Monday, March 29, 2010

Am I a Bad Person?

Twelve More Reasons to Decriminalize Mental Illness (12 paragraphs, 20 links)
A woman wrote to WAGblog seeking reassurance that she is not a "bad person" because she gave up trying to care for her severly mentally disturbed brother after their parents died. Letting go is hard. Even when a caregiver feels she has to break ties to protect herself or have a life aside from being a caregiver, one never truly lets go. Love is a binding tie. People who discontinue caring for an adult with acute mental illness should not feel guilty. It is very challenging to protect acute mental patients from themselves and save them from being victimized in a world where they are considered least. Our system too often withholds treatment until AFTER crimes, then imprisons rather than hospitalize sick people. For some families, this creates an element of danger. That was the case for Theresa: - Oregon built a new mental hospital since Theresa's horrible death.

My mother struggled with my brother, Larry, for many years after he was "de-institutionalized" along with hundreds of thousands of acute mental patients who were released in the 70s. Larry was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia before puberty following a mumps infection that may have gone into his brain. For over a decade after hospital release, Larry lived at home with his family. Larry was non-violent, but his actions put him in serious danger. We were unsuccessful in attempts to have Larry re-committed except for short-term crisis intervention.
One day, Larry was walking by a neighbor's home and heard a baby crying. We have many nieces and nephews. Larry thought the baby was asking him for comfort, so he climbed into the nursery window to attend to the baby. Luckily, the homeowner did not panic and kill Larry. Can you imaging going into your baby's nursery and seeing a strange-looking man you don't know rocking your child? The baby was safe with Larry. He was not as delusional as this Arizona man: Murder for Christmas: Schizophrenic Man Bludgeoned Youngsters After the nursery incident, Larry went to the hospital briefly.
Larry's family could not protect him from the situations his mental imbalance created after hospital release made him "free." It was particularly hard for my mother to let go, but she was getting old and was very concerned for Larry's safety. Our congressman helped to arrange for Larry to become a ward of the State and live in a care home. Unfortunately, care homes have minimal rules. Patients are not forced to take their meds and they can come and go as they see fit. Sometimes, patients who are in care homes really need to be in a hospital, like the man who stabbed a New York baby while the child's nanny took her on a walk: - but the hospitals are closing.

Making Larry a ward of the State was not the solution that we hoped it would be. Larry was not dangerous to others, or he might have been re-committed. He had a toothless grin and a song, if you had time to listen, for everyone he saw. Then he would recite long historical documents or Bible verses very loud. According to the law, Larry should have qualified for hospitalization because of the danger he was to himself, but that did not happen. Prisons have replaced hospitals in America. There are now 1.25 million mentally ill people in prison, and they comprise 60% of inmates in solitary confinement. Gas, restraint chairs, and Tasers are used to control them. Some are killed. Once arrested, mental patients often get time added because they do not understand or lack the wherewithal to obey the correctional facility's rules of behavior. Sometimes, prisons keep them just because. Consider Nick Sauve's situation at his sister's petition for help:
Larry felt that he had a schedule to keep that involved walking about 10 miles a day. Once he got hit by a car crossing a major street. As soon as he was able, Larry was back on his route. He would begin by having breakfast with one of our brothers. From there, he would walk several miles to McDonald's where they allowed him to sit for hours over a few cups of coffee. Then he would go to a recreation center that may have been especially for acute mental patients like Larry, but it is closed now. In any case, he would go there and watch TV, shoot pool, etc. The center had an attendant to monitor the patrons, so Larry felt safe there despite his paranoia. The problem is that Larry would walk those 10 miles to keep his "appointments" without dressing properly for the winter. He got pneumonia repeatedly. Once, when he was just out of ICU for pneumonia, he left the hospital and walked about 5 miles to have his usual breakfast with our brother wearing only a hospital gown (back open!) and paper shoes in sub-freezing weather. At one point, Larry was transferred to a home much further from his "route," but he walked approximately 20 miles roundtrip to keep his imaginary appointments. Larry's hospital bills for numerous bouts of pneumonia and being hit by a car, plus his misdemeanor arrests for inappropriate behavior were probably no less expensive than hospital commitment. Taxpayers saved no money when mental illness was made a crime. Taxpayers pay from $15,000 to $60,000 annually per inmate, and sometimes three times as much for those who are in solitary confinement, like death row prisoners and like acute mental patients usually are. Lifelong schizophrenic patient Jeremy Smith has been in "the hole" for years, and he now faces life in prison for talking rudely to a prison guard. See Jeremy's petition: Please help Gina's son.
Approximately 1 in 5 Americans has some form of mental illness, and most people function well under treatment like people with any other chronic health condition, such as diabetes. However, some acute patients need constant supervision in a facility with a trained, compassionate staff. Patients in that category are not necessarily dangerous, but they endanger themselves. Larry asked a lady for a dollar one day, and the way he phrased it - "Gimme a dollar, lady. Come on, I know you've got a dollar; gimme a dollar" - made her feel like she was being robbed. Things like that get mentally ill people arrested. Sometimes they are picked on by people in the community who find their conditions amusing. One homeless mentally ill veteran in California was doused in gasoline and set afire. He burned to death. - Homelessness is a usual outcome for acute mental patients after their families give up trying to keep them. Consider a case in Florida when one homeless mental patient killed another:
The availability of hospital space for non-violent mental patients became pretty much non-existent after Medicaid funding for inpatient treatment ended decades ago. Hospitals across the country downsized dramatically or closed altogether. Although Larry would go to the hospital to be stabilized during a crisis, he never stayed over a month, and usually less. Hospital closures continue nationwide. Meanwhile, our prison population swells as acute mental patients eventually do something to get themselves arrested - offenses from simple vagrancy to gruesome murders. DOES THIS YOUNG WOMAN BELONG IN PRISON? SEE Bipolar Crisis on Atlanta MARTA Train

