Below is a first person post about mentally ill inmate Nikko Albanese from the blog of psychotherapist George Mallinckrodt, former employee of Dade Correction Institution/Corizon, whose book – pictured above – about the scalding death of Darren Rainey is available from Amazon.com. Mr. Mallinckrodt is trying to get Florida’s legislature to move swiftly towards making our prisons safe and humane [http://www.georgemallinckrodt.com/blog.htm]. Please help save the lives of Florida inmates, like Nikko, by signing petitions, like this one. Thank you.
March 9, 2015
How the Manifestation of Mental Illness Results in a Prison Sentence and Worse
The following account from Heather Chapman illustrates how the lack of treatment resources for the mentally ill combined with inhumane prison protocols lead to devastating consequences for the mentally ill. Heather’s son Nikko is severely mentally ill. His case is typical of hundreds in the Florida Department of Corrections.
Having worked as a psychotherapist in a similar “TCU” psychiatric unit where Nikko is housed, I can tell you treatment for the mentally ill is substandard. In my TCU, patients were taunted, tormented, beaten, gassed, and in some cases, tortured and killed by correctional officers.
Please reach out to Heather with your support. Her email is near the bottom.
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
Henry David Thoreau
1. Heather Chapman said, “My 5 foot, 11 inch son has gone from his normal 160-pound weight to a skeletal 120 pounds after enduring solitary confinement for two years, where he remains today. My son seems to be starving to death in the Florida prison system. He looks like the Holocaust victims in Hitler’s concentration camps. Please help us. Please save my son.”
2. I would like you to meet my son, Nikko Albanese. Before the mental health crisis that led to his arrest, Nikko was a bright, loving, dependable, compassionate and quiet young man. He enjoyed slot car racing, listening to music, and being with his friends. He is an adoring older brother to two younger half-siblings. Nicole and Jackie look up to Nikko, and we all miss him very much. But to the State of Florida Department of Corrections, Nikko is known as DC Number B11083 and is currently housed in special confinement unit at the Union Correctional Institute in Raiford, Florida. My son is currently serving two concurrent sentences for robbery with a gun and possession of a gun. Nikko was sentenced at the age of 19, and his earliest release date is November 11, 1021, at which time he will be 28 years old.
3. Nikko was diagnosed with early onset bipolar disorder at the age of 10. At age 11, he started receiving social security disability. The State of Florida classified Nikko as disabled because of the bipolar disorder. He has been medicated for bipolar since the age of 10. His bipolar disorder medication completely contained his condition. Nikko may have had bipolar disorder and took medication, but other than that he was just an average kid. Most family friends were not even aware Nikko had bipolar disorder or took medication. The proper medication works well for Nikko. It evens out the chemicals within his brain. As long as Nikko was taking his medication, things were fine.
4. When Nikko turned 18, the health insurance and Social Security Disability stopped. According to the law, Social Security considered Nikko to be an adult. I was told that when disabled children like Nikko turn 18, they have to reapply for Social Security Disability as adults. I guess I should have known this, but Nikko had been on his health insurance and Social Security for so long that I just assumed it would continue. As I was gathering records and filling out all the necessary paperwork, Nikko did not have any medical insurance to pay for his medication, doctors or therapy. Once I completed all of the necessary documents and submitted the information from his doctors, I was told by Social Security that I am NOT allowed to fill out and submit the paperwork for Nikko. Rather, he must to do it himself. By this point Nikko had been off his medication and out of therapy for nearly a year, and his condition went from bad to worse. The discontinuation of Nikko’s psychiatric treatment caused the mental health crisis that resulted in Nikko’s crime.
5. Nikko’s history of mental illness is very well documented, and the Sentencing Court was made fully aware of my sons’ history of psychiatric hospitalizations, past treatments, history of medications, and the need to receive the properly prescribed medicine for his continued treatment behind bars. The Court received copies of all his medical documents prior to his sentencing. In fact, the Court ordered that Nikko be examined by a Court appointed forensic psychiatrist.
