Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances — for reasons I do not care to discuss at this time — I ended up at a juvenile mental health facility in San Marcos, TX on April 16, 1996. I was 13-years-old and I was not convicted of any crime nor placed in the state’s custody. I was just another kid lost in the system and in that time I was sent to what was called by some as a “last stop” facility. These facilities were akin to the sanitariums of old. You couldn’t get kicked out of them and you wouldn’t be transferred until you were deemed safe to the public or your sentence was up. As I said before, I was never formally charged with a crime.
My first several days were spent in a small building in an even smaller room. The white concrete walls surrounded a white concrete floor and a blue mat I could lay on. I received two “meals” a day that consisted of finger foods or crackers and a small cup of liquid. The door itself faced a dimly lit hallway and at the end of that hallway was a CD player that played classical music all day long. I spent my first few days running in place, doing pushups or otherwise exercising between naps, but after a few days the lack of meaningful calories took its toll and I didn’t have the energy to move around as much. They monitored me with a security camera high above the door where I couldn’t hope to climb.
Upon being released from this room, the Campus Security Officer or CSO as I would come to know him strapped me to a dolly and rolled me down the hill to the New Horizons Building. I was taken to I was supposed to go to the second floor with the other violent offenders, but due to a mixup in the paperwork, I was taken to the third floor with the sexual predators. The residents were aged 13 to 20. I was the youngest and smallest person there.
I spent my first few nights in the common room with two staff members watching me. These Mental Health Technicians — or MHTs — were sort of a mix between guards and therapists. They were tasked with watching us between therapy sessions, schooling, and bathroom visits. Most of the MHTs were decent people, but a few of them weren’t. The two I had my first night on the unit were terrible human beings. Shithead Number One was called John and he was your typical cowboy type. He wore tight jeans and cowboy boots and wore a belt buckle the size of my head. Shithead Number Two was an overweight Mexican woman named Katherine who spoke with a thick accent.
John and Katherine were supposed to check on each room every 15 minutes and mark down their notes on a clipboard. Instead, they passed the night talking and laughing. If I said anything about the noise, John or Katherine would walk over and kick me. If I tried to stand up and do anything about it they slapped me around a bit and tossed me in the Quiet Room, another white concrete room with a blue mat. I didn’t really sleep those first few nights. I would doze off during the day and get punished for it.
The other residents teased me and started calling me Sleepy. I would pass out during school and a kid would lean down by my ear and scream, “Wake up Sleepy!” The good MHTs would punish this behavior, most of them didn’t. I was terrorized day and night. It was only a matter of time before I broke and eventually I did.
Katherine ordered a pizza one night and brought it with her onto the unit. John had stepped outside to go to the nurse’s station. That meant she was alone on the floor. Two weeks of terrible food and little no sleep had me ravenous. I hit Katherine with a chair and took off down the hall eating her pizza. She quickly recovered and came after me while screaming for John. Not wanting to go down without a fight, I tossed a slice of pizza at John when he emerged from the doorway and I punched him as hard as I could in the junk. He went down, but Katherine tackled me into a wall. I ended up in the Quiet Room with a busted lip, a broken nose, and what I believed to be fractured ribs…but I still had the taste of pizza still on my breath.
I was moved to my own room and the next several months were uneventful. It was hell, but it was the kind of hell I had gotten used to. Being able to sleep certainly made it more manageable. It was around this time I was given a roommate in the form of Allen. Allen was 17 and stood nearly seven feet tall. I had grown a bit myself during this time and stood just over 5’6″. I had gone from being a pudgy kid to having a bit of muscle on me. Having fought as hard as I had for the past several months with the bad MHTs and trying to avoid “assaults,” I earned a bit of reputation as a vicious fighter. It was for this reason they paired me with Allen. He wasn’t just a sex offender, he was bonafide and charged gay rapist. John told me this while chuckling. Allen frowned.
As soon as John left, I grabbed a homemade knife I kept under my pillow and told Allen if he so much as sneezed, I would kill him. He started to cry and told me a story that almost made me feel sorry for him. Allen was born into a very religious family and went to an ultra-conservative church. He was gay and had a secret-boyfriend from his youth group. When his boyfriend’s parents caught Allen on top of him having sex, the boy called rape and Allen was sent off. He was a big, effeminate gay teen and he cried because he thought I was going to hurt him.
For three weeks, Allen and I shared a room and in that time, I started feeling something that resembled sanity. We became fast friends. We talked about cartoons and comic books. He would tell me about his favorite bands and I would pretend I’d heard of them. I hadn’t. For three weeks, we each rushed to our room when told to leave the common room for quiet time or bed. For three weeks out of the two years I spent in that hellhole, I had a genuine friend. And then John lost his shit.
John hated me. He wanted Allen to hurt me and when he found out that I wasn’t being raped or hurt he took it upon himself to do the dirty work himself. I woke to John splashing water in my face and dragging me out of bed. He pulled at my pants like he was trying to rip them off and I screamed. This woke Allen up. He saw what was happening and picked John up by the throat with one hand. He slammed John against the painted cinder block wall and put him halfway through it. John died instantly.
The commotion summoned another MHT named Doug and the CSO who stood as tall as Allen. I sat there on the floor in shock as Allen fought them off but in the end they ended up beating Allen to death right in front of me. Something broke in me that night and I haven’t really been right since. A scummy lawyer type came in the next day and told me to sign papers saying Allen attacked me and John died trying to save me. I refused and told the truth. When the scummy lawyer threatened to charge me with both deaths if I didn’t play along I took the pen he wanted me to sign the papers with and stabbed him in the throat.
