I was given an article recently by Katie Rose Quandt and Alexi Jones titled Research Roundup: Incarceration can cause lasting damage to mental health. The article went in depth about the effects of our current system of penology on the mental health of those affected with mental health issues prior to being incarcerated. But what was most fascinating for me was the evidence that those who previously had no mental health issues were being subjected to such cruel conditions that even those leaving prison are experiencing lasting detrimental affects to their mental health. The affectation is known as “Post Incarceration Syndrome.”
The article took into consideration what I have found to be the most prevalent factor surrounding the mental deterioration in the carceral environment… STAFF. I will always remain fair in my assessments and never place all staff in the same category, but like the inmates, the staff that make the incarcerative experience a pure living hell, as opposed to a corrective endeavor, without a doubt have the most influence, and hence, the biggest impact on the mental health of prisoners.
A recent experience may explain. I am currently housed at a prison in Lake County Florida, appropriately Lake Correctional Institution. At this prison there is no library, no law library, nor any vocational education programs. There is space for a limited number of prisoners to work on obtaining a G.E.D., and a recently-begun wellness education program. There are also some religious volunteers and someone from Toastmaster’s International that comes in once a week to facilitate a group known as the Gavel Club. I am a member of the Gavel Club and the Wellness class. Unfortunately, although the Wellness instructor is very adept at relating her subject matter, almost none of the material is applicable to prison life. We have wellness education in the morning, and a coinciding recreation period in the afternoon. On this particular afternoon after walking several laps around the rec yard I sat my arthritic self on an incline in the grass to rest my knees. The next thing I knew two newer officers, officers, arroyo and stewart, were standing over me ordering me to get up and get moving. I attempted to explain that I had just walked several laps around the rec yard and was resting because I suffer from arthritis. None of the precipitating factors made any difference to these two officers. I know this because they said so when they replied, “I don’t care, get up and get moving like I told you.” I then tried to explain that the Wellness instructor is aware of my situation but was again informed that that held no weight with these two power hungry officers, that they had given me an order. When I asked if they would treat their grandfather this way that was all the reason they needed to whip out the handcuffs and begin the walk of shame across the rec yard with their quota of radical senior citizens in tow on the road to confinement where I would begin days if not weeks…yes you guessed it, doing nothing but lying on my back. The worst part for me would not be the loss of what little stimuli we do have by being placed into confinement, it was being essentially arrested by these two officers simply because of the power play that was created by them in the first place. When we reached the captain for approval to “lock me up,” thankfully he was somewhat level-headed and had the presence of mind to inform the officers that “the thing that started the whole thing,” my laying in the grass during recreation, I was actually allowed to do. The captain left it up to the officers whether or not to place me in confinement and I have no idea why they declined but by that time the damage to my psyche had already been done. While removing the hand cuffs the other officer had to get in one last jab by making the statement, “and wipe that smirk off your face.”
Now mind you, I’m sixty years old being ordered around by two recent high school graduate misandrists because FDC has lowered the recruitment age to 18. What can possibly be accomplished by placing an 18 year old in a position of authority over a sixty year old? The only thing to be accomplished is having a body to fill the position. There is absolutely zero rehabilitation even if that were the goal. Which it is not. The end result was that I was ordered to leave the rec yard and return to the dormitory. So instead of hitting what they were shooting at, me to be physically active on the rec yard, I went to the dorm and proceeded to lay back on my bunk doing nothing. Not only was my physical well being completely disregarded by officers arroyo and stewart, but it was literally days before my mental functioning began to process the event without anger, depression, and the feeling of degradation. And to be quite honest I still have not gotten completely over it because I find myself doing everything possible to avoid these two officers even in passing. The real question is will I ever be able to deal with life on life’s own terms again whether inside or outside these fences?
It is not surprising the recidivism rate is as high as it is as mental illness appears to be the touchstone of the largest incarceral system the world has ever known.
By the way, did I mention Lake C.I. is a designated mental health facility. A lot of good that does.
I’ve been a longtime doormat — I’m the youngest of nine. If someone tells me I’m being untruthful I can show them my scars. It would help me greatly to write appropriately, but I would rather my pieces be a place where I can bleed my abstractions. I’ve been abused by the hierarchy of those around me, as I grew up. I think I made a damn good punching bag too. Somewhere along middle school I found it was just easier to be walked on — obviously the root of the cuddly welcome-mat reference.
