I Wanted To Die When Police Arrived. Death Was All I Could Think About. I Needed Help. I Got Prison.

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(7-20-20) In a blog last week, Genevieve Johnson, wrote about how she called the police when her husband, Bryan, was experiencing a mental health crisis. He attempted “suicide by cop” and ended up being arrested. From his jail cell, Bryan now describes the incident from his vantage point. Today’s blog is one of a series of blogs about the need to shift responsibility for individuals in crisis away from the police back to social service and the medical community. As always, I welcome your comments on my Facebook page.

Hospital Bed, Yet Jail Cell Instead

Guest blog by Bryan Johnson, currently an inmate in a Florida jail

“Pull your guns out!” I yell to the officers as I emerge from the kitchen into the dining room where they are standing.

I violently wake up and roll over to see the metal bars in front of me; concrete walls all around. I come to the realization that the nightmare is not yet over, it has just begun.

I’m serving 18 months in prison, all because I was suicidal and charged with not just one felony, but three. I have no previous convictions nor rap sheet to speak of. This is my first-time doing jail time and I don’t understand why this happened to a man who simply wanted to die.

I haven’t seen the sun in three months, nor felt the grass on my feet; I can’t even remember what the fresh air smells like. The best way to tell time in here is by each meal. We get three meals served at 4am, 10am, and 4pm. Good luck not being hungry for the twelve hours in between dinner and breakfast. Any grown human being is going to be hungry and on an empty stomach; the trays they give us come with only a couple scoops of food. I guarantee that a tray of food here would barely feed a child enough to make them full. I know my kids would be looking for seconds.

I find myself writing a lot at night and reading.

It’s hard to sleep at night because so many people are awake and loud. Most people stay up waiting for breakfast chow, and then sleep all day. Sleep is the best and easiest way to do time. You wake up for each meal and go back to sleep. Wake up in the evening after evening lock down and the rest of the day is gone. Tv, chess and playing card games is another way to pass the time in here, problem is my attention span is only good for so long.

Books are scarce right now, and a treasure to have. Due to Covid-19, the book cart isn’t allowed to come around because they fear that it will spread the virus around the jail. Most jails and prisons in the Florida panhandle have multiple positive cases of Covid-19.

Due to the pandemic, the prison bus that transports inmates from the local jail to the state prison only comes around every 6 weeks and only takes about 6 individuals. The list for going to the prison bus is long, and people are waiting between 4-6 months in between sentencing and leaving for the prison. I’m expecting to spend about 6 months of my sentence in a state prison. I have no idea what they will be like.

On August 8, 2018,  I was arrested for aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer, battery of a law enforcement officer, and resisting arrest with violence. Three felony charges tied to one incident. Before that I’d never been in trouble with the law other than that of a minor moving violation such as speeding.

When the sheriff deputies entered my home, I saw the opportunity to die become that much easier. All I had to do was taunt them into shooting me.

I had been suicidal for a couple days. The medication, Latuda, I was on really led me down a dark path. This medication, which I don’t recommend, has a major side effect of increased suicidal ideation. I didn’t know it at the time and simply trusted my doctor without doing further research.

Death was all I could think about.

I couldn’t decide how I wanted to do it; cutting my wrists in the bathtub until I bled out, hanging myself from the big tree in the backyard, or running a hose from the exhaust pipe of the van through the window to die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

I used to be a medic in the army, so I had the knowledge on how to do it while making it quick, painless, little mess to clean up, and no chance of revival.

Some of the medications I’ve tried to treat my bipolar disorder include Zoloft, Prozac, Lamictal, Latuda, Depakote, and Lithium. My doctor was about to give up on me. She said, “We’ve been through the medicine cabinet. I don’t know what else to try you on.”

I reminded her about Abilify, which I heard of when my wife tried it to treat her bipolar disorder, one I hadn’t tried yet. She was skeptical but reluctantly prescribed it to me starting off on 20mg. I’ve been on Abilify now for almost 2 years now and only had to increase my dosage to 25mg once since being incarcerated.

I replay that night over and over in my head and often dream about it with different outcomes.

I told the officers to pull their guns out, while I held a knife behind my back. I raised it up near my face to point it at them, but quickly lowered it to my side and stopped walking. I was given a couple of warning to drop it while I screamed at them to “shoot me” or “kill me.”

I stood there frozen in time, I don’t think I even blinked.

I knew I was about to die as I stared at the barrels of two pistols aimed at my chest. I quickly flashed through my life; I was sure I was ready to die.

