The mothers of America’s mentally ill children continue to find their voices of fierce witness at the ignorance, arrogance, and brutalization of the insane that are the norms in our hospitals, courts, and jails. (Yet, again I ask: why is it nearly always and only the mothers?!) I defy anyone to read the testimonies below and not emerge trembling with outrage: outrage at the often lethal ineptitude with which police and judges and wardens and even doctors increase the damage to our most damaged citizens and those who love them.
Except for the first of these messages, a mesmerizing cri de coeur written and posted by Laural Fawcett, these accounts have been written for private Facebook sites. I quote from them with permission of the authors.
September 12, 2017
Okay, so here we go again on the merry-go-round of horrors. I have an update about Shaylon. It’s not really good news.
Shaylon, my son, has had a number of psychotic episodes which led him to harm himself and others. Severe visual and auditory hallucinations caused him to leave home and end up on the street. He recently spent a year-and-a-half in jail (he was released in June 2017) because he thought a pedestrian passerby was attacking him and trying to set his feet on fire. This occurred in San Francisco where he often ends up when he is hallucinating. For some reason he, and many others like him, are drawn to San Francisco. I kind of don’t blame them. It’s a pretty nice city to be in.
I just finished my training as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). I have a new job but, essentially, I’m homeless and couch surfing until I get into permanent housing somewhere. It’s not the easiest thing to do here in the San Francisco Bay Area where my son has been incarcerated and denied appropriate housing and treatment.
In the last couple of weeks, I showed up at Shaylon’s two court hearings. (He was picked up for failing a probation check-in.) What a total, farcical, miscarriage of justice and waste of my time except for the precious opportunity to get a glimpse my son. He was medicated but obviously in psychosis and not well.
The judge repeatedly said, “We don’t want you here. You don’t belong here and you need to stay away from San Francisco.” He didn’t speak to other criminal defendants, prior to my son, in such a condescending manner. In fact, other defendants were offered programs and assistance. My son was told, “We can’t keep monitoring you.” My son’s probation officer was reassigned and his new probation officer wrote up a travesty of a report asking him to be extradited to Fresno. The courtroom erupted in laughter when the judge said, “Contrary to popular belief, Fresno is not a foreign country so we cannot extradite him.” Neither treatment nor acknowledgement of my son’s medical diagnosis were offered. Compassion was in short supply but immature snickering and cruel comments were plentiful.
The court told Shaylon to leave the city — permanently — and ordered him to be released to the streets, again, at an unknown time. I was ignored and marginalized even though the public defender tried to alert the court that I was present on my son’s behalf as advocate and caregiver. I wasn’t allowed to speak.
I had to travel to Fresno that day to finish my old apartment walk-through to end tenancy and get my much needed deposit back. But my needs and my son’s needs were not considered.
Now, once again, Shaylon’s whereabouts are unknown.
The public defender’s department is saying that the probation department is responsible for providing access to treatment and housing services. The probation department is saying that the public defender’s department is responsible for providing treatment and housing services. Meanwhile, no treatment or housing services are being provided by either. Behind the scenes I discuss how to implement said services with my son’s prior assigned probation officer. It remains to be seen.
Why are people with neurological brain disorders being incarcerated? Why isn’t my son getting treatment for his psychosis?
Medical professionals and others should be asking, “What is the purpose of the health care and mental health care systems?” In my opinion, the purpose of the healthcare system, and this weird, dangling, anomalous part of it called the “mental health care system,” is to bring a person to optimal health. That can’t be done in the criminal justice system.
Some of the scariest, most dangerous patients I deal with, as an EMT, have dementia or Alzheimer’s. They’re medically fragile, confused, and unpredictable. They require tremendous amounts of care and resources, and can wreak havoc on the healthcare system and those who try to work with them. We don’t let them wander the streets in misery. We don’t discriminate against this population the way we do the seriously mentally ill.
I stand alone. I’m indignant about the injustice against a person, with a grave disability, who happens to be my son. The court forces me to abandon him to street-life hell and homelessness. The court is telling Shaylon to disappear. He’s being stripped of his humanity.
Below are some portions of other messages that I have been receiving and archiving for inclusion in a blog on this theme:
From Roseann Pruett:
My daughter, Beth, is in her fifth month [in solitary confinement] at Madison County jail, Edwardsville, Il. [The warden] says he wants to find her a bed but I don’t believe that any longer! John Q. Public has no idea. No hope left…I believe they will end her life one way or another. Court cancelled many times. I could go on and on. My beautiful paralegal daughter, mother of 3, grandmother, sister to 4 others. Oh, yeah, did I say her twin brother was in there 5 yrs. ago. Beat him to a pulp! Would gladly exchange places with her! If only she could get the medical attention she needs so desperately. I’m out…
The mother who writes below is living in isolation somewhere in America. She fears reprisals if her name is attached to this.
I lost my son on January 2, 2008. He is one of the thousand people killed every year by law enforcement. He had been placed under the auspices of Telecare corporation1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3747134/, after many years of hospitalization more than a year before he was killed. I had a strong disagreement with the doctor in charge of the local Telecare. He put [my son] on an antidepressant. I told him that my son was a classic paranoid schizophrenic and should not be on an antidepressant. He said, “With the cocktail of antipsychotics he is on, he needs something to wake him up in the morning.” My son was conserved by the county so the doctor didn’t need to listen to my wishes. I learned after his death that ALL of the patients, upon being transferred out to Telecare, had been re-diagnosed schizoaffective by this doctor.
