Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Good Man

Remember that guy in high school that you were friends with that was your "bad friend"?

The one who smoked weed (and probably did more) earlier than anyone else? The guy who had actually been to Juvie or Rehab? The one who everyone else thought was so cool because he was the guy who just didn't give a crap what his parents, teachers, or the police thought? The James Dean of your high school? The one that the girls wanted to date to piss off their parents, and the one that guys wanted to be like to show that they could be "bad"?

That guy in high school was my best friend. For the purposes of this post, I'll just call him "Jim".

Although we lost touch a couple of years after high school, and actually had some personal differences that led us to not talk to each other for about eight years, you don't forget the people who held the title of "best friend", no matter how old you get.

Today, after having not seen nor heard from him in eight years, Jim showed up at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center looking for me.

When you practice criminal law, and an "old friend" looks you up out of the blue, the reason for it 99.9% of the time is that they are in legal trouble and want some free advice. And given the fact that I hadn't heard from him in a long amount of time, and the fact that he was never really one to turn his back on any drug in the book, I pretty much assumed that was why he was looking for me.

I found him on the first floor by the elevators. He looked fine. He seemed fairly relaxed and he looked just like he did in high school. We exchanged greetings and went to a witness room to talk.

"Are you in trouble?" I asked him.

"Nah, man," he said.

"What's going on, then?"

"Man," he said. "I knew you were probably the only person who could help me."

"With what?"

"Man," he said, as serious as he could be. "I've finally figured out that since I was two years old that my dad has been conspiring with the CIA, the Secret Service, and Queen Elizabeth to kill me. They've been injecting isotopes into my body that allow them to track what I do and control me. My dad can even see everything I see through my eyes."

He meant every word he said.

My best friend from high school, in other words, had become severely mentally ill.

And I had no idea of how on Earth to help him.

It's a strange feeling to sit there across from someone that you used to know like a brother and see that the person he used to be is no longer there. His mind rotted away for whatever reason, whether it be hard core drug use, or just genetics.

It's a painful feeling. It's a hopeless feeling. It's a feeling that I wasn't equipped to deal with in any productive way.

So I quickly thought about who I knew that could possibly help me with the situation. Who would be sympathetic, understanding, and helpful.

I thought about it for about ten seconds.

And then I called Mark Bennett.

Mark answered the phone in the hushed tone that told me he'd been in a courtroom when I called. I asked him if he was in the CJC at the moment, and when he said that he was, I told him I needed his help.

He was there in under five minutes.

I introduced him to Jim, and Mark took over from there.

He communicated with my friend in a way of patient understanding that only somebody who had dealt with the mentally ill and understood what they were going through could do. He didn't condescend to him. He was candid with him that what Jim was saying was logically implausible. But he didn't belittle Jim for what his far-fetched thoughts were.

He spoke to him in words that Jim could understand. Ultimately, Mark told Jim that he needed psychiatric help and that "even if a doctor doesn't believe what you are saying, he can probably help make you feel better about coping with it. Wouldn't you like to feel more at ease?"

And Jim did.

I would like to tell you that we walked Jim down to a psychiatric institute where the people took him in and everything was going to be okay.

But I don't know that everything will ever be okay with Jim.

Mark got me the name of a psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with someone with Jim's type of problem. I talked to Jim's dad this afternoon, and passed along the advice that Mark had given me.

Will it help Jim? I don't know. Frankly, I doubt it.

But the point is that when I needed help, and when my friend needed help, Mark Bennett showed up in the blink of an eye. He stepped in where I would have miserably failed, and dammit, it was pretty freaking impressive.

My dad once told me that the highest compliment that one man can give to another is to call him a "good man".

Mark Bennett and I have disagreed over many topics. He's been blasted on his opinions by me and numerous prosecutors on this blog, and on his own.

But folks, let me tell you something.

Mark Bennett is a good man.


Michael said...

I agree -- someone who would set aside disagreements to help a rival is a good man.

So is his rival, for acknowledging and praising him.

Murray Newman said...

I don't think Mark and I are rivals (other than who gets more page hits in a day on their respective blogs). I've always liked Mark.

But before today, I don't know that I ever fully appreciated what a good person he is.

Anonymous said...

