The Slow and Painful Decline of Prisoners with Serious Mental Health Issues
I've written this letter before.... a thousand times?!....more?.... It has become akin to smoking cigarettes.... I don't really know why I am doing it, but as sure as the sun rises, I'll pull another one from the pack and light it up... an endeavor that serves no real purpose beyond feeding the immediate urge of a habit... maybe this time I'll be heard....
In 2011 I experienced a severe head injury, which caused a major traumatic brain injury, which exacerbated a lifetime of mental health issues -- bipolar, major depressive disorder, anxiety, PTSD, and more. In 2016, over the course of six months, I experienced a list of stressors, which included my father being robbed at gunpoint, my teenage son becoming unstable, and finally my life partner of 14 years being raped in our home by someone we'd known for several years. All of this as I was facing compounding problems directly related to the brain injury and mental health issues... those six months culminated in a complete cascade of failure and in September 2016, I woke up in jail. I had no idea why I was there. I still have no memory or what happened. I was severely beaten up: two black eyes, a fist print on my neck, a boot print on my right arm, broken finger on my right hand, broken left hand, and a line of walnut sized lumps across the back of my head. The VA state police are the presumed culprits and no medical care was provided.
It was 4-5 days after my arrival at the New River Valley Regional Jail that I was told what happened. I had some kind of breakdown in my home and the police arrived on a "wellness check". I shot one who, thankfully survived. It was dark and there is ample evidence that no "knock of announce" occurred, as well as police refusing to identify themselves, among other breaches of protocol… further, there were multiple chances to de-escalate as well as options for non-lethal force… police ignored all of this, even after I put my gun down, kicking in the front door and opening fire on me. I returned fire apparently, 10 rounds missed me, one of my rounds ricocheted and got under the flak vest. Thankfully, he was out of the hospital in less than 24 hours, and other than scars and trauma, there was no serious harm or threat to his life. Nonetheless, I caused harm to a living creature… another human.
I am a left-leaning moderate, a pacifist, and an activist for some 30 years now. As such, I’ve involved myself in a number of human and constitutional/civil rights causes, several of which did include, directly, addressing the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex. Everything I thought I knew, everything, is far worse than you can possibly know from the outside. I do not believe I will ever be okay again. All the psych issues that I had are not measurably worse -- extra concussions at the hands of police and, more recently, at the hands of an inmate, are certainly no help to my well being - antithetical, in fact and there is exactly zero help in the Virginia DOC. Four hundred years of slavery is still going strong.
The first six months of my captivity was spent in solitary confinement, under 24/7 light with as long as 3-4 days between chances to shower and call my family. I have no criminal record and no history of violent behavior. This was my first legal trouble, age 41, a concrete walk-in closet, 24/7 light and a never ending barrage of noises, which often included cruel verbal abuses. It was difficult to say the least. Then, the real harm began. Several times I was served food that contained some kind of nut product, to which I’ve a severe, life threatening allergy. To spend several hours fighting for every breath of air, while laid out on the cold, hard concrete is not an experience I would care to repeat. Having my genitals touches, grossly, and in an extremely inappropriate manner, every time, I was moved to a visit with my attorney or family, by a louse named Sgt. Conner, did not help my psychological well-being either but the beatings, four of them, starting around Christmas 2016, by Sgt. Nowers, were the nasty part of those six months. Each one left me with blood in my urine and no medical attention was provided when I complained to the other guards, they only ridiculed me -- the worst part of this?! It was reported to politicians, organizations across the country, and internationally … but no one lifted a finger to help me. Many of the same issues persist to this very day.
The nightmare was only beginning. My attorney managed to get me out of solitary and into a special housing unit -- better late than never, I suppose. It’s strange just how low the bar is set to measure “improvements” -- a day room, nine other people to interact with, and no beatings. The bar is set so very low. By this time, I’d also bought a hand crank AM/FM radio. I thanked God for NPR -- classical and jazz music and news was a true blessing to me. Also, the 24/7 light was not 20 watts of fluorescent hell and not 160 watts. Still, my state of psychological well-being continued to decline as the months dragged on.
I was gold a plea was being offered and I would likely serve 2-4 years. Apparently, four beatings, prison, and psychological torture does not pay the debt in Virginia, just a few short hours from Charlottesville. Little did I know, Judge Marcus H. Long doesn't abide sentencing guidelines. He never has. The prosecutor, Eric Branscom, knows this all too well, though he only admits to such after you sign an “open” plea. My guidelines called for 1.8-4.8 years. Forty people from six states and as far as California came to speak on my behalf. Approximately 100 others wrote letters speaking to my quality of character and the fact that this one act was aberrant and completely uncharacteristic. A specialist in neuro-trauma gave his expert medical opinion, aoo of this at a sentencing hearing, two days after armed Nazis were given a police escort two hours north of my hearing.
During the same hearing, in an example of horrific judicial misconduct, Judge Marcus H. Long told the above mentioned medical specialist, Dr. Ralph Brown MD, “you don’t know what you are talking about. I know mental health” before ignoring the entire testimony given. He also compared me to the right wing maniac Timothy McVeigh, an act of slander, libel and political rhetoric showing clear bias. He then sentenced me to 20 years, 15 to serve, a 321% upward enhancement to which he offered no valid reason for. In the past 15 years, no other similar case of the 27th district of VA has ever seen such drastic and disproportionate sentencing. No one we’ve spoken with is able to understand how this was allowed to go on.
Appeals were similarly denied. “Virginia” is the reason, we’re told. Our habeas is now open and waiting to to be ruled on by the VA Supreme Court. I am currently housed at Pocahontas State Corruption Center. It is one of the worst prisons in the state. A majority of the guards are alt-right. I daily watch as white nationalist inmates, complete with a wide array of Nazi tattoos, receive favor, as black, Jewish, Muslim and non-Nazi white tread as gently as possible out of a deep fear of harm.
While here, I’ve been threatened by Lt. McClanahan, filed PREA complaints against Sgt. Thompson and CO Crawford. I have been denied medical treatment for the TBI and subsequent head injuries. In fact, a non-specialist doctor decided that the opinion of the neuro-trauma specialist does not warrant consideration -- a Virginia default it seems.
I’ve been buying my own food for 17 months and fear for my safety once more due to the nut products. The medical unit here never bothered to inform the kitchen of my allergy -- serve me peanut butter, please...and mental health support during all of this?! All but non-existent.
All of this has been reported , grievances filed, attorney’s and everyone else over and over. Not a finger lifted from any corner. There is more I’ve endured, that I currently endure. I’ve kept a journal for the past 5 years. I send daily reports to a local activist and reform group… again. The worst part of this cruel nightmare is how many times I’ve written this letter. The cruel and inhumane treatment -- the daily harm and suffering -- and nothing is done. I am just one, of the 2.5 million humans, being irrevocably damaged and slowed killed.