This piece was written by Blaine Keith Milam #999558. It's a very moving account of a dark period in his life when he attempted to commit suicide. We have typed it out here, verbatim as Blaine wrote it, and without any editing.
The piece is also a testimony to the lack of any kind of real or effective psychiatric care within the TDCJ.
(by Blaine Keith Milam)
It's all a haze to me, like a dreamfog. I'm being escorted in a blue paper gown that does little to cover my body. My hands, of course, are cuffed tightly behind my back. Two guards are holding fast to both arms as we move down a long hallway, glass windows showing a garden on one side and a field with razor wire and guard tower on the other.
As we near the end of the hallway, I see a wide, low counter/control center teeming with guards and nurses. I'm walked up to the counter, where an angry looking guard draws my attention. "Inmate, state your name and number." To which I reply, "Blaine Keith Milam, 999558." He then calls another guard, telling him to bring the leg-irons.
"Got a Death Row'n here. Put those leg-irons on 'im, leave 'im cuffed behind his back, and put him in that holding tank," he says, pointing to a large tank with big glass viewing ports.
"I need to use the bathroom." I say.
"No-one's stopping you," is the reply.
"Uh, I'm shackled up?"
"And?" He shot back.
That's absurd "And?" sums up my experiences of Jester IV in one neat, exceptional, frigid syllable.
I find myself holding my piss. The shackles cinched so tight the blood won't flow. After 20-minutes, an Indian nurse wheels in a cart, takes vitals, etc. She is meaner than a damn rattlesnake! Just going through the motions, I suppose. She tells me. "You will be placed in a cell, with nothing but a suicide blanket, and nothing else - for three days. Your food will come in the form of johnnies." Then she leaves.
Forty-minutes of waiting, and finally the lock turns in the heavy door. Two guards walk in and grab my arms and we walk out. One has a bit of a rolled up toilet paper on his hand, the other snatches a small, stiff "suicide blanket" off a pile by the control center as we walk past, heading down another hallway. This hallway has cells on either side, the faces staring out of the glass portholes are somber, sad, pleading for help. I start asking questions that aren't getting answered. As we got to my cage, the guards each let go of my arms, reach up, and rip the paper gown from body. They shove me through the door into the cage, and slam the door with an echoing boom!
"Back up, slide your hands through the slot."
They remove my shackles and I instantly go to the toilet. When I am done, I take in my surroundings, and am completely horrified at what I find. Forget the fact that this cage I am locked in, naked as a jaybird, is filthy and freezing cold. All that I expected. What shocks me is the sight I see when I look across the opposing cages on the other side of the hallway, a sad face here, a vacant stare there, and a guy smearing feces all over the viewport in his door. It is on his face, and the only thing the guards say is, "Be sure to leave a little opening so we can see you."
I know, just from the short time already spent in this cell, what I would have to do if I want to keep my sanity. I am going to tell these people exactly what they want to hear, so I can leave as quickly as possible. Because any more than a week in his hellhole would be more than enough to make anyone go crazy. If they weren't already.
Depression is a serious illness that affects thoughts, feelings, and the ability to function in everyday life. I had battled it throughout 2016, not knowing just how serious an illness it is. The cold truth is that TDCJ punishes those of us who have it, rather than try and see what the issue is and get us help.
This is my story, all accounts are 100% true.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I arrived on Texas Death Row almost seven-years ago and what a learning experience it has been. I spent six of those seven-years trying to make the best out of a bad situation. I am by nature an outgoing, upbeat person, but even that could not help me in the end. Starting in early 2016, I was beginning to slip into a depression that I thought I had battled and defeated by summer. I could not have been more wrong. By November, the depression returned with a diehard vengeance.
