The Spank of Equality

Now that many Canadians are aware of the inability of the Correctional Service of Canada to administer mental health care to inmates, I wonder what concern is in the minds of citizens. Many news stories pass quickly from our minds if they seem to enter at all. It is my assumption that few are talking about it around water coolers if indeed the prime minister has one.

They are criminals and mentally ill at that; they don’t show up on polls. Maybe if mental illness did show up on a poll, government could recognize its importance.

As individuals, we try to build ourselves up as something. Unfortunately, in this endeavor it is easier to be something if someone else is nothing. If we stand tall because others are below us, it is really just an illusion. Concern, care and compassion can be eroded by judgements.

Can we really say we have compassion and respect for others if these individuals are excluded?

What exactly are the miraculous changes that occur in a person to make them this or that? We dance about becoming, forgetting about the being…human being. We are all human despite clothes, location or position. We do not all get the same birthing spank of equality. The arithmetic can be simple when we look at another’s misfortune: ‘if they were as smart as me or worked as hard they wouldn’t be where they are’. When another’s difficulties are simple, we can absolve ourselves of involvement and have little need to stand back in awe of our complex good fortune.

It will take political will and money that many would rather see in a road but if a car is empty of understanding and compassion, it might as well stay parked.

I guess like any news story, it is only one if we make it so.

Certain Rights

As a mental health advocate, I am pleased to see acknowledgement of the need for change in how mentally ill offenders are cared for. If the Correctional Service of Canada were setting broken bones the nation would scratch its head. When they administer to mental illness we seem not to be alarmed. Psychiatry is a specialization of medicine. People who are mentally ill need to see mental health professionals not Correctional Officers.

While severely mentally ill in jail I experienced the correctional response of solitary confinement. I was not prescribed this by a psychiatrist but summoned by a Deputy Superintendent. When prison officials are making decisions that exasperate mental illness we can only hope the reins are taken from them.

When a person looks at mental health statistics I would think polls would be positive for any government intervention that made mental health a priority. This government has the ability to fight stigma by taking action. Possibly they are already behind the blueprints of solution. A dragging of feet can only indicate this government does not take mental health seriously. Procrastination will be stigma itself.

When we reflect on mentally ill offenders it can only be fair to consider the mental illness as much as the offence. The line of the law is crossed by the sons and daughters of a nation. They are citizens without certain rights but they are still citizens with certain rights. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms tell me a government must not discriminate on the grounds of mental disability in its laws or programs. Providing prompt and proper healthcare to physical illnesses while providing solitary confinement to mental illness seems discriminatory.

Jell-O

I had the pleasure of taking part in a community meal here in London. Those with little are a community within a community out of necessity and survival.

I cut loaves into bread for the meal and to place in bags to be brought home. I also divvied up Jell-O for 180 people. There were four of us serving desserts so I ended up outside talking with some of the guests. I noticed one young woman coming in late. After I went back inside I was witness to three plates of food in her hands. I did not stare but she stood out because there were few others remaining while she ate. I assumed she didn’t like the whole experience and through repetition knew, seconds were only served late. It can be hard to comprehend when a person’s stomach and situation have such an agenda.

I’m not much of a police officer but people were walking out with three buns when they were only given one. Someone had the nerve to ask for a bag for their taking. Someone else was cheeky enough to place a loaf of bread in a backpack while walking away with another in hand. And in a church!

I had to marvel at the absurdity of trying to cut Jell-O into equal pieces with a balanced dollop of whipped cream. These guests are familiar with inequality. Fair for them is something that comes to town once a year delivering rides and candyfloss. Equal to them is a sugar substitute.

One of the gentlemen I spoke with was once a realtor with properties of his own at one point. Another does roofing after a local factory closure. I think not everyone fits our ideas of poverty. I also think we could be as they are. Many were what we are.

It is unfortunate there is not an App for empathy. We live in fear of not having enough all the while choking on more.

Mental Illness Is Next Semester

It was brought to my attention from a learned friend that the University here in London has run into some publicity. The University of Western Ontario newspaper, the gazette, published a cartoon with words to the effect “Why are you so happy?” “My brother was really depressed, but he finally hung himself.”

