Two Inmates Aren’t Ill, the BOP Claims – Even Though One Ate His Own Finger

First a note about Colorado

 I was on the west coast Friday doing research for a new nonfiction book when I received a seven a.m. telephone call from CNN asking if I wanted to comment about a shooting in Aurora. Was this incident similar to the  Virginia Tech massacre or the rampage in Tuscon? I felt a sickening sense of dread as soon as I heard that question. But I really couldn’t comment. I was still in bed and hadn’t yet turned on the hotel television or my computer. I really didn’t know anything about the mass murders. As I write this, we still haven’t been told enough about the mental state of the gunman to speculate. All I can say is that my heart goes out to all of the victims in this horrific tragedy.


I wrote last week about a recent lawsuit that alleges the federal Bureau of Prisons is mistreating inmates with mental disorders being held in its so-called Supermax, ADX penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. I believe this suit is so shocking that it merits another blog post.  The lead attorney in the class action suit, Ed Aro, told me via email that the director of the BOP,  Charles E. Samuels Jr.,  in sworn testimony before a congressional committee, testified that there were no inmates with serious mental illnesses being held in the high security ADX.  He made this statement the day after the lawsuit was filed.

Aro’s reacted with one stunned word: “Incredible!”

That’s putting it mildly if the accusations in the lawsuit are factual.

The BOP’s attorneys have yet to respond. But the director’s testimony certainly doesn’t jive with what is described in the lawsuit. Let’s review just two inmates whose backgrounds are recounted in the court document.

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Bolling Should Apologize For Stupid Comment

Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling should publicly apologize for a  prejudicial remark that he made recently.

The chairman of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s state campaign in Virginia recently told newspaper reporters that if people think Obama has done a good job over the past three years, they should vote for him — then “check themselves into a mental hospital.”

Bolling’s comment was meant to belittle Obama supporters by suggesting that they needed psychiatric treatment. This is the sort of mocking comment that increases stigma against persons with severe mental illnesses and also makes them reluctant to seek help. If you doubt this, substitute “cancer ward” for “mental hospital.” It doesn’t work, does it?

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Callous and Inhumane Treatment — Even Torture – of Federal Prisoners With Mental Illnesses, Suit Alleges. Where’s The Outrage?

Currently, BOP [the federal Bureau of Prisons] turns a blind eye to the needs of the mentally ill at ADX and to deplorable conditions of confinement that are injurious, callous and inhumane to those prisoners. No civilized society treats its mentally disabled citizens with a comparable level of deliberate indifference to their plight.  [First paragraph of lawsuit.]

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons is being sued in a class-action lawsuit for allegedly abusing, neglecting and, in some cases, torturing prisoners with mental illnesses being housed in the federal government’s most strict penitentiary. The lawsuit was filed by Ed Aro, a partner at the Washington D.C. law firm, Arnold and Porter, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Allegations in lawsuits are exactly that — allegations. The BOP’s attorneys will file a response in a few weeks. But if the charges are true, then the public should be outraged and the BOP should be forced to mend its ways.

The five prisoners named in the class action suit, along with six other “interested individuals,” all have “severe mental illnesses.” One also is “mentally retarded.” All are being held at the BOP’s SUPERMAX penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, also known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.” They were moved there after they had violent run-ins with other prisoners or with correctional officers.

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A Daughter’s Voice and A Sibling’s Conclusions: Articles Worth Reading.

And so for weeks, we had been locked in a game of chicken: waiting for my father to do something clearly dangerous; praying like hell that it would not be his suicide or accidental death or the death of someone else. In the meantime, my mother had all but stopped sleeping and had started hiding the car keys and the checkbook. She would tiptoe around their one-bedroom apartment at night, waiting for him to doze off, then call my sister or me to unload her despair in a flurry of whispers.

More than a dozen readers sent me copies of this moving story– When My CRAZY Father Actually Lost His Mind — published last Sunday in The New York Times.

