Inmate Testimony Day 3

The tenth day of trial, and the third day of inmate testimony, began with James Wilson, who described his childhood as a series of suicide attempts. He set himself on fire as a young child of seven or eight; then set the woods on fire and jumped in.

He was in 17 foster homes from the age of eight; he was in William S. Hall Psychiatric Institute, and by the time he was 18, he was incarcerated.  He described his current medication as having the effect of “slowing the voices down.”

Inmates consistently described problems with their prescription medications. From some not seeming to understand them or what they are for, to some who have side effects from many of the drugs, to others having effective drugs changed to those that are not as effective because the effective ones are no longer on the prescription formulary, to many saying they do not receive them regularly.

Wilson was asked “How long he had gone without meds” to which he testified, “between five days to a week. He said “I have withdrawal and end up on Crisis Intervention (CI).”

The mentally ill inmates described their counseling sessions consistently as very short – ranging from two to six minutes; with the longest interview length described as under 10 minutes. For the most part the counseling sessions were described as being through the cell door with no privacy or confidentiality, with inmates and corrections officers able to listen in.

The inmates described reprisals and humiliation from shared confidences, not only from other inmates, but from corrections officers as well. They described difficulty making requests to see their counselors or psychiatrists.

Crisis Intervention (CI) continues to be described by numbers of inmates from various prisons as a response to an attempt to hurt themselves or others. The mentally ill inmates are most often put in CI status for self-harm or threats to themselves. Confiding to your counselor that you feel suicidal is sufficient to be put on CI.

CI differs some between institutions, but much of the treatment is consistently described by the inmates. Most often the inmate is stripped naked, held in a bare concrete room that is filthy with blood and excrement of the previous occupants; more often than not the inmate is not given a blanket and must sleep on a bare cement floor, or in some prisons a steel platform. The room is kept freezing cold and, according to Wilson, “They take all your property out of the room; take your boxers, shower shoes and leave you in the cell; sometimes with a suicide blanket; most times you go days without it. They don’t give you no tissues to wipe yourself… you have to use your hand – whatever…”

He also described being left in the shower stall for four or five hours.

When asked what he perceived to be the reason for CI, he said “to help protect the individual from harming themselves.” When asked “Do you feel it accomplishes that?” He said, “I don’t believe it does, because the counselors don’t spend enough time … They don’t help address the situation that led up to the CI… they deny you use of blankets and tissue to punish you – to force you not to go on CI.”

The length of the time in a CI cell was described as ranging from 24 hours to over three weeks.

Wilson described a suicide attempt where officers found him hanging in his cell and cut him down. But before they did, he testified that they gassed him (used chemical pepper spray) while he was still hanging.

Describing what it felt like to be gassed, Wilson said, “Not very good. The gas they use – of course it burns; irritates my skin; they don’t give you a shower to clean it off. They had a capacity to turn off the water after they gas you – they turn off the toilet and water.”

Albert Kelly described having mental health issues since the age of six. He is in prison for several charges, including homicide. As a child he watched his father stab his mother 20-30 times in the head, resulting in her death. Kelly has been on the mental health caseload since arriving at prison.

He says his illness has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and bipolar and that without his medication he becomes paranoid and hallucinates: “personalities talk to me, in addition I become depressed.”

He described a pattern of being sprayed with chemical sprays and locked in CI frequently. H said he was sprayed “for not walking fast enough.” Another time he felt he was sprayed for no reason… "was confused; everyone was being loud; I was lost in my thoughts; confused… I was crying; he said I’m going to spray you again… why did he come – I became paranoid. I didn’t understand why officers were coming to take me; I didn’t get a shower any time after being sprayed."

He described the misery of the CI cell as having “No mattress; shoes or security blanket… you sleep standing up to try to stay warm; cold – steel bed or cement floor… cannot get comfortable; forced to stay up… that time was 30 something days… sometimes 4-6 days."