The next thing I remember, I felt pain in my chest. A sting like no other sting I’ve ever felt. A deputy who’d entered my home shot me with a taser and I then laid face down on the floor. I have to say I did in fact drop the knife and was no longer a threat.

I was very angry, and left feeling defeated. I had wanted to die, and that didn’t happen. Instead I spent the next 30 minutes or so yelling again at them to “shoot me” and “kill me.”

After they had led me outside, I didn’t want to go into the sheriff’s vehicle or be thrown on to the ground in my driveway. I then wrapped my leg around one of the officers as they tried to throw me on my face. He fell to the ground, and I still ended up face down with two officers kneeling on my back and neck. I remember saying, “I can’t breathe!” and after more rolling around and fighting with them they eventually allowed me to roll over onto my backside and then sit up so I could breathe.

I’ve never been a violent or aggressive person.

I’ve never even been in a fight in school. I’ve always been that shy, introvert that never wanted any kind of confrontation. If you were to ask any of my close friends or family, they know who the real me is.

On August 8, 2018, I was not myself, I was not in my right mind; the medication I had been taking messed me up. I needed serious mental health help and what I got instead has changed my future forever. I am now a convicted felon, about to spend time in prison I feel like I don’t deserve. The title “convicted felon” will follow me and my family for the rest of our lives affecting jobs, housing, and many of my rights.

I take responsibility for my actions; the things that were said and done that night. There should be consequences, however I still feel that my mental health should have been considered when determining said consequences. As I have said I was not myself that night, I was something or someone else. I needed a hospital bed where I could have been treated for my suicidal ideations, and instead I woke up in a jail cell.

I came to jail covered in bruises and scratches, plus two holes from the taser prongs. Those prongs don’t come out easily. One was ripped out while struggling with the deputies, and the other an EMT took pliers and ripped it out. Getting them removed was more painful than being shot with them.

Some days I am still bitter about being here in a jail cell. I think, if they had just done what I had asked them to do, I wouldn’t be sitting in a concrete room with nothing to do. My life would be over, and I wouldn’t be suffering the way that I am.

When I was originally arrested, I sat in my cell for two months waiting to be granted bond. Once I got out on bond, I had to make a choice: to live or to die. I knew choosing to life from that point on wasn’t going to be easy or fun. But I knew dying would have been the selfish thing to do. I would have left behind a widow, and four fatherless children. The toughest decision was made, and I wanted to live. Living with this decision included lots of therapy and medication changes.

We finally made it to trial after a year and a half. The anxiety I endured while waiting for my court date had my stomach tied up in knots. I was approved veteran’s court by the veteran’s court coordinator but denied by the prosecuting attorney. She also denied my mental health court. We were told by my attorney that if we talked about my medication change, my suicidal ideation, or bipolar diagnosis we could be found in contempt of court.

I was left feeling like all my hard work recovering was in vain.

Once I was sentenced and those bars slammed shut my new reality set in. The next eighteen months I would become the next victim of the judicial system. How many other mental health patients are suffering with these concrete walls because the judicial system failed them as well?

I’m scared now, scared that all the progress I’ve made will be erased and I’ll have to start over again once I get out. Institutionalized, this is the word for someone who is psychologically damaged by living in jail or prison for too long. You forget how real society works and what it’s like to have real choices anymore. In here every choice is made for you. You’re told when to eat, what to wear, if you can go outside, if you can use the phone or even watch TV.

With time served, the pandemic and good behavior I’m hoping to be released early. I’m not a threat to society or myself anymore. I’m a changed man and I’ve experienced enough of jail to know I never want to return, nor would I ever wish this on anyone. Living like a caged animal is no way to live.

I want to thank everyone who has read our story. I ask for help in taking a stand for those who suffer with mental health conditions, who are caged up across America, suffering because the system has failed them. Together we are many voices that can become one loud voice. We deserve the chance to get healthy at a mental health facility instead of a cell with bars and real hardened criminals.

I’m told all the time by those in here with me, “Oh you are not hard enough, you won’t last a day in prison.” As of right now I’m starting to believe them, because I’m still in county jail waiting for the prison bus to arrive. My mental capacity can only handle so much stress at one time. Depression takes over and those suicidal thoughts start back up again.

Living day-to-day is a real struggle to just simply want to live. Honestly that’s all we are doing behind these bars, just living each day closer to our end of sentence. All I needed was a hospital bed for my suicidal ideation, I got a jail cell instead.

(You can contact and learn more by visiting Genevieve Johnson’s facebook page.)

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.