To set a premise you deserve to know: I’ve committed offenses to potentially put me away for life. I based my choices on the rate in which my tragedies moved through my pain and immaturely blamed my pain like I never had choice. I grew my first teeth amongst torture and beatings, I was a lowlife walking in circles until I came to prison. On my own accord I committed crimes that I deserve to be here for, no excuses. I am a more responsible person now, and this, my nakedness, is a step towards accountability — I’ve changed my trajectory. I am someone different and I’m telling the truth.
That’s actually generic for a prisoner to proclaim, so I can see someone outright saying in their mind ‘he deserves to be there and he’s deserves to die in there.’ I don’t blame them. Some might even think ‘he’s the same person, and he’s lying,’ but think about it. If I outright said ‘I’m the same person,’ and I was telling their truth, I’d be lying. That’s a seperate article, and only mentioned to reveal my mentality — this essay is to support ideas that I am someone different, representing a new avenue for rawness to read.
To brace that argument even more, I’ll begin again with a softer start: if you decide to dig deeper, you’ll find out, I am not suppossed to be here anyway. I am not supposed to be allowed to practice my culture and celebrate my identity, I am not supposed to know this language, these words, their syntax, or any other composite extractions of voice by the systematic mechanisms of language arts. This government had tried to exterminate any chance of my existence, so I am an all-around contradiction.
My name is Isadore Stanislaus White II. I am part of a large tribe spreading into two countries, across two provinces and two states, maybe more. I was born in the boondocks, Creston, British Columbia. I am named after chief Isadore White, my great-uncle of the Lower Kootenai Band. A problem I have with that is no one ever stopped and thought that maybe telling a child that they are named after someone who was great might turn that child into a problem himself. That stabbing title has always been a burden to me. I use to cry over it when I was alone as a child. I remember hiding in closets or under stairs and sobbing to be anyone different, because I hated my name. It was as if I’d have to be somebody, whether I wanted to be — or not to be. But is that not the question? Oddly, I was raised in the most desperate parts of Seattle, Washington. I followed a yellow-lined road to the Northwest, on Christmas Eve of ’94, where I found, in the emerald city, more details on my becoming.
In reality I don’t want to be significant I just want to be thrown enough disgust from fate to say my peace, turn society in a better direction than yesterday, earn my trust back, and when I’m ready to die, bow out with whatever dignity the universe has to spare.
As a natural inhabitant of this continent, I am a Grassdancer, my Father was a Grassdancer, My namesake was a Grassdancer and, his father’s father’s father was a Grassdancer. It is a vital role — to be one said charmer of grass, in my culture. A grassdancer is to go ahead of the tribe into unknown circumstances, to pave the way, scout the herds of game that sustain the tribe, to tend the lands by flattening the grass so that when the elders, men, women and children arrive, they can set up their tipis. That embodies where I am at in life — to venture forth into unknowns, to see what lies in my people’s future, to make a choice of growth, not on behalf of what I am part of, but, in sacrifice —of my pride, my ego, my honor, anything that would urge me to base my decisions on my hypersensitivity — to learn to be a device of something bigger than myself. That is my fate as a Grassdancer. My diplomacy is fact, that is the way of it.
Being dealt adult situations from a tender age of wonderment had traumatized me. I’ve walked through life knowing I am even more of a punching bag, not just from my bloodline, but for American culture — just look at what people wear on Halloween. Being a seed from those treated as something less than human, of those murdered by terrorism in an attempt to cut the chain of my genetics and having those dossiers kept from history books, by government, in the beginning of a story I am of, changes a child’s dreams. I hope to alter the justification of this society miseducating of western culture’s largest genocidal slaughter before I am laid to rest.
Beyond 1491, my gamble on existing had been logarithmically whittled down, by 1745, on this soil, ironically proclaiming equality. Seeing that publicly walked over like a sidewalk, being too dirty for the sandals of the statue of liberty to touch, and watching that display hide that constitutional slight of defiling blood across entire tribes of natural inhabitants of this continent buried by aristocratic business transactions carried out by religious deserters mutilating my probability to be, in plain sight, as a star-spangled banner of liberty and freedom — that is my reality.
Who the hell am I, but a prison anyway? This is not to answer my own rhetorical kindling, here. My intentions were only to vibrate your energy — this is my flavor. Thank you for reading.
Isadora Whitee was born in Canada and raised in America. He’d been a person forgotten by his cultivation: physically, verbally, emotionally, and sexaully abused throughout his life. He escaped his pain and his confusing surroundings through drugs and alcohol, and became a full-blown alcoholic at the age of fifteen. Through his conviction and sentence, the only way that he sees justice for his mistakes is to take ownership for himself and all his actions by inwardly growing. Izzie has received a formal education during life as state property, and has now taken many programs. Objectively, he sees prison as a beacon of enlightenment to show him how to he accountable. In contrast to a majority of his poverty-stricken life, he carried the beneficial need of writing with him —these are his writings.
