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Suffering in a Six by Nine Cell   2 comments

He left the classroom, which was nothing more than a converted trailer, and walked out onto the San Quentin prison yard.  He sat down on the deserted baseball infield legs crossed in his prison blues.  Nobody noticed him at first until he started ripping up handulls of grass and shoving them in his mouth.  Finally a guard took note and walked over to the fence surrounding the baseball field.  He wanted to know what the prisoner was doing and ordered him to stop.  No response.  It was obvious the man was having some kind of  mental breakdown.

Guards at San Quentin, as they are in other jails and prisons, are taught not to enter a potentially dangerous situation with a prisoner without at least eight other guards.  This is to completely imobilize the inmate and not risk their own personal safety.  This particular one was sitting quietly on the ground shoving gobs of turf in his own face. He was obviously a threat and needed to be beaten down before things got out of hand.

So, when the proper amount of guards amassed, they proceeded to approach the man and do just that.  In fact, they protected the prison so well  the man was actually removed from the institution…  By ambulance.   Once again things were safe again inside San Quentin from grass-eaters experiencing psychological breakdowns..

And the volunteer teacher showing great concern who ran outside to see what was happening to her student?  She was also removed from the prison.  Told she needed to concentrate on teaching, and not the delicate prison security maneuvers she knew nothing about.  “Next time stay in the trailer,” were the gruff instructions meted out to her.

If you are not shocked by this, you should be.  But go inside a prison like San Quentin for any length of time and you’ll start to see such abuses of the mentally ill.  Sans the beating,  many are not getting the proper treatment or follow up they would get on the street.  Most of these men, and women in crisis, don’t end up in the hospital.  They are thrown back in their six by nine cells to silently suffer by  themselves.

However, if inmates are hearing voices or anything that pronounced, they could be fortunate enough to end up in the prison hospital where they have a better chance of being treated for their mental illness.  But if you are severely depressed from bipolar illness, that’s ok. “You’re in prison.  You’re not supposed to be happy.” is what you might get back from a guard.

Can you imagine hitting bipolar rock bottom, locked in a jail cell and not getting the right medication, if any at all?  Writhing in deep depression, unable to sleep, not knowing if anybody will come help or if anyone is even thinking about you?  Or to be mistakenly denied your medication and going through serious withdraw symptoms?  And in the middle of your dry heaving, severe muscle pain and uncontrollable tears, you’re told the prison psychologist already went home for the weekend and will see you on Monday morning?  But you are expected to sit in your hot little decrepit yellowed paint peeling cell and wait while he plays a little golf, barbecues a few steaks, gets his Lexus detailed, screws his wife, takes an aspirin for a headache and indulges in all the other pleasantries of being free and mentally stable?

It pains me to my core to know things like this are going on everyday in the California correctional system.  And, I’m sure we aren’t the only state without basic compassion for human beings in mental crisis.  I don’t want to hear, “well, they did commit a crime.” I drove in the car pool lane two months ago by myself intentionally.  It was faster and I was late.  Spotted by the California Highway Patrol, I got a $350 ticket. Does this mean I should be denied on the scene care from an EMT if I ever get into a serious car accident?  Because I once drove in the carpool lane without another passenger on purpose?  Of course not.  So why is it if you commit a crime are you denied psychiatric care, or competent psychiatric care, for that matter?  Why don’t we just stone mentally ill prisoners while we’re at it?

Nobody knew or ever reported on the San Quentin incident.  How many more went un-noticed?   Think how you would feel being incarcerated and bipolar.  Would you feel confident you were getting the right care?  How would your anxiety level be locked in a six by nine cell with another grown man you don’t like?   Everyone is complaining around you.  Can you even make your voice heard?

Being locked up and denied your freedom is the punishment for committing certain crimes.   Mental suffering while locked up is not something the judge orders.  Yet, our prison systems in the United States continue to serve it up.  We have to learn to slip the cuffs of silence on the subject.