My son, Joseph, was a wonderfully different child who had this uncanny intuition that left many of us scratching our heads in amazement. Our family used to say, "If Joey does not like someone, trust that there is a good reason.”
He truly danced to a different drummer that not all could hear or appreciate. There were two types of people in Joey’s life — those that understood how special he was and accepted him, and those who did not. They teased and bullied him right into adulthood.
Our first negative encounters with law enforcement began several years ago. Joey had struggled his entire life with learning disabilities and attended special ed day class since the second grade. He did graduate from high school with honors and a B+ grade average. After high school graduation, he started using the drug ecstasy and it was obvious his brain could not handle it. He became suicidal and on numerous occasions the police would call for me to pick him up, or they would bring him home after finding him wandering the streets.
His behavior escalated. One day his behavior became out of control. He was at home. He had a butcher knife to his throat and was threatening to take his life. He was either wildly swinging the knife around or poking it deeply into his throat. I called 911 and requested the PERT team — the mental health team at the Oceanside Police Dept. — to come and assist in getting him to the hospital. The team was off duty and the police were dispatched. Within minutes, there were three police cars at our house with the police gang task force officers. Joey began to run from the police officers. One officer tackled him to the ground and had him in a choke hold. I saw was the officer repeatedly punching my son in the face. Later, I found out that Joseph had bitten him in the arm because he couldn’t breath and that was the reason the officer kept hitting him.
I watched, as the incident unfolded, telling the officers Joey needed to be put on a 5150 ( mental health) hold and taken to the hospital. It took three officers to get him cuffed and put into the back of a police car. His face was bloody and he was clearly in a state of psychosis. He started screaming to me, “Please help me!” while beating his head on the passenger window of the patrol car until it derailed the window from its tracks. I kept asking for reassurances that he would be taken to the hospital and put on a psychiatric hold. I was told he would be. He was taken to the hospital long enough to have his face sutured, then taken directly to jail, and charged with three felonies: damaging the police car, resisting arrest, and for biting the police officer.
Joey spent the next 6 months in jail in "protective" custody (solitary confinement). He was allowed out of his cell for one hour out of every 48 hours. His mental health was never addressed other than to keep him highly medicated to prevent him from beating his head on the walls. He spent days at a time in the jail's "safety" cell which is a padded cell with a hole in the floor for a toilet. He was stripped naked and left for days at a time, sometimes in a straight jacket, until he became compliant.
Needless to say, Joey’s mental health spiraled out of control. To top it off, he’s now permanently labeled as a violent offender who assaulted a police officer. Luckily, he was assigned a public defender who worked diligently with us on getting him released. He, along with the district attorney and judge, recognized jail was not the place for him. Sadly, their hands were tied and they admitted my son's options were limited. The district attorney explained that there were limited resources for mental health treatment. She explained there were many programs for drug and alcohol addicts and very few to treat offenders who suffered with mental illness. After six months in jail, Joey was finally released into a residential program for individuals with a dual diagnosis of drug and mental health issues.
We were excited that he may get the help he needed. He struggled there. He left jail after months in solitary confinement. He had very little interaction with people during that time, was left only to his own thoughts — no tv, no radio — and a bible to read. He was so drugged he could barely string two words together. The only help he received in jail was a cocktail of drugs. Sometimes as many as eight at a time. Usually a combination of Klonopin, Ativan, Zyprexa, Depakote, and a monthly injection of Haldol. After only a few weeks, he left the treatment program. He returned home, a shell of the young man we once knew.
Little did we know this was not the end of his problems. Sadly, it was just the beginning of our horrific journey with our son, his mental health, traumatic brain injury, physical health, and fight for his life that continues to this day. Almost five years later.
To be continued…