Former Dorsey Football star Antonio Carrion was once considered to be the best wide receiver in southern California and the nation. His battle with Bipolar Paranoid Schizophrenia led him to homelessness and the Criminal Justice System, showing the lack of institutional resources put in place for people living with mental illness.
When former high school football standout went missing, Stephanie Carrion was determined to find him. For Stephanie, searching for her son consumed her.
When she did find Antonio and approach him, he did not recognize Stephanie.
“The first day I found him, he did not believe I was his mother,” Stephanie said. “It took a minute for him to even trust me.”
She then worked to gain his trust, a process that also took years. Stephanie would give him food, clean clothes, and toiletries; she would also converse with him and eventually built a rapport.
His high school football coach Paul Knox also chipped in to help Carrion after Stephanie contacted him for support. Carrion was living in a group home at the time.
“He was trying to get his social security money, so I took him to social security and we went through the process,” Knox said. “I’ve heard by then, he had some problems, so hopefully maybe we can get his money, he can get together in some kind of way so he could have a stable life.”
Antonio resided in the skid row; he was sent to jail over 40 times. The experiences and tribulations that he endured through the years show the disparities of homelessness and mental health treatment.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority noted that the total amount of homeless persons expanded from 52,765 in January 2018 to 58,936 January 2019. Los Angeles Times reported last month that 76% of individuals living with homelessness are reportedly affected by mental illness, disabilities, substance abuse and bad health.
Stephanie noted that she would be more at ease when she would find out that he was in jail as opposed to living on the streets. When arrested, Antonio was sent to the mental health ward in L.A. County Jail; Los Angeles houses the biggest mental health ward in the country.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey implemented an expansion in her office called the Mental Health Division. Attorneys who work in this division will work with defendants who are incompetent to stand trial to help them find treatment for their mental illness instead of sending them to jail.
“We also want to make sure that jails and prisons are reserved for the most serious and violent offenders,” Lacey said when she announced the expansion. “Over the past six years, my office has embraced novel approaches to helping those with mental health issues in the criminal justice system.”
Antonio’s story caught the attention of KCET executive producer Karen Foshay who featured him on an episode of the show SoCal Connected. The story had a huge impact on viewers.
“Total strangers reached out to Stephanie, wanting to help Antonio, not understanding he had a court hearing three days after the first airing of the piece,” Foshay said. “A dozen strangers showed up, people he didn’t even know, hadn’t contacted him in 20 years showed up at his hearing for him.”
The end of the documentary showed how the court assigned Antonio to go to the Metropolitan State hospital, but that did not happen. Against Stephanie’s wishes, the courts sent him to a pilot program. Eventually, Antonio was sent back to L.A. County jail. The airing of the documentary not only brought awareness to Antonio’s plight but gave Stephanie the resources to help him. In 2018, Antonio was facing a felony assault charge, but the charges were dropped and he was assigned to go to a program in Ala Vista Hospital.
“He wants to know how he doesn’t have an assault charge anymore, how he doesn’t have a strike anymore,” Stephanie said. “This documentary and the people that were put in my life because of the documentary did all this with my input.”
Since Antonio has begun the program at Ala Vista Hospital, he has been excelling in the courses provided for him. While Antonio continues to improve, many of his friends from Dorsey and people who were impacted by his story continue to reach out and show their love and support.