Just Another Bugout Behind Bars

Attica Correctional Facility, New York. Photo by Jayu via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In New York state, 10 out of every 11 psychiatric patients in the government’s care are actually in prison, not hospitals or rehab centers. In Esquire, writer and current Attica inmate John L. Lennon — whose brother Eugene struggled to find appropriate treatment for his bipolar disorder and ended up dead of a heroin overdose — tries to understand why a maximum-security prison is the right place for someone like fellow inmate Joe:

One morning, he woke up believing that a creature had caused him to lose nearly fifty pounds overnight. It was his first full-fledged psychotic episode. In the months and years that followed, his symptoms worsened: A mole on his arm contained a hidden message; he thought he could shoot white energy orbs out of his palms; he showed anyone who’d listen a grainy video on his flip phone, footage, he claimed, of UFOs, angels, and demons.

Nevertheless, he scraped by. Around 2009, at Maria’s prompting, he saw a county psychiatrist. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and began taking a motley regimen of medications. He also began receiving a monthly disability check.

Then, in 2014, broke, evicted, and nearly blacked out on Klonopin, he pulled a ski mask over his face, palmed a BB gun, and entered a Smokers Choice. Seven months and one plea bargain later, Joe was just another Attica bugout.

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