6. Dr. Crosby was selected to evaluate Nikko. Over the period of several weeks, he met with my son and did an extensive evaluation in which he concurred with the diagnosis as stated in the mental health documents the Court received earlier. Most importantly Dr. Crosby told the Court that Nikko was in “a severe bipolar crisis that required immediate medical attention.” I was told that the county facility and ultimately the State Department of Corrections would address his medical and mental health needs.
7. For some reason, all of Nikko’s medical and psychiatric records were sealed by the Court (including the court-ordered evaluation). When Nikko was transported into state custody, these crucial records did not go with him. Shortly after Nikko arrived at the state prison, he was placed in solitary confinement. Nikko wrote to me and told me that he continually filled out medial request forms to receive medical and psychiatric treatment, but the prison administrators never responded.
8. Over the next two years, Nikko continually received disciplinary reports and sanctions. The ultimate result of the numerous sanctions was the suspension of all visitation privileges, and he could receive no telephone calls or packages. Nikko spent an excessive amount of time in solitary confinement. He was subjected to an unwarranted use of brutal force, restraints (including electronic) and chemical agents to “manage” my son, when in fact he was merely crying out for help. Nikko needed someone to recognize that he had mental health issues that were being ignored.
9. In February 2014, my son was found in his solitary confinement cell in a catatonic state. He was immediately taken to medical. For a human being to become catatonic is a very long and painful process. It should also be noted that this was the first time in his two-years of being in state custody that he received any form of medical/psychiatric attention for his previously diagnosed conditions. Nikko was then housed in the medical unit for seven to eight months and ultimately received a diagnosis of schizophrenia by the facility mental health team. He was eventually returned to solitary confinement for an alleged series of incidents that occurred while he was in a purportedly catatonic state at Charlotte Prison in Punta Gorta, Florida.
10. On September 19, 2014, I received a call from Corrections officials saying that they were moving my son to “a closed management prison”: Union Correctional Institution, where he is currently housed. I requested and have received copies of all of my sons’ medical and mental health records since he was placed in State custody as well as copies of his disciplinary records.
11. To this day, Nikko is still in a medical unit that the Florida Department of Corrections refers to as a “TCU Unit.” Whatever they want to call it, it is still solitary confinement. They just call it a different name. Whenever an inmate in this unit is removed from his cell for whatever reasons, including a shower, he is handcuffed and shackled. It’s possible that Nikko may spend the remainder of his time in prison in a TCU unit.
12. Throughout his childhood, Nikko was successfully treated for bipolar disorder. Nikko was damaged by not receiving medical care for over two years and is presently diagnosed as being schizophrenic. Inmates in the TCU units are not allowed to receive any packages, be it holiday packages, sneakers or clothes. Because of Nikko’s declining condition and his fear of words and pictures contained in letters, books or magazines, he has absolutely no communication.
13. The sentencing court misled me. I was told by the sentencing court that my son would receive immediate medical and mental health care and that the state facility would be made aware of his condition. Why was it that Nikko did not receive any care until two years after arriving at a state facility? Why did Florida wait until he had deteriorated to a catatonic state before treating his mental illness? How could any human being allow this to happen to another human being?
14. My anxiety about Nikko has grown as I continually read and see videos about the mistreatment and deaths of inmates in Florida who are being held or were interned at some of the same correctional facilities as my son. I worry because my son is not in a position to protect himself against violent assaults. Use of excessive force is unacceptable, but corrections officers are seldom censured. There is no need for excessive force, especially for someone who is catatonic like my son was.
15. Someone needs to be held accountable for such violent and brutal behavior that the State of Florida’s correctional staff has used on mentally ill inmates. It scares me, because no one is being held accountable for the brutal assaults, the mistreatment or inmates’ deaths – even when such deaths are ruled “homicide”. As I read about the torture and wrongful deaths that happen to Florida prisoners in the newspaper and see films about abuses on television, I wonder how many other cases of brutality do we not hear about. The new Secretary of Corrections has placed a “gag order” on those who were going public about what goes on behind those steel doors, closed gates, locked and secure fences.
