"They killed him!"
"What? Killed who? What happened, Carmen?"
"A patient named Darren Rainey. Guards locked him in the shower in J3, the one with the broken faucets."
"Yeah, the one where they adjust the temperature."
"Guards on the weekend shift set it. Had only the hot on, over 180 degrees."
"Shit. You mean Rainey got scalded to death? He must've screamed. Didn't anybody hear him?"
"Just the patients in the unit. Told me he kept begging over and over, Please let me out. I won't do it no more. "
"What did he mean by, I won't do it no more ? What the hell did he do?"
"Smeared shit around his cell. Poor guy was a total bug. Had a history of mental illness."
"What the hell, Carmen. If I'm feeling nauseous now, you must've freaked when you heard what happened."
"Stunned. Couldn't believe it. The cruelty. A patient said one guard tormented Rainey by asking if the shower was hot enough."
"Cruel doesn't begin to cover it. That's what a psychopath would do for kicks. To get off on another's suffering."
"Exactly. That's one of the things we talked about. After all the counselors cleared out, Dr. Alcine broke down and wept. Rainey was on her caseload."
"Oh Jesus, Carmen. So sorry to hear that. I met her that time she filled in for Ms. Parker. She's gotta be devastated."
"Nicole took it really hard. Sobbed like forever. Thing is, our patients can be killed by guards and there's nothin' we can do about it. This shit's seriously messed up."
"I feel for you Carmen, Swilling's beating was bad enough. But now they've killed a helpless mentally ill guy? Really? Here's a suggestion-get your license and get the fuck out of there."
"I hear you, George. Last few months, I've been studying a little more for the state exam. Time to step it up."
"Good idea. But what the fuck. Where the hell was security?"
"Came back but it was too late. Guys said Rainey stopped making sounds after about an hour. I talked to nurses who were there. One said his skin was peeling off when the guards took him out. Another said his temperature exceeded the limits of the thermometer."
"He must've been in agony. Was there an investigation?"
"Homicide, CSI, and FBI were here. Asked a lot of questions. But guys said guards ordered a patient named Joiner to clean up the shower stall, so I bet CSI didn't find a thing."
"Were there any arrests?"
"Not any I know of. Same nurses said they overheard a guard saying he didn't think they could get away with this one."
"I can hardly believe it. On the other hand, it's not surprising something like this happened. The situation was getting worse and worse when I was fired."
"Totally. That's what you were sayin' all along. Heard guards were using the shower treatment for discipline. A guy before Rainey got his back burned. Casey was his name. Told me he wrote a letter to his family about what happened."
"That's not discipline Carmen. It's flat out torture. Jesus, a year since I worked there and the place is going to shit. Least nobody died on my watch."
"That's not all. Two patients died a couple of months ago in medical."
"What happened to them?"
"Remember some of those guys who looked like they were from a concentration camp?"
"Yeah, they were crazy. Got starved or they refused to eat."
"Sure enough. The word out was that medical didn't get to them soon enough. Died from pneumonia."
"That's their typical response. Medical never did shit. Sounds like they died from a treatable condition."
"You know how they were George, they weren't the healthiest to begin with."
"Still, come on. Remember what I said TCU stood for?"
"Holy shit-Torture Chamber Unlimited."
"Carmen, be careful in there. TCU is out of control."
"Thanks, I will be."
After hanging up with Carmen, a flood of memories washed over me from my nearly three years at the Transitional Care Unit. We worked together as counselors in the Dade Correctional Institution, a Florida state prison. Ten months earlier I was fired for essentially speaking out against the abuse of the mentally ill at the hands of security as we called them. Otherwise known as correctional officers, COs, or guards, some of these thugs abused patients with impunity and even beat one up with mental health staff looking on. In fact, Carmen was an eyewitness to the beating. Fearing retaliation from guards, she elected to stay silent. At her insistence, I never mentioned her name in my Incident Reports.
Halfheartedly wrestling with patient abuse issues after my firing, a bunch of dead ends grounded me. Now this! The knot in my gut was reminiscent of the stress during my last months at TCU. My attempt to raise awareness of patient abuse in a morning meeting after the beating was met with silence. Filing two Incident Reports, one in Tallahassee at DOC headquarters and one at the prison itself, only created more grief for me.
Sitting at my desk, self-doubts emerged: Had my efforts been more aggressive and a hard line was taken, would the abusive behavior have escalated to this point, the killing of a patient? It felt as if to some degree, this tragedy was my fault. No. In actuality, a lot of this was my fault. I should have done more. But what?
A quote from Edmund Burke strengthened my resolve when I filed my first reports, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." My response to brutality was laudable, but apparently not enough. A man, a human being died a horrible death and two others died from what seemed like medical neglect by the Corizon medical staff.
Getting up from the desk, I went to the kitchen, feeling deeply unsettled. What about coming forward now? Who would be in a position to take action on my information? How could it be kept confidential? How much detail would I disclose and when?