Approximately 1.25 million mental patients are imprisoned today, which means there is no savings for taxpayers in punishing sick people for having mental dysfunctions rather than hospitalizing them or providing community-based care. But it is much worse for the patients to be imprisoned rather than hospitalized, as police officers lack the training and some lack the temperament to be psychiatric caretakers. Consider how my brother died under secret arrest - - And remember Tim Souders' death in this 60 Minutes presentation: - Thank goodness Frank Horton's life was spared by a benevolent guard:
Mental hospitals are sorely missed. Many prisoners suffer since mental illness was criminalized. It does not have to be this way. It is less expensive to treat sick people than to punish them for having a common health condition, and many can be restored to wholesome lives. All we need to do is join NAMI, Treatment Advocacy Center, AIMI, and other mental health advocacy organizations in supporting H.R.619, a congressional bill to reinact Medicaid funds for mental hospitalization. PLEASE VOTE for Mental Health Care Reform. HR619 will replace prisons with mental hospitals
Thanks in advance for supporting the bill introduced by Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX), a former psychiatric nurse, to help decriminalize mental illness in America. Please read: THE MORE, THE STRONGER!

I feel sorry for the sister who wrote WAGBlog about having to give up being caretaker for her brother. The burden on families is really great. That is why I feel certain that once the 10 million family members know about H.R.619, they will gladly support the bill. We must let Americans know that an alternative to criminalizing mental illness is available. I hope you will help by sharing the news. There is opposition to the bill that would affect private prison profits, so it will take effort on the part of individual bloggers. When I checked, H.R.619, a very important bill, had received absolutely NO mainstream press coverage. It reminds me of censorship around my brother's secret arrest and murder and the cover-up that followed which was facilitated by The (Johnnie) Cochran Firm. Here is a handy link to share this article: - or you can use the "ADD THIS" feature in the margin at - Thanks in advance for all that you do to help give Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill. A life is a terrible thing to waste. Please see the seven(7) links below.


Mary Neal
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill
Phone 678.531.0262

Mary Neal's Google Profile - - Visit my Care2 Sharebook - Follow KOFFIETIME at Twitter - Current, urgent justice issues from a laywoman's viewpoint at my primary blog  (the name is a joke, believe me) Recommended articles - - Dog Justice for Mentally Ill

1 comment:

MaryLovesJustice Neal said...

It is too late to support H.R.619 to resume Medicaid for inpatients in mental hospitals, which would make inpatient care more accessible for poor or middle-class people who have health crises, requiring short-term commitment, or persons who require long-term care in a secure treatment environment. Contact your congressional representatives and notify them that you prefer hospitalization to prison for mentally ill offenders. Your elected officials are at this link