From what he had to say I realized the man loved making cocktails and did not want anything like a Bipolar or schizophrenia diagnosis to interfere with his fun. Within Telecare my son was at two different well supervised places so I did not understand that the next house was to be different. I was told he had graduated from their program and did I want to hold him back? They had supposedly been teaching him to shop and cook but he was severely ill. He could participate in the training, (2 months worth)! But he was in no way able to access food when they put him into a place that did not offer food or anyone supervising (even though they called it a board and care). It was the week between Christmas and New Years. My son must not have been home when they delivered his med package for the week. They put it on top of the refrigerator in the shared kitchen and forgot to check to see if he was taking the nine different medications, (13 pills), in his S.M.W.Th.F.S. Box to be taken twice daily. Four days later another patient told the Telecare employee that my son needs to be 5150ed. That was ignored. On the fifth day they realized he had gone off his meds and they decided to cover it up. THE upshot of all that was he went into the knife drawer, (sharp knives in a house of unsupervised mental patients)? He walked around the backyard with the knife and the other patient later told the police that they were not scared of my son but scared for him. He was scared too as he sequestered himself in his locked room. A patient had gone to the office two blocks away. A very deadpan employee called the cops and, (I have the cd), told them my son was chasing other patients with a knife. Which was not true. A cop, who later explained that he was into SWAT techniques and went to workshops in SWAT on his weekends, was the first responder and set off the incident by jumping the gun. Or taser I should say. My son was then immediately shot four times with a glock and then tased for an additional thirty seconds straight while they screamed at him to put his hands behind his back so they could handcuff him. He was lying on the floor clutching at the mortal wounds on his torso. I only regret that I was not there to stand between them and him. Please feel free to ask any questions. It’s hard to describe this stuff so I almost can hear the monotone I usually go into while describing his death. I am still committed to telling the story to those who want to know.
I would be really grateful if you would use my story. I have written extensively on it but don’t have it all pulled together. I recently got into a fb debate with someone and he found the newspaper report on my son’s death and put it up on the thread. That newspaper report made my son look like a psycho killer type. It makes my story look like I am lying to defend him. Just mentioning this because you may want to question my account too. Perhaps before you write about it you will want to ask questions for clarification. That’s fine. We have been among the ignored as my son was not of color and was not a child but was 24 and he had weighed over 300 lbs as a result of all those medications. He had been a handsome guy as a teenager and not even slightly overweight. To the extent our story can help educate I really want you to be able to use it, Ron, and thank you for wanting to.
These are excerpts from messages written by the mother of a young man, evaluated (too late) as schizophrenic by two doctors, who is awaiting trial on a charge of murder. It is a truism, and also true, that the vast majority of the mentally ill are not violent; yet the untreated mentally ill are at greater risk of harming themselves and others. “Matthew’s” schizophrenia symptoms were initially mistaken for symptoms of drug abuse, a tragically common error. This account also demonstrates the persistent, disgraceful willingness of too many prosecutors to treat the mentally ill as common criminals.
. . .In retrospect, what we were told were drug issues during our son’s junior year in high school were actually the first signs of his brain disorder.
He was admitted to the local psychiatric hospital three times from age 17 to 20. His last admittance was October 2015. He was catatonic. We thought he had taken some K22https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/synthetic-cannabinoids-k2spicebecause that’s what they told us the last time…once again in hindsight this was his first total psychotic break. After that he came home and got a job as a groundskeeper at our Country Club.
Summer came and went and things were great. On November 13. . .he took his dad’s truck without permission. . .He was acting strangely, mumbling to himself, staying up all night and day, pacing, saying strange things to the family, like, “I’m not going to let them hurt you,” and “The chip they put in my head is how they’re following me.”
On November 30, 2016, I got a call: there was an altercation at the Country Club involving Matthew. I drove there. As I approached I could see police and sheriffs and SWAT teams. Our son allegedly had obtained an unsecured rifle from the shed and shot and killed his co-worker.
. . .We are shattered. He is a wonderful, warm, highly intelligent, compassionate young man. No one who knows him can believe this. The drug screen at the jail was negative. The court-appointed lawyer met with him and called to ask us if he had ever been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
We were stunned. The answer was no, never; the doctors had always assumed drug reactions. Another lawyer met with Matthew asked us the exact same question. So, two doctors evaluated him and both believe he was in a psychotic break.
That was December. As I write, it is July. The jail has had him medicated since. He spent time in solitary, and now he in Gen Pop [the general prison population].
The prosecutor offered him 50 YEARS [in return for a guilty plea]!! We turned it down. Now we are trying to get him a bed at a secure facility, but they won’t give him a bed unless they evaluate him and I doubt the judge will lower the bond [$500,000] without a guarantee of commitment. We are hoping that we can get the bond reduced and get him the care he needs. The meds he is on are a band aid, and there is no therapy at all.
. . .He’s been told what happened [the shooting], but has no clear recollection of the two weeks prior to the incident or weeks after.
We will not let him be another statistic…
We are holding up as best as we can, I am on antidepressants.
We have been researching schizophrenia, and Matthew is “textbook.” But with the right medication and counseling he can live a somewhat normal life.
The issue is convincing a skewed “justice” system that he has a brain disorder. I recall when I first was allowed to visit him, he kept telling me to have them cut his brain out; that there’s something wrong with it. I’m frustrated by the lack of empathy within the justice system. Matthew didn’t choose this. He can’t help it. He has a BRAIN DISEASE, just like cancer or diabetes or any other disease. . .