Paroled in July 2000 after having served 12 years for aggravated robbery, Sigmon Clark lasted exactly six days outside prison walls.
A diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, Clark, who was imprisoned for hitting a man over the head and stealing $180, found himself alone not only to find housing and employment upon release, but to also manage his mental illness. "I got released without no trade, without no I.D., without no direction, just a piece of paper saying, 'Go see a doctor at this point in your city,'" says Clark. "Six days with $75 in my pocket, fare the best way you can, man. We done took 12 years out of your life, and you're mentally ill. Do what you can for yourself."
For those with serious mental illness, maintaining treatment and securing medication upon release can be overwhelmingly difficult. In Ohio, most inmates are released with only two weeks' worth of medication, but according to the Bureau of Mental Health for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, it can take between four to 10 months for released inmates to secure any public assistance in the form of disability benefits.
When Clark's $75 ran out six days after his release, he violated his parole by stealing a woman's purse. He was given a two-year mandatory sentence and was returned to Ohio corrections to continue his original sentence of 11 to 40 years.
Clark has a long prior history of hospitalization and treatment -- and a long history of interactions with the criminal justice system. Currently 51 years old, he was first treated for psychotic symptoms at the age of 21 and was in and out of mental institutions for the next 10 years. His various criminal charges include larceny, breaking and entering, malicious entry, disorderly conduct, weapons possession and criminal trespassing. In February 1990, while serving eight to 25 years for his first robbery conviction, Clark had a psychotic episode and threw a coffee pot of scalding water on a corrections officer. Three to 15 years was added to his sentence.
Although Clark was found mentally competent to stand trial for this incident, there is no question that his frequent delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and non-compliance with medication makes following the strict environment at the maximum-security prison in Lucasville, Ohio extremely difficult.
He has been sent to Oakwood, the prison psychiatric hospital, numerous times -- his most recent admittance due to complications with polydipsia, a potentially life-threatening condition resulting from drinking excess fluid. Clark thought people were trying to kill him and in an effort to get rid of the poison, he continuously drank the water out of his toilet. The mental health staff at Oakwood was able to stabilize his condition and ultimately prepare him for return to maximum-security lockdown.
Unfortunately, like many inmates with severe mental illness that return from the prison psychiatric hospital, Clark often decompensates, is placed in the prison infirmary and revolves back to Oakwood. " [I'm] disappointed because I have to go to an environment that's not a hospital, and I have a hospital disease," Clark says. "A lot of isolated times make me paranoid, like I hate to be not functioning, moving around, talking to people, or doing things. See, that's what they don't understand, that mental health needs to be functioning at all times, so his mind doesn't give him a chance to play tricks with him. He needs a life. It's no life for us."
Within weeks of his return, Clark was moved once again to the prison infirmary. He is eligible for parole in 2006 and his sentence will expire in 2028.
Editor's Update: Sigmon Clark was readmitted to Oakwood on Aug. 29, 2005. He sees the parole board in March 2006 and told FRONTLINE producers that he is a bit anxious about this.