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Saher’s Story: a Young Man’s Suffering in Bexar

Oct 24th, 2011 | Category: Bexar County, Stories

Former inmate Saher describes his experiences in the Bexar county jail during the year and eight months he was held there. His story highlights how inmates with mental illness are often abused or neglected, especially when they are members of a religious minority from another part of the world. 

I was arrested in February 2008 when I confessed to my probation officer that I wasn’t taking my medication. She notified the judge who then issued a warrant for my arrest. As the police officer handcuffed me, I threatened to commit suicide. They put me in a maximum-security cell for forty-eight hours without clothes, a mattress or a bunk. They did not give me a blanket; I was given a suicide suit that did not cover my entire body and was no substitute for having a mattress or clothes. I was forced to sleep on the floor. There was no window or toilet in the cell either, only a hole in the floor.

Two days later they transferred me to a single cell in the same unit, which had a metal bunk and a toilet. The police officer took me to the doctor’s office. The doctor asked me, “Where are you from?”  I refused to answer. Then he asked, “Are you Palestinian?” I answered, “Yes.” Next he asked, “Are you Muslim?”  I answered, “Yes.” Then he said, “That’s why there is trouble in Israel – because there are Muslims in Israel.” Then he asked, “What kind of medication were you taking when you were in the free world?” I answered, “Elavil.” He prescribed it to me.

A few days later, the police officer took me to the interrogation room. The arson investigators were waiting for me there. The arson investigator asked me, “Did you set the store and the motorcycle on fire?”  I confessed. I told them exactly what happened. He made a report of what I said and I signed it. Then he asked me, “Where are you from?” I didn’t answer. He said, “Do you want to know why you set the store on fire?”  I answered, “Why?”  He answered, “Because of your bloodline.” I asked him, “What do you mean my bloodline?” He answered, “We are trying to connect the arson that you committed to terrorism.”

Then the guard took me back to the single cell. I was worried and crying all of the time. I refused to eat lunch and dinner. My weight dropped to 118 pounds and I was suffering from malnutrition. Ensure was prescribed, but I was delusional and refused to drink it. The officer, Mr. H, tried to force it down my throat, but much of it missed my mouth and ran down my chest and onto the bunk and floor. One time Mr. H opened the cell door and asked me, “Why did you refuse to eat?”  When I did not answer, he grabbed my neck and pushed my head down close to the toilet and said, “If you don’t answer I am going to put your face in the toilet…If you don’t answer!…”  Then he flushed the toilet a couple of times while my head was very close to the toilet water. Once he pushed me against the wall and yelled, “Answer!”  He pushed me to the bunk after pushing me against the wall. When I asked him, “Why did you do that to me?”  he answered, “I did that to you because of your bloodline.” I guess he overheard the interrogation officer. When he left, he slammed the cell door behind him.

A few days later they took me to court. The judge told me that if I were found guilty for the second offense, I could serve up to twenty years in prison. I misunderstood the judge and thought I had been convicted and would spend twenty years in prison. I asked Mr. H if I had been convicted. He said to me through my cell door, “Yeah, you’ve been convicted.”  I was terrified. The next day I placed an order for the Holy Qur’an. I was reading the Holy Qur’an and praying.

I began hoarding my medication. I hoarded about thirty pills within a month, and then swallowed all thirty pills at bedtime one night. I prayed and covered my head with a blanket. I prayed until I passed out. I woke up in the emergency room. I had tubes all over my body, a drip in my arm and cords with stickers on my chest. The doctor was monitoring my heart rate. I was on a special high potassium diet for ten days (my heart had suffered from the overdose). After ten days the police took me back to the single cell. This time they left me locked in. The other inmates were allowed into the day room every day, were allowed out of their cells to shower and watch T.V. but I was left in my cell, dirty and cramped. I would pound on my cell door and holler all day long, shift after shift, and the guards on each shift ignored my pleas.

[Another inmate, now in the same state hospital where Saher is, has said he was there and witnessed Saher’s pounding and yelling for help repeatedly.]

Before my suicide attempt, Mr. H would often take away my mattress, and leave me to sit on a cold, metal bunk for hours at a time. My mattress was permanently taken away after my suicide attempt. I had to sleep on the metal bunk without any padding all of the time. The officials also denied me the use of a spoon (they said this was a suicide precaution). In order to eat without using my fingers, I tore a piece off of my Styrofoam cup to scoop up the food.

Mr. H was continually abusive. He always yelled at me and on more than one occasion when I refused to answer his questions, he grabbed my neck and pushed my head close to the toilet water that he would flush. This abuse continued for one year and eight months. I was allowed to shower only once a week. My skin got infected with a fungus and there was a severe rash all over my body. When I was finally allowed to shower, I resisted because the water was ice cold and it was painful to my rash infected skin. I managed to get myself wet and then was literally shoved back to my cell, cold and wet.

I always resisted injections. I am extremely fearful of needles and resisted injections for this reason, but I was suffering from delusions and was also afraid that they were trying to inject me with HIV and herpes. When the nurse drew blood, Mr. H would push me to the bunk, grab my arm and press it hard onto the metal frame.

When I was finally released from jail, a year and eight months later, I was NOT told I was being transferred to San Antonio State Hospital. I was still delusional and terrified and I thought they wanted my fingerprints in order to slaughter me. When I resisted getting my fingers fingerprinted, my hand was grabbed and my fingers were forced into the ink. No one told me where I was being taken; I thought I was going to be killed.

Today I am very fortunate to be in a good place [a state hospital outside of Bexar County] where I receive good medical attention and care. I am looking forward to regaining my freedom and living a mentally healthy life. It is my hope that this article will give a voice to those who have been abused and who are currently being abused in the Texas jail system. I also want people to know how non-Christian inmates are treated in that facility. I am a U.S. citizen who believes in this country. It is my hope that reform is possible and will happen.


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