DENVER — It’s distressing enough that a 29-year-old prisoner at the federal supermax in Florence has been spending his days with his face against a wall, making sculptures out of his feces and smearing it on his body and in his hair.
But, given the suicide of an ADX prisoner three weeks ago, the previous six-person pattern of suicides at the facility and a general lack of care for the mentally ill, Jonathan Francisco’s lawyers say there’s even greater cause for alarm.
Ed Aro, a partner at Arnold & Porter in Denver, filed an emergency motion this week asking that Francisco be transferred out of ADX for medical evaluation and treatment. The Bureau of Prisons has agreed to the transfer, which should come next week.
“We’ve been concerned about Jonathan for more than a year,” Aro said. “We’re very glad that the [bureau] finally is sending him to a medical facility and we hope he gets the help he obviously needs.”
Francisco’s sentence runs until 2040 for a weapons conviction and the murder of a fellow prisoner at the United States Penitentiary in Pollack, Louisiana. He was mute and unresponsive for at least two years before he was placed in ADX in September, 2011. Like all prisoners in the federal system’s tightest security facility he lives alone in a cement cell roughly the size of a king-size bed, without social interaction or regular human contact.
According to Aro’s emergency motion, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Francisco “receives no meaningful ongoing mental health treatment” for behavior that, even by ADX standards, is disturbing.
“Francisco has converted his cell into a barren cube decorated only with garbage and his own feces,” it reads.
The motion describes Francisco as having a continual blank stare and says his cell is littered with his excrement, discarded food trays and the rotting remains of his meals. Fellow prisoners have seen him spreading feces “everywhere in his cell, on the floor, walls, sink and bars,” pushing it out into the hall outside his cell and smearing it on his body and in his hair.” One prisoner said he sculpts his feces into “little castles,” balls and other shapes. Others have seen him eating it.
The motion accuses mental health professionals at the bureau of essentially ignoring him. “The available evidence suggests that the BOP’s response to his situation, thus far, has been to occasionally force him into a shower stall, and to pile sandbags outside his door in a futile effort to prevent the overwhelming smell of feces emanating from his cell from spreading throughout the part of the prison where he lives.”
Officials at ADX and its public information office could not be reached for comment. The prison has been unresponsive to public inquiry for years.
Francisco’s behavior is nothing new. But concerns about his mental status are heightened since the September 7 suicide of fellow ADX prisoner Robert Knott, 48. Like Francisco, Knott was electively mute. He hanged himself with a bed sheet after days of unusual howling. Knott’s schizophrenia was well known to the Department of Prisons. He received only intermittent care for his psychosis.
“That [Knott] died three weeks ago, when the BOP knew we and the court were watching, puts an exclamation point on the urgency of the persistent problems at ADX, on the reality that the half-measures instituted by the BOP since the lawsuit was filed are not nearly enough, and on the acute danger in which Jonathan Francisco lives,” the motion reads.
The class action lawsuit challenges ADX’s treatment of mentally ill prisoners and accuses its mental health staff of being “unwilling or unable to detect impending mental health emergencies.”
Richie Hill, a psychotic prisoner who suffered malnutrition and staph infections that, according to the lawsuit, put him at risk of death, is cited in the motion. Like Francisco, Hill had a habit of hoarding, smearing and eating his feces. He also ate Styrofoam, radio parts and rocks. Hill cut his lips open with staples, tried several times to gouge out his eye with rocks. He mutilated his face by carving “cannibal marks” into his skin. He also attempted suicide several times at ADX – once by placing pencil lead and rocks up his penis — before the system finally transferred him out of ADX to the BOP’s mental hospital in Springfield, Missouri.
Francisco’s legal team is hoping for such a transfer.
For one longtime ADX prisoner, conditions at Springfield can be just as challenging. Jack Powers was transferred to the mental hospital earlier this year after years of self-mutilation, including gnawing off his fingers, cutting his Achilles tendon and castrating himself.
“The experience of the control unit at ADX substantially damaged my soul. I had just started to recover when I was ‘thrown from the frying pan into the fire.’ I call this ‘The Mental Hell Unit’ of Springfield,” Powers recently wrote to the Colorado Independent.
“Imagine being locked down in a hot cell (no ventilation) on a filthy range (smelling like a barn) in an ancient building (like 80 years old) among 30 stone-cold lunatics (all F’ed up on meds). At first it seems bearable, but soon becomes intolerable. It is like a Chinese water torture – coming from solitary into a cacophony of maniac. The ADX was nice compared to this hole,” Powers added. “I do not know what comes next but I am ready to get on with it.”