Mental health in prisoners’ experience

A lot of people with mental health issues are housed in general population. They don’t get the help they need. They have behaviors they can’t help, and they are mistreated, have their things taken, get into fights, etc.
One prisoner threw a hot cool-aid on someone. She could not help it. But we, on the yard, are not trained how to deal with it. The guards have no compassion and don’t handle such problems.
In a small room housing 8 women, if one has mental health issues problems arise often. Guards don’t respond to reports of problem behavior. Despite the memos urging us to report problem behaviors after the rash of recent suicides, it takes something happening to guards directly before they take any action, like moving the prisoner out of a room that is causing her problems.
There is an Enhanced Out-Patient unit (EOP) where mentally disturbed prisoners are supposed to be housed, but it is always too full.
I know of at least one woman who talked to herself. Perhaps she thought she was talking to God? One time I saw her sitting on a bench next to spilled coffee, dipping a piece of bread in it and eating it. I tried to tell her not to eat this, but she just looked around, not taking a notice of me, said something into the air and continued dipping and eating her bread.
She walked around the yard for about 2 months like that, getting no help. Since as part of her condition she did not wash herself or her hair, you can see how it would be hard to live in the same room with her, why people might turn mean.
When she received a notification that a settlement of something that happened before she came caused some money to be put in her account, others got her to sign orders, go and pick up the ordered items, which they would then take from her. It went on like that until all her money was gone. She was just a victim, she could not defend herself.


They expect the general population to take care of mental health patients. I earned the name “Mama Sherrie” in prison because they are always putting mental patients in my room to take care of them. I have one now. She is a cutter. She rocks back and forth all day long. In other rooms people would beat her up or misuse her. It is hard to deal with her on top of everything else going on in here, but I do treat her with respect, like a human being. When she felt like cutting herself, she would do it outside the room out of respect for me. She has not cut herself in about a month now.
But it is not fair that there is no other help for her. There should be screening on A-yard (where the incoming prisoners are housed during their assessment.) The fear of coming over the wall can drive anyone crazy. We don?t know what?s going on, word-of-mouth is how we hear anything. With all the recent suicides, people are scared. Some are asking to be housed in the gym because people in regular yards are driven to suicide, get beaten up, raped… There is no mental health here.


Women with mental health issues should be in a more supervised environment, where they could get some help. But they brought women from EOP into the general population.
General population has no experience in dealing with them and no patience. It is an injustice to both. The mentally ill get abused by the system, and then abused by the inmates.
You see it all the time: people who are not sane walking among those who don?t care. The prison’s only answer is to medicate people, to give them pills to keep them from coping with being in here.
People who were on drugs are still on drugs in here–legal or illegal. That is not a solution. The medical system has failed the society when its remedy only perpetuates the problem. People come here for abusing drugs, they are already mentally challenged. They come out of here no better and frequently much worse.
I’ve seen ladies here lose their minds under the deplorable conditions. It’s like war–the experience can make you snap. It’s scary when no one cares.
When people get sick in here, they are scared to go to the doctor, not only does it cost the $5 co-pay (which many cannot afford) but you don’t get neither the care you need nor the medicine you might need if you do get a diagnosis.


Medical is slow for everybody, but especially ineffective for people with mental health problems. There should be more help, more consistent care. The guards need to have more patience with them. Even the doctors don?t treat them right.
This is prison, but it does not mean people should be treated like animals. The staff is very disrespectful. It would help if people who work here would just do their job and not act like we are poison. We are not.


EOP, where mentally ill patients are housed, is not a program. They are just regular cells. The guards make lifers responsible for the prisoners with mental problems. The guards don’t care what happens. When they come through inspecting every room, checking that everything is clean and in order, they don’t even bother looking in the rooms where EOP women are housed. They don’t expect them to meet any standards.
People with mental health problems here are over-medicated. They seem more depressed on drugs than without them. The medications frequently have severe side-effects: I have seen people repeatedly throwing up, for example. Others have gained a lot of weight.
Some of the women are violent, they beat older/weaker prisoners at the slightest provocation, sometimes for no reason at all. The officers don?t try to help at all, even though they know some of those long-termers.
The long-termers are doing everything they can to help themselves be eligible to get parole. They can’t afford 115’s for fighting. So they take a lot of abuse. The guards torment everyone, and some of the women torment other women. How is that supposed to help anyone?


VSPW has an increasing number of mental health patients mixed in with the general population. Some are playing the game and utilize psychotropic meds to get high and not deal with their issues. For instant, on D Yard the SAP program ?approximately one half of the combination of both programs use meds to substitute for street addiction. Also as a scapegoat for if they have potential 115’s. The common reply is “so what if I hit her I?m CCCMS.”
This makes treatment hard to come by for the overworked mental health staff and truly mental health patients, who frequently fall through the cracks. These patients get taunted by women and staff alike. Staff is quick to medicate, not encourage walking through the valley of life?s mental issues. It’s sad to see women who have lost hope in suicide watch being treated like an animal. A great deal of the time they just want someone to listen.
For us battered survivors, who aren’t CCCMS, yet have BWS and PTSD we have no outlet, but one another to deal with our problems due to law requiring per the Coleman. Yet put to the wayside due to those who have manipulated the mental health system.
Bottom line VSPW shouldn’t be a dumping ground for the truly mentally ill. They should have special facilities for them not being warehoused in an overcrowded system which doesn’t care. Medicating everyone into submission isn’t a solution to problems. It’s deferring the problem, when you get off meds the problems will remain intact until they are dealt with. That can be a lifetime of unresolved issues if you choose not to heal and cope from the problems of the past. The past can only be as powerful as you let it.
You can choose anytime to not let issues be a crutch no matter how painful they are. Working through life’s valleys and peaks can only empower you to play a role in a brighter future.


There are people in here who talk to themselves, laugh by themselves. Others laugh at them. Nobody helps them.
Some are like that from drug abuse. The psych department just gives them pills. It’s not clear whether they get better or worse from them.
There are more attempted suicides and more people who do kill themselves. Each individual has an assigned councilor, but we never get to talk with them about our personal problems. They meet with you only to get your classification or when they need a statement about you for the court.