It’s usually never a good sign when a correctional officer shows up at your office with a mental health referral slip in his hand and an apologetic look on his face, just when you’re about to eat your lunch.
“Sorry to bother you,” he said. “But I’ve got an inmate outside who I think may need to be seen.” The C.O. then went on to explain that he noticed this particular inmate (a twenty-year-old who happened to be on my caseload) trying to leave the yard in sweats and no ducat. The facility policy is that all inmates leaving the yard must be appropriately dressed in their state-issued blue pants and blue shirts that clearly designate their status from the rest of the staff. Additionally, they should have a ducat or pass indicating that they are due for an appointment or some sort of work or school assignment. This particular inmate had no paperwork to prove that he was supposed to be anywhere, and he acted lost and confused when the C.O. questioned him.
I was familiar with this kid through previous encounters. Even though he was twenty years old, he had a history of impulsive behaviors and the emotional maturity of a nine-year-old. Hell, even my nine-year-old nephew had better insight and judgment.
“Bring him in,” I said, putting my lunch bag away and cursing the poor timing of events.
The youngster was escorted in and left alone with me. I got right to the point. “What’s going on? The C.O. told me you were trying to leave the yard and go out into the plaza.”
“Aww, I’m just tired. Tired of being in prison. I just want to get out.”
“So you were trying to leave?”
He didn’t answer, but everything about his demeanor said yes, that’s exactly what he’d been trying to do. I asked him a few more questions, and he was vague with his answers. I also noticed a few little things about his mannerisms that made me suspect he’d been using drugs, and not any that were officially prescribed to him. My gut feeling told me that he needed to be referred to the crisis bed, officially known as the Correctional Treatment Center, which is basically the prison’s inpatient psychiatric hospital.
I explained to him that I had some concerns and would have him evaluated by somebody from the CTC. I had him wait on the bench outside the sergeant’s office. I let the sergeant know what was going on, and then I called the crisis screener. She showed up in about fifteen minutes.
“What’s the crisis? Is he saying he’s going to hurt himself?”
“No,” I said. “He’s denying it, but I think he’s minimizing his symptoms.” I explained that he had tried to leave the yard and seemed to have a plan to walk out of the prison.
“So? It’s not like he would have gone anywhere. They would have stopped him.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but he doesn’t seem to care what happens to him. It’s like that suicide-by-cop mentality.”
She said a few more things that gave me the feeling that she didn’t trust my judgment or believe that this situation warranted an admission into the crisis bed. But she went off to interview him, and I went back to my office. Half an hour later, I had to go to the sergeant’s office on unrelated business and ran into her. She was finishing up her paperwork.
“I’m having him admitted,” she said, “and I’m ordering a drug screen. I’d be surprised if it turns out that he’s not on drugs. But he’s not safe to go back to the yard.”
I wanted to say, “Of course! I told you so!” But I didn’t, even though she’d been so dismissive of me earlier. Instead, I took comfort in the knowledge that I was right and anyway, what was most important was that this kid would be getting the help that he needed.