Kelly told about being “jumped on real bad by officers at Supermax unit” saying they were spraying at the door “real fast. I screamed I want to see my caseworker… they came in shields… seven to eight officers… they said it was because I refused to be handcuffed… you gotta understand… if you are real nice I’ll catch on… how can you expect me to obey if you act like you gonna kill me? I told them I wanted to see my counselor and told them I thought they were going to kill me. Next thing I know they just rolled in.

“They took me to the shower; must have knocked me out,” Kelly testified. “I woke up in the shower on my knees.”

Inmate Barton seemed agitated as he testified; he stated he has set his cell on fire in the past and has a diagnosis as a paranoid schizophrenic. He rocked slightly as he looked around and spoke about his ability to see fire and shadows all through the courtroom. He says the fire floating all around his cell burns him while he sleeps and he hears voices.

He said his medications are not helping control the symptoms: “Not at all… ain’t stopped. Been on ’em on and off… not working; I’m put on another or they might increase the dosage… then he like come back in 90 days and check the progress… but it’s the same. I don’t like taking them… so strong I might be… boom (leans forward quickly in his chair)… makes you dizzy and fall. Nobody check you.”

He described a medication that stopped the voices as having worked but had terrible side effects. “I took it but for three days I couldn’t move… then boom I’d fall.”

He described swallowing six razor blades: “I was in my room three weeks straight; so paranoid I don’t want to be around staff. In 2001, they pushed me down stairs. I don’t even go out for showers. No recreation; I’m in cell 24 hours a day – I read and write folks; the other half of my day is pacing back and forth back and forth just walking.”

He said he lost visitation privileges. “My last time to see my son was 2003 – he is 21 now.”

He described seeing his counselor, through a “locked solid steel door with bars… solid steel window… take the locked steel off; they don’t open the window except for laundry/sheets out. Or for the library to give you books; how do you communicate with a counselor? It’s so loud in that house – how can you hear?”

Christopher Pettit described being in restraints at Gilliam Psychiatric Hospital:

“I had cut myself with a paper clip I’d found on the window sill because the voices were bothering me so much. They put me in four-point restraints. They forced me to lie down on a steel bed on my back; my hands and feet were shackled with leather restraints connected to a piece of steel under the bed; I was placed there for 24 hours. It bothered me that (I was) laying in urine. It was cold, it stunk and I was lying in my own urine.”

Jonathan Roe has generalized anxiety and bipolar and antisocial personality disorders and began cutting himself in 2005.

He described getting sprayed with CO spray (pepper gas) at Broad River and not being allowed to wash the residue off for about a week. “I was not allowed to wash off or take a shower. I was kept in a locked up cell… the officer told me to deal with it – that I shouldn’t have done what I done.  It feels like you are set on fire; it burns your skin… causes burning of eyes… face… the gas will blister you if you don’t get it off… I tried to get it off in the holding cell but had no water so I washed in the toilet… it was burning really bad. I did the best I could, but I was denied access to shower for a week. It blistered.”

When asked if he reported it he replied “They had a nurse look at me before putting me in lockup and the nurse said I was fine.”

He described being put in the restraint chair after he cut himself twice.

He was shackled to the chair, with his hands and arms outstretched behind him and to the back – attached to the bed in a way that expert corrections witness Steve J. Martin has testified is not the intended use of the chair and Dr. Jeffrey Metzner said is dangerous because of the risk death from deep vein thrombosis.

Roe was left in that position for eight hours without medical attention to the cuts.

He testified that inmates must request medical assistance through the use of “sick call” staying up until 2 a.m. to sign the sick call roster “because the policy is that you have to sign the sick call roster whenever it comes around. The officer who comes around with roster told me they do that to limit the influx.”

If inmates are sleeping, which he says often occurs because his medication makes him very sleepy, he has to fill out another form, which takes another week or two.

Defense cross-examined the witness about benefits of counseling programs he is in; however upon redirect it was established those programs had begun very recently.