My neighbour hung himself as did his sister. I had a relative commit suicide. Two good friends from my hospital years killed themselves. There were more but I was less familiar with them. Therein lays the problem, familiarity.

I can recall coming out of my 30 hour coma and my brother saying quite the opposite.

One of my first thoughts to this was why this was not considered as offensive as the chants condoning non-consensual sex with a minor that we have come to know through other places of higher learning. Are there actually people on talk shows defending this cartoon and its publication?

The defense of or minimization of this cartoon is in fact stigma. We don’t condone sex with minors but we condone making fun of minors who commits suicide and therefore infer those who have similar thoughts are laughable at best.

I read a comment in response to the cartoon from someone claiming to have suffered from depression. They saw humour in it. It can be a blessing to have depression that does not involve suicidal ideation. It is also a blessing to be on the side of mental health that has you on a message board making opinions. We need to consider the student in her room. The one who although beautiful and bright is unable to see her place, success or happiness in this thing called university. To her friends seem to belong to others and her isolation is found in crowded hallways. This young woman needs our help not our laughter. When she sees a publication representing her peers and the university community in general making light of the very thoughts in her head, she can only hang it in shame. She keeps quite, she masks, she isolates and her wounds become infected by our very words.

Crazy, out of it, best let be, she internalizes our attitudes and they become fuel for an ever unfavourable opinion of self. She becomes slang, she becomes a put down, she becomes a joke.

For those who see no error; no foul, it may be constructive to self reflect. It is possible your attitude of indifference or acceptance is stigma itself. To not be offended about this cartoon raises more questions about the self than about any larger argument. A joke is not funny because someone calls it a joke. If it was a race, a sex or even a sexual orientation, students would have signs about the campus. Mental illness is next semester or an elective at best.

You can call me thin skinned but as likely we have grown thick in apathy. It was only a cartoon, there must be larger fights; maybe so but you have to stop the dog from digging before you can fill in the hole.

There was humour in the underage sex chants, no one meant any harm. A nation said no. An institution said no. If we are to combat one of the worst side effects of mental illness we must again say no.

We can be forgiving of all this. We are all learning, students more so. We need to impress on our students that the pages they write on are empty if not saturated by their humanity and the fine things they already know. To make grades is a worthy aim but if respect, love and compassion are left in lockers they are only ink on a page. We all make mistakes but if compassion, love and respect are woven into them, they can never be called failures.

I drive by the University of Western Ontario most days. Hope walks past my car when I wait at the light. The young men and women I see carry the cures, the solutions and they are being carved to make the decisions that will shape a future that I may reside in and surely my blood. We can be disappointed in what is instilled in a generation but the responsibility belongs to us all. How can we expect our children to have the discretion to not make light of the suffering of an illness when we laugh at the same jokes?

I suspect this news will not hit the funny bone of the roughly 4000 Canadian families who are affected by suicide each year. We can only hope they are too busy running fingers over old photographs to see this story.

It is not my place but it seems to me if resignations were in order at universities where chanting was heard, the same might be in order at a broader distribution of offensive utterances. As a solution to the very stigma they spread, those responsible should step aside. Your peers can only have respect at your active acknowledgement that mental health stigma is wrong; unacceptable.

Lend Me Your Ear

I was thinking about idioms. Fair game for an idiot. I thought maybe mental health stigma is a series of idioms. We all have little messages floating about in our heads. It could be “a dime a dozen” or “a picture paints a thousand words” but it is as likely to be “schizophrenia equals dangerousness” or “depression is anger turned inwards.”

It’s all nonsense if you shift your perspective. A dime a dozen means easy to get but scarcity can be just as costly. Ten cents for a dozen seeds would seem precious to a man feeding his family. Why do we cling to only the one meaning?

A picture paints a thousand words insinuates the visual is more descriptive than words. As a writer I am biased but I put forward the challenge for any artist to paint what I say with these 600 words. Take your time.

