With all the COVID19 commotion, we must not forget the mentally ill in prison.
Sadly, a town hall session on the topic, scheduled to be held in Grand Haven in March, had to be canceled due to the coronavirus. The discussion was timely, and it’s still needed.
I’m writing a book that may or may not ever get finished, and may or may not ever get read by anyone. I’m trying to focus on the incidents and people in the formative years of Humanity for Prisoners that helped shape who we are and what we do today. Our heart for the mentally ill did not just happen by accident.
2008 was a significant year.
MaryAnn had contacted me about her mentally ill brother, an old guy who never should have been sent to prison in the first place. He got into a pissing match with a neighbor, and some tough-on-crime judge decided that this mentally challenged individual deserved prison time.
Once behind bars, old Arnie was always in trouble. He’d stand in line hoping to buy some socks when guards would ticket him for being in the wrong place. One hot summer day they got so upset with him they threw him in the hole, then turned off his cold water. The COs thought it was hilarious when his only option was scalding water.
I had the satisfaction of sitting in the courtroom when the State Supreme Court forced that inept judge to reduce Arnie’s sentence and let him out for time served.
And then Lois contacted me about her son Kevin, a teenager who didn’t belong in the adult prison system. Kevin asked if I might be able to help Kyle, another young teen. Both boys were mentally challenged and shamefully treated by Michigan prison guards. Both arrested at age 13. I personally visited both of them.
I heard stories of Kyle sitting in his bunk crying, after guards showed him an orange and said that this was the size of the testicles of a man who was coming to rape him.
And Detroit Free Press reporter Jeff Gerritt put a picture of Kevin on the front page. The teen was chained to his bunk in Ionia Max, wearing a helmet because he wouldn’t stop banging his head against the wall.
These are real people, ladies and gentlemen, not unlike the mentally imbalanced boys, girls, mothers and dads in our own lives, and there’s no justification for treatment like that.
Those stories helped shape our attitude regarding mentally ill behind bars. So, it’s no wonder after receiving numerous reports of abuse from whistleblowers at Women’s Huron Valley, that we, in turn, blew the whistle. The U. S. Department of Justice launched a lengthy investigation into shameful treatment of mentally ill women in 2014 because of our efforts.
While the coronavirus gets top billing these days, the much lower profile mental illness issue is no less worrisome and must not be ignored.
We are here for them.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.