So many people who become incarcerated have no idea that just because we are behind the fences doesn’t mean that we have no rights. One of the most important rights is that of communication. We can, for all intents and purposes communicate with our lawyers and loved ones, and letters to state agencies and media are also protected rights.
However, the penal system that has no oversight and has a culture attempted through the excuse of penalogical interests and even by power drunk staff can and does read and withhold mail that may incriminate those powers that be by simply rejecting or censoring incoming and outgoing mail. But it goes further when they use your mail against you under the guise of being a threat to the order and security of the institution.
If any of you are familiar with the Uniform Commercial Code and becoming a sovereign citizen of the United States, there are real patriots out there that have legitimate companies helping people with a myriad of complex filing issues. I had written to such an organization out of Georgia. I’m not aware of other state’s decisions on this but the Florida Department of Corruptions, with their statutorily given right to make their own rules, has by rule and threat of punishment, made it an offense to even possess the Uniform Commercial Codes. Not being as knowledgeable, I am curious, so I wrote to this organization. My letter was rejected and sent back under the fallback go to that I was “being a threat to the security of the institution”.
Something about pursuing any legal means necessary to expose them for the cruel culture that has been prevelant for so long buys you special attention. So I was called to the gang Sergeant’s office because I apparently became part of a security threat group seeking out information to help gain my freedom. I am 55 years old and have never been in trouble in my life, but now I am supposedly on an FBI watch list. Normally I would laugh this off but later, I applied to be placed in an honor dorm with mostly age-grouped inmates and was denied as being a gang member.
Is it overkill? Probably so, but beyond that it’s motivated by fear that someone may draw attention to the American plague that is our prisons.
Shake down Go ahead and take it from me Shake down In the middle of the night Shake down I’m sleeping here can’t you see Shake down it’s not alriiiiiight…
Although this sounds like a parody from weird Al Yankovic of a famous Tom Petty song, it really is, by definition, criminal behavior perpetuated by prison and jail guards worldwide.
I’ve used the comparison of seeing your child, while playing with another, strike their playmate — and then as punishment, you spank or strike the offending tyke. I think that most rational people would view this as a negative feeding a negative. You cannot draw something positive from a negative. The message to your little one is not that it’s okay to hit in certain situations, it is more apt to be black and white. It’s okay for someone bigger to hit someone smaller.
It applies not just to small humans because — even though our thinking process matures as we grow — there are basic universal laws which cannot be adjusted according to the whims of humankind. That being said, there is only one logical outcome of producing an environment that is not only negative in context, but petty in execution.
Let me define the term shakedown for those who aren’t familiar. It is a search of property for contraband. Now, picture if you can a structure more impervious than an ancient castle, combined with Fort Knox and The White House. The — we’ll call them residents — do not have physical contact with anybody except those who conduct the shakedowns. It ain’t rocket science to figure out how contraband gets into jails and prisons. But that’s not the focus of this essay. The law enforcement mentality places an assumption of guilt on the inmates, and a superiority complex on the administration. It appears that the main objective is to punish those who are in their custody and control. At every turn, most officials do whatever they can to dehumanize the prisoners. Shakedowns are a primary vehicle for that, and are routinely performed by 20 or more officers charging into the dorm in the wee hours of the morning, turning the area into a stadium of bright lights, screaming at the top of their lungs to agitate the prisoners, just in case they were able to fall asleep on the slab of metal called a bunk.
You would think that with all this effort the haul would be everything from weapons of mass destruction to sophisticated communications devices. I’m not saying that it never happens that a cell phone or a plastic bag with homemade wine is found, but it is the exception. The big score this last siege produced was some fingernail clippers that had apparently found their way into my legal work upon transferring from prison to county jail for some hearings. Had it not been for the incompetence of the officers performing the intake, the nail clippers that inadvertently ended up at the bottom of a very full file would have not made it to the dorm in the first place.
It goes to a whole new level of petty when generally all that is harvested from these maneuvers of dehumanization is some extra sheets and a plastic bag being used to keep a t-shirt clean so when you appear in court you can present yourself as somewhat human. But the level of psychological warfare is evidenced by the seizure of items as benign as a rubber band holding some notes in an address book, or a paper clip keeping things organized – which is most difficult considering all the confusing rules for adhering to legal procedures in the first place.