“Schizophrenia equals dangerousness” is statistically false.

And “depression is anger tuned inward” only makes: “happiness is anger turned outward” as true.

We assume the world is full of absolutes as our very bodies swim in flux upon a spinning object.

Impressions and ideas are filtered through knowledge, experience and emotion but we assume it drops cleanly in our laps. Many of our ideas are fouled by knowledge, experience and emotion. It is often only a version. I share my life with a Doberman Pincer. It is usually with me 24 hours a day. If anyone knows her, I do. My favourable opinion of her is clouded by my emotions such as love…I literally kiss the mess. Others see her differently. People sometimes cross the street and I had one couple following us stop in their tracks as she did her business. They could have passed but that would have lessened the distance. Their ideas of a Doberman were filtered through what? A photograph, a movie, TV show or headline? We can stand back and see who is more informed as to what a Doberman is. I have lived with her, taken food from her mouth and had her obey only a motion or noise I make. She is More Bark Than Bite.

Watch a film with a character suffering from schizophrenia next to a real person also afflicted and it all seems like a cartoon. I wonder what is worse, to live with the illness or have a world blind to your humanity and very feelings. You wonder about the idiom and why it is not called a contradiction.

There is a large difference between an idiom and mental health stigma. Only one hurts. Only one bestows suffering upon those who suffer, only one demeans and only one pushes people away. When we see someone with a limp, we notice. When we see someone with mental health symptoms we form opinions and ideas. Pity is replaced with prejudice. We rarely gossip about, point at, laugh at or discount the person with the limp. What slows us from learning that it is offensive to do so with a mental symptom? We must see more than consonants to make sense of a word as we need more than a word to make sense of an idiom. Schizophrenia, depression, bi-polar, OCD or ADHD are not idioms. We are not meant to take meaning from only these single words. They must be linked with descriptors such as son, daughter, aunt, father or sister. These illnesses are deserving of a shift in perspective, they are worthy of more consideration and expanding respect.

I apologize as this was written Against The Clock. It is probably All Greek and like Beating A Dead Horse but we’re All In The Same Boat and are equally vulnerable to having the same Axe To Grind. If I have offended, keep in mind there is a Method To My Madness.

Link

Solitary Confinement

Please read the included link regarding the use of solitary confinement in prisons.  I can’t speak about prisons as I have only been incarcerated in jails. Most were Detention Centers. They are basically holding facilities for people before the courts or awaiting sentencing. My experience was that there was little done to, for or about me. Both prisons and jails have areas for prisoner segregation. I have heard it referred to as solitary confinement, the hole, administrative segregation and the digger. When I raised my voice to one of the jail nurses at being denied a medication that my mental health hinged on I was asked if I wanted to go to the digger. “What’s the digger?” “The hole, you were in it your first night.” I understood the threat when it was referred to as the hole. I was quite sane on that first visit to the hole and had my fill of it in mere hours. My next visits were while I was psychotic. I can’t substantiate my length of stay as a whole but I have a couple of letters which refer to five day stays. I was moved between the medical cells and the three isolation cells. My sense of time during this period is basically nonexistent. While in the hole I was subjected to a 24 hour light. I would awaken at different times and be surprised to find it was night. I was for certain periods oblivious to the hour, day of the week or date. I do measure my exposure to this period of isolation as a season.

The medical cells were larger or the bars and their spaces included something beyond. The hole was near 5 feet by eight feet with all concrete minus the toilet in the corner and the solid steel door with a window smaller than a fist so it couldn’t be punched out. My view beyond that was a concrete wall as the hall turned leading to another steel door. The guards sat 15 feet beyond that point. Silence. The only noise was the industrial flush of your cold, hard, seatless toilet. You might catch a piece of a face but mainly you see hands as your meals are slid through a slot in the door. Faces are common until they become uncommon. To see eyes was an interesting phenomenon when my only reflection came from said toilet. Isolation made navigating simple requests next to impossible. It seemed the jail bureaucracy barely made it to the area. In a regular area you could call a guard. In isolation you could ask for a request form. I was unable to use a phone, had little access to a shower and my mattress was removed from my cell during the day.

