Scottie McLean still remembers the exact words the Wabash Valley yard officer said that made him go off, back in 1994: “Give me the bandanna, and quit acting like a bitch.”
Twenty years old, and with a fresh 190-year sentence, Scottie McLean wasn’t going to let anyone call him a bitch, especially not in front of his homeboys. Fighting words. In a flash, he was on the officer and as his fists drew blood, he urged his buddies to join in. Some did, and in the end multiple officers had hit the ground, one with a broken jaw.
The common denominator in most prisoner assaults on staff is that the staff member has said something offensive to the prisoner.
Of those in the melee, Scottie McLean garnered the most punishment – four years in segregation for the assault, three more years for inciting a riot.
Assaulting prison staff is the least-tolerated offense within a prison. Officers are generally blase about the crime that landed a man in prison – they’ll treat someone who raped and murdered a child the same way they’ll treat a Walmart thief. But bang up one of their own, and the retribution will be incessant.
“They first whupped my ass,” said Scottie. “Then they put me in the hole on the all-white range. Last cell, by the door to rec. I had to walk handcuffed past all white faces, and they were really yelling.”
Don’t bring no nigger in here!
Get that nigger off our range!
The nozzle end of a shampoo bottle was pointed at him from a food slot at waist level, but Scottie saw it too late. An explosion of monster mix – brown and sticky – covered him. The officer behind, who saw it coming, only laughed.
Monster mix is mostly shit – weaponized by the admixture of liquids like milk, lotion, shampoo and urine. Shaken, not stirred, it is made to be foul, and adhesive, and capable of being squirted several feet away.
A request for a shower was granted: “Yeah, we’ll get you a shower on shower day.” That was 48 hours away.
The guy in the cell across from Scottie McLean told him that there was only one way to respond to getting shitted down. “You gotta fight back. Do the same thing to them that they did to you.” Reluctant at first, Scottie saw that there was no other way.
And so the shit wars began.
“Back then I responded to everything the only way I knew how,” Scottie said. “Shit for shit. Violence for violence.”
When the white guys passed Scottie’s cell to go to the rec cages, Scottie “gunned ‘em down” the same way they’d humiliated him. Always physically separated, monster mix was the only weapon available. And sometimes the officers got gunned down too, which only added to his segregation sentence.
Seg-time was monotonous. Two religious books and a radio were allowed, but there were no TVs, no other books, and no commissary. The prisoners passed the time, as they do in seg units all across America, taunting each other, taunting the officers, and inventing ways to cause trouble. Though they were not socially or politically conscious, they followed a line from George Jackson in Soledad Brother: “A man can never be so oppressed that he cannot, in some way, resist.”
A couple years into his seg term, McLean started getting some unwanted attention from psychological services. Scottie later related that:
“A Korean psych doctor would come to my door: You need to calm down! You need medication! I wouldn’t take anything. Then one day, after I’d stuck a CO in the arm with a spoon handle, the psych doc came back. You been bad! You been bad! The guards put me in four-point [chained to the bunk] and the doctor hit me with about a foot-long needle, in the ass. I was out for two or three days. That was my first shot of Thorazine.”
Thorazine is the trade name for chlorpromazine, a tranquilizer developed in 1952 to treat psychosis. Trouble is, it doesn’t “treat” any psychological condition; it only masks it. The Thorazine recipient is rendered quiet, dull, malleable. Manageable. When physical isolation, beatings and humiliations have all failed, chemical isolation is all too often the next step.
Prison inmates have an initial right to refuse psychotropic medication, with a Due Process right to procedural safeguards before such drugs are involuntarily administered. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210 (1990), that a prisoner may demand a hearing before being involuntarily medicated. The hearing is an opportunity to present evidence and witnesses, and to cross-examine medical professionals. The decision may be appealed to the prison superintendent and to the courts. But I have seldom encountered a drugged-up prisoner who was aware of his rights, and most believed that when they came at you with a five-deep holding a syringe, your right of refusal consisted only in your physical ability to fight them off.
Scottie’s Thorazine shots became routine, every two weeks. If Scottie resisted, which he did at first, he’d get beaten up, four-pointed, and still get the shot. At some point he decided to save himself all the trouble, and when they showed up with the goon squad and the needle-toting nurse, he learned to roll over and accept it.
“Even when I rolled over for it, I was still being forced to take the shot. They brought force; they just didn’t have to use it.” A person with a gun to his head complies the same way. “I let them do it, but it wasn’t voluntary.”
He awakened from his first drug stupor “hearing voices.”
“Tell me about the voices,” I asked him, masking skepticism with concern. “Where did they come from? What did they say? How could you tell that they weren’t actual voices?”
