We see it every day. On the news, in the media, confrontations between people with mental illness and authorities. In the worst cases these encounters end in tragedy; or people with mental health issues find themselves being run into a dysfunctional prison system, instead of getting the appropriate care. All this stress can be really bad for people with mental illness, and then.. Um... It happened. Um... I had a psychotic break.
I never thought that that could have happened to me. I had symptoms of a lot of different mental health issues... Anxiety depression, mania, um..
All kinds of stuff; but I had never heard a voice before, and that happened. I had never had a delusion. I began thinking I was god. I could not make that delusion go away, and I started believing it... And when I heard the voice, I knew I was in serious trouble and I knew I needed to get help. I ended up threatening to harm this woman… who I wasn't even mad at.
But in a delusional mental state I was just doing things that didn't make any sense. A young man, homeless, and schizophrenic, beaten to death. Police shooting death of a mentally ill man at Miami gardens... The police department had not properly trained officers..
Kristiana Coignard, a mentally ill 17 year old girl who was killed by police in texas... The death of a 26 year old man while in the custody of deputies has been ruled a homicide. The victim, Robert Sailer, had Down Syndrome. There are series' of trainings that law enforcement need, that exist, that are great. One is CIT– Crisis Intervention Training. That's specifically to train officers on how to identify people with mental illness, how to intervene in a way that does not escalate.
You're not barking commands, you're not immediately escalating to physical confrontation, and you're trying to help de-escalate the situation. You're calming the situation and trying to really get that person to a place of health. So weather we like it or not, police officers have become the first responders to mental health crisis in the neighborhood.
So... So we were seeing that people living with mental illness were being locked up because of their mental illness. You see the man in the green we now know is 35 year old Glenn Broadnax lie down in the middle of the street, after that he starts to run out into traffic with police on his tail. Then the shots. Because the NYPD have not had the training to work with people with mental illness... They can't differentiate a person with mental illness with..
Y'know someone who's really trying to actually hurt someone. I was here... With my cousin when I realized "oh my gosh we're in the middle of a shooting" so we were literally here, like, standing here, and when I realized we were in the middle of a shooting, I grabbed my cousin and said "lets run". And as we ran this way that's when the bullet..
Hit me. (muffled screaming) Please! Please don't do... Hyper vigilance in the sense of who you may normally think is here to protect you, maybe the police. You in fact may see them as people who are against you. Previous exposure to trauma may include the police... And you know heaven forbid if they are arrested and treated in a certain way then that just reinforces who they can really trust.
They all knew that I was suffering from a mental health... Problem. That's the only thing that hurt me and that's why I'm so committed to crisis intervention training..
Is because... If I had been diverted to a mental hospital I wouldn't have a felony on my record, and um... I would've immediately gotten treatment. Because when I DID get treatment–finally. When I got medication that worked, I came out of the delusion, and I was so... Like, sorry... Everything came around.
But that police intervention is so important when the police are trained to deal with mental health crisis, and they can actually get somebody to a mental hospital. As appose to taking somebody to jail. Prison. The last stop on a long line of bad encounters for individuals who suffer from mental illness. It seems crazy to treat a health issue this way, doesn't it? After all, we don't send people to jail for having cancer. And yet we criminalize the mentally ill for a disease that produces behaviors that are completely beyond their control.
They would come with a straight jacket, or the bull squad would come and if you were... Y'know, fighting back, they'd maybe try to maybe get you upside down. Any way to restrain you. And sometimes people have a fractured arm, they was real rough, and you're going off, and you're having a manic moment and you hit one of them, they might snuff you, kick you - I mean, I -out of my whole 18 years -I did a total of approximately 4 years in solitary confinement. The prison system is ill equipped to treat people with mental illness. Guards resort to abuse to force compliance. Medical care, including vital medication and therapy, are more often than not - neglected. This lack of care leads to horrific encounters which defy our very sense of human decency.
One out of every three inmates in Tennessee prisons is mentally ill. Jason Toll was one of them. In August, 2010, officers at River Bend armed with tasers and shock shields forced Jason Toll out of his barricaded cell. They then carried him out of the cell to an unlit prison yard -and restrained him with shock shields. We need to, as much as possible, decriminalize mental health care. There are many people who come into custody, who come into the criminal justice system, largely because of their mental health challenges. And we need to identify that -not that we need to excuse crime or excuse certain behavior that needs intervention -but we need to understand how ineffective criminal justice involvement -especially incarceration is for folks with mental health challenges.