But there’s more. If you happen to be fortunate enough to be able to purchase a bowl and lid from commissary and it is found with food in it, they will dump the food and have sometimes been known to break the bowl itself. God forbid you save some bread from your tray for the peanut butter and jelly you purchased from commissary. It’s another tactic to dehumanize and punish. This is in a county jail where most are pre-trial detainees who have not even been convicted of a crime.
I have personally seen guards slinging property and legal documents everywhere and squirting toothpaste onto it as it lies in the sink/toilet, smashing purchased food, leaving what semblance of order you may have had in shambles. A pile of trash. The purpose of this of course is to remind you who has all the power. Who cares if it perpetuates and reinforces the negative energy that brings people to prison? This is the oxymoron of the department of corrections. The staff, being undereducated, falls prey to the big brother mentality while continuing less than ethical or professional behavior by retaliation through shake downs. Prisoners have very little, and there is comfort in having a few personal effects around them. It helps to maintain some sanity. Until bang! Everybody up, we need to see if you have any of the contraband that our fellow officers are smuggling in! If it weren’t so annoying, it would be laughable. So every night, you go to sleep wondering if this will be your night. Until you make up your mind to detach from it. That’s a measure of success.
I read that in the 1930s, law enforcement were running amok and instead of arresting those involved in criminal activity, they would just shake them down, taking whatever they wanted, and many across the country were arrested and imprisoned. This resulted in prisoners employing the same behavior with each other on the inside. You don’t shine the light on these shakedowns and risk being called a snitch. I believe not only is there a duty to shine the light but also point the proverbial finger. These doubly negative actions will not change until we change them. That begins with personal accountability and understanding the importance of change.
Prisons may have come a long way since the 1930s but God knows there is much room for improvement. Conducting searches with some semblance of care to find contraband supplied by those who are considered the ‘good guys’ is a start to treating humans humanely – one shake down at a time.
We watched him dying. Everyone on our wing had their own diagnosis.
“It’s jaundice. Look at how yellow he is.”
“How can you tell? He’s hispanic.”
“Next time you get close to him, look at his eyes. They are yellow.”
“I bet he has liver cancer. Look at how skinny he’s gotten. If he weighs a hundred pounds I’d be surprised.”
Several of us wrote requests to medical. “You really must help this man.” Somebody took a guard quietly to the side of the dayroom after our requests went unanswered.
“You see that guy standing on the wall next to 101 cell?”
“He’s dying. When you do an in and out, take a close look at him. He never goes to chow, his celly says he has chronic diarrhea. Somebody has got to do something for him. Medical is ignoring us.”
At first, our attentions were discreet. But later we openly made pests of ourselves, asking him daily if he needed help, if he was feeling okay. His stoic refusals led us to believe he was committing an agonizingly slow suicide. Finally, medical responded, though we were certain it was too late. He refused treatment time and time again. To the Warden’s credit (how word reached him nobody is sure), when he saw the man in the infirmary, he was having none of their official resignation.
“What are you doing for this man?”
“Nothing. He’s refusing treatment.”
“Oh, hell no! He’s going to the hospital. Now!”
That was the last we saw of him. We’ve heard nothing since about whether he lived or died but we kept him in our prayers.
It’s probably like this in other states but certainly in Texas, the prison system is loathe to even hint that they employ people who care about inmates. Thus, every nurse station is labeled an ‘infirmary,’ every form requesting medical care is a ‘sick call,’ and you pick up your medication at the ‘pill window.’ Outside. Rain, snow, sleet, or shine.
To say that prisons do a poor job of delivering health care is a gross understatement. Prison Legal News has been at the forefront of reporting and litigation on behalf of inmates who’ve suffered medical malpractice. You can find, in their archives, article upon article describing lawsuits against prisons which have neglected inmates to the point of serious injury and death. In many cases, suffering could have easily been prevented.
A libertarian-minded person might argue that government hires the least qualified since they pay below-market labor rates; look at the VA for instance. There may be some truth in that. Yet, incompetence alone can’t account for such widespread malpractice. Diseases that are routinely vanquished outside prisons are rampant and life-threatening inside them. When is the last time you heard of someone dying of a staph infection or sepsis in a hospital? It happens rarely because staph and sepsis rarely go unrecognized or untreated. In prison?
“Here’s an Ibuprofen. Go back to your cell.”
And that is after one has waited up to 72 hours for the infirmary to respond to your sick call request.
This indifference isn’t because medical staff are incompetent but because they’re trained to be belligerent. That sounds like hyperbole, doesn’t it? it’s not.
