What A Psychiatric Hold Taught Me About Prison and Policing

Home Mental Health What A Psychiatric Hold Taught Me About Prison and Policing

Both the police and the mental health industry treat us inhumanly by taking us away from our homes and placing us in cells.

By Treva Flores 

Treva Flores… 1995. Treva. God. Treva God Brain. But Treva Not God. Treva,” my head raced while two police officers handcuffed me. I was 5150’d, later changed to a 5250.

At first I thought I was in some sort of superhero movie, racing to find my true love. But I eventually realized this was not the case as the officers buckled me into the backseat of their car, hard plastic underneath my boney physique. While labeled as a 5150, I was held for 72 hours against my will in what felt like a prison, then for 14 more days when I was labeled a 5250. I don’t remember anyone telling me where I was going or why I had to leave my house. I only remember trying everything in my power to tell them how to take me back home. Meanwhile, my brain entered into full blown psychosis. 

Three months earlier, I had moved back home to sunny California from Portland to get away from my abuser. Being locked up was my worst nightmare after enduring trauma from the summer protests, trauma from a past partner, and trauma from having to come back home because I had developed paranoia and depression. 

A lot of my memories are missing, but I can recall how the hospital staff stuck me in a cell alone, with a blue mat to sleep on and a brown box with lunch foods. I took a bite out of a ham and cheese sandwich and slurped a mixed fruit cup, but I didn’t touch the box of milk. I thought I was in prison, and I made up silly songs and games just to entertain myself, which  made me seem even more delusional to my captors.

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I felt like I was being tossed around from cell to cell, and it terrified me. My vision felt fake, and I thought I had gone blind. At night when I couldn’t sleep, a flashlight peaked through my prison cell, and I thought the police were out to get me. I had to pee in a toilet bowl that was silver all around, with no privacy as it sat directly in front of the windowed cell. I remember singing into it too, trying to make friends, even looking for my reflection in the murky gray water.

Whenever I was alone in my prison cell, I thought I was talking to somebody, not just to myself, but my friends from back home and the people I was locked up next to. Having seen many documentaries about prisons, I convinced myself we were communicating through the toilet bowl.

One “friend” I made had a really cool haircut, similar to the one I had let my roommate give to me as a sort of DIY mohawk, except mine was also colored red. I felt like I’d seen her before somewhere, maybe on the streets, but I felt like she was someone I would have been kind to. I tried waving through the little rectangle window I could sometimes peak out of, but I couldn’t tell if she waved back. I fought hard to stay “sane,” even though my food tickets labeled me as “insane.” 

“Insane in the membrane!” I sang. 

My first shower was the most gut-wrenching of all for someone who’s been privileged enough to have access to warm water their whole life. The nurse was kind enough to look away when I asked her to, but I had to pump the water myself which led to more thoughts of, “Am I in prison or am I in a movie?”

The cherry on top was that I spent my 26th birthday inside of this version of my own personal purgatory. My birthday wish had been to end up in hell with Lil Nas X, and I guess it came true. The hospital staff handed me a large 90’s looking cell phone wrapped in a plastic bag and my sister sang a lonely Happy Birthday. And that was it. That’s all I can remember. 

I don’t even remember talking to the psychiatrist, but my sister said I thought I was God, Albert Einstein, Elvis Presley, and “Stardust Gremlin,” who was the beginning of my journey as a trans non-binary Latine. I love the name, but it had been a manic decision to change my instagram handle and conceal my birth identity. 

Gender dysphoria and a desire to be an example to my non-binary friends was another part of my break. A desire to explore my gender openly in a conservative part of Southern California was a huge stressor. I just wanted to be myself, but I still don’t know what that means for me and I’m learning to accept that as part of my journey. Living in a world where the gender binary is so heavily policed, some of us are bound to go “crazy” in the same way I did when I had to navigate from living in a trans-friendly space to my not so trans-friendly hometown. 

As a queer and trans person of color, I never wanted to be part of another mental health statistic. Especially because transgender folks are four times as likely to experience a mental health condition than those who identify as cisgender. But here I am, writing my story before it leaves my “remembralls,” as I referred to my memory in the hospital. 

This is only a small part of my trek through the system, that reminded me how there really aren’t enough resources available to mentally ill folks.

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After about a month of treatment I didn’t even know I was in a hospital and I had no idea what kind of papers I was signing. It was like being blackout drunk, except the longer I was there the less I felt like me and the more I felt like a child at a weird summer camp. 

Psychosis is wildly misunderstood, especially when handled by police. The forceful act of being cuffed combined with the psychiatric isolation unit was enough to send my brain into a frenzy trying to understand what I was being arrested for if I was non-violent and hadn’t broken any laws. Crazy people are people too, but both the police and mental health industry treat us inhumanly by taking us away from our homes and placing us in prison cells. If my psychosis had been handled by a trained psychiatrist or counselor at my home rather than by police, then I believe I would have recovered much faster with fewer blacked out memories. Since the psychiatrists only spoke to me during intake, I was left on my own to recover with little understanding that I was in a hospital.

Those affected by mental health crises need more support than a forced, carceral treatment; we need caretakers. If it weren’t for my family’s care I would have been released into a shelter with a bag full of medication and the lifeforce of a heavily sedated zombie. 

I am more ready than ever to defund and divest from the police and prison after witnessing the absolute horrors of being labeled a 5150.

Treva Flores (they/them) is a poet, communications specialist and freelance journalist.

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