While I like to post original content on this blog and not simply pass along articles, this is well worth reading.  And since I am recommending articles, you should check out a thoughtful piece that Trudelle Thomas wrote in the National Alliance on Mental Illness VOICE  recently. It is entitled: Loving A Sibling with a Chronic Illness.

As a sibling of a person living with serious mental illness, I faced my own set of challenges. I wanted to keep our close bond but wrestled with feelings of grief, worry, frustration and guilt. Even though I knew better, I felt guilty for not protecting him. I worried terribly that he would end up sleeping under a bridge. For a long time, the way I expressed my caring was by giving him advice: Go back to school!” “Don’t eat that Cheeto!” and “Stand up straight!” I also became an overachiever, trying to compensate for my family’s heartache.  Years passed before I encountered the concept of “unconditional positive regard” — the idea that all people need and deserve unconditional acceptance.”

Both articles discuss the challenges that we face as persons who love someone with a mental disorder. When do we step in? And when do we accept  “unconditional positive regard?”  

All of us are walking on the same path. I always find it helpful when others share stories about their journeys and what they have learned.




A Sly Project with Judge Jeanine Pirro

I met  Judge Jeanine Pirro several months ago and she told me that she was looking for someone to help her write a novel about her early days as the first female prosecutor in Westchester County,  just outside of New York City. Shortly after Jeanine was hired in 1978, she created one of the first Domestic Violence Units in

the country. She specialized in prosecuting spousal abuse cases at a time when it was not illegal in some states for a husband to beat his wife. After calling attention to domestic violence, Jeanine targeted pedophiles, by creating the first sting operation in the nation to catch sexual predators. (This was decades before NBC’s Dateline Series: To Catch A Predator.)  Jeanine later was elected the first woman judge in Westchester County and eventually ran unsuccessfully for the New York Attorney General’s job. Since leaving the bench and politics, she has been a regular on television, hosting her own FOX prime time program, Justice With Judge Jeanine.

I was hooked the moment I met Jeanine. She is a smart, no-nonsense, tireless legal champion for underdogs. She also has a great sense of humor and smile. I  liked the idea of fictionalizing actual cases and I especially was interested in helping write a novel grounded in the 1970s about a feisty, female prosecutor.

Jeanine and I quickly came up with a main character — Dani Fox — who is (not surprisingly) a lot like Jeanine. The title of the first book is  SLY FOX , which will debut in July and is now available for order. A second novel, CLEVER FOX, will be published later.

This is not a ghostwritten book where a FOX TV News celebrity simply attaches his/her name to a professionally written novel.  Jeanine selected the cases  and we worked collaboratively on the manuscript with her pouring over every word.  Because Jeanine was so involved, SLY FOX gives readers an intimate and insider’s glimpse at what she experienced as a young prosecutor when women were not welcomed in courtrooms.  The reviews (printed below) have been good.

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Christina Clarkson, Garrett Bombard, Kevin Mike Earley, Sgt Eliseo Pilco, Andrew Flowers

Since the publication of my book, CRAZY, Patti and I have underwritten the cost of giving a CRISIS INTERVENTION TEAM  AWARD each year to worthy law enforcement officers in Fairfax or Arlington Counties, both Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C.. The National Alliance on Mental Illness  -Northern Virginia Chapter selects the recipient. In addition to a plaque, the department gets $500 for its CIT trainers to use as they wish.

We began this award because we both believe CIT training is needed in every community. I’ve heard it said that the police will deal with more persons with mental disorders than psychiatrists will during an average day. CIT training teaches law enforcement officers about mental illnesses and how to best handle potentially deadly encounters.

This year, our son “Mike” was our representative at the NAMI awards banquet.  I asked him to present the award because I believe it is important for persons with mental disorders and the police to work together for the benefit of all of us. Several years ago, Mike was shot twice with a taser by Fairfax County police officers when he was in the midst of a breakdown. None of those police officers had CIT training. If they had, I do not believe my son would have been shot. He would have been treated respectfully and gone peaceably to a mental health facility. Mike now speaks regularly at CIT training sessions.

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