Y.D. is a twenty-six-year-old African-American woman currently living in Los Angeles.294 When she was a child, her mother and her mother’s boyfriends beat and sexually abused her. She told Human Rights Watch that her mother later abandoned her and her brother, and that county social services found them living in a chicken coop. She has been in and out of psychiatric institutions since she was nine years old and is a methamphetamine addict. Since 1996, Y.D. has been in and out of prison almost continually. Most recently, she was released from prison in March 2002, after serving time for a parole violation. She currently lives in a private re-entry home run by an ex-prisoner in the Watts area of Los Angeles, California. On her forehead is a large, jagged scar, the product of a suicide attempt while behind bars. She has been diagnosed with several bi-polar disorders and schizophrenia.
I lived in Napa State Hospital from aged 9 to 13. I don’t know why. They had me on all kinds of medications. They used to strap me to the bed and give me shots in the ass. I lived on the streets after I got out till I went to prison for assault and battery in 1996 [she attacked another homeless woman and seriously injured her.] I have violent outbursts. I’m taking soroquil, prozac, and nuratin.
Because of her violent outbursts and her sometimes-bizarre behavior, she has regularly found herself at odds with those assigned to guard her.
The first time in prison, [at Valley State Women’s Prison] a Correctional Officer and a Sergeant made me stand on the wall by the cafeteria on tiptoes for a long time. The whole time, they talked shit to me, told me I was a crack head, would amount to nothing. They were trying to get me to hit them, so they could lock me up. They made me stand for hours. When the shift ended, another officer came and I had to keep standing there.
[Another time] A C.O. [correctional officer] named [name withheld from publication] would mess with me. He wouldn’t let me out of my room. When they’d pop the doors, he wouldn’t pop mine. He put me on lockdown. Every time I came out of the room, I’d get in trouble. He’d make me feel bad, tell me I was stupid, that I can’t do nothing right. He said I was crazy. I was being super-impulsive and couldn’t do simple, basic things.
In 1999, Y.D. was sentenced to three more months in prison, on a parole violation. She got written up so many times for disruptive behavior that she ended up serving nearly a year. During this time, the psychologist who was counseling her began intervening with the correctional officers to try to stop them picking on her. In 2002, while in jail on another charge, she jumped through a window and slashed open her head.
I was freaking out. I do stupid shit sometimes. I don’t take my medication when I’m just out there, I don’t go to the doctor, so I have bad days. I cried for almost a month straight. I freaked out. The county jails wouldn’t accept me because I had to get 60 stitches and was freaking out. They took me to prison and put me in the suicide room. They left me there for 60 days. The floor was super-dirty. I didn’t want to lie on it because I didn’t want to get my head infected. But it got infected anyway. My stitches got infected. I had to take antibiotics. They wouldn’t let me take a shower for six days. They were messing with me. They’d come by and kick the door. I freaked out and started banging my head against the door. I opened my stitches again. They took me to the hospital.
After returning from the hospital, she was placed in the mental health crisis unit at Chowchilla prison. There, she recalls, she was treated well, and, for the first time in her prison experience, she felt comfortable. The mental health crisis beds, however, are mainly designed to stabilize prisoners and then return them to the general population. And so, Y.D. was returned to Valley State, part of the unfortunately common cycle of mentally ill prisoners within prisons between crisis units and the general population.
I still had my stitches in. The C.O.s don’t treat you good. They just harass you. I’m super-impulsive. One time we were walking in line to a meal. I stepped out of line — not on purpose. The C.O. started screaming at me, and pulled me out of line and made me walk with him step by step. I couldn’t do it. I started crying. When I took a step that wasn’t with him, he’d stop walking and make me start over again. Then another C.O. made him stop and said I could go back to the unit.
294 Human Rights Watch interviews with Y.D. and several other seriously mentally ill ex-inmates, Sober Living Facility, Los Angeles, California, May 17, 2002. Y.D.’s testimony was largely corroborated by her caseworkers.