Let the conversation begin.
The Criminal Justice System and the Mentally Ill -- What’s Wrong? Fighting Alongside the Unjustly Accused to Bring Daddy Home
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder, Hope Xchange Nonprofit. Note all names have been changed to protect the identity of the family and in particular, the falsely accused, the innocent person who remains after five years in a locked-down facility for the mentally insane.
Keith’s Experience of Criminal Justice System
Since 2012, 43-year-old Keith has been in and out of jail, shuttled back and forth between mental hospitals and an assisted-living facility. He has been living with a bipolar diagnosis for 24 years.
He had a psychotic breakdown five years ago, wandering over to the neighbor’s basement, fed the family’s dog, petted their gerbil and sat down to pray, for which he was arrested.
Keith’s family (led by his mother, Maria, and now Hope Xchange) have struggled to navigate the criminal justice and mental health care systems in an attempt to bring him home to his two young children.
What they have experienced is an extreme lack of care, inadequate communication between the numerous agencies involved and roadblocks at every turn. Maria believes the system has done her son more harm than good, yet despite everything, Keith’s outlook on life is amazing and his insight into his plight deep.
After spending four months in jail in 2012, where he was the victim of physical violence, he was told by his court-appointed defense attorney that if he didn’t plead Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI), he would go back to jail for at least more six months.
Unfortunately, between the time that he was initially taken to jail and his court hearing, the homeowner’s girlfriend accused Keith of stalking her and her 13-year-old daughter. Then, without any evidence, the District Attorney raised the charges to statutory burglary and stalking with intent to do bodily harm.
Because he didn’t want to return to jail and his attorney advised him that the baseless charges would be dismissed, Keith pled Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. The court record clearly reflects that Keith said he was not guilty of stalking and was not intending to burglarize, but these charges remain on his record.
Keith now resides at in a locked-down facility for the mentally insane.
Hope Xchange, Keith and His Family Reach Out for Help
Keith’s mother, Maria, reached out to me asking for help in October of last year. I contacted Keith by phone and together we created a plan to get him home to his kids for the holidays.
We recorded an audio interview that we intended to share on the radio so that, for the first time, his voice would be heard.
He and I spent two hours working on our 11-minute recording, but the next day Keith called me with a change of heart. He was worried that if we shared the interview, what others told him would come to fruition: that he “would never get out.”
Between the time we worked on the interview together and our conversation the next day, Keith’s therapist cautioned him that it would not be beneficial to advocate for himself. He has received the same advice from a public lawyer who occasionally visits the facility as well as others who are similarly caught up in the system. They all believe that advocating would result in him never getting out. We contacted a US Senator and were informed the same.
Keith’s Voice on Criminal Justice and Mental Health Care System
Not only is this incredibly shocking and unjust, his voice in the recording is the voice of sanity. He understands that he has bipolar disorder, but he proposes that it is our civilization that is in disorder, not him. After hearing his story and talking to him many times, I couldn’t possibly agree more.
His one wish for the world is that our elementary school children would be taught more about self-awareness and introspection. While he is grateful in some ways for this nightmare -- as he is now clean and sober and plans to stay that way -- he is understandably upset that he has been charged with crimes he did not commit.
A Criminal Hearing in Keith’s Case
In the Spring, there will be a hearing to assess whether he is ready to move into an assisted living facility in the community where he will have to live for one to two years. While Keith would like to be a mental health advocate, a bipolar mentor for Hope Xchange, write a book in collaboration with a ghostwriter, make a documentary about his story and be a father to his small children who need him, having these charges hanging over his head prohibits him from living any sort of life and certainly impacts his ability to get his children back.
Sadly, he believes at this time, he will not be released in the Spring as it would require six community visits for this to happen. At the this point, he only has one, through no fault of his own. The facility staff have repeatedly informed patients that the current staffing shortage will not impact a patient’s ability to have a community visit but, at least in his case, it has. His requests for community visits have been put off due to staff shortages or have been canceled because staff members have called in sick and his visits have not been rescheduled.
Hope Xchange Advocates for Keith But Needs Your Help
With everything I know (so much more than is shared here), in my opinion as a mental health advocate, they are shaming him and are treating him unfairly and inhumanely. No one deserves to be treated like this and this is certainly not the path to wellness and recovery.
Indeed, his situation reminds me of a comment someone I mentor in our Hope for Bipolars program told me recently when he was talking about one of his four mental health hospital stays: “Coming out of the last two-week mental health hospital stay, I felt like I had posttraumatic stress disorder and it physically hurt. It took me four months of therapy just to get over it.”
To me they are slowly but surely eating away at Keith’s sanity, despite his almost heroic efforts to remain above the fray. I consider him to be one of the most sane and sweetest people I have had the pleasure of getting to know. But, due to no fault of his own, he sits and rot. He waits and suffers in silence.
Can anyone please help or offer any sort of guidance or direction to someone who can?
More On Keith's Story to Follow: His Family Shares Their Heartbreaking Perspective In Tomorrow's Social Justice Post
In our next post to be published tomorrow, "Bipolar Community Will Not Be Silenced: We Fight for Social Justice," we will share quotes from Keith's mother and sister, as well as Keith, on how this miscarriage of justice has affected not only them personally but also his two young children who continually plead, "when is Daddy coming home?" With your help, we hope to say to his kids, his false charges will be dropped and he will be home soon.
Other Hope Xchange Social Justice Posts
This is the third in a series of posts this month on social justice for the mentally ill. In our first post, Where is the Social Justice for the Mentally Ill When Far Too Many Are Coming Out of Jail In Body Bags Or Receiving Inhumane Treatment? Our Minds Are Not Our Only Prisons, we shared stories of the mentally ill who are dying in our jails because of inhumane treatment.
In our second post, How Many Calls to State Highway Patrol Does It Take to Raise Red Flag During Psychotic Break Down to Avoid Not Only Jail Time But Near Death Experience? Social Justice for Mentally Ill Nowhere In Sight, a woman I mentor in our Hope for Bipolars program bravely shared her story on the State Highway Patrol’s nonresponse and inability to recognize the signs of someone clearly in the throes of a psychotic breakdown while driving across the state of Florida.