Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An Update on My Friend

Earlier this month, I told you all about my friend "Jim" from high school who had shown up at the CJC looking for me after a six-year absence. If you will recall, Jim had some serious mental issues that had arisen from years of drug use, and had now manifested in a deep sense of paranoia. The target of Jim's paranoia was his father.

I had called Jim's dad after Jim left the CJC and just let him know what was going on. For all I knew, Jim's dad could have been looking for him. Jim's dad was keenly aware of all of Jim's problem, but like me, he had no idea what to do about it. He was frustrated and saddened, and had no idea why his son had so much hatred for him. He also had no clue as to what to do to help his son.

I talked to him for awhile about civil commitments and mental health warrants, which I know virtually nothing about. I told him to talk to a family lawyer, or even a psychiatrist about what could legally be done about Jim.

Jim's dad called me last week and told me that Jim had shown up at his home, demanding that he (Jim's dad) accompany him to the police department to take a polygraph examination about the plot against Jim's life. Jim's dad obliged him, and they went to the police station.

Once they explained the story to the police, Jim was taken away to a psychiatric hospital for a 72 hour observation. For some reason, the hospital released him in about 12 hours.

Yesterday, I got another call from Jim's father.

Jim's father had been closing up his business for the evening and was the only person there, when Jim showed up at the lot.

"Either you're going to die tonight, or I am," Jim told him. Jim's dad tried to walk away, but Jim attacked him and assaulted him. He was able to call the police and Jim, yet again was arrested.

This time, there's a Class A Misdemeanor of Assault-Family Violence charge against Jim.

Jim's father has no desire to see his son punished for attacking him, but he doesn't know how to protect himself or help his son anymore. Sadly, it's getting thrown to the criminal courts to deal with, and nobody has ever really given the criminal system a Gold Star for dealing with the mentally ill.

But at this point, I don't know that any of us have any other options in mind. Hopefully, Jim will get sent away for an evaluation, and maybe somebody will force him to get some help. This time he doesn't have the option of walking away from the psychiatrist like he has apparently done in the past.

We shall see. For now, I'm just glad that nobody was seriously injured.

That's a blessing in and of itself, because inside of Jim's car, the police found a hammer that he had purchased a few minutes before arriving at his father's business. Thankfully, he left it in the car.

I'll keep you posted as things develop.

17 comments:

R.J. MacReady said...

On the one had, I lament the increased role that psychiatrists play in the criminal justice system. On the other, I appreciate how situations like this need an increased role by psychiatrists in the criminal justice system.

I'm so glad that Jim's dad wasn't killed. I'll keep him, his father, and you in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you could contact the ADAs in the county that case is in and find out if they have some kind of mental health caseload.

Prayers for Jim.

Ron in Houston said...

You really have my sympathy. You're showing the depth of your concern by keeping in touch.

The standard for a civil commitment is being a "danger to yourself or others." Jim has clearly crossed that line now.

The problem is lack of resources. I don't know if Jim has insurance or the family has their own resources, but the state will only keep you for so long.

There is a branch in the county attorney's office that may be able to help. You probably know Garland McInnis, he's in the county attorney's office doing CPS work, but can probably help direct you to the part of their office that can help.

Anonymous said...

If you can do the crime, you can do the time. You are responsible for your actions...and their consequences. Just another liberal excuse to let him get away with his crimes. Quit coddling criminals. Etc., Etc.

How many times have we heard these comments from prosecutors and others with little understanding of mental illness. How many times have prosecutors punished the mentally ill because they had little or no interest in their internal nightmares and cared little for the reason behind the defendant's actions that brought them into court. Heck the prosecutors of Harris County even went for a death penalty for Andrea Yates (though admittedly they weren't aggressive in pursuing it).

Why is it that our county jail is filled with mentally ill defendants and so many prosecutors have no grounding in either the illness or in alternatives for treatment in lieu of county lockup?

I truly feel for Jim and his family but also for you and your loss as to how to help him. But one has to ask why that same loss doesn't carry over to all the mentally ill cycling through the courthouse who aren't friends and/or family? Why are those in jail because of their mental illness demonized by the DA's office instead of assisted by them in the name of justice? In other words, how many mentally ill did you put in jail in your own career?

