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The Snake Pit

By Margaret Wheat  Posted by (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   2 comments
I am writing to tell you about the horrible situation my 30-year old son is in. He has been mentally ill for about 15 years and a few years ago, he finally got caught up in the Justice system. He is not violent--the latest offense is a probation violation for walking away from his substance abuse treatment center. He cycled into a manic, (his meds were not adequate although he was med compliant at the time.) He had a delusion that the treatment center was dealing hard drugs and he said he had to get away. He walked about 14 miles to his childhood home which is where I still live. They arrested him there. The police know him and they know he is not violent. His tox screen came back showing that he had not used alcohol or drugs while he was away from the center.

His original crime, more than a year ago, was breaking a window in a hobby shop (because he wanted the model airplane in the display case.) After he cleared from that manic episode, he made restitution and even made friends with the shop owner. Like many people with psychotic diagnoses, Tom self-medicated with, mostly cannabis, and occasionally, alcohol, so he was at a dual-diagnosis treatment center. Since leaving the center was a probation violation, he had to go to jail.

The Jail mental health unit here leaves a lot to be desired. It was bad enough that I had to go out and stand over the officers who were arresting my son so that they would not "rough him up too much." They "lightened up" when they noticed me watching and tried to make light of it with me after they had him in the back of the police car. I believe they knew they had overdone it. I'm sure they were assessing whether or not I was going to complain about them. Usually, I am supportive of the police.

Tom has been in Jail for about 2 months. His probation officer said he can go back to the dual diagnosis center when he clears, but in the meantime, he is decompensating, and, I believe he is being verbally abused and possibly physically abused as he gets worse. I went to visit him on 2 consecutive nights. The first time I was told it was the wrong day to visit inmates with last names beginning with "W." This worried me until I found out that dividing the alphabet for visits was standard procedure.

I went back to visit my son the next night and waited the usual 45 minutes only to be told he could not visit because they did not have the staff in the mental health unit to take him to the visit room. Then, after being very patient and asking to talk to someone in the mental health unit, I was directed to a phone where this person told me that, actually, he had "not behaved properly to earn the visit." Very patiently I spoke at length with this person who said he knew my son and that, as long as my son verbally provoked the guards, he would have trouble in the unit.

This person went on to say that all jail guards are hyper-vigilent in the psych units because, statistically, they are more frequently assaulted in the mental health units than in any other kind of unit in the jails. I suggested that my son would do better in the Norton Center where they have mental health staff. This person said, "but your son broke the law." I said, "he broke a window."

My son has never assaulted anybody. However, he does have "a mouth on him," especially when he is psychotic. Many psychotic people are verbally loud and even abusive when they are manic. Why isn't this understood in a jail mental health unit? I had assumed a psychiatrist had reviewed Tom's medications and was prescribing something to help him clear his manic. Granted, meds have not yet stopped his manic episodes, but he has not had to suffer and deteriorate at the Norton Center. I am left with the feeling that he is not getting the benefit of any psychiatric or mental health care at all.

In the past I have gotten phone calls fairly regularly from my son. Several days after I didn't get to visit him, my son called me and all he could say on the phone was "Get me out of here, do anything you can to get me out of here," and then he hung up the phone. He has been in jail several times and he has never reacted like this. He also wrote a letter for help to a religious organization that is no longer in operation so yesterday the letter was returned to my house (his permanent mailing address) which he listed as the return address on the envelope.

I have been told by the probation officer that they are waiting for my son to be declared "incompetent to assist in his defense" so that he can be transferred to the in-patient psych unit at the Norton Center here. Apparently, he can't go there, where he has been many times, where he gets decent care, and where he usually clears back to his old self fairly soon, until his condition is so decompensated that he is too crazy to talk to his public defender. Why does he have to sit in jail, taunted by sadistic guards, and his own negative symptoms, decompensating, possibly to self-harm, when he could be in a real mental health environment and receive appropriate care?

Anything you can suggest to help will be greatly appreciated.


Margaret Wheat
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