My friend, Travis Christian, also known as state prisoner BB8099, is in trouble. Big trouble. I visited with him Sunday at Folsom State Prison in Sacramento, California. He’s in isolation not-so-fondly referred to as the hole. Or solitary confinement. He’s been there about two weeks.

Travis is 33. He has serious mental illness — bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder or some other disorder. Who knows? We try to label these illnesses and put people’s brains in neat little boxes. Everyone’s brain is different. Brains don’t fit in neat little boxes.

Travis has served eight years of a ten-year prison sentence. In a psychotic fury he stabbed someone he thought was Satan and ended up incarcerated. Never mind his serious mental illness. Law enforcement says he committed a crime.

While with a prison psych tech, Travis experienced another psychotic episode. He thought the tech was Satan. He punched him. Travis was sent to the hole for months — at first, no radio, no TV, no paper, no pencils, no books, nothing. Travis was allowed four walls and his sick mind.

Earlier this year, I began visiting Travis once a month. The last time I saw him was our best visit. It felt like we were becoming friends who could give and take and talk honestly with each other. Travis looked good — short cut hair, a small beard, bright eyes. He was taking a college health class. He was writing songs and singing them in his prison church. He was counting the dwindling days of his sentence. Only two or so more years. He would move home and work with his mom in her thrift store. He would get a dog. And a girlfriend. He’d be a free man.

A couple months ago, I received a different kind of letter from Travis. He wrote, “I’m doing great. I’m worried about you driving from Lincoln to Folsom to see me. What if you get in a car accident? We’re good, Dede. You don’t have to come visit me anymore.”

I wasn’t sure how to interpret Travis’s letter. Had I offended him? I didn’t know but I wrote back that I would follow his lead. I assured him, “I don’t visit you because I think you need me or because I’m trying to ‘fix’ you. I visit you because I hope to give you a break from your prison routine once a month. And I like talking with you. I like you, Travis.” The next letter from Travis was upbeat again. Lots of positive thoughts and good wishes for me. No mention of more visits.

Last Friday, I received a text message from Travis’s mom, Kathy. “Dede, Travis is in isolation again. Things have been bad. He decided he didn’t need his meds anymore. I begged the prison staff not to take him off his meds. We’ve been down this road before and it always ends badly. The staff said they would monitor him. While they were ‘monitoring’ him, he tried to kill himself by breaking his neck. He was put in a crisis bed for a few days and then released to a new cell with a new cellmate. Something happened. They might be charging him with attempted murder. They say I have to visit Travis to find out what happened. I can't go this weekend. Can you go see him?”

Yesterday, the prison shuttle bus dropped me off at a different building, Block A. I had a 10:30 AM appointment to visit with Travis for an hour and a half. In the visiting area, nine booths lined up with a chair and a phone in front of each prisoner’s box. We would talk to each other over the phone with glass separating us. No hugs. No pats on the back this time. Travis entered the visiting box with his wrists in chains connected to a chain around his waist. He waited for the guard to remove them. He didn’t know I was coming. I tried to smile. I asked, “What happened?”

Travis was on new meds when he was put into the new cell with the new cellie. It takes a while for meds, even if they’re the right meds, to kick in and help organize a disorganized brain. At first, things were okay. But then the cellie said something that set Travis’s mind whirling. He said something about “demons.” Travis said, “I argued with myself for a day. My mind said, ‘Your cellie is Satan.’ I said, ‘No, he’s not Satan.’ My mind said, ‘Yes, he is Satan.’” History repeatng itself.

Travis decided he had to rid his cellie of Satan. He tried to choke him. Three guards fought with Travis to get him to release his hold on his cellie’s neck. They beat him with a club. They broke his shoulder. Travis’s psychosis was strong. It made Travis strong.

Now Travis is in solitary again. An old pattern surfaces — Satan, fear, outbursts, trouble, punishment. Travis doesn’t know how long he’ll be in the hole this time. He doesn’t know what charges he’ll face. The guards brought him a radio a couple days ago. He listens to music. He reads a book. Another prisoner gave him some coffee to brew in his cell. He gets to be outside in the yard — in a 10 X 15 foot cage — for a few hours each week. He’s grateful.

“I’m fine, Dede. I’m fine. I have to learn from this. I have to be an adult and take responsibility for my actions. I used soap to paste photos on my cell wall. I put up photos of myself when I was a little boy. I look at that little boy in the photos. He never thought he’d be in prison. I have to take care of that little boy. I have to take care of me. My mom’s love makes me want to take care of me.”

Travis hasn’t been able to talk to his mom since he got in trouble. He says, “Tell her I love her. Ask her to please send some stamps and envelopes so I can write to her. And some books. I need some uplifting stories to read.”

