I mean I had a really bad day.
Back in 2008, when I still wrote with semi-anonymity, I told you all about my friend from high school "Jim" in this post. I re-read that post this morning for the first time since I wrote it, and I was sad to see how accurate I had been in analyzing Jim's chances for some sort of recovery from the mental health issues that he had.
Jim has had some good days since I wrote that post. Several months after that encounter at the D.A.'s Office with him and Mark Bennett, I got a phone call from him. He told me that he was taking his medication and back to working for his dad. He thanked me for being his friend and helping him. I passed on the good news to Mark.
But sunny days don't last forever.
Last fall, I was driving around with my 4-year-old when "Jim" called me on the phone wanting to know if we could meet up. Stupidly, I made the assumption that since he was mentally "well" the last time I talked to him, he probably still was. My son and I went and met up with him at my office.
After about five minutes of conversation, I realized Jim had relapsed. Again, he was talking about electronic monitors and cameras in his eyes. Again, the focus of his rage was inexplicably his father. Again, he wanted my help in making his father pay for this.
Jim is a big guy. Much bigger than me. Hearing these words coming out of his mouth and realizing my son was there in the office with a severely mentally ill person scared the hell out of me. I abruptly ended our meeting and got my kid out of there, but the incident made me realize something that I hadn't realized earlier.
I was scared of Jim.
With his size and his mental issues, Jim was a volatile force and I wanted him nowhere near my son.
Over the next year, Jim would pop in and out of my office every couple of months or so. He'd seem normal in our greetings, but would rapidly devolve into the monitors and camera talks. I'd implore him to get help. He'd smile at me and shake his head.
"You know I think you're crazier than a shit-house rat, right?" I'd tell him when he was leaving.
"Yep," he would grin. "Everybody does, but I love you anyway."
"Love you too, man," I'd say, and he would hug me and leave. I'd call his family and let him know there had been a "Jim Sighting," as Jim aimlessly wandered around Texas.
Last month, Jim showed up in my office with the crown of his tooth that he had pulled out. He was convinced that the metallic solder inside of the tooth was a microchip. He wanted to show it to me as proof that his father was monitoring him. I pointed out that I did not believe that to be a microchip, and he left, very frustrated with me.
On Thursday of last week, he returned. He had stripped out the air conditioning of his car and pulled out the control circuitry, which he proudly presented to me at my office. He was sure he now had proof that his father was monitoring him through his car.
But there was something slightly different about him this time. He seemed more disorganized and fatigued. He was mumbling more about knowing what he "had to do" and stressing that he couldn't say what his plans were because his father could hear him. He was pretty much homeless and wanted to come home with me -- as much as I love him, I couldn't let that happen. I gave him money for a hotel room and sent him on his way.
On Friday morning, I talked to Susan Bishop at the D.A.'s Office about what could be done for Jim. Susan works with the Mental Health group there, and she couldn't have been more sympathetic or understanding. She's a very busy lady, but she took time to sit down and talk to me about the different options for Jim. The best one seemed to go swear out a mental health warrant on him. It would only be a temporary fix.
Because, you see, the big problem here is that although Jim had been acting crazy, he hadn't been acting quite crazy enough, yet. Nothing he had done indicated that he was a danger to either himself or others. While the mental health system would have a fairly rigid structure for him if he had assaulted somebody in a delusional rage, there is no crime committed with mumbled rants.
I went back to my office on Friday morning, and called Jim's dad to give him the latest update, and then I pulled up the website for the Harris County Psychiatric Center to see what I needed to do to swear out a mental health warrant.
Five minutes later, Jim was in my office again.
He was wearing the same clothes from the day before and looked like he hadn't slept. He stepped into my office and announced: "I'm going to show you the camera."
He produced an elongated metal spoon/stirring stick from a bar and attempted to stick it in his eye. I grabbed his wrist and got it out of hand and asked what in the hell he thought he was doing. He sat down on my couch and I tried to surreptitiously text message our office manager to call the police while I talked to him.
He knew what I was doing. He got up to leave. I followed him. We got into the elevator. The elevator stopped on the next floor down and a big guy got on the elevator with us.
As the elevator doors closed, Jim pulled out his car keys and began repeatedly stabbing himself in his right eye.
I grabbed his arms, but he was stronger than I was. He kept stabbing. I could see blood dropping on the elevator floor and I yelled for the other person on the elevator to help me. All that guy needed to do was slap the keys out of his hand, but I guess the sight of blood kept him from wanting to get involved. He did seem to be calling 911.
In the meantime, I was hanging on to Jim's back like a gnat on the back of a raging bull.
And Jim just kept on stabbing himself in the eye.
We spilled out of the elevator and into the lobby. We moved out the door and onto Main Street, where thankfully, a group of U of H Downtown Police Cadets were walking by. Once they realized what was going on, they finally came and helped me.
It took about eight of them.
Once they got him handcuffed and seated him on the ground, the paramedics were treating him. He proudly yelled to me: "I got the camera out, Murph!" He was thrilled. We were both covered in his blood, and he couldn't have been happier. Miraculously, his eyeball was still intact.
I did about the only thing I could think to do at that point.
I just started crying.
Jim's in the hospital now, but once again, he committed no crime. He's clearly presented that he is most definitely a danger to himself. The hospital is vague when they explain to his parents how long they can keep him. I can't help but think that the next time he walks in my office, he'll have taken that eye out in advance.
The reason I'm writing this post is because I don't really know what else to do. I'm of the firm belief that he will be released sooner rather than later, and we'll repeat this whole song and dance over again.
And again, I'll be about as useless as I was riding on his back in the elevator.
There doesn't appear to be any meaningful, long-term way to deal with Jim until after he seriously hurts or kills someone.
Or kills himself.
Because, sadly, the way the law is structured is much more reactive than proactive when it comes to the mentally ill.
In Jim's instance, I'm afraid that it is going to be the equivalent of closing the barn doors after the cows got out.