 Corrections Canada’s response to my psychosis was isolation. My psychiatric care often consisted of taking my temperature and weight which though important are usually not correlated to psychosis. When I was isolated in the medical cells another inmate had a broken hand from a jail fight. He wore a cast which I surmised to be beyond the abilities of most guards. He was isolated with a bed, the ability to interact, an area telephone and an area shower. He also received the best modern medicine has to offer.  As a society most would be aghast had he been denied medical technology, treatment or emergency care. This is my question: why when an inmate has a “mental” condition do we prescribe administrative segregation with its 24 hour light and total deprivation outside of nourishment and sanitation. If only we could distill such treatment into a pill. Is this discrimination or is it merely stigma on its hind legs?

 A dog runs in circles after being left alone for a few hours. Are we not as social? I think it’s time to let mental illness out of isolation. It’s the least we can do. An easy solution shouldn’t be considered the only one when it is nowhere near best medical practices.

“Shotgun”

I remember when I was finally transferred from jail to the forensic hospital. As I exited the jail handcuffed and shackled I was at first struck by the open space. Being transferred is usually pleasant and a little like watching a movie. You see and hear things you are unaccustomed to. Green grass or the sound of tires on pavement. There were several jail nurses sitting at a table outside on break. I bowed my head and thanked them. They did what they could.

I climbed into the kennel of the transfer van. It was basically like being a bean stuck to the inside of an empty tin can. I didn’t have much of a view and can recall no landmarks. I knew I was heading to St. Thomas but did not recognize the fact until we parked.

After I left college and my lifelong dream of being a Conservation Officer, I applied to several police forces. At that time there were many more interested in police work than were ever hired. I did have one interview. It was with the St. Thomas Police Force.

I should have been more specific when I prayed to ride in a police vehicle in St. Thomas. I should have specified it was the front seat I was interested in. I’m pretty good at reading people and I sensed that the two officers who transferred me would be unappreciative of me yelling “Shotgun.”

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Richard Kachkar did kill Toronto police Sgt. Ryan Russell. Which of us from either side of the issue should question the verdict a jury is reaching or has reached? They have ingested all the evidence. Their knowledge of the facts goes far beyond what most of us ascertain from the news.

When a Toronto Mayor speaks to the media about a case before the courts and essentially does his best to influence anyone, we must begin to ask for whom else will he cry in the streets? If my son is murdered within his walls of jurisdiction will he tell us all what to think?

Consider the number of actual facts in your head Mr. Ford. What is your knowledge of mental illness? What is your knowledge of forensic psychiatry, were you present in court to hear all the testimony? I’m making assumptions but given the odds I suspect Mayor Rob Ford may not be in possession of many facts. We all know Sgt. Ryan Russell, one of Toronto’s finest, was murdered. We are all saddened by it. To use your good name to further some personal view is at least inappropriate. Will the Mayor be waddling up to the media for all our court cases? I would think not. Possibly he can stand back as he should and agree with the daily process of law.

Why wouldn’t he assume the truth would prevail?

Why wouldn’t he first assume the court system is working?

Why wouldn’t he assume the whole process of legal representation, medical testimony and judicial direction was followed to the point of fairness we all agree on?

I must trust in the jurors finding. I may not agree with the finding but protest has no influence on the process. I must also be comfortable with the fact that any error in testimony either professional or otherwise was brought to light. If being a juror and your contributions are held in contempt by society they will start making decisions that are closer to public sentiment and further from the truth.

We have to ask ourselves if someone acts out in some tragic incident only because of being influenced by delusional thinking we want to punish or enact some form of revenge on them. Any of us could be one of the numbers of people who get into struggles with the health of their brain. The monsters we see reflected in certain news circles are in fact men and women who have a mental illness. Were it not for this illness you would not know them. It is doubtful if any would crash with the law if they were healthy.

It is fortunate we are talking about a very small percentage of people because there is no immunity.

