My name is Marvin E. Wall, and I’m currently in prison in Lancaster, California. I was diagnosed with mental illness by the State’s Social Security Administration 30 years ago but never treated.
My issues stem from paranoid schizophrenia: I suffer from visual and auditory hallucinations and depression. When I was younger, I roamed the streets of South Central Los Angeles, homeless and hurting from the abuse I suffered at the hands of my father. He abused me, my mom, and my siblings while I was growing up. I sought solace in drugs — which my dad first introduced me to and I later found for myself on the streets — to numb my pain.
I was introduced to crack during the 80s. As a kid, I saw many of my friends try crack. There were users and sellers, and the neighborhood gang was very enticing. I joined because they seemed to have so much money, which was all derived from dope. I got on board, and began selling and using too. I was using, drinking, and smoking weed 24/7. The camaraderie I found became my defense system, making me feel safe even though I wasn’t. I learned how the older homies would prey on the young ones, so I hid my money in the bushes so they couldn’t steal it.
Over time, the novelty of the gang started to wear off, and I began distancing myself from them. I continued to sell dope, so I could make enough money to feed myself. The parties turned into funerals, and love was lost. I was hurt, and I started needing to use more and more drugs to feel better. That’s when I started smoking sherm (PCP). I used it for about four years, from age 17 to 21, but it only made my problems worse. The more I smoked, the more delusional I became.
I grew more violent, having become accustomed to seeing violence all around me. In 1986, I became a monster. I was insensitive, insecure, and had developed mental disabilities prior to being incarcerated. I was going to jail for drug-related crimes and for violent assaults.
I was eventually released, but my mental illness was still there. After my release in 1986, I bought $50 worth of drugs and sold them for $200 in one day. I continued this sales model, increasing my profits up to $9,000 a month — but the happiness was always temporary. I used dope, women and alcohol to drown the pain. I continued like this from 1986 to 1991, during which time my mother died, profoundly effecting me.
You see, I was an overachiever. I became an addict with multiple addictions: sex, drugs and alcohol. I also became abusive and violent with a warped ideology. All I had ever known was abuse, so I treated those around me the same way. I was raised in it, and I didn’t know how to escape it, whether I was with the gang or by myself.
I was 12 the first time I went to jail, and I was in and out until I was 21. As time went on, the drugs dried up. I tried to straighten myself out and tried to work. I would get a job, but I’d steal or fail at the assignments I was given mostly because I was intoxicated. The criminal lifestyle kept bringing me back to the old neighborhood, and it felt easier to just sell dope. I made five times more money that I would at a nine-to-five job. I was shot three times and hit in the head with baseball bats, boards, and sticks. One day when I got hit in the face with a bottle, I killed a person and injured their family.
After a psychological examination, I was deemed mentally ill, but still no one intervened. I never thought of myself as someone with a mental illness until I went to jail one last time, this time for life.
On my first day they strapped me down and forced me to take medicine. I didn’t care much for that, but I wanted the pain to stop. I kept hallucinating and hearing voices, and eventually I became suicidal. I didn’t care about dying or living since I was gonna die in prison anyway.
In prison I suffered more abuse from other inmates and staff, and I continued to act out violently, stabbing and fighting them. When I was put on medication for being too violent, I cut myself to release frustration.
One day I was mysteriously taken off the meds without a reason. I was not asked to go to court.
The prison staff is not trained to deal with mental illness and often uses it against inmates. If a mentally ill inmate has an episode and touches staff accidentally during restraint, he’s charged with assault or attempted assault. This counts as an additional charge for the person, which the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) uses to strike an inmate (under the three-strike rule). Whether there is evidence of an attempted assault or not, the staff involved in the incident are given vacation with pay. I’ve seen inmates get 25-to-life under false allegations by CDCR staff. Their abuses go unchecked and unreported.
All of this is the status quo for incarcerated people with mental illnesses. We desperately need treatment and support but are denied both. The prison and medical staff shun and deliberately neglect us, even when we are experiencing an episode. And during this pandemic especially, many mentally ill patients have experienced more erratic behavior, pushing them towards suicide and self-harm.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.