I had just had special visits with a special someone, a lady whom I will call "Ma" because she is like a mother to me. I was thankful for our visits, of course. But sometimes other things make us lose sight of the more important things in life, and by November 10th, two-days after those visits, I started to shutdown mentally. It is hard to find the words to describe the sense of loss and darkness that settled upon me. Perhaps there are no words for such an internal state. I gradually lost all motivation to talk to my friends, listen to music, or even eat. I stopped all communications with those who are close to me, such as Ma and Coolbreeze. They knew something was amiss because I was not writing like my normal self, and they began to worry by mid-December when they had not heard from me. It doesn't really matter what specific details sent me into my tailspin, only that I quickly began to view myself as some sort of opponent. What is important for you to understand, indeed the reason I have felt so compelled to write this when I have never written anything in a public forum about my time here, is the way the State of Texas views mental illness within its prisons.
On December 26th, 2016, the day after Christmas, Death Row went on its routine quarterly lockdown. Normally, the thought of having a bunch of people pawing through all my worldly belongings would upset me, but I found myself too far down the spiral to even give a damn about this time around. I thought hard about "trying to get help" by putting in a "sick call" for the mental health dept.; to see about getting on meds. I knew something was not right. But I also knew they would charge me a hundred dollars I did not have (for a medical co-payment fee) just to send me back to my cage, after being told I was "just fine." I felt that my only way back to happiness was to find an "out." I thought about it for two days, and tears welled-up in my eyes as I made my choice.
So, on December 28th, I took a lot of pills. I overdosed on a medication that is used for a few different things, and it took effect so quickly that I cannot remember much, except the feeling of being both happy and sad at the same time. Right before I fell unconscious, I remember staring at a Snickers bar on the floor, thinking how much I wanted to eat that before I went.
That was the last thing I remember before waking up from a coma in a lot of pain three days later in UTMB Galveston Hospital. My hands were tied to the bed with nylon straps that cut deep into my wrists. It felt as though I had been hit with a truck! I had tubes and wires running all over me, and my initial thought was: It was all a dream, I was never on Death Row. I remembered absolutely nothing of my time on Death Row.
The day before I was arrested for the crime that eventually sent me to Death Row, I was involved in a serious car accident that included a head injury. When I woke up that day in Galveston, I was convinced that the accident had just occurred, and I became immensely upset that I could not find Amora, my little girl, who was in the car with me at the time of the accident, along with my ex-fiancé. So, in my mind, it was December 1st, 2008, and she, Amora, was still alive. A flood of relief came over me, and tears welled up in my eyes. It is still 2008, I thought, as darkness took me back.
The second time I awoke, I had a little more energy and my mind was racing with thoughts of the past. My eyes were burning with tears but, somehow, I collapsed back into sleep.
The next time I woke up, I could talk. My tongue was raw, and my throat and nose hurt, and there were two people staring down at me. One started asking me questions, the other taking notes.
"Who are you, sir? What's your name?"
"Blaine." I told them.
"What year is it Blaine?"
"Do you know where you are?"
"Hospital? Where's Amora?"
"Amora! Go get her," I begged.
Then I slipped back into sleep. I could not stay awake for longer than a couple minutes, if that. And, worse still, I could not control myself from twitching like crazy, jerking around, going through muscle spasms. It was bad.
Waking up for the fourth time, I still had no memory of ever being on Death Row. Once again there were two people in my room looking at me. They asked me if I had tried to commit suicide. By the confused look I was giving them, they felt the need to explain to me what had happened, so they told me I was found unresponsive in my cell at Polunsky Unit/Death Row. That was all it took, all my memories flooded back to me, all those mixed emotions. I was devastated!
They asked me again, "Did you try to commit suicide?"
I nodded my head yes, and they asked me, "Why?"
To that I replied: "Depression maybe? Y'all are the doctors!"
I was mad at them for bringing me back to reality, mad at myself for not ever doing anything right! All I wanted to do was end all the pain and misery. I couldn't help but look around the room for anything I could use to finish up the job. But as luck would have it the two people I'd just talked to had ordered the room cleared of all harmful objects, and so it was.
