Ex-honor student deteriorates at TYC


Date: Mon, 09 Apr 2007

Family says teen not getting right medicine, wants him transferred


08:08 AM CDT on Sunday, April 8, 2007
By HOLLY BECKA / The Dallas Morning News
hbecka@dallasnews.com

Eighteen-year-old Zachariah Tarver arrived at a Texas Youth Commission
prison last October with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and a history of
self-medication and suicide attempts.

Five months later, the mental health of the former student council vice
president and honor roll student has worsened, according to his family and
agency records obtained by The Dallas Morning News.

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Zach now hallucinates about people visiting his cell to poke and torment him
and ordering him to harm himself, his family said. He cuts his arms and
writes on cell walls in blood, according to TYC medical records. He has been
on suicide watch almost since his arrival at Corsicana Residential Treatment
Program, a high-security facility for youths with mental or emotional
problems.

A psychiatrist at TYC who evaluated Zach diagnosed schizoaffective disorder,
bipolar disorder and drug dependence, records show.

But his mother, Terri Lovelace, said, "He's not getting the right medicine."
She also complained that some TYC psychiatrists say her son has only a
behavioral disorder.

During a mental assessment in November, Zach barely knew where he was.

"His affect was flattened and his mood frequently incongruent as he
responded with a smile to everything, regardless of the content of the
request," records state. "He complained of constant auditory hallucinations
that were telling him to kill himself. These hallucinations had not been
affected by the medications he was taking."

By February, Zach was fixated on the white, gray and black people who he
says visit his room.

"Their faces are distorted," he told his psychiatrist, according to records.
"When I write on the walls with my blood they see the writing and understand
it. I want them to go away. Nothing seems to work."

The psychiatrist noted that Zach scratches his arm and that "he does write
on the wall with his blood. He has some nasty wounds on both forearms."

Zach was sent to TYC after a Dallas County juvenile judge revoked his
probation for violating curfew and being involved in a fatal traffic
accident, in which police charged him with driving without a license, a
misdemeanor. The cause of the accident was in dispute, but the other driver,
also unlicensed, had not properly restrained her two children, and her
11-month-old was killed.

At the time, Zach had served two years of his five years' probation after
being convicted of participating in an armed robbery. He was with a friend
whose brother, whom he had never before met, robbed someone at gunpoint.

Ms. Lovelace and Zach's psychiatric care providers wanted to place him in
long-term care at a mental health facility that would also treat his drug
dependency.

Zach's therapist, Bill Hornyak of Dallas, said drug abuse is a common way
mentally ill people try to medicate themselves.

"It's a desperate attempt to try to regulate their feelings, their emotions,
their psychological space their reality," he said. "It's just so
uncomfortable and distorted to be in their head."

The family attorney, Michael Hawk of Dallas, wrote last week to TYC
conservator Jay Kimbrough asking that Zach be moved to a mental health
facility.

His older sister, Stephanie Lovelace, testified last month before the
legislative committee investigating abuse allegations in the juvenile prison
system. She held up two pictures of Zach before and after his TYC
incarceration.

In the before picture, a handsome young man flashes a bright, all-American
smile. The picture from TYC shows a pale-faced boy with dark circles under
his eyes, scars on his arms.

"The child is so sick," his sister said. "You look at it, and it speaks
volumes."
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