The Federal Medical Center is for inmates that need medical or psychiatric care. Being the only woman on the mental health unit, I was being tested. The chief psychologist gave me an assignment. The D or Dog unit was solitary confinement for men who had killed an inmate or guard within the prison. Federal law requires that each inmate spend one hour daily outside his cell.
“I want you to convince this inmate who refuses to leave his cell to abide with the rules and go outside one hour every day.” Dr. George was a fun-loving, jovial guy. I thought he was kidding.
“How long do I have?”
“All the time in the world. He’s not going anywhere but he’s breaking the law and the warden won’t put up with that. It’s our job to influence the inmates to follow protocol.” Right! A crazy criminal being convinced to do something he didn’t want to do. My odds for success were null.
Another psychologist escorted me to D unit. He told the guard to open the barred gate for me and left. The guard directed me to sit in his office while the inmate was cuffed wrists and ankles and led to the cell where I would interview him. The blackboard behind the desk listed each inmate’s cell number and how each of them had committed murder: teeth, hands, feet, head.
The guard followed my gaze. “We remind ourselves all the time how vicious these guys are. Never let your guard down. Always stay beyond their reach. We will lock him in the interview cell. You will be in another cell. Do not get within his reach. He will kill you if he has a chance.” What have I gotten myself into? I thought I’d be doing psychological testing for the inmates’ court hearing.
The cuffed man was intimidating. From the second tier of cells, he casually bounced down the stairs as if he had no restraints at all. A very thin African-American about 6’7”, I watched as he was led into the cell and locked up. The officer again warned me to sit exactly where he put the chair, no closer. The inmate looked at the floor as if I were not there. This will be a challenge, I thought. I gripped the chair to hide the shakes.
I introduced myself and asked his name. He whispered, “I can’t talk to you.” I asked, “Why not?”
He responded, “There’s a demon in my cell. If I talk, he’ll hurt me.”
I can either write this off as paranoid schizophrenia and tell the Chief that his illness is the reason for his not leaving the cell or take him seriously. He seemed terrified. He would not look at me. I went into the officer’s cell and asked if he had a Bible. He looked at me strangely but pulled one from the shelf. I asked, “Is it okay if I give this to the inmate?” He said, “Let me do that.” He walked with me into my cell and handed the Bible through the bars to the inmate and left.
I told him that he can gain protection from evil by reading the Bible. If the demon threatens him, keep reading the Bible out loud so the demon can hear. This was a long shot but it was the only intervention I could think of. I was worried that next week when I would see him again, I would be talking to the devil himself.