In Jail and Prison, the correctional officers believe in correction through punishment. While this is an effective way to treat someone with a personality disorder, it is a terrible way to treat someone with paranoia, psychosis, panic disorders, and depression. I was arrested for forgetting to pay a ticket. I have never broken a law such as stealing, lying or cheating. I did not need correction through punishment.
However, Correctional Officers assume that everyone in jail requires correction on some level. I didn't realize this is what they were doing until several days into my stay. Before that I was so terrified and hell bent on killing myself I wasn't thinking about what their actual motives might be. I got into trouble in isolation many times but the worst punishment was when I flooded my cell. I thought for certain they would have to let me talk to a doctor or call my Mom if I did it, it was the only thing on the list of things I hadn't done (either then throw feces and I never did that one).
On day three I stuffed my sleeping bag into the toilet and flushed it until they flooded my cell. They turned off the toilet fairly quickly, but not before I had managed to get an inch of water and my sleeping bag and smuch completely wet. They keep the cells around 60 degrees to "avoid the spread" of disease. Within a few hours I was freezing cold.
I begged the CO's to dry my cell and my limited bedding, they refused. I was already dehydrated and sleep depriced. I spent the next 24 hours in my cell fighting hypothermia and frost bite. I was naked and without shoes. I had to walk on cold hard concrete in a circle for hours to keep the blood pumping. I screamed that I was cold for hours. Simply "I'M COLD" and I was ignored. The game the correctional officers played was that they would always leave you in whatever mess you made for yourself, even if there was a chance of you dying from infection, exposure, or self-inflicted injury. They believed it taught us to not take such action in the future.
This fundamentally failed to understand why I took such actions. I was psychotic and desperate, I was not trying to ruin someone's day by making them clean. That was the furthest thought from my mind. It was not logical action to take but I only did it after days in isolation begging to be placed in general population or at least given a book or something to do. With nothing to do I took the only actions I could; resulting in terribly cruel punishment.
I mentioned having PTSD to my arresting officers. This landed me in isolation instead of general population when I went to jail. In Isolation you are placed in a cell where other prisoners can see in, but there is a red sign on your door. This is a sign to them that they are to act like you do not exist at all. They are punished for communicating with anyone in isolation. Everyone, including the correctional officers, treats you like a ghost. It is assumed you did something to deserve this punishment. I did not. But the correctional officers assume you did and so treat you with disdain.
On top of being socially ostracized but put on display for having some sort of mental or behavioral issue, the actual cell is encased with glass over the metal bars. This makes it difficult to hear what it happening outside of the cell. It drives you mad overtime being incased in complete silence and treated like you do not exist at all. Since I started in isolation, I was never allowed out of my cell to go to commissary, call my family, or get access to things such as books at the library. I nearly died of hypothermia, a suicide attempt, and a very bad internal infection. I also suffered several external infections, my hair being ruined to the point I had to cut it all off when I left, and very bad rashes on my skin. I was not given access to health care during my entire stay in jail despite begging.
I spent my first day in isolation in the part of jail that doesn't house general population for days. Here, outside of my cell, were men. I was very scared and confused when the placed me in isolation without explanation. I did not know why I had been arrested, I did not get to call my family and ask about bail, I did not understand what isolation was or why I had been placed into it, and none of this was ever explained to me.
"Those who spend even a few days in solitary confinement can suffer lasting severe psychiatric harm, from hypersensitivity to ordinary stimuli and hallucinations, to panic attacks and difficulty thinking, to persistent post-traumatic stress disorder and extreme irritability/anger. Former Harvard Medical School Psychiatrist Stuart Grassian wrote in a recent study, “The restriction of environmental stimulation and social isolation associated with confinement in solitary are strikingly toxic to mental functioning, producing a stuporous condition associated with perceptual and cognitive impairment and affective disturbances. As a consequence, the practice has been deemed torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, and a “living death."
Federal courts and the Department of Justice have deemed solitary confinement of the mentally ill unconstitutional. In 1995, a federal judge ruled unconstitutional the solitary confinement of the severely mentally ill at the California maximum security prison that is the focus of this strike, Pelican Bay. It did not, however, affect the more mild mental illnesses that can quickly become severe during confinement. Just this year, an Indiana federal judge held in a sweeping class action challenge that the “effect of segregation on mentally ill prisoners in Indiana is toxic to their welfare,” exacerbating their condition and severely limiting their chances for rehabilitation. Not only are the mentally ill most susceptible to the most severe, long-term devastation from solitary confinement; there is reason to believe that they are even more likely to end up in solitary confinement. As former Harvard Medical School Psychiatrist Stuart Grassian wrote in his study of the severe psychological impacts:
It is a great irony that as one passes through the levels of incarceration—from the minimum to the moderate to the maximum security institutions, and then to the solitary confinement section of these institutions—one does not pass deeper and deeper into a subpopulation of the most ruthlessly calculating criminals. Instead, ironically and tragically, one comes full circle back to those who are emotionally fragile and, often, severely mentally ill. The laws and practices that have established and perpetuated this tragedy deeply offend any sense of common human decency."
I received lasting damage to my mental health due to my stay in isolation in jail. I worry it is permanent. My functioning has diminished a great deal and I have not been able to recover at all yet. I am unable to focus on any activity for more then twenty minutes, work at all, or leave my house without having a panic attack. I am terrified of police and doctors because I worry saying the wrong thing will get me locked up again. This has made my psychiatric issues resistant to treatments because I am afraid to discuss my symptoms with my doctors and look at treatment plans with new medication or therapy.
So while they know that isolation is highly detrimental to people with mental health issues, it is standard practice to immediately place prisoners with mental health issues into isolation? How does that make any sense? When isolation is considered a punishment, I never acted out during my arrest to deserve such treatment.
The confinement of the isolation cell sparked a psychotic episode for me. I was immediately stuck in my trauma and believed it would last forever. I tricked myself into thinking I would be locked up in isolation forever and no CO's would talk to me to convince me otherwise. Despite never having mad an actual attempt before, I attempted suicide for the first time in my life, by hanging myself with a towel. I had suicidal thoughts before but never acted on them. Isolation was too much for me to bare.
Their response was to place me in isolation and suicide watch for the next 5 days. Where I attempted suicide one more time and nearly attempted it a final time (I didn't because I was too afraid it would result in permanent injury instead of death).