Pete Early has written books about the treatment of people with mental illness. This is somebody that needed help for her mental illness. She didn't need punishment, and she ended up dead. Early says instead of helping McKenna, they put her in isolation for a week before the day they tried to transfer her. It is not good for anyone's mental health to be in solitary confinement. It's not good for anyone's mental health to be isolated from other people for any length of time. Even a very brief period of time.
So that's a big problem -the DAs and the judges don't know anything about people with mental illness, and they're really punishing people. And as I said before -put it on camera. It's all about money and jobs.
The fact that you're profiting from someone's incarceration causes an issue because at the end of the day, the motive is to make money, and to make a profit. And so, in that sense, these corporations are incentivized to fill the beds and so there's no incentive to decarcerate -there's no incentive to rehabilitate. Inmates are enduring quote "barbaric" and horrific treatment, and living in a perpetual state of crisis.
The lawsuit alleges that instead of the medical care these people are supposed to receive -specifically at this facility -the prisoners health needs are instead ignored, and underfed. There was a desperate attempt to escape the conditions inside the east Mississippi correctional facility -that's a for profit prison where the mentally ill are being housed. They had my son on the ground, they had one boot was on his neck.
Another boot was kicking him and hitting him and there was a boot also on his head. And he had a huge swelling and marks all over and they would not get him medical help until they pushed the swelling on his head down with their physical hands and then got him ice and forced it on his head. And um... Y'know, pressing it very hard. It's such a traumatic experience that you're like walking around in a daze. Prison guards, sheriffs, they don't understand that. So they think that you're actually being rebellious or that you're being defiant. And so, you get a lot of abuse.
I mean, cause if you don't answer them, or you don't do what they say, they have other ways of making you do what they want -and because you're not reacting in a way that they would want you to react, the abuse keeps on coming until they either give up, or they just throw you in a cell and say "forget it". What I probably urge is -any authorities that have oversight to areas where they incarcerate other people to use the least restrictive measures possible to provide the safety of the other inmates and their staff -but also, to respect the human rights and the human needs of that prisoner him or her self. Because that's very important I ended up getting out of building nine, where they kept the mental patients and was allowed to live in general population. And I was fine until, you know, they would mess with me. And when they would mess with me, we had a lot of racism going on, we had a lot of officers that were from upstate -and one guy had a baby -a black baby -tied to a tree with a noose around his neck. And he would stand in the mess hall and he would be standing there like this. And we're walking by -when you live -when you have a mental diagnosis in an institution, we all stay together. So it's like you have to walk the line.
And you're walking, and just imagine you see the officer- Sergeant standing up there with a black baby tattooed on a tree with a noose around his neck. I don't know about nobody else, but it was a trigger for me. And I walked over to him and I said "How can you stand here like that?". And he said "Get away from me, n-----r. Is what he said.
And he raised his hand up like he was going to hit me. Is this a humane or compassionate way to treat another human being who is suffering from a terrible affliction? Prison makes mental health conditions much, much worse. And in doing so, we've turned a public health problem into a criminal one. It's time for us to re-think how we approach mental health. I was able to walk out the gates of Bedford hills after 18 long years... And I thought that I was okay–in there. I thought that I was as normal as normal can be, but the day that they opened that gate I realized..
That I wasn't well. I, after being incarcerated for 18 years it took me three hours to leave off those grounds. I just could not put one foot in front of the other, go outside that gate. I kept looking at the gate in me, and that's because that's all I've seen for so many years was me and a bar, me and a gate, me and a needle, me and pill; and to know that I had freedom from all of that right now was just too much. Release from prison, the end of a long terrible nightmare for individuals who suffer from mental illness. Sadly however, for many the end of a prison term does not mean freedom.
Instead: it's part of a vicious cycle that sends them right back to incarceration. So... I know- I know I lost my car I lost my house I lost... Every position I ever owned. So when I came back out I was on the street pretty much, I was pregnant and on the street. I remember going to shelters, I couldn't get in to some of the shelters out there.