A nurse came to my bedside and pointed to my nylon wrist straps and said: "If I take those off, are you going to be cool? Because they are there for your own protection. You ripped out two IVs and a catheter." I had no knowledge of this. I told him: "Yes, I will be cool," and I apologized for any trouble I may have caused them. When he removed the straps, relief was instant. Blood began seeping from where the straps had cut, but my wrists and parts of both hands were numb. After removing them, he left the room, the guard locked the door, and I fell back to sleep.
Waking up next time, I felt a bit better. A nice nurse came in and asked me to try swallowing some ice chips. If I would, then I could have a meal. I did. Then a doctor came to see me, and he was not nice by a long-shot. He was demanding that I tell him where I got the pills, and told me I was lucky to be found when I was. He told me how the pills I took work; he explained how my system shut down, and how I needed rest to combat the drug. They kept flushing my system the best they could.
For the most part, they were pretty nice to me whilst I was there in UTMB Galveston. That weekend I got to watch tv, something I had not seen in years! I actually felt comfortable for once. The free-world people talked to me like I was a human being - and treated me like one. I was starting to feel like there was something to live for - to look forward to even. It was the day after New Year's, which was a Monday. A nurse came in to remove my catheter and clean me up a little before being moved out of the ICU to a regular room. That was my fifth-day there.
When they came to move me to the sixth-floor, they shackled me hand-to-foot, sat me in a wheelchair, and rolled me out. Turning the corner from the ICU, I noticed there were bars everywhere, and beyond the bars a picket/control center. They opened the gate. We rolled on through to a bank of elevators and I saw "TDCJ INSTITUTIONAL DIVISION" painted on the walls.
I shook my head as we entered the elevator. ICU was on the third floor. We exited on the sixth-floor and I was taken to a room on the far side of the floor. They lay me on the bed, removed my shackles, and left me alone in this very large room. I looked around and saw a window, a bathroom, and a tv hanging from a wall-mount. I swung my legs out to the side of the bed, and stood on shaky legs to make my way over to the window. I was blown away by the breath-taking view I had. The harbor; ships of all kinds sailing in and out. And the craziest thing of all was the overwhelming feeling of familiarity with what I was looking at. I found out later that night, from a guard, that there used to be a battleship right outside that window. This happened to be the USS Texas, a ship that I'd boarded as a little kid when the family had vacationed here back in the early '90s. It's what had gotten me into battleships. The ship, I am told, is now in Houston but, when I was a kid, it sat right outside the window I was staring out of as a Death Row inmate.
I thought it would be best to give life one more chance. I do not believe in coincidences - how else would you explain ending up in the same spot I was 22-years before, when life was so much simpler than it was now?
The next few days I would wake up wondering if my friends were okay, if they were mad at me, maybe judgmental of what I had tried to do, or if they even knew! I had no way of knowing. We don't get to make phone-calls, or receive mail there at Galveston. I was feeling better by my last night there, still a little weak, but definitely better than before.
Bright and early Wednesday morning, January 4th, they woke me up to get dressed in prison garb and get my IVs taken out. They did some last minute vital checks, then I was shackled-up, feet-to-hands again. I asked the guards, "Where are we going?" One replied, "Back to your unit." Okay, I thought, that's good. I did not want to go to Jester IV. From all the horror stories I have heard about that place, I'd fare better at my own unit.
I was escorted to the elevator bank, and down we rode to the ground-floor. We exited into a caged-in area, and walked a short-way to a garage, where a transport van sat idling. I was ushered into a cage and a guard slammed the door, latched the cage with a padlock, and shut the van door.
The three guards went to a red gun-locker mounted on the wall behind the van, where they acquired a shotgun, three pistols, and a mean-looking AR15. We were cleared to leave the garage, and as we pulled out I saw a fat guard walking around with a shotgun. We hit the road. I was on "sensory-overload" with all the sight-seeing! I had not been on a ride in so long, so this ended up being the best part of the day! All the cars, buildings, signs, the ocean! It was a sense of feeling human again! It was great.
