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Inmate Testimony Day 1

In testimony on the eighth day of the Mental Health for Inmates lawsuit against the S.C. Department of Corrections, five inmates testified under oath about conditions and treatment in South Carolina prisons.

Jamal Rivers, Steve Patterson, Curtis Boyd, Wayne Thomas, and Damon Howard each testified about their convictions, diagnoses, medications, their understanding of their diseases, and their personal interactions with counseling and psychiatric staff. They described at length the conditions of prisons in various units and testified about their treatment and the effect of sanctions on them.

Rivers described being “gassed while in lockup” for wanting to speak to his attorney. Many said it could be months without a shower. They described being kept in filthy solitary units with no clothes or blankets with the temperature “freezing… was kept cold all year” without a mattress or blanket and sometimes without food or water.

Rivers, who testified he believed that there was a snake in one cell he was placed that bit him, also said, “They wouldn’t feed me sometimes; wouldn’t give me a tray.”

Several inmates testified about hearing voices. Most described intermittent, irregular, short visits with counselors in a very public setting with no privacy or confidentiality. One testified that what was shared in counseling was overheard by security officers and used against him later.  The witness continued his testimony, saying that “it makes you afraid to say what you want to say for it will get out.”

Counseling and visits with a psychiatrist were described as intermittent, short, often in earshot of other inmates and correctional officers, not kept confidential, and often curtailed or interrupted. Medication dispensing was said to be irregular, except from those who are at Gilliam Psychiatric Hospital.

Cells were consistently described as filthy, often with blood and feces from a previous occupant on the walls and floor. In Crisis Intervention (CI), the inmates testified about sleeping on steel or cement slabs or on the floor without clothing or blankets in most cases.

Several inmates said water supplies to the toilets and sinks were kept off and they were provided no water to drink.  One was kept in a small room with no sink or toilet for two days with food, but no water.

Supermax section of Lee Correctional Institute was described as “Terrible… we were gassed more often.”

Gilliam Psychiatric Hospital was described as being “much better” because it helped with “the voices,” however the inmate said upon return to Lee County Detention Center, “It was worse… they would… they [staff and counselors] would be hostile” because he said he was sprayed more upon return despite his behavior not being any different.

Steve Patterson likes his prison job as a clerk. He also says he hears what others don’t hear and sees what others don’t see, and has since the age of 11. He says his medication helps muffle the voices so he can deal with them better.

He first stabbed himself at age 12; was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital where a suicide attempt was foiled by his roommate. He says he has to bleed the voices out.

Like several others, he described the restraint chair and being kept in a strip cell without a blanket, sleeping naked on the cold, dirty cement for weeks at a time.

He described being put in the shower at Lieber Correctional Institute for talking about the voices, where he was kept from 8 a.m. until shift change at 5:30 p.m. without food or bathroom breaks. He was put in the restraint chair five or six times. One time he was kept in the chair for 12 hours for threatening to cut himself. During those 12 hours he had no clothes and was given only one bathroom break.

Curtis Byrd – Kirkland ICS – described himself as a “paranoid schizophrenic, depressed and delusional” and said his symptoms started at age 21 after an auto accident while he was in the service.

He described being in Crisis Intervention with no clothes and no blanket in the cold with no light or window. He described an experience of being gassed in the face for asking if he could clean his cell.

He described the chemical spray as “horrible… you can’t see, you are gasping for breath – coughing.”

He also testified to dirty cells, no showers, no time outside of the cell, “not being fed right” and no access to counselors.

He described Lee County Detention Center as “horrible, humiliating; treatment” that had a “bad effect” on his mental health.

Wayne Thomas described never being allowed to go to recreation or group therapy. He compared Lee County Detention Center to Lieber Correctional Institute, saying, “Lee County Detention Center is filthier… when you walk on ‘the rock’ [the lockup area with cells] you smell feces. Filthy dirty… the cleanest I could get it was still nasty; I tried to scrub floors and walls.”

He described being sprayed with gas twice at Lieber Correctional Institute, “once a short warning shot through the food service flap, but the first time was up the nose dead in the face while I was strapped in the restraint chair - fully shackled, handcuffed and strapped in.”

He described how after four hours in the chair he could not walk because his ankles had swelled. “Lt. Lloyd, who no longer works there, she said ‘stand up inmate and move’ but I couldn’t step in the shackles.”

He testified that “she put me back in the chair roughly… very rough… and an officer put his mace in my nose and sprayed me… then left me just like that for about 20- 30 minutes.” He said they finally took him out because “they couldn’t even finish buckling me up because there was so much gas.”

He described the pain of being sprayed as “indescribable… what I would imagine salt on raw flesh feels like. You will burn – that first burn for probably about two hours… then it will subside… it is oil based… worst thing is to try to wash it off; it gets in your pores… can inflame… goes on for three days.”

He described another holding cell where he was kept for several days without clothing or blankets; there was no bathroom facility in the room, and he said he was given nothing to drink for that period of time.

On cross examination the attorney said, “You denied having mental health issues,” which the witness denied, saying “it is known through any record that Wayne Thomas has a mental history.”

Although the inmate ultimately admitted he did, when asked about whether he knew the rules about fighting in prison, he replied, “If I got someone about to attack me, I don’t stop to say, ‘should I get into this fight?’ - I’m going to defend myself.”

Damon Howard has been in prison for 16 years and stated he had not gotten any mental health care until he got sent to Evans in about 2000. The inmate was sent from solitary in Lieber Correctional Institute to Gilliam Psychiatric Hospital about two weeks ago. 

The testimony of Mr. Howard primarily consisted of his extensive description of the voices and his belief that devices are implanted in his body that enable him to see anyone anywhere in the world.

He testified that he was recently tested at Gilliam Psychiatric Hospital and that he understood his duty to tell the truth.

When plaintiffs’ attorney was asked by Judge Baxley what the witness was intended to demonstrate, the plaintiffs’ attorney answered that Mr. Howard was called to give the Court an opportunity to observe the mental health condition with which Mr. Howard has been living in 23-hour lockup for the past 12 years.  The defense moved to disqualify Mr. Howard as a witness alleging he is incompetent.  Court denied the motion, ruling that “Mr. Howard would not be competent to defend himself under criminal court standards, but finds he is competent to testify in a civil proceeding about where he is, where he is housed, and what he was experiencing.”