February 25, 2012
At the risk of alienating some of my readers and unduly alarming my girlfriend, I recently have begun to suspect that I have become mentally ill, or perhaps what were once mild mental health disorders are worsening and becoming noticeable to me. I am also concerned that if I am aware of the symptoms, they may be apparent to others as well, affecting how those others relate to me and, in turn, how I feel about those other people. When it is taken into account that existence in a prison, perhaps even, or much more so than in normal, everyday society, if largely defined by a person relationship with others. After all, an inmate in constantly surrounded by and interacting with his/her cellmate, the other inmates who live on the tier, the unit officers, other officers throughout the facility, the unit caseworker, coworkers and bosses, not to mention periodic interviews by a panel of parole commissioners. It is quite evident why my concerns and suspicions exist and how serious they in fact are.
I have known for about five years that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This disorder takes two forms. First, I am a “checker”, meaning that I have to check and re-check all of my calculations, data, facts and figures to ensure their accuracy and perfection. The second form of this disorder manifests in my need for everything to be in its assigned place as defined by my highly intricate system of organization. I become mildly distressed and frustrated when I am unable to satisfy or even am delayed in satisfying, these compulsions. Fortunately, they distress and frustration does not rise to the level of severe disruption of functioning, but it is noticeable to me. The second form is also noticeable to others as evidenced by the many comments from several different people who have gotten to know me over the last five years.
Within the last six months, I have begun to notice that I experience severe mood swings consistent with bi-polar disorder. One or two other inmates who live on my tier have noticed this about me as well, as they have commented about it to me but my own suspicions arose prior to the comments. I do not believe that being bi-polar is a recent development but rather is a condition which I’ve had for quite awhile but which has only recently worsened to the point where it have become apparent to myself and others.
Depression is a component of bipolar disorder, although it is a mental disorder in and of itself, and one with which I have dealt with for much of my life, certainly since my teens and perhaps prior. I do not believe that my depression could have been described as anything other than mild prior to my incarceration but being incarcerated and repeatedly denied parole given the facts and circumstances of my case, coupled with my family moving on without me (which I know as only normal), without a doubt worsened it. I have begun to recognize, though, that it had become worse still, certainly since my transport to this facility on July 27, 2011, and perhaps even a month prior to that when the incident with Correctional Officer Sean Lagier occurred. My depression now is what I would categorize as pretty bad. My thoughts are…well, very dark, darker then they’ve been in a decade or more.
When I arrived at this facility from county jail on April 17, 2000, I was pulled aside from the other “fish” and interviewed by a mental health worker. During the course of the interview, I remember I told the worker that I wasn’t doing 12 years in prison, that I would exhaust every legal avenue, then go over the wall and if that failed, leave in a body bag. The twelfth anniversary of my arrest was May 23, 2011, a few scant days more than a month before the incident with Lagier. I obviously am still here, alive but perhaps not so well, with a legal avenue or two still unexhausted, too physically out of shape and decrepit to make a try at the fence. Every night now, for perhaps the last six months, maybe less, I plead with the gods before I go to sleep for their mercy in not letting me wake up but they have not seen fit to grant my nightly request. What gets me through each subsequent day are my parents and my girlfriend. My father is 88 years old, doesn’t have too many years left to him and has already had to bury one son; he shouldn’t have to bury another. I can vividly imagine the pain my mother and girlfriend would experience if I were to deprive them of my unique individuality, of the person I am.
Thoughts such as these are not new to me at all, although their frequency and regularity are. What is new, and quite terrifies me, that that I no longer seem to care about anything which I previously valued, aside from the three aforementioned people. For example, I have always cared about and placed a high value on my possessions, the items and conveniences, which make life comfortable and bearable. Yet for the last six or seven months, I have seriously contemplated stripping myself completely naked and throwing every last possession, including clothing, food and even the state owned mattress upon which I sleep, out on the tier just to deprive correctional officers of their most potent weapon; the cell search or “shakedown”. The cell search essentially uses our desire for possessions, conveniences and comfort against us. After all, an officer can’t threaten me with a shakedown if I have nothing to shakedown can (s)he? On the plus side, I used to cringe at the thought of a shakedown, sometimes so much so that I experienced physical discomfort, and now I don’t. On the minus side this is a major deviation from my normal behavior and personality.
What is also new and terrifying is the considerations and contemplation of the very likely possibility that new mental health disorders will manifest after I am removed from this severe and ongoing mental trauma that is my incarceration. My worst fear in this regard is the manifestation of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which I believe to be almost a certainty. My girlfriend has already suffered through the disintegration of a marriage caused in a large part due to PTSD, and it pains me terribly to think that I could end up putting her that again, unintentionally of course. I have begun to seriously consider never stepping foot outside of my residence once I am released back into the community, premised upon the theory that if I never leave my residence, I will never encounter a peace officer. I believe it to be likely that a mental health professional would consider such to be of evidence of a sever phobia of peace officers, strong enough to cause major disruption of functioning. Such irrational fears are one of the many precursors and symptoms of PTSD and they may already be forming.