Kathy and Travis’s sister will visit Travis next weekend. They’ll drive up from Southern California. Kathy says, “I love my son, Dede. I visit him. I put money in the commissary for him so he can buy what he needs. I send him packages. Otherwise, I don’t know how to help him. He’s difficult to treat because he always tries to put on a good face. To seem fine. Prisons like to make money. They make money off my phone calls to Travis. They make money from the visitor vending machines. They make money based on the size of the inmate population. Sometimes, I think they try to keep prisoners locked up to add to their bottom line.”

Shortly before noon I told Travis, “I’ll come visit you again. Like before.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I love you, Dede.”

I waited for the shuttle bus to take me back to the main entrance. I asked a roaming guard, “What percentage of this prison’s inmates do you think have a mental illness?” He said, “A lot. Probably 50 percent.” I told him what had happened to Travis. “Why would they put him back in a cell with another prisoner while they’re still adjusting his meds?” The guard said, “A panel makes the decision about where to house a prisoner. I don’t know if they know what they're doing when it comes to mental illness.”

This guard, probably in his forties, seemed empathetic. He seemed weary. He and I agreed that mental illness is such a huge problem and it impacts so many areas — homelessness, crime, drug and alcohol addiction, suicide — that no one seems to know how to solve it. Appropriate, accessible mental illness care and the decriminalization of mental illness would be a good place to start.

“Don’t stress too much,” the guard said. “Three years ago I had a stroke brought on by stress. Take care of yourself.”

“I try,” I said, “but it’s hard to walk away from all the horrendous suffering going on. I’ve been a mental illness advocate for over twenty-five years. Nothing’s getting better. Everything’s getting worse. This is our country’s shame.”

The shuttle bus arrived. I got on. Travis went back to the hole.




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 and me - before his haircut

Travis and me - before his haircut




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



Sharing Your Stories: Books That Chronicle Mental Illnesses And Those Impacted By Them
By Pete Earley

To go directly to Pete Earley’s blog to read his full post and to see all photos. Click here.

Posted: 26 Mar 2019 05:19 AM PDT


“Pat in 1988 before our world came undone.” Author Dede Ranahan’s first book

(3-26-19) I’ll be speaking April 2nd at the National Alliance on Mental Illness Dane County 2019 Awards Banquet and Gala in Madison, Wisconsin. Please support NAMI by attending if you live in the Madison area. 

The 2019 book season is upon us. Here’s a few that have caught my eye. If you have one that you’d like to recommend, please do so on my Facebook page.

Surviving Schizophrenia, 7th Edition, by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey.

Long considered the most comprehensive and authoritative book written about schizophrenia, an updated Surviving Schizophrenia is being released today. It was groundbreaking when it was first published in the early 1980s.  Here’s how my former colleague at the Washington Post, Peter Carlson, described the book’s impact in a 2001 article that documents how this important work helped NAMI become a national organization. If you have schizophrenia, know someone who does, or want to educate yourself about this serious mental illness, this is a must read.

When Laurie Flynn walked into the office of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill for her first day as executive director in 1984, she found a pile of mailbags, each of them stuffed with letters. It was all because of E. Fuller Torrey. 

Torrey had just published “Surviving Schizophrenia,” a guide for patients and their families. When he appeared on Phil Donahue’s TV show to promote it, he urged people seeking help to contact the alliance, which was then a fledgling organization with fewer than 50,000 members, most of them the parents of mental patients. The result was this avalanche of mail.  

“Nobody had ever said the word schizophrenia on popular television, and people came out of the woodwork seeking help,” Flynn recalls. “For many years, mothers were told they were the cause of the problem, and here comes Fuller Torrey saying, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t the family’s fault. These are brain diseases.’ Here was a psychiatrist saying, ‘I know what you’re going through because my sister has the problem.’ It’s hard to overemphasize what a hero he was back in the early days.” 

Torrey donated the royalties of “Surviving Schizophrenia” to the alliance and he hit the hustings to organize, helping to build the group into a powerful lobbying organization with more than 220,000 members.

“Weekend after weekend,” Flynn says, “he went out to states where members were organizing chapters and he rallied the troops. Nobody did it better.”

Not everyone lands a huge publisher, which is why I want to mention several books about mental illness that don’t have a large promotional budget and often are not by professional writers. They’re simply poignant tales written from the heart.

