Prison means living with mentally ill prisoners. Where did they expect psychiatric patients to end up when they cut Federal Funding for mental health beds? Whatever they thought, I know where they are. Here, in prison, with me.
I’ve had two certifiably insane cellies. My cell is 5’x 8′ feet. Imagine living in your bathroom with any of the crazies you’ve seen on the streets. Sound like fun? It isn’t.
Rooster was the first. He was white and a little strange but seemed okay until I noticed the scars on his arms that marked him a cutter. I refuse to be involved in other people’s psych games, so I informed him that if he started cutting in my cell, I was homicidal and would make sure he got it right. After 29 hours, he walked out of my cell and told the guard he had a cellie problem.
Turned out to be a good thing he left. Roaster got moved into the cell with my short, chubby friend, Doc. Doc had ridden bulls in the world before one rode him and had an artificial lens in one eye. Rooster felt comfortable playing crazy with Doc and was soon stealing from him. When Doc got a lock to protect his property, Rooster got mad and jumped on Doc while he was sleeping. Doc had begged the supervisors to move one of them and they refused because Doc wouldn’t say he was afraid. He wasn’t afraid, just wanted to avoid a problem.
The second called himself Sponge Bob and constantly imitated the cartoon character. He was well over 6′ feet tall and about 230 pounds. A large black man with an obsessive need to clean all around his bunk and scrub until he reached concrete – or the original oil base enamel paint from fifty years ago.
After waking every morning with colored stains on my sheets and clothes from the water he dribbled on me, my patience was wearing thin when I lay down to write a letter after lunch. Sponge Bob informed me I should move my mattress because he had construction going on. And I found a pound or two of gooey latex paint he had scrubbed off the wall piled on my bed behind me. When I complained, he said, “You might be gay and nasty, but I’m not.” That’s when I hit him. He called the guard and told them what he did and that I had hit him. The guard pulled him out of the cell and that’s when Sponge Bob decided to swing on a gang member that hadn’t done a thing to him. They both went to lockup for fighting.
Ad-seg is where most of the truly insane end up. In my many years in ad-seg, I’ve seen men I thought strong of will and mind broken by that tiny cell alone.
What such sensory deprivation does to those with shattered psyches is unimaginable. There was Judy who constantly chanted about his refusal to write songs for Reba, for George Bush and his brother, Jeb, the governor.
Judy thought he had cancer of the rectum. And since they were refusing to treat him, he decided to cut it out himself and nearly bled to death when he cut off his dangling hemorrhoid. A large black man that lived near me used to break the bowl off of plastic disposable spoons and stick the handle down his urethra so the nurses would have to handle his penis to get it out. My favorite was a white guy named West I met when the van I was riding on stopped and picked him up at the psychiatric unit. He seemed badly disturbed to me, but what do I know. Three days after we got back to Estelle High Security, he cut off his penis and flushed it down the toilet so they couldn’t sew it back on.
I could go on, but you get the point.
Trying to communicate with mentally ill prisoners and soothe their psyches is not my job. They can’t understand that their worldview is very different from the rest of us.
An unavoidable psychiatric episode is worthy of compassion. But when I watch mentally ill prisoners refuse to take the medication prescribed to quiet the voices in their heads, when they show premeditation in preparing for the consequences, then they are responsible for their choices.
Like a prisoner named JoJo. After spending half of my life here, watching the insane amongst us work themselves up for a psychiatric episode, I knew JoJo was due.
JoJo has a long history here of islands of violence floating on a placid sea of psychotropic passivity. I’ve seen him cry over losing a journal with a picture of a panda bear on it that I had given him. Mostly they let JoJo do as he pleases, totally uncaring of how dangerous he is because every time they do the paperwork to send him to the psychiatric unit, the psychiatrist just tranquilizes him and sends him back. They say he’s fine.
Since I had never had a problem with JoJo, I figured he couldn’t be all that crazy when he prepared for his breakdown days in advance by gathering reading materials and buying nude pictures of women in secret so his Christian brethren wouldn’t know. (He pretends to be devout in his beliefs.) JoJo weighs nearly 400 pounds and when he starts to jabber in what he believes to be an unknown tongue, thinking he has a direct line to God, I think he has a wrong number.
You might expect guards to have locked JoJo up when he hit a church deacon and prisoner in the face at Sunday service right in front of security, but they didn’t. Or later that same day, when he was screaming in the chow hall and had to be forcibly removed. But not then either. Or when he was in the dayroom screaming, “Fight Me!” and aggressively walking up on a group of gang members. But all they did was send him to his cell and threaten to write him a disciplinary for creating a disturbance. JoJo excused his behavior by telling the officer, “I was just running the demon off.” They let that go, too.