I did not realize I had been fooled until we had been on the road for about two-and-a-half hours.
The guard nearest the back cage, where I was, picked up a cell phone, punched in some numbers, and said: "Get your ranking officers prepared for an intake. Death Row. Blaine Milam. 999558. We are 15-minutes out." I saw a road sign that said Richmond, TX, and thought: That's not where Polunsky Unit is!
Then we were at the front gate of the Jester IV Unit, and my gut was sinking! I found myself saying: Ah, those were just rumors, Blaine. This place could not be near as bad as they say? Silly me! I was in for one rude awakening. We pulled into the sally port, got the van checked, and moved onto the intake building, which was red and tan and squat. The ranking officer working that day opened the rear doors, unlocked the padlock to the cage, helped me step down, and walked me to the intake door. I was stripped naked, medical bracelets cut off, and handed a blue paper gown by two African guards, who I could not understand due to their accents. They started getting upset at me because I was not complying with what they wanted. I wanted to comply to their orders, but I just could not understand them! The ranking officer had to instruct me. I found out that 98% of the staff there at Jester IV were African natives, which is cool, it was just very hard to understand them! When dealing with the mentally ill, you would think that the first step would be communication, right? Not there, clearly. The rank told them to take me to Psych-Housing, so each grabbed an arm, and we left the intake.
About an hour after being put into my cage, I heard the squeaking of a food-cart rolling down the hallway. My belly was rumbling, as I had not been allowed to eat breakfast before leaving Galveston Hospital. Despite being in a filthy place, I was still a little hungry. When they got to my slot, I waited for them to put my johnny sack down so I could grab it.
A guard shouted, "Put your hands out here if you want to eat."
I said, "I am eating. Give me my sack!"
Then the guard said, in broken English, "Since you're new, let me explain to you. You get no paper here. I open food, dump it in your cupped hands, you go eat it!"
I was horrified, so I did not eat that meal. I looked across to the guy with the feces all over him and his cage, and watched them feed him in that state. I was sickened.
See, a johnny, in normal prisons, is usually two sandwiches, and raisins or prunes, in a brown paper sack. The sandwiches and raisins come in white paper baggies. When I asked why I had to eat from my hands, I was told that: "The paper could be harmful." Which, I might add, is a crock of shit!
Anything might be "harmful," like, eating from your hands in a filthy environment, with no soap. Especially for the feces guy across the hall. Or, how about freezing to death in a cell.
What is "harmful" is the least of their concerns. It's mainly about how far one can be belittled, defiled, humiliated, until there is nothing left but little bits and pieces of one's sanity.
By this point, the overwhelming stench of feces and urine started making me sick. Although my belly was growling, I was glad I refused to eat because it probably would have been a moot point if I'd have thrown it back up.
Sometime after noon, a lady appeared in the window of my door. I was walking around, naked and cold. I had tried wrapping the sorry excuse for a blanket around me, but to no avail. The lady was a "Psychiatrist." A sorry excuse for a "Psychiatrist" I might add. She made her beloved title known a few times throughout our "talk" session, which lasted all of two-minutes. Just going through the motions, like a robot that couldn't really care less if you live or die. When I asked her if I could have some clothes and a mat, the amusement on her face was all too clear: "No, you cannot. It'll be three days from now, if you are not suicidal." And, in my mind, all I could think was: Who wouldn't be, after a couple of days in this camp?
I told her I was fine. "Ship me back to my unit."
"I'm sorry, you will have to stay here for five days due to the weekend."
Apparently, all evaluations stop during the weekend. They only give a shit about you five days a week.
She told me she would be back in the morning to see me: Yay, I thought.
