Editor-at-Large: As I See It
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
A Car Ride to Hell
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It seems consumers now and in the foreseeable future will possibly burn in Dante's Inferno. I'm talking about living in jails and prisons. Three hundred thousand (300,000) consumers are behind bars across the nation. The numbers are so huge it is unimaginable. It is difficult to believe but true.

I feel compelled to tell my own story which took place thirty four years ago. You just don't forget when you have spent time in the then existing (infamous) "Tombs," the jail of jails, of the NYC Department of Correction.

Mental illness can do strange things to your mind. Your perceptions can change. A dream becomes your new reality. One minute you are a bystander and in the next second you have committed a crime. I was twenty years old. I drove into the pit of hell. For me it was the tombs.

It started out innocently enough. One day I couldn't sleep so I ate an early breakfast at a luncheonette. I walked from the Lower East Side to Central Park West. I stopped at the old WINS Radio Station Studios at Columbus Circle. As I stood by the building a voice which came from within but at the time did not seem so, said, "Take the car!" Many events had fed on my delusions. I thought it was a gift from friends and coworkers. In actuality a man left his car door ajar with the keys in the ignition.

I had no license nor driving experience. I traveled from Manhattan down the New Jersey Turnpike. I was in Seventh Heaven. I had my dream car or so I thought. It ended abruptly when I couldn't pay for gas. My dream was short lived. My forty five minutes of happiness was over. I was psychotic but didn't know it.

Mental illness I've learned to live with. However, I can't forget the court rooms, prison transport vans, holding tanks, nor the cell blocks most of all. I was in hell for a year. I'm out but my illness will be with me until I die. I take my "pink beauties" as I call lithium carbonate to maintain my sanity. For I know without them the gates of Riker's Island or worse will open for me.

When a mentally ill consumer can be blown away by police and turned into Swiss cheese the public doesn't give a damn. When a consumer pushes a passenger off a subway platform the Attorney General and the Legislature go bananas.

Where are the preventative services for consumers with special needs from Albany and Washington? New York State Office of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Alcoholism Services aren't doing enough. We used to talk about "Good Government." The slogan, "New York City takes care of its own!" had real meaning. Now we seem more concerned about potholes. At least that's my sense of what the public wants.

The mentally ill are falling through the cracks. Do you realize that twenty five percent of the prison's inmates at Riker's Island are mentally ill? What has happened? There are reasons, but so far the solutions, and most of all, the monies to prevent and extricate the mentally ill from the criminal justice system aren't there.

I write this article with a certain amount of fear of retaliation. How many would say they have been behind bars and have mental illness? Yet with recent events I couldn't keep my mouth shut or my pen quiet any longer. My heart is in pain. No one with mental illness should be put in jail. To put a sick human in jail shows how low society has sunk.

If by reading this article one consumer continues to take his medicines then my "coming clean" will have been worth while.
To become directly involved or to learn more, contact Jack Carney, Chair of the NYC Criminal Justice Committee at 718-488-0100, x301.
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