Written by Santos Mendez, an SSDP Alumni from Florida State College
The purpose of this writing is not to argue how or why I was placed in this facility, but more so to examine the treatment I received while under the direct care of medical professionals for my mental health. I would argue that the treatment offered by this facility and the state was infinitely worse for my mental health than what it would be had I been left to my own devices.
On June 23-29, 2015, I underwent an involuntary mental health examination under the Baker Act in Florida law. That day, my father and I got in a heated argument and he told me to leave. I had had a little bit of alcohol, so did so without any of my money or personal belongings, and my wallet was still in the apartment, but at that point my father was shoving me, so I decided it wasn’t worth it. As I was walking away, I realized that my shirt was torn, so I took it off and kept walking. I was walking down the sidewalk a few blocks over when a police car approached me with the lights on. I scanned my surroundings and in the distance, I could make out the silhouette of my father, following me. The cop asks, “What’s going on?” or something to that effect, and me, being the bright young person that I am, quickly replied, “That’s my father, ask him.” The cop asks me to sit in the back of the car, and so I do, patiently waiting for some sort of resolution. A few moments later, the cop comes back and tells me I’m on LSD. He starts the car and we begin the five-minute ride to the psychiatric ward. “I’m not on LSD,” I explain. “That’s not what your dad said,” the officer responds. As I was already in the back of the car, I was never given a sobriety test. The option for me to go to another family member’s or a friends’ was never explored. A Baker Act is usually reserved as a last resort and usually, you need more than one family member’s consent to commit a person. However, this was purely within the police officer’s discretion. I was never charged with any crime.
When we get to what appears to me to be a hospital, I am escorted to the lobby. I am asked to sit, so I oblige. The officer speaks for a moment to the person at the front desk while I wait and then tells me to follow him. I obey. After walking through a large pair of metal doors, my picture is taken and I give them a urine sample. I am told to stay as the cop walks out of sight again through the metal doors. I turn to the employees sitting in the small observation room and tell them, “I’m here because my family, government, and public schools failed me.” Strong words yes, but I was incredibly upset. The next morning I called my boss to let her know I won’t be in and why. I could not give her a date I could return. We were all offered free cigarettes, and I was given an opportunity to be outside. I seriously considered escaping. I eventually decided against it, as I was being closely watched and I didn’t want to get a criminal charge for attempting to escape. I would have gone straight to work if I could have.
I was drugged with something heavy. It starts to get hazy after this. I’m on my mattress when I heard screams from the lobby. These were the kind of screams that I imagine you could hear out of a torture chamber as if someone was dying or being raped. Real screams, coming from the other side of the double doors. I look at the employees, and to them, it’s clear that it’s just another day. They are nonchalant and don’t seem to notice the sounds. I cursed the government and tried prying open the doors with my hands. No luck. So I run over and reach in behind the observation desk and press the big red button that says “EMERGENCY IN THE LOBBY” because well, there was some sort of emergency in the lobby. At this point, a staff member makes his way towards me so I run all the way back to my bunk and yell, “There was an emergency in the lobby!” After that, I’m body slammed onto my own bunk and two employees hold my arms up behind my back. So while I’m on my stomach with my arms pulled up behind me, unable to resist , a nurse comes up from behind and pulls my pants down and I get injected with the heaviest stuff I’ve ever encountered, real drugs, in the rectum. My consciousness fades, and memory blurs at this point. The days seemed to shorten in length, and at the next point that I am aware of myself again, I’m sitting in the common area while another patient explains to me “Hey man, they drugged you with that stuff, you’re talking crazy.” I realize where I am, and I get really worried about what happened and why I am there. “Did I commit something heinous? Is my family okay? Why has no one come to visit me?’ I start demanding answers from the staff, and they ignore my questions and simply observe. The only response I received from a nurse, was a sarcastic one. “Why don’t you ask the cop that brought you here?”, as if that were a possibility. The doctors were the only ones who could discuss those reasons with me, and they only show up on certain days in the morning hours.
I eventually get to see an actual doctor, who explains to me why I’m there. The police report stated that my father said I was high on weed and mushrooms and jumping into traffic. I had no weed and I’ve never tried mushrooms, but somehow I was diagnosed with a marijuana-induced mood disorder and prescribed an antidepressant, an antipsychotic, and an antiseizure medication. I refused these medications, because what the doctor told me was based on false information. Eventually, I was released after the behavioral health center determined I was not a threat to myself or others. After I got out of there, I filed a complaint with a police, but they did a self-review and determined that nothing was wrong.
I am able to look back and laugh at this situation now, but at the time, I was terrified and it was incredibly stressful to deal with. Now I live and work in Baltimore. I’m studying to become an EMT in the fall. The main reason that I wrote this blog post is because I realized that the treatment for drug use is worse than the disease itself and it has to change. Essentially, I could have walked out of there on three different types of meds I didn’t need, was eligible to receive a social security check so long as I made under a thousand dollars a month (which I also refused because I need to make more), and with a cigarette addiction! Had I followed the doctor’s and the state’s suggestions, I could be chemically dependent on more harmful LEGAL substances. I let them take blood from me because they said it would help me get out faster. The urinalysis clean of LSD did not end the nightmare.
This harsh treatment is a product of the drug war, and while it was incredibly traumatizing, I’m glad that it radicalized me to work towards ending the drug war. My experience eroded my trust in authority and made me realize that we don’t have the freedom to choose the medicines that we feel is best for our own bodies.To them, I was just another person in a psyche ward, processed through group therapy, group activity, and medication. The only thing that was different about my treatment was the kind of drugs they were trying to get me on. Drugging away the symptoms of mental illness or substance abuse doesn’t begin to address the root causes of the abuse itself. We have to look within as well as to each other for answers to the problem of mental health in the United States. I hope that together, we can achieve a drug policy and treatment that’s actually sensible.