I just wanted to briefly let all those that have followed my son’s story and prayed for him, that he was released on August 15, and has come home to West Virginia to live with me. We are in a season of healing right now. The prayers, the letters, the thoughts, and well wishes, the sympathy, and the empathy, the sense of community that so many have given us so that never once have we felt alone in this struggle, has been AMAZING! Thank you!
There is a heartwrenching and much-needed story that needs to be told here. The way that those living with schizophrenia or any other serious mental illness are criminalized in this country is an absolute disgrace. I have spent the last 4.5 years researching, advocating, and searching out a way that the US can raise up to adopt a humane and ethical system that helps those that fall through the limited treatment system that we currently have. I found that the country of France currently has a phenomenal program that we could so easily learn from and install here in America.
Many of those living with these diseases do find themselves justice-involved, and I can tell you that once locked behind those bars, the treatment they receive is not only subpar but can be borderline barbaric in nature. Imagine, feeling suicidal, having all of your clothes removed, and being given a paper-thin mat to sleep on the ground with, which is removed at 5 AM the next morning. At any time you can be subject to guards rushing in and pepper spraying you if you are actively suicidal. Imagine, you are at rock bottom and you are not met with caring or compassion, you are met with being stripped of your dignity and pepper sprayed for being critically mentally ill. You are in a mental health crisis! This barbaric and inhumane treatment is supposed to be helpful? This is a traumatic experience that ADDS to the stress and discomfort the individual is feeling.
Those that are justice-involved receive the bare minimum of treatment. They are given medication if they are in a state that can afford that. They get to see a psychiatrist maybe 10 minutes a month if lucky. They are thrown into the general population when they are no longer a risk to themselves or others and here they are prayed upon by those with criminal minds. My son was housed in the violent offender’s dorm. He lived alongside murders, rapists, psychopaths, and sociopaths for almost 5 years. These are the predators of society, he was a lamb amongst wolves, and he lived his days out as such for almost 5 years.
Inside that jail he was exposed to several others with the same disease he has, those were caught up in a revolving door that lead from homelessness to incarceration. No one really cared to help them get out of the pipeline, to help them have a better life. They were lost, forgotten, people of no value I guess to anyone but God. Many were elderly, their minds completely deteriorated from years of falling in and out of psychosis, lack of care, and lack of a support system such as family or friends. Just nameless numbers circulating in a system that is cruel and uncaring coming from the streets to jail to the state hospital and back. I call it the “curb to court” pipeline.
Last night I showed him the book “Crazy” that Pete Early was so kind to autograph and send me. Pete also sent the Sherriff of St. Lucie County and Elliott’s first judge a copy of this fabulous book. I showed him DJ Jaffe’s book “Insane Consequences” and told him that sadly DJ had not made it to see him come home, as he had passed away, but that I had shared several emails with DJ and he had shared so much support for Elliott’s case. I explained to Elliott how DJ, Pete and others like Lynn Nanos who wrote the book “Breakdown” and served with me on the Shatter Silence Coalition some years ago are all championing this cause. The parents, the friends, and the loved ones of those that deal with these diseases are the ones leading the fight to make this country a more compassionate world for those that live with these struggles.
In a world that accepts so readily that we need heart disease doctors in every hospital. Can you imagine a hospital without a cardiac unit? What about a hospital without an oncology department? Can you imagine a world where it was hard to see an ophthalmologist and be prescribed glasses? Or a world where the hearing impaired had to jump through months of hoops just to get care? What about those with diabetes or kidney disease, those with Cirrhosis of the liver, or any other issue with the brain such as a tumor, having to be incarcerated and punished to begin treatment! We need easily acquired, humane, and specialized care for those living with these illnesses so that they can experience the highest quality of life possible and we need to help those through outreach on the streets and in the jails to get that treatment even when they do not understand fully the situation they are in. Ignoring the needs of those that have serious mental illness and lack of insight is not only barbaric I find it is an act of convenience perpetrated by the government to conveniently save money by not providing them with the care they so desperately need. If someone was standing on a bridge and was ready to jump, a police officer or ambulance doesn’t just cruise by and say oh well this is their choice! So why do we let the mentally ill decompensate to the point that they are slowly dying from starvation, exposure, and comorbidity issues like diabetes on the streets every day? Why is that ok?
I encourage anyone who feels the need to help those that may live with these diseases, get active, care, get involved! We have been seeking help from the Government through new laws and legislation for over 60 years and have nothing to show for it. I have come to the conclusion that no matter what side you fall on Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian they do not care about our loved ones on Capital Hill. This is a problem they wish would just magically disappear. Ronald Reagan destroyed the system we had in place, albeit an imperfect one, and then failed to institute anything to replace it. So for 40 year’s they have just been thrown to the wolves, families having no clue, no support at all fumbling through the dark trying to find a way to make life normal for their loved ones. I suggest France because in France they actually care for each individual and make sure even if they are justice-involved they have advocates assigned to their case to make sure they are being treated humanely and their care is progressing for the benefit of the one who is struggling with the disease instead of just letting them decompensate over and over again. Every single time someone with schizophrenia decompensates into psychosis, they leave behind a little bit more of their brain and their ability to function. Every psychosis takes an unrepairable toll on the individual’s brain. Why do they allow this suffering to happen in America? We are a first-world country, can we not as a think tank come up with a solution already to this problem that has been plaguing us for over a century here?