This is from the New York Times today:
To the Editor:
Re “When Cell Door Opens, Tough Tactics and Risk” (“Locked In” series, front page, July 29):
The events leading to Charles Jason Toll’s death highlight the dangers of prison procedures, especially for vulnerable inmates who suffer from mental illness. Particularly concerning is Mr. Toll’s solitary confinement, a disciplinary technique repeatedly identified as ineffective and counterproductive, and even as torture.
The Justice Department has found that solitary confinement of mentally ill people violates their rights under the Eighth Amendment and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Solitary confinement worsens psychological symptoms and can trigger outbursts tied to the person’s feelings of hopelessness and loss of a sense of self through extreme social isolation and sensory deprivation.
Providing mentally ill people with appropriate and compassionate mental health care, including integration of psychiatric, psychological and psychoanalytically oriented treatments, is crucial in restoring a person’s identity, alleviating feelings of loss and distress and reducing violence.
Mr. Toll’s solitary confinement, suffering and death were avoidable, and again show that the mentally ill are more likely victims of violence, not the perpetrators.
Middletown, Conn., July 30, 2014
The writer is a psychiatrist.
When I was a patient in May and June 2014 at New Britain’s Hospital of Central Connecticut, Dr Michael Edward Balkunas regularly imprisoned me in a horrific seclusion cell, without a single amenity but a concrete built-in bed and rubberized mattress, for nothing more than making too much noise for the approved hospital milieu. In fact, several nurses took it upon themselves, with Dr Balkunas approval, to do the same. This became literally routine. I was NOT, as is required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, in IMMINENT danger of causing severe harm to myself or others. No, I was loud, disruptive and uncooperative, and I was rude. Period.
My first reaction when the double doors locked behind me was immediately to start screaming, at the top of my lungs, from the base of my lungs. But screaming brought no one. Okay, they did soon come in at me with three IM injections, but they came back every time with IM injections anyway, because as I took to calling it, these were part of the drill, they were “punishment injections.” I was pushed onto my stomach and shoved into the mattress so I couldn’t breathe and injected whether I liked it or not. I tried to say, “STOP! I will take the injections, just don’t hold me down.”
But sometimes they didn’t listen to me, and held me down anyway, and I got scared that they would kill me, because it didn’t matter that I didn’t struggle. There were four of them to the one of me, and they expected me to fight and so they forced my face into the mattress and held me tight, hard, and with all their weight….until I felt my breath go out of me. Did they have any idea that I was NOT struggling, that I felt I was going to die? Did they have any idea that they were killing me?
I don’t know. I don’t know. All I know is that I felt in mortal danger when they wouldn’t let me just accept the injections on my own, in my arm, but insisted on giving them to me by force in the buttocks, even when I said I would take them voluntarily.
Then they would leave and lock the double doors. And I would scream, and NO ONE would respond, even though I eventually learned that they could not only hear me through the intercom hidden somewhere in the ceiling, they could also talk to me. They wouldn’t but they could have. When screaming brought no one, I would strip and urinate on the floor, and I would defecate too as much as i could, and smear everything on the walls and floor. I would even eat it and paint it on my body. I didn’t care, I DIDN’T CARE! I just wanted someone to come in and help me.
Several times I washed and colored my hair with urine, thoroughly. But no one came back for hours. The urine, which completely soaked my hair, had time to dry completely. Not that they cared or noticed. If they had, they said nothing. It was nothing to them. Only Barbara RN asked me what was in my hair, and insisted that she wash it out when finally they released me. I went with her to the shower-tub room and allowed her to do so, but only one other person was kind enough to notice and do that. Everyone else just released me and expected me to somehow be reformed and “better” after my hours of punishment.
Of course that wasn’t the case. I got worse, much worse. I started defecating in my bedroom, at any hour,for any reason, any time I was frustrated or angry. They decided I had “borderline personality disorder,” that I was simply manipulating them. They failed to see that they had traumatized and broken me. They failed to see their continuing role in my behaviors…which were getting worse and worse the more they punished me. Every time they secluded me, or four-pointed me, I regressed more.
Dr Balkunas actually decided to commit me to the State Hospital claiming it would help me “get better.” But really he was just in punishment mode. You could tell, because he wasn’t using any of the methods that you are supposed to use for REAL borderline patients….If he really believed I was BPD he wouldn’t have kept at it. But he knew from my brother, a psychiatrist too, and my own psychiatrist, that I do not have BPD, so that was bogus and just an excuse to torture me. He didn’t really think I had BPD. He just needed an excuse to use solitary confinement and he knew that schizophrenia was NOT a good reason. A very BAD reason in fact, so he invented a secondary diagnosis to use. But the thing is, there are other therapies you are supposed to use in BPD, and he never bothered to treat me with anything but punishment and then threw up his hands and said, Well, the antipsychotic drugs take time to work, so you will go to the SH until they do.
Bastard! He gave up on me without even trying to help…so-called saintly doctor. Just a bastard! Because torture doesn’t work to make me better, he decides that I am the one at fault????? Well GO FUCK HIM UP THE ASS WITH A BROKEN GLASS JAR!
5 thoughts on “Solitary Confinement is Torture and You, Michael E. Balkunas, MD, Can Go Fork Yourself!”
You are amazing!
Thank you all so much for your comments. I still feel very angry and traumatized by this latest experience at the “tender caring hands” of the mental health system. What i still fail to understand is how the nurses could just sit back, stand back, and watch while the guard deliberately inflicted pain. But Barbara actually told me that they wanted them to do so because if they caused pain, the “patient” would comply faster. Now, mind you, complying meant that i would allow myself to be dragged bodily to the seclusion cell. OR as in fact i took to doing in sheer abject terror, as soon as the guards appeared at my door and i was informed of my sentence, i would run there on my own, scared of their grabbing me and wrenching my already injured left shoulder out of its socket. But they wouldnt leave me alone, no. They later decided for safety purposes that they had to strip me naked…the male guards. Did i resist? No, but they had the gall to complain that i failed to actively co-operate, but lay like a dead body while they had to remove all my clothing from me…poor things! While i shivered in the freezing cold blasts of A/C and begged for a blanket they claimed was too dangerous to give me, though i was imprisoned there for shitting on the floor or tossing my dinner on the floor, nothing more dangerous than that….! And i only did that out of sheer frustration because they refused to give me anything to read or do artwork with, and if they found me with anything, well, it was seclusion cell again for me!
I wish i could sue, but no one gives a good goddam about what they do to adult or elderly mental patients, NOT EVEN if they kill them, then it is adjudged just an accident or “natural causes.”
If i could, i would have Dr Michael Balkunas lose his license, but you know how they cover up everything! They justify everything,,, with LIES….it sickens me.
I am very sorry about what you went through. I hope the fact that you are blogging means you are doing better. Hugs, Barbara
This is despicable. Nobody should be treated like this. Neither the admission status or the diagnosis a person allegedly has should be used as a justification for any punishment, no matter how small. You were tortured! I’m so sorry this happened to you. If there were any justice in the mental health system, someone would lose their license or be sent to prison over this.
You see why l hold mental health patients are just some number to add or substract? I can imagine my brother’s travails. He fought those hospitalisations and came out more dumb than ever. What did we know? Screwed Systems indeed. I hope they too never die.