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Thursday, March 3, 2011

149's Corner - A Journal from Death Row - Entry #4

by Arnold Prieto Jr #999149

"A Place of Many Punishments"

Greetings Ladies and Gents:

I wish to thank everyone who has sent me an email expressing your thoughts on my writings. Thank you all!

Well, I wish to share something with everyone that I have at first found to be pretty embarrassing. Throughout my entire time here in prison I have seen men go through many mental changes, from depression to literally hearing voices or seeing things that didn’t exist. There are many schizophrenics here; some came to Death Row crazy, and the rest were made by this place. This is a truly sad process for grown men to go through. Witnessing such things happening to others always made me think that they were the "weaker minds” of prison life who couldn’t handle their reality. Yes, that very thought always made me feel ashamed inside, because it made me feel like I was looking down at another human being. But I would tell myself that there are things I just have no control over. In this case, their mental state. I would never lose my ability to see things as they were, I told myself.

In the beginning of October of last year, I began to notice that I was having to "roll out” of bed. At first, I thought it was time again to refluff my mattress to even out the lumps inside. Nothing to it. Well, I did sleep better after doing this, but I still noticed that I was having to will myself out of bed. Maybe I was not going to sleep early enough. So I started to go to bed earlier than normal. Sleeping was not the problem because I could easily fall asleep. By the time I knew it, I was sleeping 14 or more hours a day! And I did so for more than a week. Feeling like I was being weighed down by lead was the straw that broke the camels back. Now I was getting really concerned, so I requested blood work done. Maybe I had some disease or some form of cancer! As these thoughts flew in my mind, I felt even more tired.

The blood work came back negative, and according to the doctor I was healthy as a horse. But I was still feeling weird and now out of myself. One day in December I was talking to the resident know-it-all (ahem) out on the yard about this he suggested that I request to see the psych doctor which in a way pissed me off because it was like he was calling me weak-minded. (All in my head only of course; I know now he wasn’t implying such a thing.)

He explained to me the difference between depression and mental retardation; which to me was all the same thing at the time. I mean, a psych doctor is a head doctor, right?

By this time I was having to "will" myself to accomplish the simplest of things, especially getting out of bed. Taking the advice of T, I sent in my request to see the unit psych doc.

A man who calls himself "Dr" Estes pulled me out soon after and listened to what I was describing to him, and how I was feeling. (He is not really an MD, but rather has a Masters in counseling. He simply likes people to call him “Doctor Estes”, and hates it when people intentionally call him "Mr.") His response was that I was experiencing the starting stages of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) and said that I could be put on medication. I must have had a horrified look on my face because he laughed. I instantly told him that I will not take any kind of meds! It there was anything else that could be done, I wanted to do that first. He responded that he would send me information on depression and the medications used to combat it.

Medication was out of the question. I thought to myself that I’ll just have to grow out of it or something. After taking a 400 question test, Dr Estes said that he would schedule a visit with the main psychiatrist. In the mean time, I should read the information he sent me. After talking with Thomas and Mr. Whiteside (a pastor friend of mine), my stubbornness about taking medication waned a little bit. In the end, I would like to say that I made the right decision to try it.

On January 10th, I had a really cool experience that blew my hair back! I felt like a cave man watching a TV for the first time! I had a medical teleconference with a Doctor Nathan in Galveston. Nathan seemed like a good guy. He asked me a lot of questions which I answered honestly and he also asked about medication and why I was not sure about it. I explained to him that I have seen men take meds and just sleep their lives away. He explained the side effects of a type of medicine called an SSRI, and how it shouldn't make me sleep more than I did before my episode. He also went through the whole subject of depression and how the SSRI would work. At the end, I agreed to take Celexia at a low dosage. I gave him my word that I would give it at least four weeks for a trial, after which I would decide to continue with it or not.

January 13th at 10 AM I received my first pill. A 20 mg generic equal to the Celexia which I took for 10 days and the then the dosage went up to 40 mg. Now the pill nurse brings it to me at 10 PM each night when she does pill call rounds.