We can turn to the government to create some law more “just” but in your rush to do so I would not recommend running to the government with knowledge of only one case. If your disagreement comes from little information or biased information you might hope your fellow citizens don’t go running to the government to change something they don’t completely understand.

It’s time to turn and heal.

Solitary Confinement

I have changed the header image on my blog. I wanted to find an image of solitary confinement. As prisoners we refer to it as the Hole or the Digger. I have written about it but reference to it does little to provide a realistic impression.

I couldn’t find an exact replica of the confines I called home off and on for months but this one comes close.

The Hole I resided in was smaller. The Hole I resided in had no raised bed; only a mattress on the floor. I was made to drag my mattress from my cell each morning and left with only a blanket. At night I was permitted to drag it back in. The Hole in the photo has a stool and raised desk area; these too I was without. The mirror on the wall was also missing. The stainless steel toilet sink combination is identical. When I was permitted to shave and shower I was taken to the medical range. The “window” you see in the photo was also absent which though minor may have given the impression I was not alone. For “security” reasons I lived under a 24 hour light. My Hole was cleaner when I wasn’t writing on its walls but it too had no wallpaper border.

ManyPRISON___Solitary_Confinement_by_AKRadish forensic clients spend time in these confines. I am familiar with one who spent a year in isolation but was allowed his mattress and a checker board. Obviously he was spoiled.

I share this image not for your sympathy but in the hope it will elicit outrage. The Hole is Corrections Canada’s response to severe mental illness.

Bill C-54 will find more individuals suffering from severe mental illness abandoned to these confines. Please have the courage to stand by my side. It is our only hope in leaving the Hole empty as it should be.

This is Canada; this is shameful. We yelp about stigma while our feet are soaked with the shame of abuse. I can forgive and forget someone who calls me “crazy” but those who torture the mentally ill will never pass from my mind.

 

More On Bill C-54

I do not understand the apathy I am witnessing regarding Bill C-54. Anyone with an interest in mental health should be up in arms. I was once simply depressed, I was once simply bi-polar, I was once simply suicidal. If you think your illness will never carry you to places that seem extreme and unpalatable you are blessed with some static form of mental illness. You are also naïve. My path was not chosen, it wasn’t imagined or predicted…neither is yours!

This government is implementing a law based on extreme cases and public outcry. Where was the Photo Op with Not Criminally Responsible individuals who have been rehabilitated and lead productive and peaceful lives? Possibly Stephen can’t smile twice in a day. Such a scenario would diminish the fear which the Conservatives are using to catapult this Bill into law. The math of the situation is such that there are more individuals who do less and do well. If the Conservatives abandoned their misinformation they might have to alter a law that they assume will garner votes. There is no sensationalism in a life that returns to normal.

What does this government propose to do about the backlog that will only be exasperated by incarcerating individuals with “sentences”? We will have the mentally ill housed in jails for longer periods putting not only their safety in jeopardy but also their health. I am not the only one who spent extended periods isolated in the Hole.

It is commendable that this government is giving voice to half of those affected by severe mental illness. It is deplorable they do not consider victims of mental illness. One in five is affected by mental illness. It seems this government is more interested in a popular decision rather than a proper decision. It would be unfortunate if the one in five stood up and said “no thanks”. If a law can save one life it needs to be considered. When others have to lay theirs down it should be scrutinized.

If I suffer from a delusion and commit an act that offends society and subsequently myself I am diseased; I am not the devil. I felt no fear while on Forensic units. People were not evil, they were simply ill. Being in jail was quite different. Evil cannot be medicated.

When a delusional father murders his children we cannot understand. Severe mental illness is foreign to most of us and such acts fly in the face of the love we can all identify with parenthood. Only if you remove the robes and step down from the judge’s perch can you consider the fact that mental illness is the true culprit. It is part of the accused but it is not the accused. It can be controlled but mental illness is immune to your thirst for retribution. You can punish the offender but that person is only a vessel. It is like throwing out the pitcher that housed the spilled milk. It is the agent and not the vessel that is responsible.