Sooner Than Tomorrow: A Mother’s Diary About Mental Illness, Family and Everyday Life by Dede Ranahan

It’s difficult to turn a diary into a book. A writer’s tools, such as pacing, foreshadowing and character development, don’t generally fit in a non-fiction diary form. It’s an especially daunting task for a first time author.  Sooner Than Tomorrow: A Mother’s Diary About Mental Illness, Family and Everyday Life, by Dede Ranahan pulls off that delicate dance. Interwoven with her diary entries are Facebook posts written by her son, Patrick. When this NAMI advocate first started writing her diary on June 15, 2013, she did not know that she would be  chronicling Patrick’s last year. He died on July 23, 2014 in a psych ward where she thought he would be safe.

Because Ranahan wanted to tell her story in context, she includes other events in her diary beside her son’s mental illness. That was a bold move. Some may find that distracting at first, but Ranahan wanted to blend her son’s struggles with the everyday that all of us live. It ultimately gives readers a much fuller picture. You can read more on her blog/website: Sooner Than Tomorrow. 

Here’s an excerpt:

How do you react when your 25-year-old son, during what is later seen as his first acute bipolar episode, kidnaps his teenage sister, drives her to a hospital, and convinces the emergency room staff to admit her because “she’s sick and my parents aren’t taking care of her”?

How do you compute when you arrive at the hospital to rescue your daughter—who has a cold—and you find her hysterical and sitting in a hospital bed? You ask your son, who is staring straight ahead with empty eyes, “Why did you bring your sister here?” 

With logic that reflects his internal confusion, he answers,

“Because I knew I needed help…

How do you advocate when the world sees a bum, and you see the little boy you carried in your womb, nursed at your breast, laughed and played with, and knew in your heart was the world’s greatest child? And you know somewhere, trapped inside his brain, the world’s greatest child is lost and trying to be found.

–Sooner than Tomorrow by Dede Ranahan.

BIPOLAR ME by Janet Coburn

Another blogger turned first time author is Janet Coburn who uses her blog, Bipolar Me, to shine a spotlight on what it is like to have bipolar two disorder. Full disclosure, I’ve not yet read her book because I’m on a deadline writing a new novel, but I have read her blog and put her book on my summer reading list. I am always curious about how individuals with mental illnesses successfully manage their lives. Check out her blog to discover if her writing appeals to you.

After my last (and, I hope, last) major bipolar breakdown, my therapist pointed out that I had a unique opportunity: I could reclaim those parts of my life that had fallen away, or I could leave them behind.

I could choose. That idea was very powerful.

The Light in His Soul: Lessons From My Brother’s Sczhophrenia by Rebecca Schaper with Gerald Everett Jones

The Light In His Soul came out last summer and is still getting tremendous reviews. The story behind the book was first told in an award winning documentary film entitledA Sister’s Call.   It is an incredibly powerful film.

In reviewing the book, Kirkus Reviews noted: “The power of this memoir lies in the way it demystifies mental health issues by examining them from a deeply personal perspective. Individuals and families facing similar experiences will certainly find solace from it… A moving, passionate, personal narrative of trauma and healing.”   

Here is Amazon’s description:

Call Richmond, Jr. went missing. Twenty years later he showed up on a family member’s doorstep. He was homeless, broken, and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. For the next fourteen years, his sister Rebecca took on the struggle to restore him as they faced the dark traumas and painful memories of their past. The Light in His Soul: Lessons from My Brother’s Schizophrenia is her intimate memoir of helping Call as she learns that his extraordinary gifts are helping heal her and her family. Both Call and Rebecca bring light to the dark shadows of their past.

Sadly, Call Richmond Jr., has passed but his story is forever memorialized.

BREAKDOWN: A Clinician’s Expericne in a Broken System of Emergency Psychiatry by Lynn Nanos

Author Lynn Nanos is a mobile emergency psychiatric clinician in Massachusetts who has written for this blog. See: A Street Social Worker Tells What It’s Really Like.She’s also an active member of the  National Shattering Silence Coalition that advocates for the seriously mentally ill population. Her book uses her personal experiences to tell a much broader story – how our underfunded and broken system is failing those with serious mental illness. Here’s how she explained why she feels so passionately about helping those too often forgotten.

I know there are success stories out there. But as an inpatient social worker, I was alarmed at the extremely high rate of readmission to our units. This is what motivated me to begin writing about what I see daily.

We, or at least, I can’t close my eyes at night knowing that we could, no, we must do better.

I think of a patient on my caseload who was paranoid delusional and was refusing to accept treatment because he did not believe that he was mentally ill. He refused to sign a release of confidentiality for me to communicate with his mother, even though they resided together. She knew he was there, so I just supportively listened to her concerns. I passed these on to the rest of the team, including his psychiatrist.

Shortly after his discharge, he used a knife to stab his mother to death.

When something such as this happens, you have choices. You can pretend these events don’t happen or turn away from them. Or you can roll up your sleeves and begin advocating to improve the lives of the seriously mentally ill population who are the sickest.

