BY CHASE BURNETT, Contributing Writer
Richie waited until the Corrections Officer went by his cell around midnight for the last walking head count of prisoners. He’d made a rope from ripped bed sheets. He stood on the bucket he used to wash his clothes in so he could tie one end of the rope to the bars, making sure his feet wouldn’t touch the ground when he kicked away the bucket. He decided everything was set.
And then he hung himself.
He didn’t want to kill himself, not really, but he had tried everything he knew to convince the officers in his block that he needed to see someone in Mental Health. He was hearing voices inside his head telling him to kill himself.
But all the guards kept saying to him was, “You’re not fucking crazy, asshole, but you try to pull a stunt like that and I’ll show you what crazy really is! I’m not going to do the fucking paperwork involved to get you to Mental Health just because you can’t handle doing your time! You weren’t crazy when you committed the crime that got you here, right?! Be a fucking man and do your time like everyone else does!!”
The Officer didn’t know Richie had a lengthy history of mental problems that went as far back as his teens. The Officer didn’t know that he couldn’t understand the voices that sometimes plagued his thoughts day and night, telling him to kill himself or to hurt others. The Officer didn’t know because he didn’t care. All he cared about was getting his next paycheck and getting through his last rounds so he could get home.
So when Richie said he was going to kill himself, the Officer didn’t take him seriously, as the officers too often don’t. Richie, on the other hand, had different plans because the voices in his head were screaming at him to take action! Richie didn’t want to die, not that day anyway. And he had been locked up for so long that he knew how to play games to get what he wanted when all else failed. So he planned to “fake” his suicide attempt that night, just so he could get the mental health care in prison he so needed. Because his Psych Meds weren’t working anymore… THE VOICES WERE BACK… and he wanted them to stop!
So around 11:00pm that night – after smoking a blunt and drinking some liquor made from fruits and bread fermenting for days under his bed to give him the courage – he began ripping long strips from his bed sheet to make a noose. While he was doing this, the voices in his head were getting louder and louder. The voices were telling him that no one would care if he died anyway, that maybe he was the “asshole” the Officer said he was, after all. God knew his family had abandoned him long ago, saying he was a worthless piece of shit. Well, maybe he was, he thought as he began braiding the strips of sheet together into a rope he hoped would be thick enough to hold his weight.
As the effects of the drugs and alcohol in his system began to feed the voices in his head, Richie decided that maybe he did want to die after all! That maybe the world would be a better place without him in it. That maybe he was going to die tonight after all! And as the sweat from his brow dripped into his now red and crying eyes, he put the noose around his neck.
All he remembered after that was two things… One was the sensation of his own warm urine running down his own leg; the other was hearing all the inmates on his block screaming for help, saying, “He’s hanging up!!”
When Richie opened his eyes, he found out he was finally in the Mental Health Unit! Sure, there were I.V.’s in his arm and a huge and painful red and blue ring around his neck… but he was in the Mental Health Unit. And when the nurse attending him looked at him and asked him “why” he had tried to kill himself, Richie looked at her and said, “Because I’m an ‘asshole’, ma’am.” Then he turned away from her, his tears once again staining his pillowcase.
It is a horrible shame and a well-founded fact that the Mentally Ill in New York State Prisons don’t get the proper medical attention they need. Their meds aren’t monitored correctly to make sure they’re working as intended. And due to overcrowding, mentally ill inmates are sometimes put right into General Population to fend for themselves, with no true regard to whether or not they can.
The Officers assigned to the “Care, Custody and Control” of the whole prison sometimes don’t make it any easier on the Mentally Ill either. They “forget” that these mentally-challenged individuals can’t be treated just like everyone else because they are not like everyone else!!! They need special attention and help!
Some readers may now be asking how I knew what was going through “Richie’s” mind that night? Well, you see … I am Richie. (At least that’s the name I call that “voice inside my head.”)
And I am doing much better now that I’m finally on the proper medication to “control” Richie. But I still say, if someone had just listened to my cries for help before I was forced to take such drastic measures, then I wouldn’t still have such horrid memories from one of the longest and scariest nights I’ve ever experienced.
So to all the “Richies” still wishing that someone could just “understand” them, I say this: I understand.
Chase Burnett is serving 1-3 years in New York for grand larceny.
We send all comments to our writers on a weekly basis but if you’d prefer to contact this author directly, please write to:
Chase Burnett #11A-2699
Clinton Correctional Facility
PO Box 2000
Dannemora, NY 12929