FIGHTING FOR CHANGE by Allison Brown

My story is pretty long and spans generations. My dad was sexually abused by an uncle beginning at the age of three until he was about 13. At age 17, this uncle died and my dad began having episodes of anxiety. In reality, my dad was experiencing manic episodes followed by severe depression.

By the 1980s, he married my mom and had three children. I was four the first time I witnessed my dad hallucinate. He was convinced my baby brother was a demon. He held him up by his feet and told my mother he had to kill him. My older brother escaped to a neighbor’s house and called for help. I watched from a window as he punched my mother in the face. Police struggled to restrain my father and take him away. He went to Greystone Hospital in New Jersey where he was diagnosed as manic depressive. 

My dad’s “episodes,” as we called them, happened many times throughout my young childhood. Most of them were violent but only in the sense that he saw demons and was attempting to protect people from the demons. 

In 1992, my dad has another episode. My parents were divorced and my younger brother and I were spending the weekend with him. The visit was supposed to be supervised by my grandfather, but the family knew something was off. They told us to leave. I locked my brother and myself in a bathroom until my aunt arrived. Later that day, my dad called my mom to tell her my brother was a ghost. She persuaded my dad to bring us to my grandparents house where she met us.

 Allison’s father and grandmother

Allison’s father and grandmother

We had one last Sunday family dinner. My grandmother made her famous sauce and everyone pleaded with my dad to go to the hospital. He refused. There was nothing anyone could do. The next day, he went back to my grandparents’ house and asked to be taken to the hospital. My grandfather had one errand to run before he took him. He was gone 15 minutes. When he came home, he found my father foaming at the mouth standing over my grandmother’s lifeless body. He shouted “The queen demon is dead.”

My dad was found “not guilty” by reason of insanity and moved to the Greystone Psychiatric Hospital where he spent over a decade. He was then released on what is essentially parole for the mentally ill. He first transitioned into living with my aunt and, eventually, into his own apartment, but his illness was not curable. He continued to cycle through episodes. He spent the better part of another decade at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey.

As I came into adulthood, I became an advocate for care for my dad. I also advocated for the court to keep monitoring him for his safety and for the safety of all around him. Many times doctors refused to talk to me because of the HIPAA law. They’d listen to the signs I was seeing then tell me, "He doesn’t seem dangerous to us.” In 2012, after six months of communicating with his doctor to no avail, the doctor called to tell me, “Your father body-slammed me, stripped himself naked, and ran down the highway.” My father was eventually diagnosed with bipolar III disorder and schizoaffective disorder. He spent another five years away. Our story is sad and complicated and layered. It scarred my family.

My older brother turned to drugs. He had six children, by as many women, and was incarcerated for felony domestic assault. My husband and I adopted his youngest son at the age of nine but we were too late. He had been so traumatized that he was unable to function in our house. We had intense in-home therapy for four years. The safety of my own children was paramount. My nephew was Baker Acted (involuntarily committed) in Florida four times in one month for suicidal ideations. One time, a deputy came to the house and told me, “You just need to handle him better. This seems like a family issue.”

My nephew became violent in our home and was eventually removed in cuffs. The state did nothing to help us. The paper wrote a story about us. Nothing changed. Eventually, the court accepted our surrender of parental rights and put my nephew in a group home.

Our family has been knocked down so many times by the failures in the system. We have advocated for help. For change. For a better system. We’ve gotten no where. I believe families should have the right to discuss mental health issues with doctors and therapists even if it goes against what the mentally ill person wants. I believe in continuity of care, from therapist to therapist, which rarely happens. I believe in better training for our officers, teachers, and hospital staff. I believe in common sense laws that could save lives and protect our mentally ill loved ones as well.

Note: After two years in care, Allison’s nephew is healing. He’s receiving treatment and learning to cope with the trauma he’s endured.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY? by Kimberlee Cooper West

Wish I had good news to share with ya all.

November 8 was our son Tyler's 20th birthday. We were unable to say “Happy Birthday” as he was in lock down for five days. Days later, we drove a little over an hour to Richard Handlon Correctional Prison in Ionia, Michigan. (Tyler is number #113697.) We had cake with him. He made a cake from two honeybuns, smashed peanut M&M’s, and a melted Snickers bar on top. He’s inventive. We sang “Happy Birthday” to him.

He’s still our boy. Few mention him. Our heart breaks for what we’ve lost. This is Tyler’s third year away for his birthday. Next, he will miss Thanksgiving and Christmas. He hasn't been given counseling, education, training, or the proper medications. He’s been beaten up four times since he was incarcerated.

Why couldn't mental health professionals keep him in an inpatient psychiatric hospital? For the love of God there was no good reason to release our son from the hospital. His safety was compromised. No one was responsible. He was nearly shot at for trespassing. He was an inpatient five days prior to his arrest. He was delusional and hearing voices. What is wrong with this country? Why is there no long-term treatment?

This is a brain disease, ya all. Maybe we should start locking up every grandma and grandpa who is violent or disorderly from Alzheimer's. Serious mental illness is a disease. It is prodromal to Alzheimer's. Prisons are corporations. Their goal is money. They need prisoners. Caught up in the system — it’s a real thing.

We are receiving a criminal justice system education. Months are now years. One caseworker, Ms. Williams, calls many people names like dumb, retarded, idiots and pedophiles. Everyone in Ty's facility is either mentally ill or autistic. She told Tyler, a 19-year-old kid who was only supposed to be in prison for two months, “You’re doing 15 years.” It leaves me to wonder how many have given up from her words.

Ty’s not even provided an inhaler for asthma and chronic lung disease. He has autism and a serious mental illness. When he was in school he was never suspended. He was a target for bullies which was our main concern. Incarceration never crossed our minds. On his birthday, I sent his appeal papers certified to a judge. Hopefully, he will give him an appellate lawyer.

 Ty in prison

Ty in prison