News Day Tuesday: Alabama inmate struggling with mental illness commits suicide

News Day Tuesday

Good afternoon, readers! First of all, I want to apologize for the lack of posts these past few weeks–I got slammed with two bouts of cold/flu/whatever nastiness is going around this time of year and have been laying low.

This week, I want to share a recent story (updates were just posted about an hour ago) about Jamie Wallace, an inmate in Alabama who committed suicide in his cell. He originally pleaded non compos mentis (not guilty by way of mental illness, more commonly known as the “insanity defense”) in his mother’s murder, though he later changed his plea to guilty.

Those are some of the basic facts that led to Wallace’s incarceration. The more important point, however, is that before his death, Wallace mentioned receiving inadequate mental health care while incarcerated.

On Dec. 5, at the opening of a federal trial over mental health treatment in state prisons, Wallace described having multiple psychiatric disorders and claimed a prison officer once offered him a razor to use to kill himself. He also testified he had tried to hang himself at least once before. (Source: Seattle Times)

If this is true, it’s incredibly disturbing. It’s no secret that mental health care in general leaves much to be desired, though the problem is especially prevalent within the United States penal system. This is hardly the first instance of an inmate committing suicide while in prison, though Jamie Wallace’s case is yet another reminder of how much work still needs to be done.

I’m going to keep watching for updates and more details, but in the meantime, I think it’s important for all of us to focus not on Wallace’s crimes but on how the prison system failed to provide a human being with the resources needed to keep them alive. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the general state of health care within the prison system, but as in the “outside” world, it seems that mental illness is regarded as far less serious than physical ailments.

Let’s take this time to remember that we have a long way to go before we’ve achieved equality. Let’s take the time to mourn the fact that a person died by his own hand because he did not receive the help he desperately needed. Removing the “inmate” label from the equation also removes the stigma and helps us focus on what’s most important here.

Until next time, readers, stay safe and keep warm! I’ll post any updates about Jamie Wallace on the Facebook page.

News Day Tuesday: Mental Illness and Prison

bipolar disorder

Good afternoon, readers! First of all, I want to share some big news of my own–on Thanksgiving, on the rooftop of a family friend’s townhouse, my fella proposed to me! His parents and sister were there, which made it so special. I could not have asked for a more perfect guy or a more beautiful memory.

Now, on to the meat of today’s post–the treatment of the mentally ill in the United States penal system. I found a wonderful piece of investigative journalism (courtesy of the Boston Globe) that follows one inmate, Nick Lynch, through his release from prison and his adjustment to life on the outside.

Lynch, twenty-six years old and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had been incarcerated for eight years at the time of his release. His father had made plans for the two of them–going back to college was a huge goal, undergraduate for Nick and graduate school for his father. However, as Russell and Cramer note, “But Nick was sicker now than when he’d gone to prison.”

In prison, Lynch received little in the way of mental health care, and his illness was exacerbated by being segregated. Near the end of his sentence, he attempted suicide, which was the final push needed to secure better mental health care for him. This is deplorable and only serves as one more tragic event in the ever-mounting heap of stories of how the very systems designed to protect us–people with mental illness–fail, often with tragic consequences.

While prison officials defended the course of action taken at the facility, Lynch’s father tells a different story, stating that he was the one who had to push to secure appropriate treatment for his son.

The article is lengthy, but it follows Nick’s saga of treatment, the overall difficulties navigating the mental healthcare system, and his return to prison. I strongly encourage you to read the entire piece here–it is a wonderful example of the type of exposé we need to start making a difference in the lives of those who need it most.

This brings me to my next point–I’ve been meaning to do a series of sorts about deinstitutionalization in the United States, which I’m hoping to get started in the coming weeks. In the meantime, let me know if there are any specific topics you’d like me to go more in-depth on.

And, as always, stay safe and lovely, readers. I’ll see you next time.


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For once, I know exactly why I am crying.

a cure for what ails you, abuse, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

A Sylvia Plath tattoo blog on Tumblr reblogged my thigh piece with the entire poem (“Elm”) attached…and reading it actually made me cry.

For the first time in my life, I am weeping for everything that’s happened to me over the last 24 years, all the pain and heaviness and self-doubt from the horrifying amount of unimaginably cruel things that have been done to me (and that I’ve done to myself as a result). I am finally allowing myself to feel everything that I’ve repressed over the years because I was scared to let it out, terrified to lose my tightly-wound control even for a second.

For once, the tears aren’t the product of a chemical fluctuation in my brain. They’re cathartic and even though I can’t seem to stop, I’m not all that freaked out. I know this crying jag is of the good, healing variety. Experience isn’t the source of this knowledge—it’s a sign that I am finally beginning to trust my therapist, my husband, my friends who have told me all along that it’s better to let it out than to hold it inside.

I’ve been turning that pain inward for over two decades and somehow have not destroyed myself yet.

I am crying for Sylvia Plath. I am crying for my mother. I am crying for myself. I am crying for every person who has ever been a victim. I am crying for every person who is trying not to be a victim.

I am trying not to die.

Its snaky acids kiss.
It petrifies the will. These are the isolate, slow faults 
That kill, that kill, that kill.”

I am completely baffled by the fact that I’m still alive, still breathing even though there are days when every single breath hurts and every thought, every second of every minute of every hour is occupied by a battle of wills—resisting the urge to run a bath and grab a knife or stop casually poisoning myself and finally get the job done.

For the first time, I know I’m going to live and that thought doesn’t scare me.

