Rudy was the typical, self-centered inconsiderate teenager who always took more from the family’s pot than he ever placed into it. But his family’s love for him remained unconditional.

One night while out trying to hustle up on a few extra bucks, Rudy came across a couple of real scurvy individuals who knew just how to arouse the greed in him, and before he knew it, he was deep off into a scam that even his naïve conscience should’ve been screaming to avoid. Nevertheless, one thing led to another and knives were drawn. Rudy managed to dish it out better than he’d taken it in, but with him being the only one left alive to tell the story, the jury didn’t believe self-defense. He then found himself confined to a cell in an environment where there were only three choices for him to choose from regarding how he would do time: either he takes his desired place and does it however he damn pleases, he humbly gets in wherever he can fit in and goes with the flow of things, or he gets put in his place and does what others deem necessary.

Granted, two people lost their lives, but that didn’t qualify Rudy as the ruthless murderer society made him out to be, and he knew it too. Some meant to do time but not him: he was damned when he pulled that knife and would’ve been damned if he hadn’t. His family constantly bore the guilt associated with hindsight’s perspective of raising him, which isn’t fair for a parent to endure. But while they felt Rudy’s pain, they couldn’t reach him; he wouldn’t allow them to bear his burden any longer, so in a reckless attempt to shield them from further pain, he cut himself off from them and set out to see where his journey would take him.

It was making the decision to sink or swim, without his family’s lifeline, that defined him for the remainder of his days. A choice that didn’t set very well with the anxiety disorder plaguing his life like a thorn in the flesh, that effortlessly aligned its depth to ensure that any pursuit for mercy would forever remain as elusive as chasing a ghost through the fog.

The stress started doing strange things to his mind and, incidentally, he had many insecurities that worked hand-in-hand with his thorn. But this is not the place to be exhibiting fear, especially when being the new kid on the block. He tried to put up a front, but his confrontations with the guards and prisoners were easily compared to the emotional response of an unsuspecting swimmer when the sun’s warmth is interrupted by the paralyzing chill from the shadow of a great white’s four foot dorsal fin.

It hadn’t been long before Rudy was labeled mentally ill, but, for some reason, he felt that his diagnosis entitled him to a little leeway when it came to following the rules in a maximum security prison. Talk about having been sadly mistaken, he was quickly placed in administrative segregation/solitary confinement where the guards were determined to run Rudy through the reprogramming process so that he’d understand why they’re the alphas in these waters.

It’s called “The Intensive Behavior Modification Program,” and its effectiveness is accredited to the collaborated efforts of the dedicated employees who are every bit the sociopaths they were employed to protect society from. Naturally they’d beg to differ on that, but every prisoner at one point or another has encountered the evil side of Dr. Jekyll in a lot of the guards who find pleasure in the abuse of prisoners.

With zero tolerance for Rudy, the guards would mace him, beat him, and chain him to a cold concrete slab without a mattress or food for days, sometimes weeks, every time he acted out. Rudy’s actions usually consisted of nothing more than screaming all hours of the day and the night, slamming his steel footlocker lid down on the footlocker, and refusing to shower or clean his cell and clothing. They were more of an irritation than anything but that’s all it took. Thump therapy is the miracle cure for everything in this place. Sometimes it worked but for the most part, Rudy had to go through some things when the guards would enter his cell at night without the mandated video camera. The poor guy screamed at the top of his lungs until they commenced to punching him repeatedly in the testicles while still chained to the bed. Screams quickly turned into gut-wrenching moans and then into gagging as they forced ink pens down his throat just far enough to make him vomit. They would also take turns urinating on him just to make it look like he’d been given more than enough water to drink. And just when we thought, or at least hoped, Rudy understood the concept cause and effect by knowing when enough is enough, he’d start singing, screaming, spitting, and so on. Of course he didn’t know any better, but those guards would be damned if they weren’t going to make him understand what they were teaching.

Eventually they released him from the chains, but only after they were sure the cold slab had drawn the fight from his frail body. Once they’d lock that cell door after leaving, he would foolishly start screaming victory chants of some sort as though he had accomplished a grand feat. It was moments like that, that made all of us believe he had the good sense that those guards were looking for in him. So during his folly, what appeared in the beginning to be mercy or a backing down on the guard’s part was quickly dismissed as they followed up with placing him on food loaf (a nasty concoction consisting of all ingredients of each meal being placed in a blender and then baked into a little bun) and placing him on water restriction (that’s when the guards control the sink and toilet water from the catwalk behind the cell) for weeks at a time or until his shame satisfied their amusement. The sane aspect came into play when having to urinate and defecate on the floor just so that he could drink from the toilet like an animal. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to describe the smell, taste, or appearance of a toilet that hasn’t been cleaned in months in order for you to understand that such treatment only served to break his spirit as it forced him to fall deeper into madness.

