I went to the funeral yesterday in Waxahachie for Robert Morris. He was my friend's father and a man that I had spent a lengthy amount of time on the phone with about his son. As I've documented over the past few posts, we worked very hard to prevent the events that ultimately transpired, and we were unable to do so.
I've received numerous phone calls, e-mails, and posts on the blog from friends and strangers over the past week, offering words on consolation and encouragement. I appreciate them all so very much. But one of the phrases that I've heard from many was encouragement to not blame myself and that I should know I did all I could.
At the risk of sounding arrogant, I am terribly saddened by what happened, but I don't blame myself. I've gone over all of the options in my mind to see if there is anything I could have done differently, and I've literally come up with nothing. Bob Morris and his wife did even more than I could have possibly done. They consulted with me and exercised all the options provided to them under the law to protect themselves, but at the same time tried to balance that with caring and loving Joel.
The problem is that the brutal fact of the matter may be that protecting one's self and still caring for the interests of a mentally violent person may create an irreconcilable scenario.
The funeral yesterday was very poignant. A dear friend of mine from high school and I made the four hour trip from Houston to Waxahachie and back and we talked at length about it. The minister was a tremendous speaker, and surprisingly, he pulled no punches in talking about what had happened to cause Bob's death with candor.
He spoke of the Prodigal Son and pointed out that Bob had certainly been the loving and welcoming father, but that Joel just couldn't ever remain the remorseful son who wanted to return home and seek forgiveness.
The minister couldn't have been more accurate in his description, and the service truly seemed like a funeral for both Bob and Joel.
But the words that were uttered several times through the service were "the System failed Bob".
And ultimately, I suppose it did.
The "System" is a complicated machine. Mental Health Care is convoluted and confusing when applied to the Criminal Justice System. It is literally an element of criminal law that just can't seem to do anything right. It is either being blasted for being too insensitive to the reality of Mental Illness when it comes to punishing people (as in the case of Andrea Yates). Or it is being too "Politically Correct" and failing to take the bull by the horns to stop dangerous mentally ill people (Joel).
The whole situation has me very flummoxed. Bob and I tried to get Joel locked up into a mental health care facility on several occasions over the past three years, and we often succeeded. I think that we were both hopeful that the incident with Joel in the elevator might have actually been the key moment that we finally were able to make some progress with both Joel and the legal system.
When he tried to stab his eye out, he had proven himself to be a danger to himself and others. He was put into psychiatric treatment custody. No one had been permanently injured and Joel was finally getting the treatment he needed.
The problem was that Joel responded to his treatment. He took his medication (against his will) and got back to being a rational human being again. And Bob, like any loving father, welcomed his Prodigal Son back home. Bob had gotten a protective order against Joel, as I had advised him to, but Joel had no home and no job. He gave Joel shelter and a job.
And Joel had several good months, before he went off of his medication.
And then all Hell broke loose.
We exercised all the remedies available to us. But the only true way to have kept Joel from hurting anyone would have been to lock him away somewhere that would guarantee that he never went off his medication.
We all know that would never have happened.
I guess what I'm saying here is that the reason "the System" fails so often in mental health issues is that because it is faced with an impossible situation. How do you balance a dangerous person without just throwing them away for life? Especially when they haven't committed a violent crime yet?
There are certainly things that the mental health system could do better. And it should. There should be more opportunities for the mentally ill to receive treatment if they can be guided toward it.
But in the situation with Joel, I just don't know. He had a support network that cared about him and that support network did guide him to almost everything the State of Texas and mental health professionals could offer him.
But in the end, it was Joel who failed, and now he looks at the very real prospect of being locked away for the rest of his life where he can't hurt anyone else. I don't think that any one of us wants that to be the only option, but it seems to be the only safe one.
I've been notified that Joel did have a "list" when he was arrested and that I was on it. His father had been first on that list. I was third.
I want Joel to be okay, but I want to be safe, too. I want to always be there for my little boy like Bob was for Joel. I want Joel to get the help he needs.
In the end, selfishly, I have to hope that he never sees the Light of Day.
But I don't feel guilty for wanting that.
I just can't.