Scottie explained that it took him about ten years to realize that the voices weren’t real but were inside his head. The voices were always “…negative, negative, negative, telling me to act out, to do the worst things.” He put his right hand behind his ear to show me where the voices seemed to come from. “They seemed real.”
By 1996, Scottie McLean’s psychiatric status had been downgraded to Level D, justifying virtually any recourse the psych department deemed necessary. Five years earlier, when arrested for participating in the robbery-gone-wrong of a drug dealer, he’d had no history of mental health issues. Now he lumbered along doing the “Thorazine Shuffle,” dodging shit missiles, and stuffing his ears to drown out hate-filled voices, both real and imagined. Life was a never-ending cycle of teasing, assaults, tranquilizers and write-ups, with no end in sight.
Fourteen years like that. That’s over 5,000 days. Lights on all day and all night. Head in the toilet to get relief from mace and pepper spray. Being shot with riot guns, stuck with needles, four-pointed for a week at a time, waiting for a nurse to clean the urine and feces from around his body. Attacked by dogs. Beaten while handcuffed, while someone yells, “Quit resisting! Quit resisting!” Five thousand days waking up, literally, in a world of shit.
In 2008 McLean was transferred to the psych unit at New Castle Correctional Facility. He was a wiry 17-year-old kid when he was arrested; now he was a heavier, bearded 34-year-old man with long, unkempt hair and eyes that warily scanned his surroundings. A cautious officer put a belly-chain and two sets of shackles on Scottie and shuffled him into the plush office of Dr. John Moore. A clock ticked in the dead air, a level of quiet that was in itself alarming. The doctor told the guard to take the restraints off, which was done, then told the guard to leave the room. Eyebrows raised, the guard hesitated, but left. Scottie suddenly had more freedom of movement than he’d had at any time since 1994, and he was alone, unbound, unwatched, in the office of an elderly white man who had no means of protecting himself.
“He wasn’t scared,” Scottie said about the doctor. “I had no cuffs on and he wasn’t scared.”
Dr. Moore rose, went over to Scottie, and hugged him. “You’ve had a hard time,” he said, gently. “But everything’s gonna be alright.”
His eyes welled up, seven years later as he told me this.
At first a bit suspicious of Dr. Moore, Scottie came to know him as “Papa John,” which was also a play on the weekly treat that the doctor provided – pizza, popcorn and soda.
In his new environment, the officers were “…nice, respectful. They treated us like humans, not like dogs.” There was TV. There were books. Personal hygiene was possible again. Classes re-engaged his mind. One called Cognitive Thinking helped him re-learn how to socialize. “I have a conscience now. I’ve learned to say, ‘Thank you’. I know I’m not the only person in the world now.”
As he told me this, I thought of Jack London’s long-abused wolf-dog, White Fang, being brought into the house at the end of the parable, to sleep by the civilized man’s fire. “Blessed wolf,” wrote London.
A year of treatment and another year in a transitional unit reversed most of the damage from fourteen years of isolation. He arrived at Pendleton in 2011, and was adamant about getting out of H-Cellhouse’s single cells and into an open dorm. “Solitude is hell,” he concluded. “It’s the worst thing you can do to a person.”
Today, Scottie is one of 39 men living in 0-2 Dorm. He plays chess, reads, goes to rec, fits in like anyone else. “Over here, I see other people doing something positive, and I get a good idea of what I should be doing. In the cell house, all I heard was negative. Socializing – it helps a whole lot, a whole lot.”
His direct appeal reduced his sentence from 190 to 90 years, and a post-conviction petition has raised the possibility of a further reduction that could have him released fairly soon.
I watched as his self-control was tested on March 31st, when 900 gallons of raw sewage backed up into the dorm. As we were belatedly being evacuated, a short-tempered lieutenant pushed Scottie backwards, punctuated the shove with verbal disrespect, and I anticipated the worst. But Scottie turned around, cuffed up, and was brought back a few hours later, unscathed. He’d received an apology.
When summarizing his 14-year segregation odyssey, all Scottie can say is, “We didn’t have to go through all that!”
Ty Evans, #158293, at Pendleton Correctional Facility, 2/3/2006-present.
Interviews with Scottie McLean #935200, in 0-2 Dorm, 5/11//2015 to 5/15/2015.
McLean v. State, 638 N.E.2d 1344 (Ind. App. 1994); published 9/6/1994.
Ty Evans in serving a 71-year sentence in Indiana, 40-years for Evans’s attempted murder conviction, enhanced by a 30-year sentence for an habitual offender finding and a one-year sentence for resisting law enforcement conviction, to be served consecutively, for an aggregate sentence of seventy-one years.
If you’d like to contact Ty directly, please write to:
Ty Evans #158293
1 Park Row
Michigan City, IN