I’m in my tenth year as a mobile psychiatric emergency clinician. I’ve rolled up my sleeves.


In addition, here are four extremely important books that you should read. I give them my highest personal rating. Each has impacted my thinking. Please check them out.

Stories From The Shadows: Reflections Of A Street Doctor by Dr. James J. O’Connell

Insane Consequences: How The Mental Health Industry Fails The Mentally Ill by D. J. Jaffe 

Committed: The Battle Over Involuntary Psychiatric Care by Drs. Dinah Miller and Annette Hanson

No One Cares About Crazy People by Ron Powers 

The post Sharing Your Stories: Books That Chronicle Mental Illnesses And Those Impacted By Them appeared first on Pete Earley.



I’m trying to choose the color for the cover of my book. Which color draws you in — blue, white, or gray? Thanks so much for your help. I have no objectivity about this and appreciate your feedback.

Why the carnation? The carnation is the official flower for Mother’s Day. Pat used to give me and his sisters white carnations on Mother’s Day. White carnations represent pure love. Pink carnations represent a mother’s forever love: “I will never forget you.” My book is dedicated to Pat and his sisters, and to the mothers (millions of them) who fight, every single day, for their children who live with serious mental illness.

P.S. If you receive this post twice in your email, it’s because you’re subscribed to my stories blog and to my diary blog. I try to not duplicate posts often. Thanks for subscribing to both blogs.



To read "My Diary" from the beginning, go to "Scenes from the Trenches" June 14, 2017, in the Archives on the right hand side of the blog page. To continue reading, scroll up in the archives from June 14, 2017, and click on each individual diary post. If you have difficulty, message or email me and I'll walk you through it.

I didn't know, as I was writing, that I was capturing the last year of my son's life. His voice comes through loud and clear. For me, in these pages, he'll always be alive.

Pat and me in 1969

Pat and me in 1969

Dear Readers of A Mother's Diary,

I can't believe it's been a year since I began posting excerpts from my book every other week. I can't believe you've hung in there and read each blog entry.  I'm guessing, from your feedback, that the reading has been meaningful for you. I hope so.

First, thank you to my son, Patrick. Thank you for your poetry, your Facebook posts, and your life. You were/are one of the most courageous people I've ever known. 

Thank you to my daughters, Megan Mace, Marisa Farnsworth, and Kerry Joiner, for reading A Mother's Diary and giving me permission to put it out there, sharing our family and their families with the world. Your endorsement means everything to me.

Thank you to everyone I mentioned in the telling of my story. We're all in this thing we call "life" together.

Thank you to early readers whose comments are on the blog Diary Reviews page : Ann Hedrick, Pat West Guinn, Kathy Hayes, Mary Lyn Rusmore-Villaume, Rosemary Sarka, and Irene Underwood. You gave me the cojones to believe in myself.

Thank you to the "cheerleaders," those of you who sent me multiple emails, text messages, Facebook comments, cards, and letters: Joan Andersen, Tama Bell, Chris Biswell, Judy Bracken, Madeleine Cunningham, Bev Chinello, Deborah Fabos, Anne Schmidt Francisco, Heidi Franke, Sheila Ganz, Pat Guinn, Jeanne Gore, Kathy Hayes, Joyce Herrerias, Swannie Hoehn, Rose King, Nancy Krause, Joan Logue, Grace McAndrews, Jan McKim, Mary Murphy, Fran Neves, Liz Noel, Teresa Pasquini, Den Proudly, Karen Riches, Mary Lyn Rusmore-Villaume, Mary Sheldon, Stace Shurson, Sandy Turner, Irene Underwood, Kimberlee West, Annette Williamson, and so many more of you who left "likes" and "loves" on Facebook week after week. You kept me going, especially on the days when I thought, what am I doing?

Thank you to Sharon Lefkov, for proofing my pages for spellings and typos before I hit the "publish" button.

Acknowledgments also to Sue Clark, my first editor, who read every page out loud with me and assured me that "Yes, this is interesting." And to the Lincoln Library Writer's Class who listened, in the beginning, when Pat was still with us.

And finally, thank you to all of you — those I know and don't know — who've read Sooner Than Tomorrow - A Mother's Diary. Readers are the whole point of writing. The why in the what if.

I'm taking a short break from my blogs. About a month. Have to catch up with things like computer maintenance, organizing files, researching publishing options for my book, personal correspondence, spending time with family and friends, and generally giving myself a mental health break.

As we head full-tilt into summer, I wish you relaxing days, mental illness successes, and comfort in knowing you're part of a caring community. Until I return, thank you, again.