On the day his parents, who had become increasingly concerned about their son's odd behavior, scheduled him for a psychiatric evaluation, Jakuba Lewis shot and killed two friends and seriously injured a third.
"They told me, 'We got to go to the psychiatrist at 12:00,'" recalls Lewis, who was later diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and is serving 60 years to life for his crime. "And I left earlier that morning, like at 9:00 that morning. I messed up that day … I was out of touch with reality."
Lewis says the voices in his head "sidetracked" him from his appointment and instead, he set off on a trip with friends that ended with his opening fire during a pizza party. Lewis says paranoid delusions convinced him his friends were trying to kill him and that voices in his head told him he was in danger. "It was all against me," he says. "I mean, I just thought everything was real. I thought it was real. I thought they was really trying to kill me that night." He was arrested March 12, 1997 after police discovered him hiding in a gas station restroom.
Lewis, whose crime can be directly linked to untreated mental illness, is considered a success story by the mental health staff in the Ohio correctional system. After his arrest, he was sent to the maximum-security prison in Lucasville, where he was described as exhibiting bizarre behavior, refusing to bathe, rambling in speech and banging his head on the wall. He was determined to be incompetent to stand trial, and was sent to the Twin Valley Psychiatric Hospital in Dayton to restore competency.
"He was the most severely incapacitated inmate, client that I've ever seen," says psychiatric nurse Patricia Newsome, who has been treating Lewis for the past four years. "He was so internally stimulated with the hallucinations, auditory and the delusional content, he would hardly communicate with anyone." Lewis denied any and all mental illness. Meanwhile, he claimed to have a computer in his brain and claimed that people were hunting him in order to kill him because of the special powers he possessed.
After Lewis was found competent to stand trial, he pled guilty to his crime in order to avoid the death penalty. Initially he was housed in general population, but he became increasingly psychotic -- he was paranoid, refused medication, wouldn't leave his cell, wouldn't eat and didn't shower. "My hygiene was real poor and I wasn't really communicating," says Lewis. "I was isolating myself from people. I just basically stayed to myself."
In November 2001, Lewis was sent to Oakwood, the prison psychiatric hospital, and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and major mood disorder. He was put on a handful of medications that didn't help him before being prescribed Clozaril, which everyone agrees has transformed his mental health condition. Lewis has committed no rule infractions in the past four years and has now been transferred to the Correctional Reception Center, a step down in security from Lucasville. The biggest benefit from finding a medication that fits his needs, Lewis says, is that he now recognizes his own mental illness. "The last four years, I came a long way, because I remember when I didn't know what was really going on," he says. "I understand it was not real, it was a chemical imbalance. It took me awhile to understand. It wasn't easy and it wasn't fast."
While the voices haven't disappeared completely, Lewis, who has a family history of mental illness, says they've gotten less frequent and quieter. "I'm mentally thinking about how to maintain my mental illness. That's what I'm basically doing now."
Dr. Gary Beven, the chief psychiatrist for the maximum-security prison in Lucasvile, agrees that Lewis is a rare success story. "I think it's remarkable in the fact that he was, one, so ill and having so much trouble that his behavior stabilized to the point where he was able to be conduct report-free, I believe for over a year, which is really remarkable in a real strict environment where you're expected to follow the rules, essentially irrespective of what your limitations are," he says.
Lewis says group programs at Lucasville, such as assertive training, communication, medication education and health fitness classes, help him keep perspective on his mental health. "The things that I'm expressing is a part of my mental illness," he says. "It's not real. They can't hurt me. That's one of the main things I learned because I used to think they could hurt me and I used to be real upset and stuff like that about it."
While Lewis focuses on maintaining his mental health, he is also making a legal effort to have the role he says his mental illness played in his crimes addressed. "I thought it was all real. I thought everything around me was really happening, but it really wasn't," he says. "I don't think I would've committed my crime if I didn't have schizophrenia."
Editor's Update: Jakuba Lewis, considered a success story in terms of management of his schizophrenia, has been transferred to a medium-security prison and is now functioning well in the general population.