Thoughts of suicide began to form in James Johnson’s mind. He felt nauseous. He couldn’t sleep. He was confused.
“Please give me my Paxil,” he begged the jail’s corrections officers.
Johnson, 50, had been booked into the Marion County Jail in March on a charge of driving with a suspended driver’s license. It wasn’t his first time. This time, though, he was charged as a habitual offender and held without bail. He admits he was at fault.
What he didn’t understand then – or now – is why the jail’s medical staff refused to give him the legally prescribed medications he had taken for years for his clinical depression, including the anti-depressant Paxil, an anti-psychotic called Seroquel and the sedative Trazodone.
“The psych nurse came to me and said, ‘You’re not going to get this medication,'” Johnson said in a recent interview. “I said I’d get violently ill.”
And so he did.
He began throwing up.
He grew increasingly agitated.
Nurses wrote in his medical records, day after day, that he was asking for his medication; that Johnson was “doubled over in anguish evidenced by facial expressions”; that he was making suicidal statements.
His father, James Johnson Sr, called the jail to share his fears that his son was “very suicidal.”
He was taken in and out of a suicide prevention cell.
At one point, he sat on the floor and began to pray with his cellmates.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters.
Johnson’s son, Jordan, said an off-duty corrections officer called and pleaded with him to do something.
“She was in tears and she said I need to get my dad out and get him a lawyer. She said they were torturing him,” Jordan recalled.
As Johnson’s pleas for help went unanswered, he became more desperate.
By the seventh day, he was wailing and flinging himself headlong into the concrete walls hoping to either lose consciousness or alert the guards to the depth of his agony.
“He started going crazy in front of my eyes,” said Kyle Morrill, one of his cellmates. “I woke up in the middle of the night and he was running from one side of the cell and banging his head on the other side.”
Johnson’s frightened cellmates begged officers to do something – anything – to relieve his suffering.
But nothing changed.
So when officers opened Johnson’s cell on the 10th day after his arrest, he bolted up a nearby stairway and leapt off the balcony, crashing onto the hard floor 14 feet below and shattering his right leg.
That jump earned him a trip to the hospital, where a psychiatrist put him back on an anti-depressant and painkillers and sent him back to jail.
Johnson eventually was released after 90 days on the same combination of medication he was on before he was incarcerated: an anti-depressant, an anti-psychotic and a sedative.
His son said Johnson looked like a zombie the day he walked out of the jail.
And Johnson says for the first time he’s dealing with a new manifestation of his illness – paranoia.