Though critical of the system's penchant for jailing the mentally ill and retarded, if I (and I suspect others who read your blog) can be of any assistance to you or to Jim's family, please do not hesitate to ask.

Good luck in assisting Jim. You'll need it and, I'm afraid, so will he.

Sabrina said...

In response to...

Why are those in jail because of their mental illness demonized by the DA's office instead of assisted by them in the name of justice? In other words, how many mentally ill did you put in jail in your own career?

...if a mentally ill person commits a crime, they should to be incarcerated just like anyone else. If someone killed your child/spouse/mother, would it really make a difference to you if they were mentally ill or not? Would they be any less culpable because some doctor says they have a mental illness? The criminal act is the same for the mentally ill person or the sane person, although some might argue that no sane person could commit a horrific crime, so therefore all murderers/child molesters/etc. must be mentally ill. If Jim killed his father, he should be incarcerated just like anyone else. Jim was offered help (Mark gave him the name of a MHP that could help him), but for whatever reason he refused it. That was his choice, although some will probably respond that Jim's mental illness prevents him from making rational choices. But that is my point - we are all responsible for our actions. If someone's "mental illness" keeps them from controlling themselves, I don't want them out on the streets where they can hurt me or my family. Whether mentally ill or not, people who commit crimes need to be locked up to protect the rest of us. The criminal justice system should protect the citizens, not the mentally ill people who commit crimes & use their "illness" as an excuse.

Anonymous said...

I thought that the criminal justice system was supposed to protect society. Jim is part of society. Are you familiar with the concept that behavior needs to meet certain standards before it is deemed criminal, and one of those standards is that the person must have some degree of intent or recklessness before he is culpable. It doesn't sound like Jim is capable of forming intent any more than a 3 year old is. Furthermore, why should the criminal justice system be blamed? Do you remember that in the late 60s and early 70s that the tender hearted liberals gutted state mental hospital systems and left only a few state hospitals in each state, which mainly deal with those being held on criminal matters? They didn't think that the poor mentally ill people should be warehoused, so they freed them for so called community based mental health treatment, and our great mentally ill homeless problem was born, and continues to grow. Because what they "freed" them to do is to skip their meds, wander the streets, sleep beneath bridges, freeze to death, commit crimes, beg, steal, starve, hallucinate and suffer the voices in their heads, walk around encrusted in their own filth, and be victimized by thugs who murder them, burn them, beat them, and otherwise abuse them. But hey, they have their rights now, don't they? At least when the mentally ill are in custody, they are relatively safe, medicated, clean and fed 3 times a day. For some of them, jail provides the only semi lucid period they have during a year. At least the criminal justice does someething, instead of give them their "freedom" and "rights."

Anonymous said...

In reply to anon Jul 30 2:23,

You are absolutely correct in your remarks about Jim's culpability but are being a revisionist regarding the nasty liberals, I'm afraid.

When people found out that in many facilities patients were being confined that were able to function in the community yet wet were being denied the opportunity while at the same time much abuse was happening behind the closed doors (and closed society) of these institutions where people were simply being warehoused instead of treated, those flaming liberals demanded two things - the facilities not be used as simply a warehousing of patients and that the services be provided, for those who could function in society, in the community. The first part was addressed but when it came to addressing the fiscal needs of the second half of the equation, I am afraid all those fiscal conservatives gunned the mental health budget at the earliest opportunity. Don't believe so? Just ask anyone in the field how bad the budgets have been toward mental health services.

And the jails? Warehousing the mentally ill isn't there role but you are obviously well aware that we keep burdening law enforcement with the responsibility of all of our social ills because we don't want to deal with them nor pay the piper for them so LE keeps showing up at the door and has to address the problems with the only tools they have - a night stick, a set of cuffs and in some cases a .45 when things go terribly wrong.

Every time an ADA prosecutes instead of diverts a mentally ill patient they just add to the problem especially when one considers that the DAs state-wide have the influence to attempt to address the problem but they seem more interested in increasing penalties when lobbying than fixing long-term problems.

"Book 'em, Danno" isn't the solution to all of society's nightmares.

Anonymous said...