This government is punishing the severely mentally ill. I have lived without the “privilege” of walking outside. It withers the soul and denies the spirit the breath of life. The next time you take your medication replace your juice with absolute incarceration. Imagine for a moment how therapeutic your existence would be locked on a ward with bars on the windows. Imagine for a moment the value of sunshine; imagine for a moment the value of a breeze. Be thankful you do not stand in line for those medications and please be indignant over the fact that your government considers this access to treatment.

Life is not fair. Tragedy strikes. Regardless of our actions after the fact, regardless of our treatment of the accused we must live with the loss. Enacting revenge may provide a sense of justice but at times justice does not exist. Should we decapitate Vincent Lee; who among you will eat his heart? An eye for an eye leaves two people blind. We can never forget but forgiveness is the only avenue to peace. As Canadians we have agreed that an eye for an eye is not what we wish to emulate yet it still occupies many hearts. It is an ill fated attempt at exacting control of uncontrollable events.

Outside of votes I can see no reason for a government to pander to misconceptions and perpetuate stigma. We throw our support behind anti-stigma campaigns and anti-bullying programs while the government throws dirt on mental illness and steps on the necks of its most vulnerable citizens.

If you believe Bill C-54 will prevent atrocities like those that found expression through Vincent Lee you have been duped by your government. Only improved mental health services on the street could have prevented this sadness.

Dear Mom,

This letter was written from a place that haunts me still. I think it is illustrative of the importance of “presence” at Christmas. Love is the punishment; it is what ties you to the outside world and pulls you in directions you are forbidden from going.

Dear Mom:

I hope this letter finds you sometime during the holidays. Consider this your Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year as well.

We haven’t had hot water for three days now. I was lucky and had my shower during the few moments when there was some. The kitchen is really messed up because they can’t do dishes. We have been served on Styrofoam plates with disposable spoons. Our cups are the same as we were issued on day one. I wonder how sanitary a cup is after several months without being washed in soap and water. Mine is brown inside, stained from hundreds of coffees and teas. At least it’s easy to keep separate from the new arrivals clean green cups.

We also haven’t had yard for four days at least. The new mesh fell to the yard floor along with support cables with its first exposure to snowfall.

One of the guys is getting out in the morning. I feel a little sad to see him go. We’ve shared this same small space for three and a half months. There were things I didn’t like about him, times I wished he wasn’t here, but when it’s all said and done we got along. That’s the most you can ask of your fellow inmates, to get along.

I received a Christmas Card today. It is a northern scene of White Birch with a blanket of snow on the forest floor. Standing out from all the white is a bright green Spruce tree. I showed it to my cellmate and we decided we would use that little Spruce as our Christmas tree. So tonight December 18th we put up our tree. It was the first tree I put up that I didn’t curse at. It was nice to receive and let some spirit into our cell and some laughter into our hearts. I wish the same for all of you. I will miss you this Christmas but I will probably think of you all more than if I was there. I know I will never forget the Christmas I spent in jail but I wonder what will make it memorable; the spirit that will creep into our day or the spirit that is absent. No doubt some of each.

 Say ‘Hi to the dogs and use my name.

I still have the card…thanks Candace, wherever life finds you.

21 Years !!!

The Conservative government in my country is participating in a misguided exercise to get “tough on crime.” It’s easy to fashion votes on such a platform but morally wrong to do so at the expense of your most vulnerable citizens. The only people “tough on crime” policies don’t appeal to are usually behind bars or a step away. I can forgive a government that makes easy political points but I am offended that they think I care not for those affected. The individuals affected are not criminals; they are the severely mentally ill and the families connected to them. They are referred to as the “accused” because they are not found guilty despite public desire.

This government proposes to enhance public safety by prolonging the incarceration and detainment of those found and proven to be Not Criminally Responsible. At present these individuals come before a panel of legal, medical and public members to determine a course of action suitable to both the public and the accused on an annual basis. The Conservatives by a sure stroke of political gain would have us believe that every three years is better suited to all involved. The government is interested in victim rights or so they say. I am of the opinion that in casting a net for political votes they will in fact create more victims than they will serve.

