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Testimony to mental health audit in 2008
This is DarRen Morris , with his story- many people in prison have similar stories of neglect and abuse through out young lives, then in courts. DarRen has made his way out of the darkness and is determined to make a better future. Here he gives testimony to a legislative audit on the mentally ill in prison.
Legislative Audit Bureau
22 E. Mifflin Suite 500,
Madison, WI 53703
Re.: Mental Illness Testimony
Date: October 28, 2008
Darren Morris (#236425)
Columbia Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 900,
Portage, WI 53901
Peace and Love
Recently Peggy Swan has informed that you are conducting some sort of audit on the Mental Health treatment of inmates, I will share with you my experiences and hopefully it will help you to help us, and help people like Peg. I truly believe that Peg saved my life, had she not gotten involved and let the prison know that someone was watching they would have killed me, because I was in a place in my mind that I would act without regard for my own well being or fore thought what they would do to me.
I am not sure what all you need to know so I will give you a short history of how I got here. My mental health problems seem to have plagued me from the beginning. When I was about 3, I was playing with my father´s pistol, and when my mother seen me, she went to take the gun from me; as she snatched it, it went off, hitting my mother. From that point on I was not very well liked among family members. My mother lived, and gave the story to the officials that when she set the gun down on the dresser, it went off accidentally, this was to keep the State from taking her children. My brothers and others would often do things to me to punish me. I will not go into specifics, most of it was physical, and restraints (home made), different types of isolation, there was some sexual from both older males and females.
I accepted what ever they did without complaint, I felt that I deserved it for shooting my mother.
Until I was about 11, one of my mother´s boyfriends done something to me that was a wake up call, I do not remember how I understood it but I knew that if I did not do something, they were going to kill me in that house. I began to retaliate whenever and however I could. This sudden violence shocked many people that were not in the home and did not know the situation, because I was a very silent person, I read a lot and tried as best as I could to not be seen or heard. This change in them, or rather in me, brought a change in that they became even more violent, if that was possible.
I went through a very long depression by the time I was thirteen, I was hearing voices and it would be like I would see somebody on the side of me out of the corner of my eye, but when I would look, they would be gone. I would be fine for a while, and things would just change, I did not understand what was going on and what was happening to me. I was sent to a special school after seeing the school shrink who sent me to another doctor, who diagnosed me with Schizophrenia, and they put me on medication
In 1993 I was released from boys school (Lincoln Hills), they sent me to a group home before sending me home. When my medication ran out I stopped taking it. I never told my mother. She noticed that I began to change and thought that I was on drugs. She felt that “we” were in need of a fresh start. She moved me to Green Bay, where a family friend had moved to and told her that they had more resources to help me up there than they did in the inner city.
Within a few months, I was convinced that people were trying to kill me, I even lost weight because I was certain that my mother was poisoning my food, so I would only eat can goods, but I went through great lengths to ensure that I picked my own cans from the store. My weight went from about 220 to about 185, maybe 190 pounds, I worked out and ate a lot of beans, I had to be ready for when they came.
I eventually hit a breaking point. First I tore up my mother´s apartment, trying to figure out where these voices were coming from. I was taken to Brown County Mental Health Center, I was there for a day or so and they let me go, I was convinced that I had been drugged, so I told them that I was drugged and that is what they went with.
Two weeks later I felt I was being followed in school and the voices were telling me that they were going to kill me, I kept trying to get away. I got trapped in a hallway that had only one way out and these two guys that I thought were about to get me had just entered the hallway. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew what they came to do and I started to fight for my life, several teachers attempted to restrain me, I hate to be grabbed! They were unable to restrain me. They let me leave rather than attempt to try and fight with me. I was picked up by the police, I fought with them, with additional officers; they were able to restrain me.
I was taken to the hospital, which referred me to the psych. hospital. They took a urine sample, because they were sure I had to be on drugs I was not. They told my mother I was dangerous, something needed to be done. My mother asked me how I felt, I said I was fine as long as she did not let them tie me down again. The first night I was in there they strapped me down to a bed and left me in there alone. I told my mother that, she refused to sign the commitment papers.
I was taken to court and they sought to get an order from the court, but because I was 17, the judge did not want to place me in an institution without trying everything else first. I was released on a 90 day consent settlement. I was put on medication called Haldol. I was sent to counselling. I got better.
By 1994 I was so good that I thought I was cured and I stopped taking the medication. March 22 I had fallen back into the same pattern, but I had not peaked yet, I was at an apartment with my then girlfriend and either because it was true or these people thought it was funny to mess with the crazy guy, the people in this apartment started talking about gang members with guns outside wanting to kill us, people were running this way and that way, screaming, they would go to the window and say stuff like there they go and run away from the window. I use to be in a gang and many of my childhood friends in the Kenosha and Northern Illinois area were shot and stabbed by members of a gang called Latin Kings and these were the same people they said were outside. This went on for 1 maybe 3 hours, I was convinced I could not get out.