At first, I was embarrassed because the nurse would stop at my cell door and call for me by name and number. Since many of the guys getting meds are nutcases, I did not like being in the same category as them. Now, I just wait at my door, so she won’t call my name out loud. Some people that I have known for a decade and a half were weirded out by the fact that I was taking meds, and gave me odd looks. Well they can get over it. Thomas explained that this was not a will-power thing, but a bio-chemical one. He said he fights this, too, so I don’t feel weak. Even still; at times that I am beating him at Scrabble or in an argument, he will make a little “cuckoo, cuckoo" sound to keep me in check, the ass. He later sent me Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's
Nest” too, though he claimed it was a coincidence. Well, all I have to say about that is, I am my oId self again and he is losing his hair and has ulcers. Hahaha!

Dr Nathan told me of the possible side affects from taking this drug. Of the whole list, only two have happened to me. For the first week I’d get a headache sometimes during the day. The second is of a more personal nature. It’s sort of a good thing, because unfortunately it does me no good here in prison, and I shall just leave it at that.

Now 49 days later, I am able to pop out from my bed like popcorn, instead of rooooooolling out like a slug! Once out of bed, my little mouse in my head is at full attention next to its cogwheel ready for a full day. I feel like my serious self again.

I just never knew how far I was into this depression until I started feeling myself again. I just recently shared all of this with my wife Lisa and my mother. My macho side was too embarrassed to share my diagnosis and the medication prescribed to me to the two women I love in my life. I just didn’t want them to think that I was losing my marbles in here, thus worrying them out in the freeworld which is not good, but neither is lying to them.

My next step was to find out the "how" I ended up on the path to depression. I always kept busy. I recreated daily and had no more worries than the next man. I soon realized that I had to see outside of myself in order to figure out what the deal was. I noticed that I was always living amongst depressed and mentally impaired men for the last four years! For example I now live next to Jonathan Green, who takes a cocktail of drugs which keeps him asleep 24 hours a day; except for when he eats. He wakes up not knowing what day it is all of the time. He is a psych patient with some real issues. My other neighbor was, until last month, a schizophrenic who always believed that others were talking and plotting against him. I am not quick to blame others for what I have been feeling, but I cannot help but think that being around people like that had a strong effect on me. Seeing them suffer can break you down.

So the question I keep repeating to myself is: “Did living around such mentally ill individuals for 4 years actually affect me on such a deep level that it changed my mental state?"

Texas’ Death Row: a place of many punishments….


Arnold Prieto Jr


© Copyright 2011 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker & Arnold Prieto, Jr. All rights reserved.

5 comments:

Sandee said...

I am not one who judges people after all that is not our job but God's.
I have read all of your post here and enjoyed them. I read several death row journals and find them to be facinating reading as I just can not even begin to imagine being on DR.
I did not know your crime before reading your journal here and i wish i had not looked it up as I now have a very bad view of you.
why would you do such a thing? were you in your right mind? I know everyone makes mistakes but to kill your Uncle and Aunt as they offer you a gracious invitation to breakfast is just beyond cruel.

Tracey said...

Sandee, the men on death row are not there for white collar crimes. If you don't want to know the bad things that put them there, then don't look. If you want to ask why, perhaps you should ask him directly.

You say you are not one who judges, yet, you just did.

D Ruelas said...

Sandee:
I agree with Tracey. The men that are on DR are not there because they were good (well...some ARE innocent, believe it or not!), but I can assure you that most of them (And Arnold is one of these) are not the same men that committed the crime. And GOD DOES FORGIVE...and HE FORGETS, if we are willing to ask Him for his forgiveness and repent of what we did. You are right in one thing...we are NO ONE to judge. We are placed in this world to lift people that fall (no matter how low)and to love them. God loves them...why should we not? AND, we have no right over their lives (even if they did take a life or lives)in supporting the death penalty. Only God gives life, and only God should decide to take away.

Thaddeus said...

I'd be prone to depression if I had to live with the realization that I killed three people, including my aunt and uncle! Men on death row are forced to defend themselves against the very present threat of death; therefore they can't often afford to acknowledge their guilt and start to come to terms with the need for repentance.

AJ said...

Arnold,

By now it has been over a year since you shared your diagnosis and the feeling of shame that accompianied it. First, "Dr" Estes probably should have explained that there are different types of depression instead of hitting you with the scariest one first. The depression you were experiencing likely stemmed from your circumstances. Chemical depression starts much earlier in life. The medication helps regardless of the type of depression, situational, grief, or chemical. It sounds like you have learned to own the diagnosis vs letting the diagnosis own you. Dr. Nathan sounds like a great resource for you!