I spent the next six months in solitary confinement.
I was put into a quiet room — a different one this time — with a toilet and sink located in the upper basin, separated by a magnetically operated door. It would also separate me and the rest of the population. A loud buzzer would sound three times a day and that door would open. I would be given about three minutes to use the toilet and then the door would close. If I tried to stay in there for too long, several large men would forcefully pull me out. I was given my food through a small slot in the door and my only clothing was a paper gown they replaced at the beginning of every week. I spent six months in that room and the only human contact I had was when I tried to stay in the bathroom or harm myself. Six months. I spent six months in that room.
On some days, they wouldn’t turn the light on in the morning and I would sit there for hours in complete darkness. Sometimes they wouldn’t open the bathroom. By the second month, I had taken to shitting and pissing in the corner and throwing it at anyone who would come in and try to clean it. By the third month, I lost all touch with reality. I don’t remember much of what happened after, except that six calendar months had passed from when I went in and when they finally transitioned me to my old room.
My room was stripped bare of any furniture. I had a mattress without a sheet or pillow and if I wanted to write anything down or do school work, it was with a crayon, which was confiscated after I was finished with it. I huddled up into the fetal position at night trying to stay as warm as I could. From the light of my open door, I could see the bloodstain on the carpet from where Allen had fallen face first as they kept kicking him. The very thought of it would send me into a rage and I would howl or scream until several MHTs came in and held me down for a nurse to give me a shot of Thorazine in my hip.
The six months in isolation were followed by another three months with an MHT sitting outside my door every day. Sometimes they would talk to me, but most of they time, they wouldn’t. I spent the majority of my days staring at the old bloodstain on the carpet. I don’t know if it was just a byproduct of losing my mind or if that hellish place was actually haunted, but after a few weeks of alternating between crying myself to sleep and screaming at the top of my lungs, I saw Allen standing over my bed.
“I didn’t die so you could crack under the pressure here, kid,” Allen said as he leaned down next to me. I should have been scared, but I kept crying. The closer he got the more sadness I felt. Eventually he sat against the opposite wall and spent the rest of the night telling me about the other ghosts on the unit and how there weren’t as many as sane as he was.
I didn’t see Allen every night, but on the nights where I got especially freaked out, he would show up and calm me down.
Allen wasn’t the only ghost I saw though.
Sometimes I would wake up to sharp pains on my arms or legs and find bleeding gashes. This resulted in my being restrained to the bed with leather cuffs at night. It was when new ones continued to show up that I was moved to the common room at night for 24-hour observation. I kept having dreams of John cutting me with a knife and sometimes I could have sworn I saw him when just as I woke up.
A new staff member named Domingo was hired and he tasked with observation duty. I remember waking up one night to Domingo standing over my bed praying on rosary beads. When I asked him about it, he said he was praying for my soul as he had seen dark spirits surrounding me. I was inclined to believe him and during each shift Domingo worked, he would pray over me. The cuts and gashes became less frequent and I was eventually sent back to my room. Domingo sprinkled holy water around the room and put an ornate drawing of a cross up on the wall that his cousin and drawn. From that point on I never saw John or Allen in my room again.
I was re-introduced to the milieu in August of 1997. By this point I stood nearly six feet tall and I was lanky if not almost gaunt. I was malnourished and almost completely non-communicative. I didn’t talk. I seldom responded to questions. I would sit through the days until they just blended together. For the next five months, I would be visited once a day by the same scummy lawyer from before and a CSO. Each day I would be offered the option to go home if I just signed the paper agreeing with their “Official Story.” Each day for five months I said no. It was the last week of November when I finally broke down and signed the paper.
I wasn’t sent home immediately. I spent another month answering questions and telling the official story for cops that came by to close up the investigation. Each time I told the story the way I was coached, I felt myself die a bit more on the inside. Allen died keeping me safe and I was further tarnishing his name. On December 27th 1997, I was given a plane ticket and an adult escort back to my parents’. After spending nearly two years in that godforsaken place, I was sent home. My parents had no idea what I had been through — after all, no one told them anything. All they knew is that they gave me over to a psych hospital for evaluation and that they got me back two years later nearly catatonic and on more medication than would be needed to sedate an elephant.
It’s been about 17 years and I am still here. I live a normal life. I have a wife and a kid. I live in a nice neighborhood and I drive a pretty decent vehicle. By all outward appearance, I seem normal, but I’m not. I know I’m not. I am a very disturbed individual and it is due in a large part to the events I have described. If you spend enough time searching, you will find other stories like mine. Other survivors of the mental health system in this country made it to something that resemble normality. The rest succumb to the horror that is life in those places and end up dead or in jail upon release.
There are an estimated 800,000 teens and young adults in long-term psychiatric care. Most are actually mentally ill. Even still, you have some cases like me — kids who got sent off on the recommendation of a school counselor and judge who both in turn receive a thousand bucks for each referral. Why did I get sent to the school counselor? What was my infraction so severe that I was sentenced without crime to such a terrible fate? Okay, fine I’ll tell you. I cheated on seventh grade math test.
This can happen to anyone. All it takes is an individual filing an affidavit claiming you are a danger to yourself or others and you’ll end up in a 72 hour holding cell. Make the slightest mistake during that time and you could end up in long-term. It doesn’t matter how sane or rational you are. These places have a way of turning you into a monster. You’ll do things you’d never imagine possible and you’ll carry the guilt of it the rest of your life. You want horror? You want the kind of pants-shitting, truly terrifying nightmare fuel that keeps you up at night? Visit one of these Mental Health Treatment Centers.
I still have nightmares about John.