My Son is an American Veteran Who is Abused in an American Jail

When his son became incarcerated in the Santa Clara County Jail, he assumed the jail would be progressive given its Bay Area location. But after seeing his son shackled and suffering mentally and physically from the treatment by correctional officers, he sees the jail as a disturbing and dangerous place to house someone who hasn't even ben convicted of a crime. There are an estimated 181,000 veterans currently incarcerated nationally.

My family’s introduction to the criminal justice system came as quite the shock. My son was honorably discharged from the Army after serving five years. He had a brief stay at our home, and then he set out to fulfill a promise he’d made. Back in 2011 my son’s battle buddy suffered a severe spinal injury while deployed in Afghanistan, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. During a hospital visit my son promised his friend that when he left the Army he would take care of him. Although he was suffering from chronic PTSD himself he headed across the country to California and became his friend's primary caregiver.

Two years ago my son’s friend informed us that my son was arrested. My wife and I were on vacation when we received the news. We hired an attorney and immediately returned home and flew out to San Jose to meet with my son and his attorney. When I saw him for the first time it was a shock. His hands and feet were shackled and he struggled to use the phone the jail has in place for visitors to speak with inmates. I could see that he was not sleeping. He told me he was in solitary confinement as a measure to protect him. My son remained in solitary confinement for 60 days. Imagine suffering from PTSD and being locked in a tiny windowless cell for 60 days. His calls were sometimes tortuous to hear. He still was not sleeping and I was convinced the isolation and lack of sleep would worsen his mental condition.

As a soldier asking for help is taboo, because doing so is considered weakness. We wanted our son to see a VA trained physician but we were told he could only see a physician who was detailed through the Santa Clara jail. One visit in particular I wanted a nurse to see my son because the phone calls I’d been receiving from him were troubling. He talked about giving up. Being aware that everyday 22 American veterans commit suicide, I desperately began making calls. When I spoke to the nurse she reassured me he would be given the medications that he needs. I also saw her get a signed form from my son during our visit. This nurse gave me her number and told me I could call her anytime. 

There were many instances where my son would be removed from medication without a clear idea why. If I could not reach the nurse who gave me her number it could be days until I could speak with someone who could take steps to ensure my son had the medication. 

Early on we knew we have to be advocates for our son. We knew without us pushing and prodding the jail our son would be at risk for great harm.

I was visiting the week after Michael Tyree’s death. My son told me at night he could hear the screams from the floor where the mentally ill were located. The screams were tormenting. It wasn’t the screams of insanity. It was the screams of human beings being assaulted. When I returned home a thought crossed my mind. The next time I spoke with my son I asked him did any officers ever assault him. He said yes. He told me he’d been chained to a seat and was beaten repeatedly by group of correction officers. 

Now, my son has not been convicted of any crime. My son who routinely was thanked for his service to our country was chained to a seat and beaten!!! One of the officers remains on the job. Another who threatened him was arrested for the death of Michael Tyree. I do quite a bit of business in the Silicon Valley area. I assumed the jail was progressive. I have never been so wrong in my life.

I got a call from my son that the lights on his floor had remained on for a week. My son who still struggles to get a sound sleep was frustrated why the lights were on. To him it clearly was a form of torture. I called County Supervisor Chavez’s office. My son lived in her district. In less than 24 hours my son was transferred to a pod that offered education services. I am thankful for Supervisor Chavez. She responded as a responsible public servant. My question is how many parents know that the jail supervision is a shared responsibility between the Sheriff and County Supervisors?

The pressure of the environment, the mistreatment of the guards, threats of “butt checks,” the costs and surcharges to make phone calls, the cost and surcharges for placing money for commissary, the poor quality of food, all these hardships work in the hands of the DA. Time and time again other inmates have told my son that treatment in prison is more humane. It’s disturbing to know that some inmates cop a plea just to get out of their circumstances in the County Jail.

When my son told me he was going to join the hunger strike I was very proud. The conditions at the jail are deplorable. Fresh air and a pair of socks don’t sound like much, but a measure of dignity goes a long way. The very idea that the correction officers were in agreement clearly demonstrates a lack of leadership. Every response from the jail is reactive as opposed to proactive.

Who else has to die for the Sheriff to change her approach?


Image by Adrian Avila



Related Media:
Inmates in Santa Clara County Jails Start Hunger Strike to Protest Solitary Confinement

Bail or Die: The Choice of a Detained Man in a Broken Jail

Why Does Incarceration = Dehumanization?

This article is part of the categories: Community  / Economy  / Law & Justice 
This article is part of the tags: Cindy Chavez  / Inmate Abuse  / Inmate Hunger Strike  / Jail Abuse  / Michael Tyree  / PTSD  / Santa Clara County Jails  / Sheriff Laurie Smith  / solitary confinement  / US Army  / Veterans  / Veterans Day  / Veteran Suicide 


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