Rudy was a high maintenance prisoner who received the daily attention of everyone—mostly in negative ways. There were times when the moral struggles between the doctor and Mr. Hyde could be sensed on the faces of a few guards, but their hang-ups were always overcome by their ignorance of mental illness and the coercion of their less tolerant co-workers. They would convince each other that he was deservingly beneath them: a place where he’d remain until hell freezes over. Ironically though, they had tortured him for years while remaining completely oblivious to the perils of becoming the very monsters they claimed to be fighting. I’m fairly certain that, in the beginning, their intentions were only to fight fire-with-fire and to have a little fun doing it, but from the distant glares in their eyes, it became much more: for their hearts had merged with Rudy’s into the unified beat of any icy hell.

Dealing with fellow prisoners sure wasn’t any easier on Rudy. As a whole we’d cleverly developed the keen sense of detecting the most remote hints of blood in these waters and, as scavengers, most had no qualms about going after Rudy and the others just like him. He served no other purpose than that of a whipping boy—someone to take frustrations out on without the risk of reprisal, but most of the time they just wanted his money, food, sex, and medications.

Now even though the prisoners respected the alpha’s authority, it wasn’t extended without the alpha’s knowing their limits. See, these erratic waters have always mandated the unwritten rule: might is always right. And with the forces of power fluctuating so often, and usually over nothing more than mere words, a proper etiquette had to be established for the guards or the prisoners desiring to step down on another prisoner. This is accomplished by testing the tolerance of their reach by seeking the approval of the other side’s willingness to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear towards the prey. Generally free passes are given against the mentally ill prisoners because they’re more of an annoyance than the trouble they’re worth.

While there appears to be a bit of cohesiveness amongst the prisoners, many feel that it hinges upon the cliché misery loves company, but it isn’t so much the need for company, but it isn’t so much the need for company than it is the validation of one another’s morbid ideologies. There’s something about such a need that, with it, we find the self-justification needed to stoke the embers of pride so that we’ll fight for survival. With that also comes a distinct status—a pecking order, if you will, of the weak being ruled by the strong and the wise governing them all. But when the very core of prisoner unity is to be assessed, there’s one element that signifies the difference between the guards and the prisoners: they stick together and we stick each other.

Over the years I’ve watched Rudy when, on occasion, he tried to emerge from the negative grip of this social structure and his self-reproach, but having been ill-fated with paranoid schizophrenia, he was quickly knocked down at every inkling of such hope. In fact, he became so accustomed to being down that, for decades, he gave up and remained in the dark embraces of isolation—never socializing with anyone but the familiar voices in his head. It was during these years that unread letters from home piled up on his cell floor along with everything else he cared less about. Even his health, appearance, personal hygiene, and cell condition had fallen way bellow substandard. Actually, repulsive is a more accurate description. He probably even had things living in his hair and beard for years, as they’d grown to ridiculous lengths and matted together with accumulated filth.

Due to a couple of us prisoners being able to persuade a prisoners’ advocate group to send investigators into the prison to verify Rudy’s condition, they were able to put a stop to Rudy’s abuse. The psychiatrist was forced to ensure Rudy took his medications instead of throwing them away or trading them for smokes. In order to do this the doctor had to switch from the use of the oral medications to the physical administration of monthly shots. Those shots weren’t fast acting or easy to administer: there’s no reasoning with a psychotic man so the guards would have to rush him, five strong, each time just so the nurse could give him the shot. And even then, it wasn’t until after, they first hosed him and that cell down with the fire hose for a good 30 minutes. Battling the force from that hose always did the trick; it was a cruel process, but it was necessary because the build up of feces on the floor mixed with the crystallized stains of ammonified urine was horrible. The stench smelled like an old alley that winos used as a toilet on the hottest of summer days, and it affected the entire prison block. It was so bad that both the guards and the prisoners would walk past his cell screaming obscenities through the towels held to their faces while they pelted him with bars of soap.

He must have felt like one of those little target ducks at the carnival, but those soaps had a bit more sting to ‘em than the BB gun. And with nowhere to hide and for reasons beyond his understanding, he was forced to endure those pangs. It was bad enough that he couldn’t think straight on his own, but it sure hadn’t helped that nobody was letting up on him. Most of the time he only spoke incoherent gibberish, but one night while he was over there lying on his cold wet cell floor with nothing dry to keep him warm with after another hosing down, he began crying fairly loud while telling everyone, who was listening in the still of the night, “Please stop hurting me! Oh God, please make them stop hurting me! I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done to any of you to deserve this.”

Rudy’s words may have been few, but they sure spoke volumes. I’d thought for a moment that there wasn’t a man that night who didn’t feel Rudy’s pain, but it hadn’t taken long for me to realize my surroundings.

