Eric G., Part 3: Mental illness and the prison population

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[This is part 3 in a series by Milli Knudsen.]

Early in our correspondence, Eric G. mentioned he was bi-polar and that it was being treated with meds. He sometimes started hunger strikes because he was being deprived of the correct medications, or they were not delivered as ordered. When he was sent to new facility, often the medical orders were slow to arrive. And being sent to a new prison complex also meant his personal belongings did not arrive with him and it was usually quite a while before he was reunited with books, photos, art supplies.

Even without his explanation, the bi-polar was obvious:

  • [dated 13 May 2011] “I’ve learned I’m on some kind of prison guard/official ‘hit list’ for speaking out against corruption and civil rights abuses in prison by prison staff and for advocating on behalf of prisoner’s rights and religious freedom… In essence there is a concerted effort by a cabal of corrupt prison officials and guards (at the behest mainly of their devious leaders, i.e. profane and spurious Judeo-masonic thugs) hiding under the cloak of secrecy and the color of authority to silence me in all my legal, spiritual and physical pursuits as a Child of God and a member of the True Body of Christ.”
  • [30 May 2011] “I just finished doing 500 push-ups, 10 sets of 50 repetitions each, Whew! I’m feeling good!… I have a friend in here named Richard… a decent individual. Would you consider ordering a book set he really desires (‘Art of War’ by Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and Clausewitz)? If so, for such a gift to him I will forego my X-mas request this year.”
  • [11 July 2011] “Richard turned out to be a real ‘snake in the grass’…and we are no longer friends.”
  • [12 Aug 2011] “I never got to keep the ‘Art of War’ book set as Richard made off with them. (He got moved to another section of the Unit.)”
  • [21 Aug 2011] “I’ve opted to begin my hunger strike ‘protest’ as of the date of this letter. These devious prison officials are bent on engaging in corrupt activities when it comes to me.”
  • [24 Aug 2011] “I have started eating… Dying of starvation is not hurting anybody but myself…. the guard (one of the good guys) gave me an extra meal tray that was leftover after passing them out… we had 2 pieces of bread, butter (very rare), some kind of stew spread over re-hydrated potatoes, 1/2 cup of salad, navy beans, spinach and for dessert a nectarine. The state is broke so we’re not being fed as decent as a few years back. For breakfast we get a lot of eggs, re-hydrated potatoes and bread, of course, then we’ll get 3 really small pancakes or waffles with sugarless syrup (so guys can’t make ‘pruno,’ a jailhouse fermented concoction), and fortunately we get fruit and hot cereal.”

eric1In October of 2011, his friend Richard was moved back to his cell block, apologized and gave him the “Art of War” to read. I was reluctant to send items to Eric because I was afraid letters might turn into begging sessions. The Christmas of 2011 I sent him a Christmas package of items ordered from a prison vendor which included a thermal shirt and pants, soap, candy, cookies and beef jerky. The order was made November 7th to be sure it arrived in time for Christmas. November 20th, Eric wrote to say he was no longer eligible to receive the package. The December 8th letter said he received the package after all. In the same letter he said Richard had been moved yet again. “I hope he gets over being so negative about life… he wronged me in a most spiteful, petty and vindictive way, tsk, tsk. Of course I don’t take it very personal. It takes all kinds.”

Occasionally Eric sent poetry he had written, which also revealed his inner landscape, like this one dated 20 Feb 2012:
eric2Later that month, he talked about another prison he had spent time in: “I got to know Charles Manson quite well in 2004 when I was at Corcoran, and aside from being a pariah and cult figure, he’s actually a unique and decent human being. He’s not the ‘Monster’ the public and media made and makes him out to be. He is actually illiterate to a degree, and could suffer from mental illness. He had a kind heart and isn’t afraid to fellowship and ‘break bread’ with others. He nicknamed me ‘Bearheart.’”

In March 2012, I attempted to visit Eric a second time, but was prevented from having the visit. No explanation was given at the Visitor’s Center, only that the visit would not be possible. I was in California on a family trip, so it wasn’t that I made a special trip out to Sacramento just to visit Folsom, but it was frustrating to have made all the arrangements in a proper fashion, yet unable to be clued in as to why Eric was unavailable. A letter dated March 27th explained: “You’re likely wondering what in the heck happened with our visit? Well, I had a severe depression crisis and had to be admitted to the mental health center for observation and treatment. They started me on a new Bipolar medication, i.e., Abilify, which seems to work well for now. When severe depression hits me it’s unreal. I start having thoughts and feelings that my life is and has been hopeless and meaningless, waking up is the worst time. What brings it on? I think it’s my overall situation in life, being in prison and also difficulty coping with the prison environment, but I have bad childhood memories that haunt my mind as well…It’s a vicious cycle to say the least.”

Milli KnudsonMilli Knudson taught school for 23 years in the Londonderry School District and retired from there in 2002. She has written seven books on genealogy/New England history. One book, Hard Time in Concord, led to her becoming the paralegal for the Cold Case Unit in 2010, where she still volunteers. In her spare time she enjoys ballroom dancing, quilting, reading, skiing, and maintains a large collection of Vermont town histories, which enables her to contribute to several websites on genealogy. For the last six years she has been gathering information on the effects of institutional living in the hopes of writing a book on the subject.

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