Harris County, Houston, Texas and Angelina County, Lufkin, Texas
Chad White, 34, suffers from schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness characterized primarily by symptoms of schizophrenia such as delusions and hallucinations, and by symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania and depression. He was incarcerated in several Texas counties for substance abuse and the behaviors that are not uncommon for people trying to self-medicate an untreated psychotic illness. Yet access to proper medical care was a major barrier in each of his incarcerations.
Chad was held in pretrial detention for 2 years and 9 months in Harris County Jail, and for several weeks in Angelina County Jail. When temporarily transferred to a state prison unit for the mentally ill, he received his first correct diagnosis and the first anti-psychotic medication that controlled his symptoms. The change was striking: Chad was calm, happy and very grateful. His life would be changed by this medicine. Yet Angelina County Jail refused to prescribe it due to cost.
Chad’s mother, Gloria White, advocated tirelessly for his care, contacting state agencies as well as nonprofits. Today, Chad is out of jail and remains well. This story is told by both mother and son.
In Harris County Jail, I was originally misdiagnosed as bipolar and force-medicated with the wrong medications, for almost one year.
For a long time I had to drink water out of the toilet when I was in psychosis, because jailers can and do cut off drinking water for fear the inmate will flood the cell.
In Angelina County Jail, jailers didn’t know how to manage me or anyone in a psychotic state. At one point they Tased me. And at another point, they took all my clothes off and put me in a restraint chair with 11 restraints. They put in the yard strapped to the chair so they didn’t have to hear me.*
Chad’s incarceration had a big effect on the family. Because both SSI and SSDI was stopped, it took months to get that started again, and so he had no income when he came out.
We spent hundreds of dollars on phone calls and on his commissary so he could have enough food. They don't serve much food and when you’re on medication you really need to take your medication with enough food.
The family was so concerned about him and we’d drive all that way from the coast into the center of Houston, go through all that business—it’s a huge jail—and finally get onto the floor and THEN they tell you, 'No, Chad can’t see you, doctor’s orders.' That meant he was very bad, in some kind of lockdown and it would be just a nightmare worrying about him. All that way for nothing.
Then sometimes when we were allowed, he’d be delusional, and my daughter, his sister, would just walk away and cry. All of this was so emotionally draining, year after year.
When are we going to quit sending our mentally ill people to these jails?
*Other inmates have also made reports to Texas Jail Project about a restraint chair placed outside the county jail in Taylor County.
Read an ABC News story about new policies at Harris County Jail, and Gloria White's perspective.