It is no secret that the state has used the Prison system as a dumping ground for the mentally ill. Common sense would lead an observer to conclude that an environment as degenerative as prison is not the best location to place a person who is suffering from mental illness.
Yet the people who run our modern criminal justice system feint blindness whenever a mentally ill defendant is arrested and put through the system. Prosecutors, public defenders, court clerks and judges all are complicit in ensuring that individuals who should be receiving mental health treatment end up, instead, in a prison’s dank cells.
I have been incarcerated over 24 years. In my travels from one maximum-security prison to another, I have witnessed the realities of what it means to be an incarcerated mentally ill person. I have seen mentally disabled inmates abused – on one occasion, a guard opened the mentally ill inmate’s cell so that another inmate could enter the cell and assault him.
Over the years, Correctional bureaucrats have used their unlimited power to make prisons places where human beings are humiliated, abused, beaten and broken. Where indifference is the rule, and caring is penalized. The mentally ill in prison are dehumanized, used and abused by not only the guards, but also the other inmates. In a place where there are pecking orders, the mentally ill are at the bottom. That’s the reality of their existence.
Whatever bureaucrat thought it was a good idea to dump mentally-disabled individuals in prison should be arrested and charged with crimes against humanity. Because it’s inhumane to place someone inside a cell, with no actual treatment or activity to energize their intellects. No guidance, no therapy, just a once a month appointment with a psychologist. A bureaucratic charade of so-called treatment. These psychologists are frequently changed. This forces the patient to try to create a trusting relationship with the new Psychologists. These changes repeat so often that the patients just lose faith in the process.
For the mentally-disabled, prison is a place where they exist only in a medicated haze. Their treatment is tantamount to being sealed inside a shipping container that’s left on the dock. Waiting for a savior to find you. Except that in prison there are very few saviors.
The prison administrators frequently ignore complaints made by the mentally ill, as they are viewed as a nuisance. Many times they are disciplined just to lock them up as a way to stop the complaints, because the Disciplinary system in prison is an incredibly slanted process. Whatever safeguards there are to ensure fairness are usually ignored by the decision makers.
For a regular inmate, it is very hard to win a prison disciplinary hearing. For the mentally ill in prison, there is no point even attending the hearings, because the hearing officers are indifferent to their handicaps.
I recall one incident, where a mentally-disabled inmate was given 15 days keep-lock [loss of privileges; kept in cell] because he tried to get a second cup of coffee. There are also mentally ill sexual predators that have been allowed to roam freely to prey upon the general inmate population. These individuals are penalized when caught misbehaving, but they should not be among the general prison population as their very presence adds tension to an already tense environment.
We all know that locking a mentally disabled person in a dirty cell is not the answer. Yet the reality of their existence is unknown to the general public.
The Department of Corrections (DOCCS) indifference to their plight is a shameful secret that needs to be revealed. The criminal justice system and the people who make it what it is have failed the mentally ill. Hopefully the politicians who make the decisions can wake up to the realities affecting the mentally-disabled and take action to create change for the better.
Edwin Garcia, a former New York State Police Officer, is serving 20-40 years for the armed robbery of a jewelry store.
We send comments to our writers on a weekly basis, but if you’d like to contact this author directly, please write:
Edwin Garcia, 92A9233
Shawangunk Corr. Facility
P.0. Box 700
Wallkill, N.Y. 12589