Recently, I had breakfast with a dear friend to talk about a number of different things I was working on and to catch up on the things she was doing. After we talked a little about work, I asked what else was she doing while in LA. She shared with me that she had come down from Oakland to see her Mother and to visit her son that was in the Los Angeles County Jail. Her son had been arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman while riding on the bus. The police didn’t arrest him at the scene of the incident, but while he was in the Police station trying to report a crime that he felt was going to accrue on his aunt. You see, her son suffers from schizophrenia; so while trying to file the report, one of the officers said, “Hey this is the guy on the poster that assaulted a woman on the bus”, so he was arrested.
As I said, her son suffers from schizophrenia and he said he didn’t know of or remember assaulting anyone. Nonetheless he was arrested and he’s been in the county jail for the past three months. My first thought was how bad I felt for her; her only son, a strong, young Black college graduate with a world of promise in front of him now suffering from schizophrenia, sitting in jail and him not wanting or willing to take his medication from time to time, walking away from his home and wondering the streets, I know this had to be killing her.
When he was first diagnosed with the disease, I asked her every question I could; how, when, where, what happened and why? As I said in a story I wrote some time ago, both his mother and I arrived at the same conclusion . . . marijuana (weed). Now before all of my weed smoking readers get all bent out of shape thinking I’m asking you to put out your joint, I’m not saying EVERYONE who smokes weed will suffer from schizophrenia or will become schizophrenic. I’m not asking you to stop smoking weed, I know marijuana has been proven to be very helpful in dealing with a number of health issues. But I am saying and I will continue to say, that this madness many of our young people are smoking today, this $#@& they are getting off the streets, damn sure aint good for no health issue I know of. But I digress; let me get back to the story.
So after my friend and I revisited our pass conversations about our thoughts on weed I said, “So how is he doing”. She looked up at me without blinking while eating her egg and said, “He’s fine he’s in jail”. As she said it, she looked totally at peace with it, then she went on tell me that she was recently at an event with a number of other Black women whose sons are also young Black college graduates suffering from schizophrenia. She said she asked each sister the same question I had asked her about her son, and each answer was all the same, “He’s doing fine, he’s in jail”. Now before you start thinking these women are non-caring mothers, which is totally not the case, these women are all members of the National Alliances on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is a grassroots mental health advocacy organization whose mission, by grassroots advocates, has produced profound changes in how the area of mental health is addressed and approached. NAMI’s greatest strength is the dedication of their grassroots leaders and members. But as you can see from their answer, he’s fine he’s in jail, they have a long way to go. So as the young people would say, “don’t get it twisted”, these women love their sons.
To me, this is the sadness of all of this, these women who said, “He’s fine, he’s in jail”, weren’t celebrating their sons being locked up; but rather saying, “isn’t it pathetic, at best, to know that we live in a country, where a person can feel a level of comforted, knowing that a loved one that suffers from mental illness can only find the support they need to address their illness by being locked up in jail or prison. And it is a damn shame when we see prisons and jails as the only place available to house, feed, administer medications and believe it or not, provide a relatively safe environment for those suffering from mental illness. Yes, in some cases being in jail is safer than being on the streets. Safe from all the dangers many mentally ill persons face daily from our “so-called” health society.
Did you know that the Los Angeles County Jail has turned into the largest mental health hospital in the country? In 1972, in order to address the needs of those inmates with mental illness, the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department (LASD), who manages the jail, in collaboration with the Department of Mental Health (DMH), established an on-site Jail Mental Health Services (JMHS) as well as specialized mental health housing.
Did you know that there is an estimated 57.7 million people, ages 18 and older and about one in four adult’s suffers from mental illness? Did you know that mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the US? And did you know that many people suffers from more than just one mental disorder at a time; and all we have to offer them is temporary housing in the County Jail, and we all know the level of care one can except in a jail or prison setting.
Here in LA, the Los Angeles County Jail houses somewhere between 18,000 to 20,000 inmates daily. Of that 18,000 to 20,000 it is approximated that 2,000 of them are diagnosed with some form of mental illness, and I would argue that if they had proper medical staffing, that number would be much higher. It is also reported that 90% of those mentally ill inmates suffer from co-occurring substance abuse (I wonder what role did “weed” play in that number; just a question).
Surly we can do better to support those suffering from mental illness and after what happened in Tucson Arizona over the weekend. Just maybe we will begin to look at mental illness in a different way. But for now the only thing the people of Tucson can say is, “I feel safe now, he’s in jail.”