I was having troubles with everything I was trying to do. I knew I was court ordered to do a program without ID, without this, without that and no one would just except me into their program. So I was going through the motions trying to get the ID, trying to get this, trying to get set up to DO what the court was asking me to do. But before that could happen I wound up getting arrested again. Probation and parole in America traditionally has been the "trail-em, nail-em, jail-em" approach. Supervise them, catch them doing wrong, and lock them back up. Non profits are absolutely critical to the functioning of these systems and providing incredible, important services. We think that people are best served by community based services where people live in the least restrictive setting possible and receive their treatment in the community..
And so these are the services that are being cut, and have been cut for years. Mental health is the first thing on the chopping block and so we see over and over again the really cost effective programs are the ones being cut. So... What you see is you see a community that is without mental health services. Which–once again–is going backwards. At one time each community had it's own mental health center that was sponsored by the city.
It was just like you have a city clinic or community clinic, they also had a mental health treatment center. Those things have been absolutely wiped out. Housing housing housing is one of the number one things you hear. Like, living in the shelter, people have told me that being in the shelter feels just like jail. The conditions are so poor that it feels so unsafe. It gets very difficult for folks to address any issue without knowing where their gonna sleep at night. That's one of the reasons why we got housing. I'd love to have- sitting here telling you 126 units of housing I'd love to able to sit here and say I have 1,000.
And that probably wouldn't be enough. There's also- built into the program, everybody no matter weather you're a Community Bag- which is people are low income, that have a job, that are functioning, that are working well- they can access our services and people that are here, that are on a mental health program, that are on a mental health program or on substance abuse program and as a result have gotten into this wonderful housing- they also can access it. So everybody gets service, across the board. I just found myself in a world that didn't understand me, I didn't understand it. I didn't know how to cross the street, I didn't know how to use a cellphone I didn't know how to use a microwave..
And how do you tell people that? That you don't know how to do these things. I no longer knew how to live among New York-people that never sleep. I couldn't do it. I felt like um... I wanted to kill myself.
Contemplating going back to Bedford and asking the "can I come back" and I could live in prison! I did it. My mom was gone my grandparents were gone, everyone that was dear to me, that help Stacy... Was gone. Discharge has to be more about integration into community, not just "here are your pills, come to see your PO this particular day, seeya in a week"; but a full understanding of what does it take to be in a community and stay in a community. Housing yes, Benefits yes, how you're gonna live and eat absolutely. But the other things are: how are you going to build community, how do you build your natural strength, the natural supports in your life. Those are the things that really keep you out. People are lining up in crisis on the street, because they aren't able to get their community based mental health services they aren't able to get the treatment they need.
So weather we like it or not police officers are now needing to fill this role of... Like a community social worker. Right? I mean the mental health professional.
The current way we administer mental health treatment has failed in America, and we've relied upon the criminal justice system to be the safety net and that's a horrible safety net. But it doesn't have to be this way. Reform of probation, community based services, housing. In 2014, mayor de Blasio convened a special task force to look at many of these issues, the solutions are obvious.
What the task force gives us is an opportunity to amp it up. There's going to be 350 officers trained by the end of summer. Those officers will be in the location- in the precincts that are around the first diversion center where we can hook you up with care and really get you some help, as appose to taking them to jail. So we're putting the diversion center and the training together, they work hand and glove. We think that that's going to have a real impact and officers feeling like they have more tools. Get treatment to people with mental health conditions early on in the process so that people like me don't slip through the cracks-like I did, back in 2010. We need good quality care. When rich people have mental health breakdowns they get good quality residential care.
There's enough medical money–the affordable care act has helped with this a bit– that we can provide good quality care residentially on a short term basis, but also day treatment in the community. We should have teams that go into the community, into people's homes, communities, neighborhoods to provide crisis intervention. And so it just shows again that we're setting ourselves up for failure. If we don't have the community supports, what do you expect people to do? So I think it's important that we give good services and good recognition to mental health challenges at every step of the way before a person comes into the criminal justice system, while they're in that system, and after they leave that system. Ultimately, we need to rethink how we view mental illness in this country. We need to treat it as a public health concern, not a criminal justice issue.
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