16. After two years of being denied all contact, I was allowed one phone call with Nikko on January 5, 2015. My sister had called the warden at Union Correctional Institution. In exchange for my phone call, she had to promise that she would get me to stop my public outcry for help. She had to promise that I would not go to the press or others if I were allowed just one phone call with my son. It was during this phone call that I realized my son didn’t remember me. He has trouble with long term and short term memory. His speech is delayed. Nikko is deteriorating to the point where he cannot read or write letters. He cannot have books of any kind in his cell; apparently, the words and pictures in books disturb him greatly.
17. I realized during this precious phone call that my son is deteriorating rapidly. The medical records that I have obtained from the prison clearly state that Nikko is deteriorating. The only connection I have with my son right now is through the prison doctor, Dr. Biskey. The doctor told me that Nikko has not come out of his cell in weeks, maybe months. It is evident that my son is slipping out of reality, out of society and into a kind of protective shell. I am afraid that he will continue to decline until it will be so bad that no one will be able to reach him.
18. Nikko has been in solitary confinement for over two years now. Effects of being in long-term solitary confinement can mimic the symptoms of schizophrenia. For this reason, I question whether Nikko truly does have schizophrenia or if could this be a misdiagnosis. The bottom line is that my son is not being treated for any of his preexisting conditions. He is being treated only for the “newly diagnosed” schizophrenia. Nikko was doing well when he was treated for bipolar disorder as a teenager. If only I had not been prevented from applying for Nikko’s medical insurance and social security when he reached age 18, none of this might have happened.
19. Nikko has been visited by two separate organizations in Florida who advocate on behalf of people with disabilities, both of which have declined to help. Why would these “trained professionals” ask Nikko specifically about alleged abuse, neglect, inadequate medical care, and deterioration? Why would they ask Nikko these questions right in front closed circuit cameras and audio recording equipment, with armed prison guards within earshot? My son was in survival mode, knowing that if he answered them truthfully he would be in danger. Nikko probably is already in danger simply because these people went to see him. Why would anyone trust Nikko’s word anyway? Nikko is an inmate. He committed a crime, and as such, society and courts of law view him as untrustworthy. His word means nothing. I’m sorry but that is the reality of the situation. What does it matter what my son says?
20. The proof is documented in the medical records, the disciplinary records and in the current physical and mental state my son is in, the majority of which is probably attributable to the two years of solitary confinement he has endured. I now have NO contact with Nikko. The prison suspended all visitation privileges until late this summer. Who is going to be my eyes and ears? Who is going to look out for my son? Who has his back – certainly not the State of Florida Department of Corrections or the private company that provides inmates with medical and mental health care.
21. Heather Chapman said, “My 5 foot, 11 inch son has gone from his normal 160-pound weight to a skeletal 120 pounds after enduring solitary confinement for two years, where he remains today. My son seems to be starving to death in the Florida prison system. He looks like the Holocaust victims in Hitler’s concentration camps. Please help us. Please save my son.”
James Kenneth Embry, 57, starved to death in Kentucky State Prison
James Kenneth Embry died Jan. 13, 2014, after a four-month hunger strike that took 32 pounds off his 6-foot frame in the last month of his life. Since his death the lead physician at the prison has been fired and state officials are in the midst of dismissing the lead psychologist.
Carlos Umana, 20, starved to death in a privately-owned Utah Jail
The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that a young prisoner who apparently suffered from serious mental illness died of starvation and dehydration after spending four months in the Salt Lake County Jail, much of them in solitary confinement. Carlos Umana, 20, weighed at 180 pounds when he entered the jail in October 2010; when he died on February 27, he weighed just 77 pounds. Tests showed that none of his prescribed psychiatric drugs were in his system at the time of his death.