Today, I saw Patrice Daniels at Stateville Correctional Center. I have been visiting prisoners at Stateville (located near Joliet, about an hour south of Chicago) for the last 35 years. Over the last year, I have visited with scores of seriously mentally ill prisoners. Today’s visit with Patrice was the most difficult, infuriating visit I have had in all those years.
Patrice is one of the named representatives of the plaintiff class in Rasho v. Baldwin, UPLC’s class action case alleging that mental health care in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) is so bad that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. We have reached a tentative settlement in the case. We recently learned that Patrice was in isolation, on “crisis watch”—meaning that he is suicidal—so I needed to meet with him to find out how he was being treated, and to discuss the settlement with him.
A word about “crisis watch” (see my earlier blog post about two women at Logan prison): Crisis watch means that you are held in a special glass-front cell. All of your property is taken away, including your clothes, and you are left with a “suicide smock” to wear, and nothing else. In a normal watch, a guard comes by the cell every 5 minutes, half hour, or whatever the doctor orders, to check that you are still alive. However, Patrice is on “constant watch,” which means that a guard is posted outside his cell ALL THE TIME. The guard’s job is literally only to stare at Patrice 24/7. Patrice has been on watch since late March.
As is required by prison rules, last week I sent in my written request for approval of a confidential legal visit with Patrice Daniels, and that visit was approved. However, when I arrived at Stateville this morning, the guards at the front gate told me that I would not be permitted to visit with him, because he was on crisis watch. I explained that I was meeting with Patrice precisely because he was on crisis watch. The guards said that their supervisor had told them that the visit was denied, but that I could raise it with the Lieutenant upstairs.
When I arrived at the second gate upstairs, I was informed that mental health was checking to see if I could have a visit, but that in any event, my visit would be in the “no contact” room. I responded that I didn’t care where the visit was, but that it would have to be confidential, as it was a legal visit. I was then escorted to the “no contact” room, where it was obvious that the visit could not possibly be confidential in that setting. There were two other families visiting with prisoners in the same room, and everyone had to speak loudly because all communication is via a telephone. Since I could hear everything the other visitors were saying, it was obvious that they would be able to hear everything I said to Patrice.
Normally, I would have left at that point, since it was clear that I was not going to be permitted to have a true legal visit. However, I decided that I needed to check in on Patrice, and that he deserved to know what was going on. I have known Patrice for close to a decade. He was sentenced to prison at the age of 18, and is serving natural life. He has suffered from severe mental illness for years, and has never received proper treatment.
Finally, after an hour and a half, they brought Patrice into the “no contact” room, and we attempted to have a short visit. As I had feared, it was impossible to have any sort of conversation at all, as the ambient sound was so loud that it was difficult to hear through the phone without shouting. Any private conversation was simply out of the question.
Patrice was clearly in the midst of a schizophrenic break—he was actively hearing voices, and was having a very difficult time concentrating. The loud noises we were forced to talk over were agitating him further. Patrice briefly described to me his recent history—he has now severely cut himself five times in the last two weeks or so, most recently very early this morning. He had several open, bleeding, untreated wounds which were clearly visible on his right arm. Patrice stated that the only “treatment” that he has had during his time on watch has been a check each morning, which consists of nothing more than someone stopping by his cell and asking him how he is, and whether he is going to hurt himself. No groups. No one-on-one therapy. No attempt to adjust his medication. When Patrice asked the head of mental health at Stateville what the plan was for him once he came off watch, he was told that they did not have one. That they were doing the “best they could, given the resources they had.” Patrice also said that he had been given a disciplinary report for dangerous contraband—the item he used to slice his thigh open.
It quickly became apparent that it was not only impossible to have a meaningful conversation with Patrice under these conditions, but that shouting in the phone we had to use to communicate was making his mental state worse. Therefore, I ended the visit, with a promise to return once we could arrange for a better visiting situation.
In Patrice’s own words, “I thrive when I’m getting treatment.” When he’s receiving the (minimal) treatment offered by IDOC, Patrice gets better—but so much better that IDOC decides he no longer needs treatment. This causes Patrice’s mental illness to flare up again, causing him to act out—this has even resulted in added time to his original sentence.
Patrice needs to be in a hospital. He needs intense one-on-one and group therapy to learn coping mechanisms which do not involve self-harm. His medications likely need to be adjusted—under carefully controlled conditions. Once stabilized, he should be placed somewhere he can continue to be monitored, and continue to receive intensive levels of therapy. He needs to be in a supportive environment. Patrice will never get better locked in isolation for 24 hours a day, with nothing to do.
What is being done to Patrice is torture. He is being tortured in our name, by our government. This is not acceptable, and is an example of why UPLC filed our mental health care lawsuit against IDOC.