Gone to Hell: Mental Illness and Harris County Jail

Even though Alexander Hatcher is bipolar and schizophrenic, he wasn't given his meds for his first three months in jail. He got in fights with the guards. Now he's sentenced to prison for a long, long time.

Florence has seen her son a couple times since his arrest. She moved to a small house on the east side of Houston about a year ago, but she can rarely travel to downtown. A problem with Florence's phone line sometimes keeps her from accepting Hatcher's collect calls.

During his first nine months in jail, Hatcher sent his mother letters almost daily, many of them illegible. When she could read the writing, Florence made little sense of its meaning.

In a letter from January 2007, Hatcher writes, "I will enter into Divine Words Seminary in California. I made this vow to God. I may be the first Roman Catholic Missionary Priest in the Joseph and Hatcher family. I feel the Happiness will come when working with the 3rd World County in South Africa."

Alexander Hatcher thrived at New Start in Houston, a drug rehab program designed for mentally ill patients.
Courtesy of Florence Hatcher
Alexander Hatcher thrived at New Start in Houston, a drug rehab program designed for mentally ill patients.
Thomas Lopez-Ramirez oversees inmates in a mental health cell block at the Harris County Jail.
Daniel Kramer
Thomas Lopez-Ramirez oversees inmates in a mental health cell block at the Harris County Jail.

"Alexander is the most religious person, I guess. I should tell him he needs to start praying different," Florence says. "He hasn't been a bad, bad person, but he has done a lot of things. He's even done things to me, but he's my child, and I can't throw him away."

Hatcher's case is set for appeal, but it could be months or years before the case reaches trial. Sims has bowed out as Hatcher's attorney, and the court has appointed another lawyer to handle the case.

While Hatcher is waiting for transfer to state prison, he says he's receiving his medication prescribed at Rusk, and there've been no problems since returning to the jail. In fact, Hatcher has little recollection of his time prior to Rusk.

He wears a yellow jumpsuit, the sign of a maximum-security inmate. No longer in the psychiatric unit, Hatcher stays in a solitary cell.

In mid-sentence, Hatcher will sometimes lean back and look up, take a deep breath and swallow, then continue speaking. There's often a paranoid tone in his voice, and he sometimes alludes to liver cancer that doctors say he doesn't have.

"I cannot complain. I go through it every once in a while, but I'm just here," Hatcher says. "To be honest with you, I don't know how all this happened. But it had to have been something I did that was against the rules of Harris County Jail."

paul.knight@houstonpress.com

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