If Carmen's part in the cover-up was made known, how would she react? Our friendship was at risk, but more importantly, she might be disqualified from getting her license. Dr. Robles, the do-nothing supervisor, could lose hers. Heck, she should lose her license. A registered intern came to her about a beating and she looked the other way. At the very least it's against DOC rules, not to mention a lack of ethics.
What about security? Guards who killed Rainey have guns. Tracking me down would be easy-my home, my art studio. Hell, my art studio was three miles from Dade CI. All these questions flooded me with visceral memories of crippling emotions from my last couple of months at Dade CI. Feeling nauseous, I grabbed the phone and flopped on the couch.
"Hey, Michelle. Can I run something by you?"
"Sure, you sound upset. What's wrong?"
Michelle was a trusted friend who would tell me the truth even if I didn't want to hear it. She was a psychotherapist too. Michelle counseled me countless times regarding disturbing prison situations.
"Remember Carmen, my former coworker from TCU?"
"Sure, she's the one who kept you sane while all that shit was going down."
"She told me some really disturbing news. One guy was killed by guards and two others died from medical neglect."
"That sounds awful. What happened?"
Michelle gasped as I relayed the horrific details of the scalding.
"As you described what Rainey went through, it felt like I was being suffocated. Like I was right there in the shower. And Nicole. If somebody on my caseload was murdered-oh my god. My heart goes out to her. What gets me is that guards killed a vulnerable mentally ill patient. That's barbaric on a level I can't wrap my mind around."
"Right Michelle. To enjoy human suffering like that is equal to the depravity we read about in the Holocaust."
We processed my struggle in figuring out my next step. My angst about what should or shouldn't be done about Rainey had become a dilemma.
"George, you're the kind of guy who takes action. You don't really have a choice."
"Had a feeling you were gonna say that. But this has got me pretty spooked. Even so, I think I gotta come forward."
"Don't know who you could talk to, but you should probably stay anonymous."
"Good idea, Michelle. Thanks for listening. I'll let you know what happens."
Speaking with Michelle helped clear my mind somewhat; there were many unknowns yet to face. My friend Wyatt, an Assistant United States Attorney, would know who to contact about the investigation. He was the first person I told about the beating Carmen had witnessed. At the time, he asked me to encourage her come forward. Carmen adamantly refused citing how security would make her life unbearable. She reminded me about Samantha, our former coworker and counselor. Samantha had reported to Dr. Do-Nothing that while in session with a patient, she looked out only to see the guard assigned to protect her asleep in his chair. Other times guards left after a few minutes. She was incensed. Here she was, with no security, in session with a lifer who had stabbed his girlfriend to death. Needless to say, she felt unprotected and vulnerable.
Security said she was lying and Do-Nothing sided with them. Guards even made up stories that Samantha was having affairs with some of her patients, not knowing she was gay. When she returned to work, to her shock and dismay, guards escorted her and unstable patients into the counseling room and then disappeared. They didn't even make a pretense of protecting her. A few days later, fearing for her life, she resigned. Samantha couldn't find work. Consequently, the bank began foreclosure proceedings against her.
Carmen said there was no way she could lose her job and she was not about to go into sessions with dangerous patients without backup. End result-no witness, no case. Perhaps Wyatt might know someone in the Department of Justice who would investigate the pervasive and callous indifference that ultimately led to three deaths. The Justice Department was known to have initiated probes into just this variety of malfeasance.
Needing to get some perspective, I opted for a walk and a cup of coffee. People without a care in the world were sitting in the Starbucks chit chatting away. Taking a sip of coffee, I glanced down the table. There they were, the happy couple talking about having a pizza, or having a baby for that matter. Smile, smile, blah, blah. Shit. My hands were full with a potential life and death situation. My own to begin with. Not to mention the men in the psych ward. Peering into my steaming coffee, my brain was in overdrive conjuring up all manner of possible outcomes and contingencies.
There were four major concerns. First, saying nothing and doing nothing would mean business as usual in the unit. Guards would be on their best behavior for a time and then return to abusing patients. Witnessing this pattern on numerous occasions, I was 100% confident that the same psychos who put Rainey in the shower would be at it again, sooner or later. Second, attempting to get Rainey justice might bring retaliation or worse from morally and ethically challenged guards. Third, Carmen could suffer career-ending circumstances for not coming clean, and at 67 years of age, it would be devastating. Finally, once events were set into motion, outcomes could become wildly unpredictable. Little did I know this would be the case and then some.
On the walk home, clarity emerged. Stepping forward was the only choice. Consequences would unfold as they may. Feeling exposed and alone left me to ponder: How had it come to this? In taking the lead again as the standard bearer for patient abuse, I was confronted with my failures to effect any change in my former unit. Since getting out of grad school, my life purpose was to make a difference in the lives of others. How did I get so far off course?
Only a short time ago it seemed, I was counseling individuals and couples in my private office. I felt deeply fulfilled in doing important work. My clients navigated their lives more functionally as an outcome of our counseling encounters. After a brief hiccup in a questionable PHP agency, there was my challenging work as a cancer support group facilitator. And then nearly two years counseling at-risk youth in a children's program that deeply valued my contributions. The warmly remembered faces of my kids brought a smile to my face. Those were the good old days.