Joshua Spriestersbach had schizophrenia, but he was a kind, quiet man who never hurt anyone. His time in jail was for minor, nonviolent cr*imes. He also spent some time at the Hawaii State Hospital (HSH). He talked a lot about microwaves controlling him and said that the CIA was after him because he knew how to hack computers.
For more than a dozen years, Joshua lived on the streets of Honolulu by himself, without any family or friends. That’s how he wanted it. Joshua often hid his real name to make it hard to find him. This is why he stopped talking to his sister and mother around the time that his problems started.
Arrested in a Case of Mistaken Identity
At the River of Life Mission in Honolulu, Joshua, who was 46 years old at the time, stood in line for food on a beautiful day in March 2017. Joshua and many of the island’s long-term homeless people went to the center often. Joshua sat down on the sidewalk while he waited in line. On Oahu, that is against the law. Joshua then fell asleep for a short time. Police officers tapped him on the shoulder to wake him up. With Joshua’s hands tied, they took him to jail.
Joshua had given police and other officials different names and aliases in the past, but this was usually when he wasn’t on medication and was psychotic. General Castleberry was one of those names. He used the name a lot when he was crazy. When he got to the station, he found out that he had been brought there on a warrant for violation of probation for a man named Thomas Castleberry. He knew something wasn’t right. These facts about him—his date of birth and SSN—show that his mother named him Joshua.
Joshua told the jailers that he wasn’t Thomas Castleberry, but they didn’t believe him. They also didn’t look at his fingerprints or mugshot, which would have shown who he was. When Joshua first went to court on Castleberry’s charges, he was given a public defender. He told the defender right away that the police had the wrong person. The public defender asked for a three-panel doctor competency evaluation for his client.
Joshua was taken to the Hawaii State Hospital after four months in county jail. The staff didn’t believe him when he said his name was Joshua when they asked. Still, the staff mixed up Joshua’s chart with Thomas Castleberry’s. Joshua was told he needed to take drug classes because he had been charged with having cocaine on his person. Joshua was sure that he had never been on probation or used drugs in his life. He gave his full name, date of birth, and social security number to the staff again. They didn’t pay attention to the information and thought Joshua was crazy. After a few days, the three-person board decided that Joshua was “unfit to stand trial” and told the facility to hold him.
Weeks Turn Into Months
The weeks went by, and then the months. Every day, Joshua felt more hopeless. He said he wasn’t Thomas Castleberry, but the staff at the facility said he was. He was told to take antipsychotic drugs and was first injected with them. By early 2018, he was refusing to take them. Staff said Joshua, whose real name is Thomas Castleberry, was “potentially dangerous” and kept saying he was “unfit to stand trial.” He didn’t leave the facility.
The real Thomas Castleberry, on the other hand, had no idea that “he” was locked up at Hawaii State Hospital. A magician is the only person who can be in two safe places at the same time, but he wasn’t one of them. In Alaska, thousands of miles away from Hawaii, Castleberry was serving a six-year prison sentence. He had left Hawaii years before.
Doctors said Joshua was “unfit to stand trial” twice more because he kept saying he wasn’t Thomas Castleberry. The more he denied the name, the more the staff thought he was crazy and mentally ill. Thomas was given more and more antipsychotics and other drugs until he was almost ready to break.
Something is Off
By 2019, Joshua was always crazy, drooled all the time, and could barely speak. During their sessions, he did open up to Dr. Garret about his past. They talked about how he had been in a mental hospital in California before moving to Hawaii with his sister twelve years ago.
After hearing what Joshua had to say, Dr. Garret thought something wasn’t right. She looked into what was going on and found mugshots of Joshua and Thomas. At the time that Thomas’s mugshot was taken, Dr. Garrett knew that Joshua was in a jail in California. What she saw shocked her: Thomas Castleberry was not the man sitting in front of her or the man the state had locked up two years before.
Dr. Garrett asked for fingerprints and other identifying details. On January 15, 2020, he found out that the man at HSH was named Josha Sprierbach, which was the name he had given them the whole time. He was let out of the facility right away.
Joshua Goes Home
On the streets of Oahu, Joshua begged for money and ate at homeless shelters for the next two months, just like he had done for the past twelve years. Then, in late March, he called his mom on the phone. She was so excited to get the call. Joshua moved to Albany, New York, because his mother and sister agreed to take him in. He saw things differently after working at HSH for almost three years. He really needed his family and missed them.
Joshua started to work on fixing his relationship with his sister and himself again after telling her how he ended up in a mental hospital for two and a half years. Joshua was able to get help for his mental health problems thanks to his sister.
Joshua sued the Police Department, the public defender’s office, and the Hawaii State Hospital. All of them could have checked Joshua’s fingerprints or mugshots but didn’t. His sister and the Hawaii Innocence Project helped him do this. The lawsuit was thrown out without prejudice.