Eventually, I was backed into such a place mentally that I began to hear stuff, and I became fearful that it was true that they were going to kill me. I could not stay in that apartment any more, I had to get out, armed with a knife I went out. There was a man in a red truck. This man lost his life there in some dispute about what actually happened. Witnesses told police that I stabbed the victim 3 times. The next day I was arrested and I could not remember stabbing the victim. I remembered going outside with the knife and then waking up.
Over the next few months I began remembering things, each memory about that night, and each one was as real as any memory I ever had, if not more real. The county jail had me see a psych. doctor and put me back on medication (Haldol). My attorney was told about this, I pled a special plea, of Not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. The Judge signed an order to have me evaluated for mental responsibility, but they never did the evaluation.
The day of trial my attorney told the court that he had written a letter and I signed it wanting to withdraw the plea. The court asked me one question, if that was true, to which I said yeah.
I was convicted and I was sent to prison. In Dodge they put me back on medication. I had stopped taking it before trial, because I could not think on it. I went into a long depression. I was sent to Green Bay Correctional. I was okay for a while, then I was sent to Waupun Correctional Institution and they had a very different way of doing things. I was placed in segregation.
They locked me in this room, and before long I had attempted suicide, I could not take it anymore, and the only way to escape that I know was to hang myself, but fortunately for me, I did not brake my neck or crush anything, I was choked unconscious. But that was only the beginning. I would fight with them, they would fight back, they would gas me, and as punishment, they would leave the stuff on burning, and they would tell me to remember that feeling. But sometimes they would attack me when I had not done anything.
Once I was placed in observation, after I told the psych doctor that I was hearing voices. They took all my clothes and placed me in a cell with big windows and a camera, naked, I did not have a blanket or a mattress. They gave me this rubber mat that looks like the mat that they put on the back of them trucks to keep from scratching it up. I was up for 2 days. It is extremely cold in there even in the summer time, which is not normal. I had fallen asleep finally, when the psych doctor came to see me. I told him to go away, I did not want to talk to him anymore, I refused to talk with him, so they gassed me, they then shocked me with a taser, they came in with the gorilla suits on, they beat me up and then tied me down to a bed, and every few hours, the nurse would ask if I had to go, and when I did have to go, the nurse would come in while 2 blue shirts and a white shirt stood watch, the nurse would take my penis and place it into this thing that looked like a big clear plastic coffee mug, or if I needed a bed pan, they would leave me strapped to that bed and just slide it under me without letting me up to clean myself, or give me the privacy to go.
This would be a revolving cycle, at times I would be blessed to get out of seg, but it would
not last long. I would be written up for some sort of rule violation, some times it was legit, I had done something wrong, and sometimes, the officers would bet on a pool on how long a “Seg. rat”, which is a name they use to call inmates that spend a lot of time in the hole. The pool would be based on how long it would take before they could make me snap or act out. In population there is no one to talk with who can help you through the rough times. Every 3 months I would be seen by a head shrink to see how I was, but he would have 4 or 5 guys scheduled for one hour, and he would push you back out of the door as quick as you came in.
There were times, I wanted to learn what was wrong with (me) and have some one to talk with and help me do that. I eventually learned from some very special people and funny enough I met them all about the time, Peg, a lady named Jamyi Witch, who was a chaplain at Waupun Correctional, and George Kammer, a crisis intervention worker at Waupun. These people really cared for me, and no matter how long it took in some cases that meant hours, they would talk with me, explain things to me, and the helped me reconnect with something that was lost. These type of people are not well liked in here. The guards make life very hard for them, and the women who want to help and actually care, usually get accused of having some kind of inappropriate relationship with one or so inmates.
Peg helped me reconnect with painting and drawing, as a way to distract and soothe. No one had ever taken time to explain simple things like that. Those seg units are not right. I understand that if I do something wrong, I should be held to answer for that.
The place usually smells of urine, and I do not mean the gas station bathroom kind, this is the kind that when I first smelled it, I got sick, partly because it is usually fused with other smells, body odor from guys that have not washed in a while, and at times fecal matter. There is an endless attack of noise, banging and yelling, but if I take out my hearing aides to escape the noise, then I do not get fed. There are no real programs to deal with the needs of the mentally ill, the staff do not know how to deal with us and often times they do things to intentionally make it worse and sometimes it seems unintentional.
They cannot make an accurate diagnosis of what is really wrong, because they see so many people they just give you pills and send you on your way, and they will change that diagnosis to suit their needs. I had been in a single cell for nearly 14 years. When I got here as a way to get even with me and punish me, they took my single cell status and doubled me up.
I have a very real fear about contact with an adult male, if I think he is peeking at me, with any hint of funny ideals, I can not handle that. But I have to remind myself to think first. I was fortunate, I was blessed to meet people that helped me brake the cycle. I have been stable for about 3 years on medication. It helps when there is a real check and balance, when Peg let them know that someone was watching out for me and willing to go to bat for me, it made them back off me long enough for others who want to help, to help.
I have many medical records and will do whatever I need to do, to help you help us. Most of the time I am fine, from time to time I need a little extra help, as I have gotten older, I am now being treated for Bi-Polar, manic-depressive type.
Be at Peace, Be Blessed
See DaRen's art at : http://darrenmorrisartist.blogspot.com/read his guide for urban youth: http://guidebydarrenmorris.blogspot.com