“Caged” Mental Health

by Sandi Nieves, Central California Women?s Facility, Death Row
Caged mental health is cruel and unusual punishment, and it is insane. You may be asking, “What do you mean by ‘caged’ mental health?” Well, I am one of 15 women in California who live in a cage about half the size of an average dog run. Yes, I feel as a hamster would in his cage.
As one of California’s 15 women condemned to die, I live in a cage inside of a building. I am not joking! Imagine being locked in your home and if you go somewhere, someone holds your arms, cuffs you, and tells you when to walk, stop or turn. The bricks are brown, drab and unpainted. We see no color except for the officers’ green uniforms. You may say, “At least you are still alive.” No, I feel that I am “existing” and literally losing my mind!
Much of a woman’s incarceration is about degrading her through denial of colorful clothes, make-up, hair dye, nail polish, etc. These are all things that define a woman. Then I’m also constantly reminded of my “diminishing mental health.” People are saying to me, “Don’t you remember?” or “You forgot already?” It used to feel like absentmindedness every once in a while. But now on a daily basis, someone is reminding me of something I have already said or done and I have no recollection of it whatsoever! I am only 44 years old.
I speak to a so-called mental health worker every 90 to 120 days for about one or two minutes. Most of the time the pysch is writing in the previous inmate’s medical chart, not mine. They only care about meeting their quotas, not about me.
I now know that depression is a disease that necessitates medication. I repeatedly asked for assistance last year and nobody listened until I told them I had already tried to take my life. The sergeant at the time even noted my bizarre behavior but refused to place me under evaluation or suicide watch. She just didn’t care. It was 2 weeks after my failed suicide attempt that I got to talk to anyone, then another week to see the psychiatrist to put me on an anti-depressant that might help.
I felt like such a burden on my friends and family and just figured everyone would be better off without me. I can’t ever be off my medication now. I need to help others understand that they are not alone. And if we do something stupid, we only hurt the ones we love the most.
I feel that there should never be a system to “cage” human beings! Being housed in a cage, being isolated, oppressed and repressed has added to my “insanity” not health. We shouldn’t have to exist like this. Yes, I am condemned to die, but I’m still a human being inside these walls, just as all the other inmates are, and we should not be treated like a sardine or a hamster. We all deserve mental health, not insanity. Do the right thing, treat me as a human being!