Criminally Insane

By Mike Powers

There is an interesting side effect to the reticence of Texas juries or judges in declaring anyone to be mentally fit to stand trial, and it is this: Texas prisons aren’t just filled with criminals, they’re also filled with the mentally ill cast-offs of society. Of course, this is not a new problem. It’s just one that most all of the other states -- not to mention other civilized nations — have already addressed to good effect. It’s unfortunate, but my home state has not.

About a week ago, they moved in a fellow named “Colt”. I’ll call him that, because, well, that’s his name. Now, Colt introduced himself by saying, “They call me Colt. Like a Colt .45 pistol.” I told him who I was, and the fellow sure seemed normal enough. He went off to his cell to unpack his stuff, and I didn’t think any more about it.

A couple of hours later, I heard an angry voice coming from “two row”, the upstairs level. I looked up, and it was Colt. There wasn’t anyone else up there, but he was the one talking, and he was mad. He was gesticulating and using a real agitated tone of voice. Now who or what he was talking to, I had no idea. He walked up and down the run several times, carrying on this way, and then went back into his cell.

The next time I saw him, we were headed to chow, and he was as normal as you please, carrying on a conversation in a friendly way, introducing himself to some other fellows with his “Colt .45” joke. And then, a little after six o’clock, when they called rec, I went outside to walk a little bit. Colt went out too, and he spent the entirety of our rec time walking vigorously around the yard all by himself while cursing, threatening, and then sometimes laughing.

Trust me, I’m no psychologist, and if I was, my first patient would probably be me. But I don’t need a degree to know this guy isn’t fully functional upstairs. If you think I’m making fun of him or something like that, think again. The truth is, this is a disgusting display of the failure of the Texas Criminal Justice System to recognize and engage mentally disturbed behavior instead of criminalizing it. I have no idea what this man is in prison for, but whether it’s drunk driving or a crime of willful violence, there is no way he should be in general population. The man needs treatment at an institution qualified to deal with his problems, because if they release back out into the free world now, he isn’t capable of handling it.

Why is it that the TDCJ has such a problem with this kind of thing? They don’t want to offer drug or alcohol treatment, they don’t want to offer sex offender treatment, or any other type of rehabilitative treatment until right before an inmate is scheduled to leave virtually guaranteeing that the system will have no way to judge if the treatment has been successful until the innocent public becomes the guinea pig for the test case. Speaking of crazy, this is it, my friends.

However, with people that have problems beyond treatment, issues that land well within the purview of psychiatric care, it should be imperative that these people get diagnosed and treated before they are released lest they become an even greater danger to society. This is because, no matter what they might have done to come to prison, I can promise you they won’t leave LESS disturbed or LESS mentally ill than when they came in unless they get some help. And by “help”, I DON’T mean that the state needs to lock them up in a cell in an institution where they don’t see the light of day again.

If memory serves from my PSYCH-101 class, the symptoms that Colt is displaying suggest schizophrenia. If so, this is a condition readily treatable by modern medicine. By taking a couple of pills a day, Colt won’t have to walk around looking like an escaped patient from an asylum, and his fellow inmates, myself included, can stop worrying that one of these self-talking episodes doesn’t turn into another “Full Metal Jacket”.

This is not TDCJ’s forte. In fact, I don’t think it’s even found anywhere in their brief skill set. They don’t care if Colt is fruitcake crazy, because the courts have never made them care. They don’t care if he hurts himself or others, because all of us are just expendable human props in their drama to collect taxpayer dollars by the truckload and spend as little as possible. And then they have the gall to tell you they’re doing it to save you money. Here’s a thought: Maybe treating people with mental illness while they are incarcerated would give them a foundation to build their lives on so they won’t come back to prison along with the other 80% (EIGHTY-FREAKIN’-PERCENT!) of Texas inmates doomed to reenter the prison. Because next time this guy comes to jail, maybe it won’t be a quick trip. Maybe the tax dollars will be paying for a capital murder trial and all those wonderful appeals for the next twenty years. Oh yeah, that’s really saving some cash, isn’t it? Kicking the can down the road for someone else to deal with isn’t going to solve any problems.

I wish I could tell you that Colt is the first, or even one of the few, people I’ve met in here that need professional mental help, but I can’t. There are hundreds of people just like him locked up in state prisons, and this will continue to be a problem until the public brings enough pressure to bear on our elected officials to do something. Meanwhile, the really crazy antics aren’t in here; they’re in Huntsville.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez