TRAVIS & ME - OUR JUNE PRISON VISIT by Dede Ranahan

On Sunday, I visited Travis. I didn’t see him in May because our visiting day fell on Mother’s Day which I spent with family. He walked into the visiting area and, at first, I didn’t recognize him. His hair’s been shaved short — for summer — and he’s growing a beard. He looked great. I told him, “I really like your haircut. And your beard.”

We hugged and Travis said, “I finished reading your book.” (His mother, Kathy, sent him a copy.) Then he said the most perfect thing, “I love Pat. I love all his Facebook posts. He’s so funny. And smart. I think he’ll be an influencer for our generation. I copied the list of his favorite books. I’m going to read all of them.”

Travis’s eyes filled with tears as he spoke. My eyes filled with tears as I listened. Travis was clearly moved. “I totally get him,” he said. “I like him so much.” More tears.

I’m getting such heart-felt reactions to Sooner Than Tomorrow. In reviews, in emails, in cards and letters. Many have commented about Pat and his sense of humor. But, hearing about him from Travis, in person, with tears in his eyes, was mind-blowing for me.

I reached for his hand. “Thank you,” I said.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading your book. And then I couldn’t put it down. You’re such a good writer.”

Travis is reading other books, too. He’s taking a college health class during the summer. “It’s really interesting. I’ve read the first three chapters. It’s about physical health, mental health, emotional health — about keeping everything in balance. I’m ready for these college classes. I wasn’t ready for them before I was sent to prison. My self-esteem is much better now. I know I can study and learn.”

Travis was also pumped about a basketball tournament he took part in on Saturday. His team (“We were the ‘crazy’ team. All of us have psych issues.”) beat five other “normal” teams. “We were champions for the day. We never played together before and we just clicked. Sports are important to me. I ran 10 miles (around the prison yard) for the soldiers who died on D-Day. To honor them. I’m in the best shape of my life.”

I asked Travis if there had been any more discussion about transferring him to a prison closer to his family in Southern California. He said, “They’re not going to move me right now. My psychiatrist and my psychologist are going to take me off lithium. It’s affecting my thyroid. Then I won’t be taking any medications. They want to watch me and see how I react. We’re all hoping I can function okay without meds.”

Travis likes his medical team. He thinks they’re competent. He thinks they care about him. “They like me,” he said. “I tell them about my feelings and my emotions. Not every client is open with them and they appreciate that I am.”

“I’m growing,” Travis continued. “I’m making the most out of my time in prison. I’m working out. I’m reading. I’m writing songs for our church service. I’m a better person than I was.”

“Travis, it sounds like you’re focusing on the positive aspects of being here. Do you think other inmates do that?”

“I don’t know. I don’t want to judge anyone else. Probably not everyone does. There are fights and other bad stuff happens. Being here is forcing me to know how to interact with others. It’s not always easy living with my cellie, but I’m learning about relationships. I was kind of a recluse before I came here. I managed a motel in the mountains and I spent a lot of time by myself.”

It feels like our conversations are evolving. Travis asked me questions, too. “How are you doing, Dede?” (good) “How’s your mom?” (good) “How’s The Jazz?” (good) “What books are you reading?” (Mama’s Last Hug by Frans De Waal, I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott, Another Rubber Chicken Dinner by Bev Chinello)

Visiting hours ended. It was time to leave. “Have a good month, Travis. I’ll see you in July.”

I always turn to wave at Travis as I walk away. He’s always waiting. And he waves back.

Travis & me - before his haircut.

Travis & me - before his haircut.

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MY POINT IS, SPEAK OUT ALWAYS by Pamela Armstrong

Sometimes people amaze me. As a social worker and drug counselor, I find that most people are kind, but every now and then, I run into people who are clueless and sometimes down right cruel.

There is one man in my building who has been homeless twice and who is dying and who is a born again Christian. He hates the homeless with a passion. There is another resident here who told me he wished that all of the homeless would die. There have been three tent cities across the street from me. They were quiet. They picked up their rubbish and all three were made to move. Folks, I am sure it was because of the complaints of many of the seniors who live in my building and are on food stamps and section 8 housing. We are all here because this is senior affordable housing.

Now, I have also run into two other homeless people who have put the homeless down. One man had been an addict for 20 years and got clean and sober, and finally got into housing. He said, “I’m sick to death of addicts. I am sick of these homeless bums.” Wow, I thought.

Then I worked with a nurse who didn’t become one until later life. For 20 years, she had to rely on food stamps to feed her kids, and other public resources. Then she married a very rich doctor and, all of a sudden, she grew intolerant of poor people and those with mental illnesses. At the time, I was so depressed and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was being subjected to terrible verbal abuse from my mom while helping her through her illnesses. The nurse’s daughter's life was a mess. She, too, was crippled with on and off depression and severe mood swings. The doctors told this nurse that her daughter had bipolar, but she didn’t believe them, and neither did her daughter. She didn’t want her daughter to take meds. So, I guess suffering was okay for both of them.

This same nurse told everyone I was just a weak person. Three people in the office bullied me and all were social workers. This really got to me so I retired early and this contributed to my nervous breakdown. I was furious for many years. Well, up until three years ago. I was furious over every single thing. I’m not sure how I got to the place I am, today, but I think it has to do with my own suffering. And seeing so much suffering in my clients, in the homeless, and in the world. For some reason, since I was in elementary school and growing up in the South, where black people were treated like scum, I got it pretty early. Now, I have learned to count my blessings and I have great support from both of my sons who live in Seattle.

My point is, speak out always. Don’t be afraid to say you have a mental illness, and write your politicians. My motto in life is, if not us, who? I try to lay down my anger as quick as I can, but note it took me a long time. Take as long as you need. Frankly, I use my anger, now, to motivate me into action. Yes, some things still make me furious.

Pamela

Pamela

A LETTER TO SHARE OR TO COPY AND PASTE by Dede Ranahan

TO ALL 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES:

I often hear discussions about mental health awareness, but don't hear discussions about serious mental illness (SMI). 
With SMI, (schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, OCD), some people do not recover and cannot work or live independently. Some are so sick they don't realize they're sick (anosognosia), don't respond to treatment (if they get it), and end up incarcerated, homeless, missing, suicidal or dead.

The SMI population represents roughly 5% (10million) of the mentally ill in the US. And ten times as many people with SMI are incarcerated as are hospitalized. These individuals don't get the attention they deserve and consistently fall to the bottom of the proverbial heap.

If it "takes a village to raise a child," it takes a country to help a "child" with SMI -- parity in mental health care, IMD exclusion repeal (beds), HIPAA reform, housing, hospitalization instead of incarceration, brain disease research, supported education, and on and on. So far, our country is not stepping up. A serious mental illness system does not exist.

The presidential candidate I'll support will have the courage and insight to raise SMI issues and to create a plan to deal with them on a national scale. 

What is your plan for SMI? (Not mental health. Not drug addiction.) I would like to read about it on your website. Thank you for your prioritization of SMI issues.

If you agree, please share widely. Or copy and paste.

#seriousmentalillness #SMI #schizophrenia #schizoaffectivedisorder#bipolardisorder #depression #OCD #parityinmentalhealthcare #IMDrepeal#HIPAAreform #braindiseaseresearch #treatmentnotincarceration#soonerthantomorrow

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