As she walked away, I kicked myself for not thinking to ask her about the guy with the feces all over him and his cell, to ask about helping him get cleaned up and, hopefully, restoring the smell around there. I really do not think it would have done any good. She no doubt saw the poor guy and smelled the stench.
Finally, at about 4pm that afternoon, they came and pulled feces guy out. Other inmates cleaned his cell, while guards took him to the showers. I watched as the inmates just swished dirty, nasty mop-water all over his cell, and then ran a scrub-brush along the door. It was better than nothing, I suppose.
Chow came at shift-change and, yes, I ate it. I was too damn hungry to turn it away this time. I just did the best I could to clean my hands under the freezing cold water in the sink. I ate, and then I tried to lay down, but, no matter what I did, there would be no sleep this night. The best way I can describe the ordeal is: take a blanket about two-feet by four-feet, soak it in starch to make it about as stiff as a board, and go find a nice, freezing cold piece of steel (concrete will work too). Now, try and lay down and sleep.
Early the next morning, the "Psychiatrist" was there at my door. After getting no sleep, walking the floor all night trying to stay warm, my feet killing me, my hair was wild, sticking out everywhere, and dark circles I could see under my eyes in the reflection of the glass in my door, I was exhausted. She had the nerve to ask me: "How are you feeling?"
I told her I felt a little tired because I hadn't slept all night, then I said, "cold." She said, "cold" is not a feeling. Yeah? Could have fooled me. She tried to flip everything I said back on me. I was tired, so she turned that into "distressed" and "unstable."
In all actuality, I was upset and tired because of how things are conducted around that Quackville. Because that's no way to be treating the mentally ill. As an example, after the "Psychiatrist" got done with me, she told me she would be back to see me Friday afternoon - the next day. Well, she walked away from my cell, over to the guy across the hall from me - who happened to be next to the guy who was smearing his feces the day before. She walks to his door and tells him, and I quote: "Why are you crying? Look at you, you are supposed to be a grown man, and here you are crying like a baby!" The guy mumbled something that she must have understood because she stated: "What? And you thought your mother was going to live forever? Suck it up." Now, that caused this guy to go into what I call a "shutdown" mode. He was diabetic. He started refusing his shots.
On Friday, after two-days in this camp, I wanted absolutely no more. I was lucky enough to snag an hour of sleep - only because my body shut down - definitely not because of any type of comfort. Later that day, the "Psychiatrist" popped up at my door; I did not know if she was ready to go home for the weekend. She told me, "All this will be on your file, so, if you come back, it'll be worse for you. I'm going to go ahead and discharge you, your ride should be here Monday next week."
"So, I have to stay over the weekend? Do I get clothes? Can I eat my meals like a human being?"
"No, you will get clothes when transport shows up to get you Monday, and you will get johnnies over the weekend. Good luck."
What? Did she really just tell me "good luck?"
She walked back across to the guy who had been crying the day before. He was at his door. I saw tears streaming down his cheeks. She showed him a report and stated: "So, I see you are refusing your shots." The guy said he does not want to live anymore. So, she told him: "You will take your medicine" and stormed off down the hallway. The guy looked at me and bowed his sad face, and turned away from the door.
Not long after, I heard harsh words from a familiar voice. I went to the door and looked out across the way. That mean Indian nurse was talking to the emotionally distraught guy. She yelled at him: "Doctor has ordered we give you medicine! You will take!" She returned a short while later with a ranking officer. He was suited up with gas canisters, a gas mask and a shield, and backed up by a six-man team. The nurse was preparing a syringe, squinting through the faceplate of her gas mask. The ranking officer opened the bean-slot and told the guy within to, "Cuff up, and take your medicine." If he were to refuse, the guard said that, "By the power invested in me by the State of Texas, we will gas you, run in there, pin you down, and force you to take your medicine."
He refused, and they did just that. They beat the guy up, and the nurse came in as he was on the floor, and stabbed the needle into his gas-covered hip.
