Friday, March 23 , 2018, 11:57 am | Fair 59º


Ken Williams: The Death of a Lonely Man

Aug. 19, 2015, the severely emaciated body of Jamycheal Mitchell is found on the floor of his cell in the Hampton Roads regional jail in Portsmouth Virginia.  

This came after four months of incarceration and the denial of bond.  

He had been ordered to a state mental hospital by the courts, but there was no room at the inn, so he stagnated, refusing treatment while his mental illness ran wild and crippled rational thoughts.  

According to his Aunt, Roxanne Adams, a registered nurse, her nephew had lost sixty-five pounds during his four-month incarceration. At a hearing, she was shocked by the absence of almost all of his muscle mass.  

His crime? Stealing $5.00 in food from a Seven Eleven.

According to news reports, his family believes this young man starved himself to death.  

Since when did a disability, in this case bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, became a capital offense?  

This should not come as a surprise — Since the 1970s, we as a society have turned our backs on those suffering from mental illness.  

In the mad drive to cut budgets, mental-health services were always the first to suffer cuts, and they subsequently suffered the deepest. 

Why? Because the mentally ill were an easy target. After all, what political loss to our brave politicians ensued? None.  

The powers that be counted on our silence, and our complacency in the face of their moral cowardice to slash services and throw the mentally ill by the hundreds of thousands to the streets…un-housed, unkempt, hungry and alone.  

What price did any of them pay when professional help was denied those suffering from schizophrenia, depression, bipolar, mania or a host of other disorders? And who stood alongside the mentally ill in their hour of need? Damn few.

Why did we as a society allow such callous treatment to those whose very illness forbids them to seek or accept help?  Again, who protested when we turned our backs to them?  

Part of the problem is the prejudice and fear we harbor in our hearts for those afflicted with these terrorizing disorders.

They are “terrorizing disorders” to those who suffer, because what could be more frightful than a mind that turns against itself?  

Minds that slip disastrously into the nether regions of depression, where the effort to live or to simply eat becomes too much of a chore? States of being run and ruined by internal beasts when horrifying hallucinations replace reality?

But what of our own “disease?”  

Is it an illness of the soul, that propels us to hurriedly pass that homeless man who sits in tatters mumbling to oneself? Past the homeless stick-like woman who digs through trash cans for morsels of food or him shivering under blankets when rain pours down or when the chilly fog freezes them to the bones?

Do our hearts grow cold because of the prejudice we have been taught? Hollywood and the popular media have conditioned us to fear the mentally ill homeless as if their condition is somehow contagious.  

We hear politicians tell us that the mentally ill are to blame for the epidemic gun violence in our country. Yet, these are the same folks who forever deny services by their budgets to those who suffer from disorders of the mind.

For too long we have allowed our governing entities, be they local, state or federal, to treat our neighbors who suffer so great as throwaway garbage.  

Fund the treatment of the mentally ill. Demand that the city and country insists that the mentally ill be treated or those who head those departments should be asked to seek employment elsewhere.  

No more excuses. No more promises. 

A man that starves to death in the custody of those whose duty is to “protect and serve” is a moral blight upon us all.  The time is long past due to right this moral wrong.

Update: Another Week, Another Death

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Michael Tyree was “allegedly beaten to death last week by three jail guards.” 

The three guards are said to have entered his cell where those who supposedly require special needs are kept. Other inmates state that the guards pick on the mentally ill. 

Michael, who was clearly mentally ill, would frequently dig through the trash cans in the jail, looking for scraps of food to eat because he had “no money on his commissary books” for additional food, a learned behavior no doubt picked up from the streets. 

His cries of pain and his begging for mercy went unheeded by the guards who beat him and others. 

The medical examiner found that Michael died from massive internal bleeding. His liver and spleen were lacerated and the poor man’s body was covered in cuts and bruises. 

His capital offense? Probation violation for a minor drug charge.  

His moral shattering crime? The possession of a wounded mind.

Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the past 30 years, and is the author of China White, Shattered Dreams: A Story of the Streets and his first nonfiction book, There Must Be Honor. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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