It’s been a full week since my last suicidal thought.

a cure for what ails you, major depression, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, stigma, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

I can’t say I’ve been happy, but I haven’t really been super-depressed, either. I feel content and more at peace; for now, things are pretty quiet inside my head. There have been a few instances of the “dark core” piping up, but I’ve been able to shut the nasty automatic thoughts down with an efficiency I’ve never experienced before.

Is this what recovery feels like?

I’ve been getting out and taking a walk every night, at least 30 minutes at a time. Sometimes, I go out multiple times, usually when I start feeling restless and trapped in the apartment. It’s such a relief and so freeing to know that I’m not helpless, I’m not trapped. There are places I can go, things to see. I am becoming more comfortable with being alone with myself and just sitting with my thoughts—and my diagnosis.

There’s this huge misconception that people with bipolar disorder are loose cannons, that we’re violent and unpredictable. Crazy. Out of control. I’m learning that while it may happen to the best of us from time to time, it’s certainly not the norm or the default state.

I met a lovely gentleman, also bipolar, on Monday night. We took a walk to Mendota Park at dusk and sat on the rocks by the water, discussing our respective attempts to eliminate our own maps. Just being in the company of someone who knows what it’s like and being able to speak frankly about the ins and outs of this illness was incredibly healing for me, and I found myself able to really relax for the first time since my diagnosis.

There’s not much else to report right now…I have therapy tonight, my first session in three weeks, and I have plenty of things to discuss. A dear friend of mine and D’s is coming into town on Saturday and accompanying me to my tattoo session on Sunday afternoon. I can’t wait to cover up these ugly scars, to remind myself that although it’s a part of my past, it’s just a story now—it’s not happening to me anymore. The worst, for now, seems to be over.

Flashback: Resilient.

major depression, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, self-harm, stigma, suicidal ideation, three hopeful thoughts

Flashback: Resilient

Text and photo from January 5, 2013:

“This is my new wrist tattoo!

I chose the word “resilient” because my very first therapist, who I started seeing when I was 18, frequently used it to refer to me. It is the frank acknowledgement of a hard and often brutal life and a symbol of everything I have endured (an abusive alcoholic mother who wound up in prison when I was seven years old, years of bullying after that, a relationship in my teens that was abusive in every sense of the word, and my struggle with PTSD and MDD that began when I was very young).

I’d had suicidal thoughts for years, starting in my teens, but they were more abstract in the sense that I wanted to have an “escape plan” for if life somehow got messed up beyond repair–I never really intended to use it. When another major depressive episode began last July, I began to have the thoughts more and more often until dying was, more often than not, the first thing I thought of in the morning. My casual indifference to my own existence turned into a full-blown death urge, and the knowledge that I would hurt people if I “eliminated my own map” no longer mattered to me–all I could see was the pain, and I was tired of fighting it.

On September 10, 2012 (Suicide Awareness and Prevention Day), I actually decided to participate and wrote “LOVE” in tall, thin caps on my left wrist. I did so ironically, not believing it would actually raise awareness or prevent anything, but that night I got low enough again that I was considering going into the bathroom and quietly opening a vein while my husband slept in the next room.

But then I saw the word on my wrist and thought, “No, you can’t do it tonight, it’s way too fucked up (even for you) to finally do yourself in today.” From that moment, I decided to find a “motivator” each day to stay alive–one thing that made me feel, at least for the moment, that being alive was still worth it and that I should keep fighting the darkness in my head.

There have been countless days where just getting out of bed and staying alive has taken everything I have, and I have no doubt that there will be countless more. But this tattoo is a promise to myself that when I do die, it will not be by my own hand. I have survived being hurt by almost everyone I have cared about. I have endured some pretty unspeakable acts of abuse. I have fought against some of most hideously dark thoughts imaginable. When I have another dark night of the soul, I need to look at this tattoo on my wrist, inked right over the veins I’ve considered slicing into more times than I’d care to say, and remember that it would be a filthy goddamn shame to give up now.

This is a physical symbol of my commitment to getting well and staying well.”

On suicide.

suicidal ideation

You don’t go from zero to coming up with an exit strategy (or strategies) right away. It’s a much more gradual and insidious process than most people give it credit for.

The first couple of times, maybe you just wonder what it’s like to be dead or what happens after we die. Pretty much everyone does this; it’s normal. Then, you jump to picturing yourself in a coffin and imagining different ways to die and then all of a sudden, you’ve got your will written in your head, the funeral’s been planned, and the thought of your own death no longer repels you. It happens very slowly and you think you’ve got a pretty good handle on it—it’s not going to get out of control, you’re not going to become a statistic.

And then you wake up one day and you realize all you’ve thought about every morning upon waking for the last three months, six months, a year, is your plan. People tend to paint suicide as a selfish act, thinking that the person in question simply doesn’t care about who their death will hurt. That’s not entirely accurate. When you get to that point, where you’re thinking about it–really thinking about it–you might still sincerely care about your loved ones. It’s just that the pain has become overwhelming, all-consuming, and you’re desperate for a way out.

I read somewhere that suicide occurs when the pain exceeds a person’s resources for coping, and it sounds fairly accurate. So far, I haven’t quite gotten to that point, but I’ve felt the desperation nipping at my heels more than once. I’ve been able to fight it off every time, but I’d be lying if I said part of me isn’t afraid that the time will come when I’m not so lucky.

Because once you’ve thought of those things, it can be incredibly difficult to turn them off. I think it’s probably like what they say about alcoholics—you’re battling it for the rest of your life, except the addiction in this case is thinking about your own death.

So it goes.