There came a point in Matthew’s illness that his doctor flat out said, “It’s time to get guardianship.”

I drove down the mountain from the veteran’s hospital and started applying for guardianship that same day. It was rough. The tears, the uncertainty, and the sadness were heavy. I want to thank everyone who helped me when I walked into the courthouse and asked, “How do I get guardianship of our son?”

The doctor had been telling us we would have to do this, but it’s a difficult decision to make for an accomplished adult. It’s heart-breaking to stand nose to nose with a veteran with serious mental illness and take his rights away. He’s survived so much and still is, but we weren’t going to let our son die with his “rights on.”

Anosognosia, also called "lack of insight," is a symptom of severe mental illness. It impairs a person's ability to understand and perceive his or her illness. It’s the single, most prevalent reason why some people, with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, refuse medications or do not seek treatment. Our son has anosognosia.

(Anosognosia according to Wikipedia: Anosognosia results from physiological damage to brain structures, typically to the parietal lobe or a diffuse lesion on the front-temporal-parietal area in the right hemisphere, and is thus a neurological disorder.)

Double click on the link below if you want to better understand the impact serious mental illness has on families, especially mothers.

Sherri’s YouTube video




On February 8, 2018, I along with Dr. Everett Allen (an internist who worked for several years at California Pelican Bay State Prison's solitary confinement), Cyrus Ahalt (a UCSF Public Health and Criminal Justice researcher), and Steven Czifra (a UC Berkeley MSW intern who was confined in solitary confinement for eight years while in juvenile then adult corrections facilities), presented on the relevance of solitary confinement to community mental health at the California Contra Costa County Psychiatry and Psychology monthly meeting.

Solitary confinement is being held in a small cell for 22 to 24 hours a day with minimal property and no meaningful human contact. We reviewed the physical and psychological harms of this most restrictive housing placement. In addition, we explored the dual loyalties for providers as they participate in this practice. As providers, is it ethical to declare someone fit for this high risk containment? This is what is happening — we are witnesses and participants.

Canada's Supreme Court declared solitary confinement unconstitutional in January 2018. A few months later, India, too, acknowledged this preventable harm. When will this nation reach this decision? On any given day in the USA, 100,000 are held in these extreme conditions, some unconscionably for years and decades. Fifty percent of suicides occur in these restrictive segregations, and self injurious behaviors are rampant.

This is preventable. We, as providers, will see these individuals as patients when released. Ninety-five percent of those incarcerated will be released. As community members, we will walk, shop, eat, live with them. Do we want traumatized or rehabilitated individuals? Some of you may feel this issue does not pertain to you, but ethical guidelines of "first do no harm" and human rights concern us all.

I am hoping you will join me in signing the petition I wrote to end prolonged solitary confinement (greater than 15 days) in American jails, prisons, and detention centers. Please share with others. Click on link below to read and sign the petition.


Photo credit: Tim Pearce/Flickr.com

Photo credit: Tim Pearce/Flickr.com


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.