The weekend was pretty much uneventful, just cold, and tiring. Saturday night a waterline busted due to it being below-freezing outside, and we were all feeling it inside, trust me! And then on Sunday afternoon, the feces guy, who had somehow learned my name, was calling me.
I walked to the door and said, "What's up?"
He said, "Come swim with me?" as he was jumping up and down in a freezing-ass-cold puddle of water.
He had somehow managed to flood his cell, along with the run, and the water was a fast-running river, heading right for my door. I just shook my head, but it was about to get a lot worse. I went and picked my blanket up off the floor, and went back to the door. The guy was laughing and giggling, jumping around like it was mid-summer and sprinklers were running, and all he wanted was for me, and whoever else, to join in. No way I could get upset with this guy; he had the mind of a three-year-old, clearly. I did not shout with glee, nor did I jump up and down in the cold water. I did give the guy a smile and that was all he needed to complete his fun. He then took a drink out of the toilet - the dirty, disgusting toilet - but it was all good to him.
When the guards rolled around on their 15-minute security-check, they were not happy. One was yelling: "Who is doing this nonsense?" He was one of the African natives, so in his thick accent it was hard to understand him. When he saw the guy drinking out of the toilet, he narrowed it down to him, got the key to the guy's pipe-chase and cut his water off, which in a way, is completely understandable. That fixed the problem, or so I thought. But neither this guard, nor his co-worker, were at all satisfied. When dinner time came around, the run was still full of water, as were most our cells. The guards wanted everyone to know whose fault it was we were cold and wet. So, when they go to the guy's cell, they held up his food and teased him with it. They did not feed him then, nor at breakfast. I, and a couple of others, were yelling to help the guy, but it did no good. Feces guy did not know any better. I know "gone" when I see it, and that was him. But there was no reason at all to take this man's food, much less tease him with it.
Monday morning was a big morning for me. I'd had four-days of no sleep, freezing my ass off, seeing things I never wanted to see, and do not want to again. I was more than ready to go, but my ride never showed up. I saw the "Psychiatrist" walking up and down the hallway but, when I tried to flag her down, she ignored me. I wanted to know why I was still in his hellhole. Monday night passed slowly. I dozed off for a short time again. I was slipping back into a depression that I knew was going to keep me here even longer if I showed any signs of it. I had to be cool.
By the next morning, I was on the brink of a total mental breakdown. Then, at around 7.00am, the guards opened my slot to cuff me. They handed me a blue paper gown. I was taken to the transport booth, and given clothes for the time in five-days. When one of the transport bosses said, "Damn, you look rough." I replied: "Get me the hell out of here!"
We arrived at Polunsky around 9.30am. I thought I was going to be punished again for what I had done, but the Captain reclassified me as a Level One, and placed me in my old cell, the same one I was in the day I took all the pills. The return was clearly welcome. A lot of the guys thought I had died, or was in a coma. I told them what had happened. They all seemed happy to see me back, and almost well. It took a bit of time to get all my belongings back, but I did, and I guess that's what matters.
Upon returning and being put back into my cage at Polunsky, my neighbour asked me: "Well Blaine, I guess we are all going to have to start treating you like you're 'crazy'? I replied: "I do not even know what 'crazy' is anymore."
Although my neighbour was joking, I was not. It still boggles my mind to this day - almost six months later - how the mentally ill are viewed as nothing more than numbers in the eyes of the State, and I cannot help but think: And we, the inmates, are supposed to be the bad guys?
There is nothing I'd love more than to be able to rescue the people back at Jester IV. But, unfortunately, the best I can do is tell my story in hopes of pointing out the reality of how mental illness is viewed within the confines of TDCJ.
There are other things that could not be added to my article for certain reasons. But I do hope – those of you who read this – if you are ever feeling depressed, you will talk with someone about it, and get the proper treatment. Depression is a serious illness that should always be dealt with sooner rather than later - so long as it's treated with kindness, not malice.