Reprint from Prison Writers – Written by: Jason Walker
While this Texas prison, Clements Unit, has well over one-thousand documented mentally ill prisoners, its not considered a psych unit at all. In fact it has one small ward that has a program for mental health patients and that’s it.
Very rarely do you find a prison guard or medical staff member that’s willing to use integrity across the board when it comes to handling and caring for the mentally ill. Since 2013, three well-known mentally ill prisoners have died and two of those deaths are considered questionable, if you were to talk to witnesses and read the incident reports surround their deaths.
One was Joseph Comeaux and the other was Christopher Wooverton.
Joseph Comeaux was like your typical mental health patient; none of the prison guards liked him as well as the average prisoner. I was housed in the same segregation cellblock with him for several months and during this span I witnessed various guards deliberately deny him food for days at a time. Due to inmates not liking him, the guards were able to pull this off, smooth sailing.
He had a habit of saving feces and urine in bottles and bags by the bulk. This was the perfect pretext guards used to devilishly spray him and everything in his cell with a high power water hose. If you were the observer you could clearly see them chasing his every step and move with the water hose. As I watched, I could hear whistles, claps and hollers as prisoners cheered the guards on.
During this phase of my incarceration, I started getting a broad view on how mental health patients really got treated. It was always a no-win situation for them because during this time, you had [names withheld] and a few medical staff members who played a key role in keeping these events suppressed and off the record.
Due to written complaints from Comeaux and other mentally ill prisoners, the “major” forced guards to comply with the feeding needs of those not getting fed. He had a supervisor bring a camera and film each cell as the guards fed them. The cells that refused to eat would be logged in as refusing food.
At first glance this looked like the remedy, but it made getting stuck out on eating much easier since the camera operators would be either [names withheld.] As these two would land on Comeaux’s cell, they would talk to him sweetly and ask if he wants to eat. Before he had a chance to explore their technique, they would scurry to the next cell and methodically reject feeding the mentally ill as a way to retaliate for their constant disruptive behavior.
I eventually severed ties with Comeaux and moved to another cellblock where I came into contact with Christopher Wooverton. He warranted the same dislike from guards and prisoners.
For one reason or another, Wooverton was pepper-sprayed in his cell. He was taken to medical and returned to his cell by being placed on the ground. He laid there, intentionally left for too long of a period of time to be deemed logical in any sense. He eventually died right there on his floor and as of today nobody doubts that his death was at the hands of TDCJ [Texas Department of Corrections].
Despite the mysterious deaths of two mentally ill prisoners in a short period of time, guards are still using horrific methods to deal with mental health patients.
Just recently, a run of abuse temporarily ceased for one victim named Hoover Pugh, because he just got a transfer to another prison. He is a prime victim of abuse, neglect and a suicide set-up.
I was only living across from him for a week or so, when in the month of April, I was standing in my door and noticed the guard, [name withheld], acting rather oddly – with another inmate. I listened in and heard the guard talking about it being his last day working at the prison. The guard told the prisoner he wanted to “get Pugh” before he went home. So the prisoner offered guard [name withheld] a razor for him to drop (or have it dropped) in front of Pugh’s cell to stage a suicide situation, which would then give him the authority to gas Pugh’s cell, belongings, and person. He hollered out “Inmate put down that razor!” then he gassed him and called his supervisor.
Fortunately, authorities didn’t buy the attempt to place Pugh on suicide prevention watch – which would’ve meant they took all of his property “on hold” – and he was returned to his cell unscathed, due to the credibility of his version of the incident versus [name withheld] made-up story.
As the days passed, I eventually came to the conclusion that Pugh was a victim of bad timing and unreasonable abuse.
There were two guards in particular that had it in for Pugh and neither one was shy about letting this be known. [Names withheld] would openly boast about taunting Pugh and said that as long as they were working, Pugh would never eat, or be provided with any of the privileges that the other prisoners got. I also heard [name withheld] tell Pugh he ain’t got shit coming and he could go hang himself for all he cared.
It wasn’t all talk. Whenever it was time to eat, neither guard looked Pugh’s way as they cheerily passed by his cell making car horn noises. In a three-day span, I only saw Pugh be allowed to eat two meals, both breakfasts, only because [names withheld] worked the lunch and dinner shift.
Everything that happened to Pugh in my presence was only done as a way to retaliate against him for being disruptive and loud for hours on end. Pugh often yelled, beat on the door, used vulgar language towards anyone that passed his cell, as well as exposed his penis to any male that happened to be watching out of puzzlement and not realizing what he had in store for them. These bizarre acts alone don’t constitute what they did to him, but you had other prisoners force themselves to believe justice was being served and nothing was strange about being allowed to receive two meals in three days. [Names withheld] were the least of his worries as he had a list of guards that wanted a piece of the action.
What’s strange about his ordeal is that he was housed in a cell in the front part of the cell block that has a camera facing him with 24 hour recordings but officers were still able to get away with harassing, abusing and neglecting him. Since nobody except two or three people liked Pugh, I doubt if the camera even got checked whenever he filed grievances complaining about his missing meals. All one had to do was see the same two officers pass him up on multiple occasions and cross check the meal refusal log and see that it had no prisoner listed as verbally refusing to eat.
Being housed in ad-seg [Administrative Segregation/Solitary] had its advantages and disadvantages for Pugh. One negative for him was how receiving a minor disciplinary infraction resulted in being demoted to a more restrictive Level Three and being put on commissary restrictions. Regardless of him behaving or acting out, guards would trump up charges on him and get his restriction reset whenever it seemed that he was on his way to getting back his Level One status. I witnessed him being held hostage on Level Three status for over six months and I regularly smuggled him food and hygiene supplies to take what little stress off of him that I could, while being verbally abused by those that disliked what I did.
The same prisoner who slipped [name withheld] the razor was also responsible for always blowing out the power circuit, then crying wolf that Pugh was the culprit. Maintenance eventually removed the power outlet from Pugh’s cell and he was forced to endure months of not being able to listen to his radio or to drink hot liquids, which required the use of his hotpot.
Despite several months of Pugh behaving honorably, they still refused to give him power, and that played a key factor in him feeling paranoid that everyone was out to get him. (In my eyes this was not paranoia at all.)
The night he was notified about being transferred to another unit, a big sigh of relief came over me, as I knew that we would both find relief from this ending, he as the victim and me suffering the psychological torture of watching it happen.[Name withheld] got promoted, [name withheld] also moved to San Antonio,[name withheld] got arrested for crashing into and robbing a convenient store and is not looking at a prison stint himself, [name withheld] got fired, [name withheld] has reverted back to good cop.
Even though some of these changes may have a positive effect, they still don’t stop the mentally ill from being mistreated, especially since just about every new arriving officer is taught to treat them exactly this way.
If we want to see a stop to how these men are being handled and treated, it’s going to take more than just complaints and sympathy, we need the outside support of the residents and media of Amarillo and Texas as a whole to apply the correct amount of pressure and force the mental health department on this unit to take matters into their own hands and see to it that the mentally ill are getting the treatment they need and not just merely believing what security is telling them. If not, mental health patients and prisoners in general will continue to die!