How will Fay answer the next time a disabled inmate is hosed?
A tale of two kinds of prison guards
RAVES to some of the corrections officers at the county prison for being good, decent people who wouldn't hurt a fly.
RANTS, however, that more than one or two, reportedly, end up spending an unfair amount of their personal time trying to brainstorm and problem solve
some serious county prison issues that aren't their problems to solve in the first place.
These particular few shouldn't have to be so troubled after or before work about issues, such as inmates with severe mental illness being housed with
other inmates. They shouldn't have to wonder if today's the day the prison blows into a full riot started because a severely mentally ill inmate spouts off
he's going to rape other inmates' children, kicks, spits and hits in unprovoked attacks and then screams for an hour, almost impossible to redirect to calm.
Please rest assured, readers, Rants&Raves believes the written word received from prison staff and an inmate who all agree the joint was about to riot a
few times, though no staff due to privacy rules, could confirm an inmate's claim that riot shields were out at least one day this year.
Good staff who do his or her jobs and go home should not be racking their brains in off time, when the time should be spent sleeping, relaxing in leisure or
doing something meaningful for themselves and families, with not one minute of their precious off time deserving to be wasted thinking about the too often
intensely angry environment inside the prison.
It's quite appalling that these good staff leave work sometimes emotionally and physically drained and take home with them the burden of wondering what
-- if anything -- can be done to calm an inmate with severe mental illness escalating in a loud, one-hour scream session before his behavior incites a riot.
"After about an hour of this, you have two ranges of inmates that are on the verge of rioting," said one frustrated prison staff, with what he called no
training whatsoever in mental illness.
"I am trained to recognize a heart attack stroke, seizure, allergic reaction and react accordingly," he added, but receives no training in recognizing mental
Another county prison source, meanwhile, with a prior background in behavioral health, said corrections officers would not benefit from in-depth training in
mental health, but "could benefit tremendously by receiving some inmate-specific tips from psychiatrists and upper echelon administrators, for instance,
on how to try to keep particular inmates with known severe mental illness from escalating to an hour of loud screaming.
"I was upset when I read Rants&Raves call a few inmates 'persons with severe mental illness well known to the system," a more recently hired one wrote.
"If we get inmates so well known to the system, there has to be something someone who knows the inmate can tell us to do to stop some from hitting,
kicking, spitting and attacking people in unprovoked instances," that corrections officer wrote.
RANTS that these good staff leave work and can't leave work entirely behind sometimes, only because, quite frankly, nobody higher up their chain of
command and nobody at the union resolved the serious matters yet that have begged to be resolved years ago from last Tuesday. Surely, they wear
blinders because their sole solution is just to utter those same, stupid, worn-out, old words: A new jail will solve this problem.
At a county prison board meeting earlier this year, Steve P. Leskinen, county judge and prison board member, spoke about the increasing number of
mentally ill inmates and the impact their presence has on others. In short, the judge said we need a new jail with a unit to handle the needs of the mentally
Until then, what's the solution? A snake pit or near-riot atmosphere?
RANTS that prison leaders seem too comfortable with keeping things in chaos the way they are at the old prison until new digs -- that could still take
years to magically appear -- are either bought and updated or built new from scratch.
RANTS that leaders are not doing more to resolve the problems that a new or different building cannot magically fix. Yeah, we know; Rants&Raves has
said that for years now.
Holding off a decision about the prison and changing nothing -- possibly till after the primary elections of 2019, when six of seven prison board members
in county and row offices retire, find employment elsewhere or battle to win their next four-year terms -- simply guarantees the weight of the problems of
the county prison will continue to rest primarily on the shoulders of the corrections officers, who do not deserve the task of racking their brains at night or
feeling a need somehow to try to fix the current chaos.
Please make no mistake. Rants&Raves does not support the reinstatement of any prison corrections officer who hosed a PIA inmate with severe mental
illness -- not even when the PIA inmate is in a type of screaming trance where he won't look at anyone and won't redirect with verbal prompts to do
anything else but scream in the meantime.
