hold his own."
As for Brooke, her jail visits bring her painful experiences, too, like when she runs into her estranged mother, Linda, who's involved in increasingly ugly divorce
proceedings from dad Hulk Hogan.
"I see her at visitation, but I don't talk to her," Brooke says.