Being Mentally Ill in a Federal Prison


Evelyn Violette woke up first thing in the morning and told her husband that Andy had tried to hang himself. Three weeks later, her nightmare was confirmed. Her son had indeed tried to hang himself that horrible night, but no one told her until her son called her from federal prison to let her know why she had not heard from him. He had been in the infirmary and was unable to call or write letters to his mother.

Andy Goodall is in a federal prison in Virginia. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 12.

The last time he saw a psychiatrist was the day before he went to prison, and his medication has not been changed. That was 2015. He is on his way to his third federal facility and he has yet to receive any treatment for his mental  illness. Goodall is 32 years old and has untreated bipolar disorder. He has attempted suicide twice while in prison, and still he cannot obtain the help he needs.

Inmates are not allowed to write letters or make phone calls while on suicide watch. Violette only knows that her son attempted suicide a second time because another inmate wrote her a letter. Sean Price wrote to Violette and said:

Andy is currently on suicide watch. Because this facility has abused him and neglected his obvious psychological needs he has begun acting  very erratic  and unstable. And some fairly serious recent events led him to an apparent suicide attempt. I am sure he didn’t actually ‘want’ to die, but during the moment he just didn’t know what to do at all and he felt this was his only option to get help or escape the pain this facility has caused him. The officers here have done their best to put both Andy and myself in extreme danger and they consistently ridicule and torment Andy for a number of reasons that they seem to find funny.

This letter infuriated Violette and she took her son’s story to the media and Sen. Susan Collins’ office. Kelly Cotiaux met with Violette in Collins’ office. She told Goodall’s mother that she would write to the prison warden and to the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons about the matters of bullying and untreated mental illness. Even though Goodall is being shipped to another federal prison, Cotiaux wants to be sure both these issues are addressed in Virginia. Once Goodall has been moved she will write to that prison too, to ensure he receives the appropriate treatment he needs for his bipolar disorder.

Price also intends to file multiple complaints against the officers for bullying and mistreatment, in addition to complaints about Goodall’s untreated mental illness.

Goodall has tried to present his case for seeing a psychiatrist himself for different medication, but he was accused of drug seeking. He has not seen a psychiatrist since before he went to federal prison in November 2015.

Violette has repeatedly tried to talk to her son’s case worker at Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex. Most of the times she calls no one answers the phone at the facility. When she does reach the operator, she tells Violette that the case worker is in a meeting. Violette told this author, “If he spent as much time with his clients as he did in meetings, Andy might get the help he needed.”

Two prisons have failed Goodall. There is hope on the horizon in his next move. Violette will not give up until her son receives the help he desperately needs. Andy Goodall will not be released from federal prison until 2032.

This is not a new or unique problem. In 2014, the Federal Bureau of Prisons put new policies in place to better care for inmates with mental illness. However, according to data obtained by the Marshall Project through the Freedom of Information Act, the bureau did not expand treatment for mental illness, instead they lowered the number of inmates designated for higher care levels by 35 percent.

In February 2018, the Bureau of Prisons reported that only three percent of inmates have a serious mental illness that requires regular treatment. In comparison, over 30 percent of those incarcerated in California state prisons are in treatment for a “serious mental disorder.” In New York, 21 percent in state prisons are receiving treatment for being mentally ill, and Texas state prisons treat 20 percent of their inmates for mental illness.

Officials have not put the necessary resources in place to allow the Federal Bureau of Prisons to enforce the new policies. “You doubled the workload and kept the resources the same. You don’t have to be Einstein to see how that’s going to work,” said a former Bureau of Prisons psychologist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a pending lawsuit regarding his time at the agency.

There is obviously a nationwide problem in federal prisons that is not being appropriately addressed. It is time for a change.

Violette is afraid that the next time she sees her son, it will be in a body bag.

By Jeanette Smith


Interview: Evelyn Violette, Aug. 25, 2019
Letter: Sean Price, Ag. 13, 2019
The Marshall Project: How the Federal Bureau of Prisons Slashed Care for the Mentally Ill

Image Courtesy of Hubert Yu’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.