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McEachron discusses the stigma attached to having a mental illness.

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The son of Jamaican immigrants who brought him to the U.S. when he was 7 years old, Carl McEachron spent much of his teenage years in the Ohio Boys Center after being removed from his home due to reported abuse. He broke into a house in 1985, stole a suitcase full of photo equipment and jewelry and was given three to 15 years in the Ohio prison system. Two years later, he was paroled. Hoping to be an engineer, he took university courses, but then he broke into a garage and stole a bicycle -- a parole violation that sent him back to prison and added 10 to 25 years to his original sentence.

McEachron served most of his time in segregation and eventually ended up at Ohio's maximum-security prison because he couldn't follow prison rules and posed a danger to others.

"He was the type of individual who was very difficult to work with," says Dr. Gary Beven, chief forensic psychiatrist at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. "[He's] been very aggressive towards staff, including, I believe, by spitting on staff members and throwing body waste. And so there wasn't a lot of empathy for him… The tendency would be for somebody like that to just [say], 'Let's lock him away… let's just not have anything to do with him.'"

It wasn't until 2001, after 13 years in prison and numerous stints in the Oakwood prison psychiatric hospital, that the mental health staff decided McEachron's behavior could actually be attributed to mental illness, later diagnosed as mood disorder and antisocial personality disorder, and that he was, in fact, not a malingerer, or someone who mimics or exaggerates mental illness to manipulate the system, as was previously believed.

"To the unsuspecting person that doesn't know him, you would never guess that he was [mentally ill], unless you'd spent a half hour to 45 minutes with him, and then you would start seeing some subtle signs that there was some real paranoia going on right there," says Eric Widdowson, a psychiatric nurse who has had McEachron on his caseload for almost two years. "I can tell you that a lot of inmates that are mentally ill, they can go overlooked for a long period of time before a professional spots them." Widdowson adds that McEachron exhibited some of the more subtle signs of mental illness that they look for, such as poor hygiene, trashing of cells, practicing bizarre rituals and paranoia.

Shortly after the mental health staff became convinced of his illness, McEachron was placed on forced medication because he continuously refused to take his medications, believing he wasn't mentally ill. But Beven says the medication "essentially turned [McEachron's] life around completely. Where he was once viewed as a primitive, angry, disruptive, violent, sociopathic person, [he changed] to somebody with a sense of humor, somebody who could communicate decently, who was nonviolent, who may not agree with the medication he's taking or agree with all the treatment he's received, but who you can have a cordial relationship with. So I think he's another success story."

Beven adds that without treatment, McEachron likely could have spent his entire life in segregation, which probably would have worsened his illness.

While acknowledging the therapy helped him, McEachron maintains he is not mentally ill. He says that his behavior during his 16 years in prison -- he was effectively mute for over a year, at times verbalized paranoid delusional thoughts, refused to shower, smeared feces in his cell, crawled down the range, and spoke of cameras in his eyes -- was simply a reaction to being in an unnatural, often dehumanizing environment.

"Being locked up in prison, it does affect your mental well-being," he says. "It's just like these environmental factors, which I continue to say, must be considered before one is given some diagnosis, some misdiagnosis or some drug that's supposed to be a cure-all. I'm saying, let's find out what's really going on first. And being in prison, that's one problem."

"I feel a certain stigma about being told that I'm mentally ill," he continues. "What am I supposed to do after I get out of here? Am I supposed to carry this burden on my shoulder? 'Oh yes. My name's Carl and I'm mentally ill. Will you please hire me?' I mean, it's already competitive as it is. And it doesn't make sense."

McEachron's improved behavior finally made him eligible for parole on Jan. 4, 2005. But before he could be freed, McEachron was detained for two weeks by U.S. immigration and deported to Jamaica. Jamaican authorities could not confirm his whereabouts.

Editor's Update: There is no current information on Carl McEachron. He was paroled on Jan. 4, 2005 and deported on June 16, 2005.

 

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posted may 10, 2005; updated march 6, 2006

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