Don’t ever assume the laws you find attractive and sensible for “others” will never land in your lap. Hopefully, you won’t find yourself the accused at a Review Board hearing but you will know what prayer is if you happen to be that persons mother. The Review Board process is an excruciating and slow process as it stands now. I understand and am sympathetic to the prayer involved in being a victim of a crime but are you a victim of someone who is or was part of the Forensic System or are you a victim of someone who was outside of the system? Retribution can taint treatment. This law will do little to protect us from anyone on the street; it will only prolong the process that we subject the accused to. It is like taking a double dose of Viagra. It only succeeds in screwing you indefinitely. Will you thank Stephen Harper when you leave the building knowing your child will remain for three more years?

I had 7 annual hearings for a crime that probably wouldn’t have fetched 6 months from someone found guilty. Would you sleep better at night if it was 21 years instead of seven? I have conscience enough to find that fact alarming even outside of personal reasons.

It is easy to be indignant of another’s sins!

I know of a case where the accused stole a bag of chips. It is a fallacy perpetrated and perpetuated by the media that Not Criminally Responsible individuals are all murderers. It is also a fallacy that these individuals receive shorter sentences than those faced by the criminally sane. (Please read “Not Criminally Responsible: The Burden of Accusation and Popular Misconceptions” in my blog) I stand far outside of these fallacies and I am not an anomaly.

We need to listen to victims and their families but we need to remember the same brush with fate that delivered them to their suffering could have easily delivered them or a loved one to the confines of a Forensic Psychiatric facility. If you disagree please point me to the clinic that inoculates me against mental illness. This government agenda shows clearly that they care not about those afflicted with mental illness but more telling is the insinuation that the laws they impose will have no effect on themselves or those they care about. We are no more immune to being a victim than we are of being the accused. Those found Not Criminally Responsible received the same lessons in school. Their parents transferred the same morality and sense of right and wrong. For an array of reasons many of which are outside anyone’s control they became mentally ill. It is alarming to think we can improve society by increasing the segregation of the mentally ill.

We have a senator whose daughter was murdered. I am saddened by this but it is unfortunate the politicians whose lives are touched by mental illness are not as vocal. Let’s not forget the many moans of anguish amongst the shrieks of atrocity.

Any two bit politician can make a law that affects hundreds to appease millions but it takes a man to make a just decision.

“Please Sir Can I have Some More?”

I volunteered at a courtesy meal provided by one of the churches in our city. It was my first time and I consider myself an observer only. The saints are those who show up every time.

My job was pre-scrubbing the plates, glasses and cutlery for the dish washing crew. Jell-O was part of the menu so it wasn’t long before my soapy water was pink. The odd floating pea was of no concern but part way through the evening I was curious as to what percentage my rinse water was saliva.

Before I was inundated with 150 plates, knives, cups and dessert plates I was watching the first to be served. Many seemed to have a system. This was not a first for many if any. Their plates were placed at their table to ensure a seat. The food was quickly abandoned as they headed for the tables containing loaves of bread. The more seasoned could be seen feeling the bags checking for the largest loaves. It is bad enough that there are those among us in need of a meal today but to pre-worry about what might fill your stomach tomorrow is insult to injury.

We ran out of purple grape juice and it was substituted with the more expensive clear grape juice. It was a hard sell. What appeared to be water was passed by or sniffed with suspicion. Most refused the risk of filling their stomachs with anything less than calories.

There were more than a few who handed in their plates with the only thing on their mind being another. “Are there seconds?” “Please Sir Can I Have Some More?” It’s only gluttony when it’s not your only meal. God Bless those with an appetite and Peace Be Upon the hungry.

One of the guests was an accomplished pianist. It was a welcome spirit and easily worth scrapping plates and scrubbing utensils. I knew my place was in dishwater and not at the piano.

To be honest I worked hard but to be more honest I do not have it hard. I know where I will sleep. I barely think about the three meals that come my way and I am seldom with a plan for tomorrow’s calories. My fridge is rarely near a state of empty. Hell, I have a fridge – have you ever considered the disparity between not having something to eat and owning a $700.00 box to house an array of food?

