Prison. The last stop on a long line of bad encounters for individuals who suffer from mental illness. It seems crazy to treat a health issue this way, doesn’t it? After all, we don’t send people to jail for having cancer. And yet we criminalize the mentally ill for a disease that produces behaviors that are completely beyond their control. They would come with a straight jacket, or the bull squad would come and if you were… y’know, fighting back, they’d maybe try to maybe get you upside down. Any way to restrain you. And sometimes people have a fractured arm, they was real rough, and you’re going off, and you’re having a manic moment and you hit one of them, they might snuff you, kick you – I mean, I -out of my whole 18 years -I did a total of approximately 4 years in solitary confinement. The prison system is ill equipped to treat people with mental illness. Guards resort to abuse to force compliance. Medical care, including vital medication and therapy, are more often than not – neglected. This lack of care leads to horrific encounters which defy our very sense of human decency. One out of every three inmates in Tennessee prisons is mentally ill. Jason Toll was one of them. In August, 2010, officers at River Bend armed with tasers and shock shields forced Jason Toll out of his barricaded cell. They then carried him out of the cell to an unlit prison yard -and restrained him with shock shields. We need to, as much as possible, decriminalize mental health care. There are many people who come into custody, who come into the criminal justice system, largely because of their mental health challenges. And we need to identify that -not that we need to excuse crime or excuse certain behavior that needs intervention -but we need to understand how ineffective criminal justice involvement -especially incarceration is for folks with mental health challenges. Pete Early has written books about the treatment of people with mental illness. This is somebody that needed help for her mental illness. She didn’t need punishment, and she ended up dead. Early says instead of helping McKenna, they put her in isolation for a week before the day they tried to transfer her. It is not good for anyone’s mental health to be in solitary confinement. It’s not good for anyone’s mental health to be isolated from other people for any length of time. Even a very brief period of time. So that’s a big problem -the DAs and the judges don’t know anything about people with mental illness, and they’re really punishing people. And as I said before -put it on camera. It’s all about money and jobs The fact that you’re profiting from someone’s incarceration causes an issue because at the end of the day, the motive is to make money, and to make a profit. And so, in that sense, these corporations are incentivized to fill the beds and so there’s no incentive to decarcerate -there’s no incentive to rehabilitate. Inmates are enduring quote “barbaric” and horrific treatment, and living in a perpetual state of crisis. The lawsuit alleges that instead of the medical care these people are supposed to receive -specifically at this facility -the prisoners health needs are instead ignored, and underfed. There was a desperate attempt to escape the conditions inside the east Mississippi correctional facility -that’s a for profit prison where the mentally ill are being housed. They had my son on the ground, they had one boot was on his neck. Another boot was kicking him and hitting him and there was a boot also on his head. And he had a huge swelling and marks all over and they would not get him medical help until they pushed the swelling on his head down with their physical hands and then got him ice and forced it on his head. And um… y’know, pressing it very hard. It’s such a traumatic experience that you’re like walking around in a daze. Prison guards, sheriffs, they don’t understand that. So they think that you’re actually being rebellious or that you’re being defiant. And so, you get a lot of abuse. I mean, cause if you don’t answer them, or you don’t do what they say, they have other ways of making you do what they want -and because you’re not reacting in a way that they would want you to react, the abuse keeps on coming until they either give up, or they just throw you in a cell and say “forget it”. What I probably urge is -any authorities that have oversight to areas where they incarcerate other people to use the least restrictive measures possible to provide the safety of the other inmates and their staff -but also, to respect the human rights and the human needs of that prisoner him or her self. because that’s very important I ended up getting out of building nine, where they kept the mental patients and was allowed to live in general population. And I was fine until, you know, they would mess with me. And when they would mess with me, we had a lot of racism going on, we had a lot of officers that were from upstate -and one guy had a baby – a black baby -tied to a tree with a noose around his neck. And he would stand in the mess hall and he would be standing there like this And we’re walking by -when you live -when you have a mental diagnosis in an institution, we all stay together. So it’s like you have to walk the line. And you’re walking, and just imagine you see the officer- Sergeant standing up there with a black baby tattooed on a tree with a noose around his neck. I don’t know about nobody else, but it was a trigger for me. And I walked over to him and I said “How can you stand here like that?”. And he said “Get away from me, n—–r. Is what he said. And he raised his hand up like he was going to hit me. Is this a humane or compassionate way to treat another human being who is suffering from a terrible affliction? Prison makes mental health conditions much, much worse. And in doing so, we’ve turned a public health problem into a criminal one. It’s time for us to re-think how we approach mental health.