This Mentally Ill Man Was Starved to Death In Prison for Stealing a $5 Snack
Ironically, the worst affected are those who need the most care. Many in our jails are waiting to be transferred to the state psychiatric hospital as soon as a bed becomes available.
Several, unfortunately, end up waiting for days, months and in some cases even years before they can be shifted.
However, it is not the wait that is so much the problem – it is what happens to the inside the prison; there are people who commit suicide, are raped or become so ill the end up losing their lives.
Take the example of Jamycheal Mitchell. His crime – stealing a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake; items that would have rung up $5.05 on the till.
The 24-year-old had a history of mental illness. For a decade he had suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He had stopped taking his medication before that fateful day when he stole from a 7-Eleven in Portsmouth.
Mitchell was arrested for his petty theft and presented before a judge, who ordered him to be taken to a state psychiatric hospital. With a system and the way it works, he ended up in jail instead. It seemed it would be months before a bed would become available for him.
This was in April 2014.
His condition became worse. Other inmates said he would walk in his cell naked and covered in faeces. He refused to eat or take medication and he yelled manically and loud enough for all to hear. Just a month after he entered Hampton Roads Regional Jail he was examined by a psychologist who concluded that Mitchell was manic and chaotic.
During the evaluation he rapped, danced around the room and dropped his pants several times. His words were often incoherent.
In a confused state after his arrest he surrendered his right to an attorney. His relatives tried to see him much because they were not on his visitation list so they were not allowed. His aunt Roxanne Adams said she called the authorities around 40 times, but was not permitted to meet her nephew.
By July, Mitchell was often seen naked and talking to himself. He would daub the walls of his cell with his own filth. One of his legs had swollen so much that another inmate described it as “elephant like”.
He tried to flush his bedding down the toilet so it had to be removed. There are also accounts that the man tried to flush his own clothes down and had to be given a smock to wear.
Although the jail vehemently denies this, there are inmates who said Mitchell vacillated between starving and eating voraciously. Staff sometimes withheld food from him because he did not return his trays after meals.
Fellow prisoners say that he regularly asked for extra food, but his pleas were frequently ignored.
On July 30 Mitchell was taken to hospital, he was suffering from edema in both legs and other health issues that indicated that he possibly had some form of a liver condition.
The next day he reappeared in court, where his family members became obviously distraught looking at his scrawny frame.
Adams says she contacted the jail two days after the hearing and requested the staff to take him to the emergency room.
On August 16 an inmate who delivered Mitchell’s meals and worked in his cell block said the usually erratic man told him he was unwell and did not even stir from his bed. The helper informed jail staff of Mitchell’s condition, who said there was nothing to worry about.
Only two days later another inmate reports he saw the mentally ill man lying limp over the sink while his legs were sticking out. He asked for help and said he couldn’t move.
The inmate later specified that Mitchell told him his legs and body were hurting from the way he had been dragged to his cell. So far there is no other information available to confirm who dragged him and when it all happened. Once again jail staff ignored the fellow inmate’s warnings and Mitchell’s message to get help.
The next day Mitchell was found dead and there were no signs of foul play. In a disturbing account, his cell is described to have been soaking in urine.
Sadly, it was only a matter of days before he would have been transferred that a mental health facility. The space had finally become available, but a week too late.
It is even more unfortunate that Mitchell’s ordeal was the result of a five dollar transgression.
Several of the facts presented in Mitchell’s case have been denied by Hampton Roads Regional Jail. They say he was fed regularly and there were frequent visits from the nurse. They claim that there were no warnings about his declining health.
They also say they are unaware that his aunt called for him more than three dozen times.
Mitchell’s family is broken. They say they will have him cremated because to have been buried in the state and his body was given to them is all too painful. His mother says he was particular about the way he looked – always dressed in fashionable clothes with the latest sneakers. She says he often got a haircut twice a week. But, it is not the fact that he looked like a frail old man that bothers her most, she still cannot get over how tragic it was that he died alone.
Sadly, this is not the only case where a mentally ill inmate has suffered and with the way things are going it most certainly won’t be the last.
In Virginia alone, are 6800 prisoners suffering from mental health issues, representing a rise of at least 39% in the last five years. Worse yet, no jail staff need the resources available are equipped to deal with the demands of dealing with mentally ill prisoners.
A survey conducted by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors revealed at least 31 of 40 states had waiting list and the average waiting time stood at 30 days; however, there were three states that reported the delay be anything between six months and a year.
Recently a mentally ill defendant, who had to wait eight months before they received any treatment, was raped repeatedly in the Los Angeles jail. In Santa Clara County Jail three former guards were charged with murder for beating a mentally ill inmate until he died. In another example of a prisoner in Washington State committed suicide while waiting to receive treatment for mental health issues.
This is a deep-rooted issue, which will take considerable effort and resources to resolve. However, at this stage it has reached epic proportions and without solid steps to rectify the situation it is getting worse by the day.
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