Hampton Roads Regional Jail houses several hundred inmates who have been diagnosed with mental illness. They include men and women, those who've committed "nuisance" crimes, such as trespassing, and those convicted of felonies, including assault.
Many are held in solitary confinement for 23 hours out of 24 for their own protection and for the safety of other inmates, their cells and persons stripped bare. At any given time, the jail holds between six and 12 inmates on suicide watch with round-the-clock observation.
There's no residential treatment program and no state funding for mental health programs in the jail. The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health licenses the community services boards, but there's no statutory obligation for them to provide mental health treatment in jails. "Generally, programs based in jails focus their services on maintenance of mental illness instead of recovery from it," said Meghan McGuire, spokeswoman for the Department of Behavioral Health.
At HRRJ, the mentally ill are held in three separate "pods" or housing units. For the most part, to tell their stories, they talked through a chink in the side of a metal door of an isolation cell.
Antonio Jenkins, 27, attempted suicide the previous weekend by swallowing a razor blade. He was transported to Bon Secours Maryview Hospital in Portsmouth for emergency treatment. His clothes removed, he's wearing a "suicide blanket," a quilted blanket, wrapped around his waist. His cell is completely bare, with just a plastic mat on the floor in place of a bed, a metal sink and a toilet. Staff conducts a sweep of the cell on every shift change. Jenkins says he got the razor blade while housed in another "pod." He says he was in Red Onion, a maximum security state prison, for six years, then on the streets of Norfolk, that he has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and that he's been trying to hurt himself since he was 11. He has also spent time in private psychiatric hospitals. He takes Risperidal, an antipsychotic medication, and Celexa, an antidepressant. He's waiting for trial. "If I don't hurt myself I'll be able to get out," he said.
In the common area, Malcolm Langston, 54, sat at a table chatting with a group. A TV blared over their conversation. He's been in the jail for 16 months, he said. He went to Central State Hospital in Petersburg for "restoration to competency" but he doesn't have a trial date and he has fired his attorney. He has bipolar-depression disorder, takes "four or five different meds" and sees a mental health professional once a month, he said. He worked for Norfolk Naval Shipyard for 17 years and now he's facing 13 "stacked" felony charges. He claimed he was given someone else's meds in error while in the Norfolk jail. He'd like to know how those drugs have affected him.
Adam Deiulio crouched by the door of his cell and spoke through an open square below the usual "window," a metal eye-level flap that staff can open to observe inmates. A guard sat in front on a plastic chair, on constant watch. "I've been attempting suicide since I was 9 years old," said the slightly built 29-year-old, who's charged with possession of burglary tools, a felony. Over the weekend, he removed threads from the suicide blanket, wound them into a "rope," wrapped them around his windpipe and passed out. It was his sixth suicide attempt in 60 days. Previously, the jail had him admitted to Central State Hospital for treatment, where he also attempted suicide. "I don't know why they sent me back so soon," said Deiulio. "I felt safer in Central State." The voices he heard got quieter and turned to whispers, and he felt calmer, he said, never moving from his crouched position.
In one of the pods holding women, three were on watch in single cells, while their peers mingled in the common area. One pregnant woman napped motionless on the floor mat in a cell corner. Alarmed by her lack of response, staff members rushed into her cell to check on her. The others had made verbal assertions about self-harm that the jail staff could not ignore.
Jessica Butts, 32, said she made the threat because she was hungry. "I stayed up all night drinking coffee. I was starving, so to get out of the room I said I was suicidal," she confided. Now, she wanted out of solitary. Diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic, she receives an injection of Haloperidal once a month and the liquid form daily. "I like taking meds. I've been hearing voices since I was 15," she said forthrightly.
In a neighboring cell, Yatame Neal, 28, said plaintively, "This is no place for nobody to come." She has bipolar disorder and said she'd been in segregation since the beginning of the year while awaiting trial on noncompliance with a court order. Officer Natasha Perry, who determines each inmate's housing status, explained that Neal was on a "keep separate" order from another inmate.
These are just a handful of those diagnosed with mental illness awaiting trial or serving sentences at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. There are hundreds more stories like these among its inmates.
Day One: "Jails are no place to treat someone with a mental illness"
Day Two: Hampton Roads Regional Jail and Eastern State Hospital: Same population, different treatment
Day Three: Meet some mentally ill inmates in Hampton Roads Regional Jail
Day Four: A Navy veteran with PTSD deals with jail after a vandalism charge
Day Five: A better way to look after those diagnosed with a mental illness