Since he was my neighbor, I was able to slide him over a plastic bag of water, a blanket, socks, and everything else that a few of the fellas sent to me for him i.e. smokes, food, clothing, and toiletries. But for the most part the rest of the prisoners and guards spent the rest of the night encouraging him to kill himself.

The following weeks seemed to pass by with a sense of normalcy as he began digesting bits and pieces of the information being provided by the various people who were trying to help him. But it’d taken a few more shots before he began realizing that he’d been in and out of that condition for nearly 23 years and just what that dark journey entailed. In hindsight, it would’ve been more merciful had one of us stuck an icepack in the back of his head versus watching him straddle the verge of another nervous breakdown and spiraling into the abyss of his madness.

It was extremely difficult for him to cope with learning that his family’s letters had stopped arriving seven, eight years back and up till then, several phone calls were received from his mother asking that he be informed of his sisters’ deaths because he never replied to letters or accepted visitors. For months I would listen to him every night crying and pleading for his family’s forgiveness. He couldn’t stop dwelling on the thoughts of his dear 67year old mother who had driven cross-country to hold him, but only to be devastated by his rejection as she would sit in the prison’s parking lot in tears. He believed that she’d thought he refused her visits due to no longer loving her or, worse yet, that he deliberately wanted to break her heart for some unimaginable reason.

God only knows what Rudy put those dear people through after he succumbed to his cruel illness. But it tore at his heart in inexpressible ways. For them to have passed away without knowing of him being neglected over the years by an inconsistent regimen of psychotropic medication and treatment; but more importantly, for them not having been able to hear his apology and to know that he never stopped loving them. His only hope was that, in some way, his family learned of his condition and were able to find a sense of relief in accepting that he’d died many years before them.

The demons, who taunted him in the darkness of his mind, patiently toyed with his grief knowing that he’d run frantically in his madness. He had done just that too. Rudy ran with those negative thoughts until worn-out and only to be damned if he didn’t always find himself gazing up at the sprinkler pipe in his cell. He wrestled with the thoughts of paying the price for all the hurt he’d caused his family. No matter how well the medications were working, that pipe called for him like a blank sign language to bear a message. Thankfully though, his thorn wouldn’t allow him into the pipe’s beckon so he was forced to accept his fears as a friend this time versus the usual foe.

Meanwhile everyone kept telling Rudy that he needed to find a purpose so that he’d have something to focus on, but their cluelessness was minimizing the seriousness of his reality. He knew that he was only focusing himself with their nonsense because he was completely powerless to withstand the prisoner’s powers that be: the psychiatrist who is a bona fide megalomaniac that comes to work to bask in the euphoria of his position; the nurses who don’t always feel like being bothered with delivering his daily medications; the guards who deliberately interfere with the nurses responsibilities because they found Rudy’s psychosis to be cheap entertainment; fellow prisoners who won’t allow him to enjoy a smoke from time-to-time unless he gives up his medications for them to get high on; and ultimately, the ability of these cell walls have to dramatically intensify his negative thoughts.

Who knows, Rudy may have been able to persevere despite each of those situations had they been presented individually, but, collectively, he never stood a chance. Basically, the revelation of Rudy’s life has amounted to nothing more than a stage set for failure where things like solace, hope, and mercy were mere concepts; imaginary at best.

Without the strength or reason to contend, psychosis didn’t seem like that bad of a place to be anymore. So Rudy, once again, allowed suffering to convince him of its loyalty, and subconsciously he entangled himself into an elaborate web of self-contempt that would essentially act as a self-defense mechanism to protect him from the pain associated with failure, guilt, hopelessness, inferiority, loneliness, loss, rejection, shame, and so on. He’d done that for the same reason for the cutter cuts: simply to control the pain. Watching Rudy do that was like observing a famished snake swallowing its own tail just to stay alive.

And this my reader is the complicated truth of not only Rudy’s experiences, but also those of thousands of mentally ill prisoners through the U.S. penal system who are being confined to long-term solitary confinement cells for indefinite periods of time—years, sometimes decades; and for no other purpose than the convenience of cheap treatment.

Unfortunately, Rudy’s monthly shots were eventually discontinued and he was placed back on the oral medications. And while his anxiety disorder was being effectively treated, he went back to trading his other medications for smokes, and his psychosis, being the puppet master, lowered the curtain on this tragic production by finally hanging its toy up for good. Although, in this finale, there’s no standing ovation and nobody’s feeling good about their roles played. For Rudy’s lifeless body was found hanging from that damned sprinkler pipe in his cell as a message for all to read: “This is not the way to be your brother’s keeper!”

Wherefore, this story is sadly submitted in remembrance of Rudy and the many other fallen prisoners who were forced into taking their own lives by this cold and unforgiving environment.

May god console the families who’ve had to bury their loved ones after these cruel situations.