Jailhouse Blues

Arrested for nothing, Amanda Jessup spiraled out of control in county lockup.

After a nurse noted a softball-size bump on her head, Amanda was sent to Cedars Medical Center. "It's not that I wanted to kill myself," she would say later. "I had this thought in my head, it's so ridiculous, that I was spelling out my mother's name in my head, and it's like I had no control over my brain and it was just spelling, it just kept throwing out the letters, and I thought that the Devil was going to get her now.

"So I banged my head against the wall so I would stop the spelling. The next thing I remember, I was in a wheelchair, and then I was in a hospital bed."

Six days later, after Jordan contacted de Leon, he filed a complaint with the corrections department alleging improper treatment. Amanda was released from the county system April 14, and a week later, while she was still hospitalized, authorities dismissed the charges.

In a report that November, corrections officials exonerated the guards of any wrongdoing. They claimed Amanda appeared to be under the influence of an unknown substance and even asserted she "bears some responsibility for injuring herself."

Corrections spokeswoman Janelle Hall and Assistant County Attorney Marlon Moffett declined to comment. In court documents, City of South Miami attorneys also claim that what happened to Amanda was a result of her own conduct.

Since then, Amanda has been repeatedly hospitalized. Over the past five years, she has been unable to work steadily, having repeatedly lost retail and restaurant jobs because of what she calls "psychotic breaks." Her attorneys believe the severe head trauma sparked a series of life-changing events and affected her behavior.

In court documents, Amanda said she cries a lot, freaks out at sirens, and is frequently overcome by anxiety and fear.

"Fear about my soul, basically," she says. "It's like the whole world is some conspiracy."

Amanda's lawsuit might signal trouble ahead for the Miami-Dade Corrections Department, which in 2004 housed thousands of people, many of whom were either mentally ill or suffering a mental health crisis. According to a Miami-Dade grand jury report issued several months after Amanda's arrest, the system was ill-prepared to treat and process such inmates. Corrections officers charged with providing security for the mentally ill were "not given any training for dealing with this segment of the inmate population," the grand jury said.

The grand jury also concluded that Miami-Dade's pretrial detention center and its cells were "cold and stark" and "less than ideal for treating persons suffering from mental illness" — an environment that could worsen an inmate's condition.

Though the grand jury's report led Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez to establish a mental health task force that has brought about some change, the county is still trying to fully implement its recommendations, and the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the county jail.

The county now trains guards to recognize when inmates are trying to harm themselves or attempt suicide, but it's too late for Amanda. When a reporter recently visited her family's comfortable wooded home in South Miami, she sat silently in a wheelchair, recovering from a recent fall.

"My daughter is disabled," Jordan says. "I'm not going to give up on her, and I just am praying that she can have a normal life. She's going to need care for the rest of her life."

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