Former Inmate Says Mentally Ill Prisoners Are Abused in L.A.


When Philip Cho was sent to Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, he had no idea it was one of America's worst prisons, according to the publication Mother Jones. Before Twin Towers, Cho had never before set foot in a prison. He worked in corporate finance and was looking forward to his upcoming wedding. He had attended the University of North Carolina and later earned an MBA from UCLA.


Then one day, Cho began to hear voices. He assumed they were stress-induced, so he ignored them until it got to be too much. Cho was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was forced to quit his job and followed his family to Los Angeles. As his condition worsened, Cho says, the delusions convinced him he was an incredibly wealthy man and encouraged him to buy extravagant items for himself. After an attempt to make a large purchase at a cigar store was flagged by a store clerk, Cho was arrested and sent to jail.

Cho spoke to Leon Krauze on Open Source to discuss what he says happened to him while he was imprisoned at Twin Towers. His account of what happened at Twin Towers has never been independently verified. The charges of abuse and neglect Cho describes in the video above were never brought formally to the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

However, this is not the first complaint from a former inmate regarding prisoner abuse at Twin Towers Correctional Facility—nor is it the sole instance of an inmate who suffers from mental illness to be neglected or even treated worse because of it.

According to a report released just last month from the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization, there are more individuals with serious mental illnesses residing in state prisons and county jails than in mental hospitals. The study reports America has an estimated 356,000 mentally ill inmates, compared to 35,000 public hospital patients, as of 2012.

Lawmakers and advocacy groups alike have been working out just how to handle mentally ill inmates who have ended up in our prisons.

Some prisons have been accused of taking the matter into their own hands.

In November 2013, guards at California State Prison, Corcoran, were routinely pepper-spraying mentally ill inmates "to get them to leave their cells so guards could give them medication or move them to new cells," according to a lawsuit filed by a lawyer representing the inmates. He spoke to Al Jazeera America about the case.


Cho's story has never been confirmed or denied by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. When asked by Fusion if the Sheriff's Department had a response to the allegations Cho made in his book, Twin Towers Los Angeles, the Department said they did not because Cho never brought a lawsuit to the Department regarding the alleged abuse. Philip Cho wrote his book recounting his experience at Twin Towers Correction Facility as he remembers the experience, giving his own character the name Peter Jo. He says the memories were too difficult to attach his own name to the still vivid and painful experience.

A Mexican journalist and author. He's the main anchor for Univision's KMEX in Los Angeles.