No prison board and no union should support the reinstatement of a hoser, and no inmate with a part of his brain missing is adequately supported talking
to police alone without some sort of advocate present about his injuries.
While the cruel practice of hosing for shock value behavioral control and to shower the disabled at state centers was common decades ago, before
mental health acts were written, at locked, state psych hospitals and state centers for the mentally retarded, hosing was not something the editor of this
column ever witnessed, heard about, or suspected over all the miles and time spent monitoring this county's mentally incapacitated in locked, state psych
units and at a former state hospital's forensic unit.
We thought hosing was history for Fay's disabled after the 1970-80s dispersals from Hamburg and Polk State Hospitals gave us Down Syndromes in a
line with mysterious scars caused by hosing on their bodies, usually above their behinds at their lower back and forearm underside from shielding their
faces and heads.
That is, at least, we thought the days of hosing Fay's disabled were over, before the horrible practice happened again at the county prison.
The tone, which some to this point reading may misinterpret as support for a hoser of a severely mentally ill inmate with some of his brain missing, is
actually one of empathy for the good corrections officers who end their shifts only to take it home with them and bother to write to ask things such as how
Rants&Raves knew case-specific psychiatric and medical information.
They're not experts, but they know inmates with severe mental illness need more than a quick Skype psychiatric exam and old formulary medication called
institutional psychiatric treatment. Most of all, they know inmates with severe mental illness do not belong in a mixed prison population by law and that the
county seems not to have a viable plan to implement to find a place for them any time soon.
Why did Fay stop funding the former Grindstone locked down LTSR, SR?
RANTS that the county could not afford to or just didn't want to continue to operate an 8-bed locked down mini psych after-care unit it contracted with
CRCSI and Westmoreland County in Grindstone for many years. RANTS that the county has not pursued another treatment and housing center for some
of the severely mentally ill inmates off site.
RANTS, too, that the county discontinued a very valuable program called Social Rehabilitation to opt for a business approach or a more clinical approach
for an alternative service. The county robbed Peter to pay Paul when both kinds of programs are needed and one is so sorely missed in Fay.
Take a look at why some of the severely mentally ill of ours enter the county prison. Stupid things, such as getting mad when they're evicted and then
attacking once or a few times inside the prison. The old SR program kept track of our folks in a dignified, appropriate way. The county must do better in
general when these particular inmates leave jail to help them find housing and emotional supports for them and must provide more public defenders to
advocate for those disabled, as well as those without disabilities, in jail.
The programs which our county leaders decided to stop funding put a big dent in the quality of life of some affected. Those shelved services helped those
not necessarily needing a daily clinical program to socialize, vent, get community resource help, avoid being victimized and seek healthy ways to socialize
and have fun. That particular service targeted the crowd vulnerable to going to jail because of outbursts whether they physically assaulted someone or
not. One former attendee ended up this year in the basement isolation area, barely recognizable from his younger self, these days eating his own waste.
He may never have won any Mr. Congeniality title, but he once graduated high school and had relatively minor legal troubles until more recent years mid-
More importantly, that type of closeness and bond that attendees found in that former program, fortunately, sometimes brought problems of former
attendees on the verge of crisis to the attention of staff. It was community outreach at its purest, best form, with one friend with severe mental illness
trusting staff enough to seek help for the one who dropped out of sight to hermit away the days in depression.
While there is no absolute guarantee that one particular former program attendee would not have ended up in a turtle suit in isolation eating his own
waste at the county prison in 2018 if that type of outreach program were still available here, there's a pretty good bet to be won that, if still participating,
he wouldn't have been in the bad housing and subsequent eviction situation in the first place that drew his criminal charges.
He would have still had good friends who would have worried enough about him that they would have -- as they usually did previously -- alerted someone
their friend was de-compensating emotionally, withdrawing from friends and not paying his bills or rent.
As for the county prison today, RAVES of hope that someone there pretty quickly finds an alternate to hosing to try to quiet down screaming mentally ill
inmates before one of those scream sessions incites a riot. They're foolishly all kidding themselves if they think it won't ever happen again. (17 May 18)