Good for you and Mark and prayers for your friend. Mark is obviously a deep thinker, and I just as often agree as disagree with his opinions. I am sure that personally he is extremely engaging. Probably be a fun guy to go drinking with.

I ran into a friend from high school many years ago as I was leaving a Luby's restaurant. He was pushing a shopping cart and was obviously homeless and mentally disturbed. He wasn't my best friend in school, but I knew him well for four years of high school and he lived near me. Unlike your friend, he wasn't much of a druggie or boozer and was never in trouble. He was a tremendous sax player and a band kid.

He approached me for money and I recognized him. He acknowledged that he was in fact my friend Jim, and named some of his family members. He didn't seem to know who I was, but was quite friendly. This was in a pre-crack day and age and age (long ago), so he was not a crackhead and he simply appeared to be mentally ill and not an alcoholic or drug addict.

After speaking a few moments, I gave him a few bucks and he headed towards the nearby Macdonalds. I asked him if there was anyone I could call for him and he said only he could help himself and he wasn't at that point yet.

In high school, he was an honors student in all advanced classes. He was considered extremely bright and maxed out the SAT. The last I saw of him he was heading off to a tony east coast college on a full ride academic and musical scholarship. He was a real likeable guy who seemed to get along with just about everyone.

Four years later, he was homeless in Houston with only a shopping cart to call his own.

Good for you and Mark for creating some good karma for that friend. Seems like he needs it.


Anonymous said...

You should take a look at a recent opinion from local fed court called u.s. v. reynolds decided earlier this year. Description of this disorder and available treatments may be helpful. It's unpublished but available on westlaw. Defendant was accussed of making numerous threats against Judge Gilmore, found incompetent.

Anonymous said...

I'll second that! Mark's heart is in the right place.


Mark Bennett said...

I am overwhelmed. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you think that Mark Bennett is so good for responding to your request for help. Perhaps we hang out with different crowds, but everyone I associate with would have helped you. I certainly would have, and I don't even know who you are.

Murray Newman said...

Anon 2:19 a.m.,
It never ceases to amaze me that when I try to write an article expressing admiration or appreciation for anyone, how quickly someone else will come along just to write something rude.

Has our occupation really become one of such ass-biters that we can't even say "thanks" to somebody for doing something nice without somebody coming along and criticizing it?

That's really sad, if you ask me.

Jason said...

He came to you for help and you provided.

Ron in Houston said...

Kudos to Mark for his skill and willingness to deal with a difficult situation.

Kudos to you for calling him and acknowledging him.

Kese said...

It's the mark of two adults and two true gentlemen (not to be gender biased mind you). The ability to put aside past differences and focus on a common good is the hallmark of a two good men.

Thanks for sharing ahcl and thanks for being there Mark.

Anonymous said...

I would like to comment on both you and Mark. I have read this blog for months now and have laughed at the two of you. At times have acted like little boys but (and I mean that in the fondest sense)today you both acted like true gentle men. I applaud both of you and wish the best for your longtime friend.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rorschach said...

"Jim's" prognosis may not be as bleak as you might think. There is a relatively new theory that is beginning to take hold in the mental health field (it is not widely accepted yet however) that people with schizophrenia can in fact be, if not cured, at least managed to the point that they can lead more or less normal lives.

There is evidence that the sooner that a person begins treatment with anti-psychotics the better they respond. Ideally anti-psychotics would be administered before a reality break occurs (many schitz's experience altered thought processes prior to losing touch with reality). Apparently psychotic episodes are a condition in which much of the brain's rational higher processes shut down. Think of psychosis as a lower energy state. The more and longer that these states are encountered the harder it is for the brain to recover to it's higher energy state because the parts of the brain that shut down during these episodes atrophy and begin to actually waste away. The brain essentially "learns" to be insane, and then remakes itself to reinforce that state. The new thinking in treatment is that if this learning process can be interrupted, that the patient will not progress to the full blown psychotic state, and will not undergo the permanent loss of brain matter associated with rational thought. The earlier the interruption happens the better the prognosis. Therefore the sooner that these patients get treated the better the outcome.
These are things to think about in the future when you and Mark find yourselves dealing with psychoses. There is a time element that has not heretofore been recognized. The longer you wait to get these people treated, the harder it will be to bring them back from the brink.

1111 said...

Exactly the kind of thing I like to read about. Thanks for sharing and recognizing. Both of you are class acts.

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