Mentally Ill People Are Dying in Prisons

Christopher Lopez
Still shot from the video of the final hours of Mr. Lopez’s life

One by one, mentally ill people are dying behind prison walls. One of the latest atrocities is the death of 35-year old Christopher Lopez, a man with schizoaffective disorder who died in the presence of Colorado Department of Corrections prison staff who were too busy laughing and making small talk to pay him any attention.

Christopher Lopez died of hyponatremia, a condition associated with dangerously low levels of sodium. It’s often thought to be caused by too much psychotropic medication. The lawsuit notes that in almost all instances, it’s a condition that’s treatable with prompt and adequate medical attention.

A six-hour video exists in which Mr. Lopez dies right before their eyes–a video that could “ultimately… pass as a documentary film on how to ignore the obvious and serious medical needs of the dying prisoner for hours until the very last breath of life leaves his body…”

The video provides “crystal clarity” of what happened in the final moments of Mr. Lopez’s life.

“We can see the defendants wheel a semiconscious Mr. Lopez down to the intake area of the prison and eventually remove him from the restraint chair. We have a ringside seat to watch Mr. Lopez suffer two grand mal seizures in front of the camera while the defendants idly stand about and discuss their views about Wal-Mart and other equally important topics, laughing and joking with one another, all the while completely ignoring the dying man in their charge. We watch as defendants leave Mr. Lopez face down, still fully restrained, on the floor of the intake cell, too weak to hold his own body upright. We see Mr. Lopez struggling to breathe for hours, and then, finally, we have an unobstructed view as Mr. Lopez takes his last breath, dying, half naked on the cold concrete floor of a prison cell– isolated and alone with no defendant caring whether he lived or died.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Colorado prison officials wanted to punish the prisoner for kicking a correctional officer and were “not interested in finding an appropriate treatment plan” for his severe mental illness.

The lawsuit notes that in the final hours of Mr. Lopez’s life, there were a minimum of 16 correctional staff members whom he encountered yet not one of them took any steps to save his life.

What many people may not realize is that this could happen to their mentally ill brother, sister, father, mother, son or daughter. Because the mental health system is in shambles, many people who would otherwise be in hospitals receiving the proper care and treatment are now in prison. Correctional staff, who receive little or no training about how to handle mentally ill people, are now in charge of their care and often view their symptoms or their unresponsiveness as behavioral problems that need to be punished, mostly with solitary confinement.

There are probably many more horror stories that we don’t hear about or that are buried within the pages of civil lawsuits. Until something is done, and we stop criminalizing mental illness, incarcerated mentally ill people will continue to suffer.

Mentally Ill Son Incarcerated: One Reader’s Story

Stories about mentally ill offenders are generally not of a positive nature. Typically, the stories are focused on the disturbing prison conditions often faced by mentally ill offenders increasingly being housed in jails and prisons.

Below is one reader’s story.

“Hi, my son has been suffering from schizophrenia for the past 5 years. In Oct. of 2011 he was baker acted into a local hospital, he refused to take his med ‘s and wanted to be placed where people go that nobody wants any more. A petition was filed, a hearing scheduled to be involuntarily committed to the Florida state hospital. The day before the hearing, he was discharged, the person who he lived with took him to the SSI office and became his payee. the next day she wanted the key to the house back, when my son would not give it to her, she and her boyfriend beat my son in the eye with a baseball bat, causing an Orbital floor fracture. the people who beat him were arrested, the boy plead no contest, the girl was bailed out. she filed a restraining order and the judge granted it because my son could not get a lawyer, she was his payee and did not give him his money, legal aid wouldn ‘t do anything for him because he didn ‘t file the restraining order, she did. two months later our son started to beat up his father, who is also my husband because he went to check on him in his camper, the camper where our son was beat with the baseball bat. the sheriff came, our son ran. the next day, I called the sheriff, who came and arrested my son. I was helping the sheriff and my son bite me. I told the sheriff my son needed to go to the hospital, he was not himself. I wrote letters to the judge and lawyers, the domestic violence case involving his father was dropped and my son was placed on probation for resisting arrest and biting me. In march of 2012 I baker acted my son because he needed help and would not go to the hospital. Another petition was filed, a hearing scheduled for involuntarily placement in the Florida state hospital, a continuance for five days was filed at 9 in the morning before the hearing, at 2 pm that same day, he was discharged. the doctor wrote his prescription for seroquel, not seroquel XR and medicaid would not pay for it. It took a week to get it straightened out. In may his sister walked into his camper while he was sleeping and he pushed her, later that day I called the sheriff because my son was trying to run threw the sliding glass door. my son appeared normal when the sheriff showed up, my son told him about his sister trying to steal from him, the sheriff wouldn ‘t do anything. I told his sister I was going to the court house to file another baker act, but while I was in town, she called the sheriff, who came later that night, i told the sheriff all about the baker act, two hearings and not being committed. he did not care, he was arresting my son.if my son wanted to go to the state hospital he could tell them when he got to the jail, my son pounded his head so hard into the sheriff ‘s car it left a dent and now my son is sitting in the bay county Florida jail and one of his charges is criminal mischief more than 1,000. as you most likely already know, a person must be a danger to themselves or others to be involuntary placed (baker acted) in a hospital.”

Mental health advocate and best selling author of the book “Crazy,” Pete Earley, receives letters from family members struggling with similar mental health issues.  

A few other websites document these stories, the most comprehensive among them is Solitary Watch.

It is important to document these stories. If you know of others don’t hesitate to send your story.

Diana Dial & Delusional Thinking

If you have never interacted with an individual who is delusional, then you might find it difficult to understand what delusions are like. A delusion is the strongly held belief in something despite there being strong evidence to the contrary.Delusions are associated with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, bipolar disorder, among several others.

Delusions feel very real to the individual who is experiencing them. An individual who is delusional is unable to recognize that what they are thinking is untrue. They cannot know, they are mentally ill. People do not become delusional on purpose. Delusions happen to people, in most cases because of a mental illness.

Diana Dial

One of the best examples of an individual (on tape) who is clearly delusional is Diana Dial. Ms. Dial shot and killed her roommate because she firmly believed that he was going to poison her and the rest of her family. Despite having a long and documented history of schizophrenia, at her trial she adamantly denied this diagnosis. Under no circumstances did she want to be seen as being mentally ill.

In this video (which I cannot embed), Ms. Dial explains to Dr. Michael Stone her version of events. As you can see in the video, she is clearly delusional. Ms. Dial is not evil. She is mentally ill. Upon the last report on her status (which was years ago) Ms. Dial has not received any mental health treatment while incarcerated.

Have questions about delusions or psychosis? Don’t hesitate to ask.