Not all belligerence leads to injury or death. Most refusals to provide care merely result in dramatic cost savings. Let’s face it, garden variety colds and flus resolve themselves. Nobody dies. They’re uncomfortable is all. Inmates will be forced to work anyway, threatened with disciplinary hearings which can jeopardize parole chances, a win-win for prison wardens.
Not all malpractice results in legal action. Very few inmates have the resources to litigate a malpractice suit.
An inmate on my unit, we’ll call him Bob, was diagnosed with brain cancer his last time down. He was given an emergency parole but was convicted of another DUI and sent back to prison. After arriving, he was transferred to the Mumford Unit to have his tumor removed. The surgery required that doctors cut away a piece of Bob’s skull. Once his tumor was removed, the piece of bone that had been cut away was fastened back to his skull using four screws and two metal plates.
About five months ago, Bob showed me a two-inch piece of bone that had pushed itself through a wound in his scalp. Also pushed out of his scalp was a titanium screw. Alarming to say the least. Bob put in a sick call request and the nurse was concerned enough to schedule a trip to the neurologist.
Going to see a medical specialist in a Texas prison is an ordeal. TDCJ does not have the resources to employ specialists at every unit. Depending on the type of specialist, an inmate might have to be transported hundreds of miles by bus, cuffed to another prisoner. In the worst case, you’re chained, shackled and hog-tied. Prior to travel, you’re required to pack all of your property and inventory it. Then at 6 AM, you’re taken to a holding cell where you can wait up to four hours for the bus to arrive.
Bob was shackled and hog-tied on his trip to the neurologist. Not once, not twice, but three times was he sent, each trip excruciating and humiliating. On the third trip he was able to converse with the specialist.
“Bob, I have good news and bad news.”
“Okay, what’s the good news?”
“The good news is you’re cancer-free. Your MRIs are negative. No sign of cancer at all.”
“That is good news! What’s the bad news?”
“We can’t see any sign of missing bone, nor can we find any of the screws we used to re-attach the piece we cut out during your surgery.”
“They aren’t showing up. I can’t explain it really.”
Bob literally has three screws loose in his head somewhere. Unless he lodges a serious complaint, the medical professionals obligated to care for him have officially washed their hands of him.
Perhaps you’re still not convinced that belligerence is cultivated. TDCJ contracts its medical care to a corporation called UTMB*Correctional Managed Care, at several of its units. Outsourcing indemnifies it from medical malpractice lawsuits. It also jeopardizes its reputation for being tough on inmates by using a company that has the word ‘care’ in its name.
Dr. Erin Jones, who interned as a psychiatrist and has not even one hour of experience in osteopathy, was called as an expert witness by UTMB’s lawyers. In spite of her lack of experience, she was allowed to give testimony on Adams’ shoulder condition. More interesting was the beginning of her testimony on behalf of the defense.
Q: Then when you went to work for UTMB in the correctional managed health care system did you receive any kind of training?
A: Yeah, we had training that’s called NEO.
Q: What is that?
A: New Employee Orientation. And it’s — working in corrections is very different from working in free-world medicine. And so we had to learn —
Q: Explain to us why. What is different about it?
A: Well, there is a lot more patients that want something for secondary gain. There is — basically eighty to ninety percent of our patients are either lying or exaggerating on their symptoms to try to get something. [Treatment, perhaps?]
And then, my job every day — and it’s a challenge — is that I have to find that ten to twenty percent that are really sick and take care of them because they need my help, you know. But then, you know, I don’t want to waste my time on something that’s not real, you know.
There you have it. A UTMB employee admits, under oath, that UTMB trained her to treat up to 90% of her patients as if they are lying. It’s truly absurd for Dr. Jones to complain that her job is so difficult. Imagine coming home from work and reporting that you had a terrible time disregarding 90% of your duties. Whew!
“That ten percent I did was hard but I enjoyed doing it.”
Jones offered no empirical evidence to support the claim that such a high percentage of inmates are lying and I suspect that its because UTMB doesn’t offer any either. Plain, common sense suggests the claim is a fabrication. Texas inmates are charged a $100 annual co-pay for any non-chronic care (even though they are not paid for their work). Chronic care is care for issues such as diabetes, cancer, or pre-existing conditions discovered during prisoner intake. Why would an inmate lie ‘to get something’ when it costs them $100 to do so?
It’s preposterous to conclude this unless you are interested in getting paid for work you refuse to perform. Planned, systemic belligerence. It’s not health care, it’s not medical practice, it’s hate medicine. No amount of honey can make it palatable.