And in further reply to anon 2:23PM,

Suggest reading the Grits for Breakfast entry regarding mental health budget cuts:

http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2008/07/smith-county-creates-pilot-mental.html

A Harris County Lawyer said...

First of all, thank you for all of your kind words. And yes, Ron, I do know Garland McInnis very well.

I think that it is incorrect to think that all ADAs have no compassion for the mentally ill. Quite frankly, the mentally ill defendant is one that most ADAs would LOVE to have more options in how to deal with. The problem that faces ADAs is that there isn't a meaningful alternative for dealing with the person who is both mentally ill AND dangerous.

The question adds an extra element when the mental illness isn't genetic, but drug induced (as in the case with Jim). The ideal situation is to just present a safe place where the mentally ill subject can't hurt anyone else, but that often means removal from society. The ADAs aren't adverse to that removal being to a place that treats the mentally ill (rather than a jail cell). But the problem is that the way things are currently set up, the person accused isn't KEPT there.

Its a horribly unworkable situation where sometimes incarceration becomes the lesser of many evils. It isn't in the ADAs power to change that. This one is on the legislature.

Build the entity that can meaningfully take care of the mentally ill and dangerous, and I'm willing to bet the ADAs will have no problem sending Defendants there.

Anonymous said...

To AHCL,

I would suggest that the DA's association address that very issue in the upcoming session instead of some of their other agenda items. Further the county keeps wanting to build more jails (tryig to sell it with some hospital beds no less) but the funds could as easily be used to address this very problem. I would also suggest that numerous others who are non-violent are in fact continually incarcerated by the police and ADAs (just check the jail roster) who do not look for other options for those with problems.

By the way, what do you base the assumption on that his mental illness was drug related. Simple usage? If so how does that add another element?

Again good luck helping your friend and his family.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

I base my assumption on the fact that his mental instability is drug induced rather than biologically occurring on the fact that he told me he smoked meth every day over a period of three years. And he stated that he still uses it on an a frequent basis.

Perhaps, it is entirely unrelated, but I tend to doubt it.

I'm not making any judgments about him. It is what it is. I'm much more concerned about the point where he is in his life than I am concerned about how he arrived there.

Anonymous said...

To AHCL,

Regarding your statement, "I'm much more concerned about the point where he is in his life than I am concerned about how he arrived there", I would suggest that it shows much more compassion, and maybe even a bit of wisdom (something most only obtain, if lucky, through the grace of age), than I have come to expect from some of your blogging. I truly do wish you and yours the best in helping "Jim" and those like him in your own professional work. Godspeed.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 11:13 p.m.,
Thanks, I, uh, think. Did anyone ever tell you that your writing style is a lot like PJ's? :-)

Jason said...

Well, NPC doesn't keep them forever and when they are released, they do something terrible again and someone has to deal with it. More than likely the charge will get dismissed and he'll be back out again until another incident occurs.

Anonymous said...

To AHCL,

No, no one has ever told me my writing style is a lot like PJ's but as long as we are referring to style and not substance, I'll take it as a compliment!

Godspeed.

CJ Social Worker said...

This is a terribly sad and tough issue and my sympathies to your friend and his family.

I recommend the book CRAZY for anyone interested in this topic - it is written by a father who has a son dealing with very similar issues.

As far as the CJ System - fortunately - we're becoming more and more educated and responsive about these issues.

We have a good mental health caseload with our Harris County Community Supervision Dept.

Families dealing with these issues can find a lot of (FREE) support and help with NAMI - National Alliance for Mentally Ill

www.nami.org

They have a WONDERFUL and free class for families and people suffering from mental illness. They have online and group support. Lots of good info too on the website.

I have referred many people there and all have told me how invaluable and helpful they have been.

If someone is suffering from a mental health crisis - they or their family can call Crisis Hotline: 713-HOTLINE or MHMRA helpline: 713-970-7070

CJ Social Worker said...

P.S. Here are a couple of articles recently published about mental health issues and prosecutors:

http://www.tdcaa.com/node/2085

http://www.tdcaa.com/node/2497

Not trying to blow my own horn (I wrote the articles), but I really, really want lawyers to understand these issues! :-)