JoJo’s not the first psych patient I’ve had problems with and probably won’t be the last.
I have scars on my right hand because of a psycho named Harley. He ignored the officer enforcing seating rules and came to plop down at the table where I sat with a friend. It was his 3rd or 4th breakfast and it seemed unfair he should ruin the only one I was allowed. He was talking, chewing, and smacking with his mouth full to send a spray of half-chewed food all over the table. Harley was allowed to eat as many times as he wanted so he could feed his imaginary friend, Bill, and I was not allowed to get up and move. Harley was a nasty, obnoxious, asshole playing crazy to get away with bad behavior.
After I told Harley/Bill to get up and move, “they” began to threaten me. I looked to see what the guards were doing, intending to knock the Harley/Bill Show off its seat. And as usual, they were doing their best to avoid seeing what Harley/Bill was doing.
Harley/Bill hit me so hard while I wasn’t looking, I dropped to one knee when I tried to stand up. Couldn’t be mad at him for beating me to the punch. As he towered over me, I backhanded him in the mouth and cut up my hand on his snaggly teeth to get room to stand.
Once I was up, I was lost in my own fog of insanity as I threw punches. I heard male voices, guards, yelling for us to stop, but they sounded far away … until I heard the sweet sound of a female voice, as Sgt. Ballard’s tones cut through the foggy haze and I stopped.
If she had followed procedure, JoJo and I would’ve both gotten fight disciplinary cases and Harley would have blamed Bill so his psychiatrist would have pulled his case for him. I would have been punished. But Sgt. Ballard was nice and, since there were no major injuries involved, she was willing to pretend that nothing had happened. (I don’t think she liked Harley or Bill.)
Before Harley got together with Bill and started to stick their fingers up their ass and lick the shit off, the “Real Aryans” had nothing to do with him. The Harley/Bill Show became their mascot so they could use him to pick up and deliver contraband for them.
We finished our fight a few days later when I caught Harley/Bill out of place, picking up cigarettes for his white supremacist friends. Immediately on seeing me, he swung and I weaved, and Harley/Bill broke his hand on the steel doorframe. I beat him until his teeth rattled in his head.
When the sergeant arrived, a friend grabbed me and was leading me up the stairs when my fighting haze lifted.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“I’m going to hide you,” was his reply. Not my style but since Harley/Bill were out of place in violation of rules, I could claim my victory with no fear of punishment.
Don’t feel sorry for Harley/Bill. He’s a tough old biker and, like most psychos, he was bull strong and capable of absorbing damage that would put a normal man out of commission. I admit he had a problem. He had to be disturbed to stand in front of the mirror and carefully cut his throat to make it look like a serious attempt at suicide without doing any serious damage to himself, but he chose his actions. He’d actually been an okay fella, before the crazy game he was playing started to play him.
Officers finally tired of the Harley/Bill Show and wrote the cases it took to send him to ad-seg [Administrative Segregation] where he would cover his naked body with shit and make the officers come in and get him. Harley/Bill found this very entertaining.
They found Harley hanging from the vent by the Ace Elastic Wrap he used to wrap his broken hand with. In death, even Bill had deserted Harley. Rumor was that Sgt. Torres, who led that last team to handle Harley, had hung him. The coroner ruled Harley’s death a suicide, due to his long history of attempts. In a way it was, but we all knew it was murder.
My life and freedom (what little is available to me in prison) was jeopardized when JoJo stopped taking his medication. As he flooded the run [the entire cellblock floor] without warning at 4:00 am, I did what I felt was required – I got the officers to turn off JoJo’s water.
JoJo felt I had gotten in his business and came out of his cell with the 5:00 a.m. workers. Once the doors closed, he got a cup off hot water and attempted to throw it in my face. I ducked and got my scalp scalded.
Then he stood in front of my cell and calmly tried to get my cell door opened. It takes dozens of guards to restrain JoJo when he gets violent, and I weigh less than 170 pounds. I meant to kill him if I could’ve and was prepared to do so.
It was a lucky day for both of us. JoJo wasn’t so far gone in his delusions of being an ISIS Agent to not realize I was waiting too calmly for the cell door to open. The hand he couldn’t see was not empty.
JoJo went and got Lt. Zwar and came back in front of my cell and told him, “And he’s got a knife,” while pointing at me. I put on my most innocent face and as Lt. Zwar and JoJo left, JoJo looked back at me over his shoulder and winked.
For him it was all a big joke. For me, it’s life or death.
Daniel Harris is serving 35 years in Texas for Attempted Capital Murder.
Daniel H. Harris #00622851
2664 FM 2054
Tennessee Colony, TX 75886