I saw several plates with a fair bit of food scraped into the garbage but who says just because you are poor you have to like peas? I was happy to know there were people not desperate enough to accept everything dished out to them. I hope I can always retain my dignity and taste.

 

I Quit

I suspect there are a multitude of reasons and excuses for being sporadic with a blog. Mine usually have to do with inspiration. I’m not always moved to write. My other monthly reason is quitting smoking. Without fail each attempt leaves me in bed struggling for consciousness. I am unsure if there is something beyond nicotine withdrawal as I am on several medications but food or friends fail to rouse me.

Typically I tire of being tired and use that as my first excuse to purchase another pack. I suddenly find myself with 25 reasons to keep the covers pulled back.

I have had a little more success this time though I am reluctant to claim victory over a long held habit. My usual scenario is a day or two in bed with a quick trip to the corner variety store for my cure to sleep. Miraculously I rise from my bed and sit in a chair on my balcony with smoke circling my head. I may not have the best perspective but this seems like progress. I have restrained myself from this small failing so far but it has been a struggle. I got out of bed today to vacuum up the dog and cat that lay scattered throughout the house but the vacuum was in danger. It conspired with its cord, corners and walls to not follow my intentions and came close to being broken further.

I use an empty kidney bean can for an ashtray outside on the balcony. Unfortunately we have had several days of rain and none of my butts are of any value. I took a decent one and held my lighter to it in an attempt to dry it out. If they weren’t so fragile I would have wrung it out first for better success. I put a few in the microwave for which I have paid dearly. Everything I have warmed in the last two days tastes like a cigarette minus the nicotine. There is no value to a cinnamon roll that tastes like tobacco.

I do have nicotine gum when I remember to chew it. I’m pretty sure I can chew and suck all the nicotine from a piece in under a minute. I swallow each piece as I am sure this is the only way to replenish what has seeped from my bones.

When I drive I have to restrain myself from pulling up to the people I can see smoking and offering two bucks for a smoke. I’m sure I could get one for free but I figure being accosted has a price.

I have been told exercise helps and as soon as the rain stops I intend to take my dog for a walk downtown with a baggie. I could care less if she poops on the sidewalk but I’ll be damned if I will pass by any juicy cigarette butts.

 

The Digger

This piece was written while I was in solitary confinement; the Hole. If they wanted to threaten you, the Hole was referred to as the Digger. Many found any time spent here to be excruciating. In my psychosis I made peace with some of my time there.

I don’t look at what’s behind me in here, it’s just my ass. Most would not understand what I find entertaining in here. It is essentially everything. When they unlock my food slot a whole new world opens up for me. I can see light and hear things I am usually deprived of. I’m quite certain no one knows I’m here. I am unimpressed with the jail postcards. What parent doesn’t long for a glossy photo of their child in handcuffs or shackles? If this were an amusement park I could put my head in various cut outs. My friends would be amused to see my head poking out of the stocks or writhing at the whipping post. The Hole is visually boring, oh the good old days. It might be fun to have a cut-out of the Warden with his arm about my shoulder. If I wasn’t alone I might rally the others into forming a sculpture of the Warden at yard. We could pose in front of him or hang from his flabby jowls.

His rules are simple and we laugh at the comfort they provide. Without my mattress during the day I might not appreciate her at night. You devise ways to break me without knowing me. You expect me to pound on this door and beg for release but if I can’t be alone there is little hope for me. Dear Digger you complete me.

Fingers and Toes

I was returning some favours today so I noticed some things outside of my daily habits. I noticed how sweat catches any breeze and the sun can only be danced about. I noticed my community and what we look like from two stories up. I noticed muscles and actions I was unaccustomed to. Not long into my shingling I even noticed synergy.

I was two stories up working for a friend with a physical disability who does more than most. He had a hired man whose name for anonymity is Roger. Roger stands 6 foot three with a mustache and pony tail. Nearing or above 270 pounds his shadow is larger than mine. His belly is bigger than his biceps but his forearms are larger than many within labour. His hands are huge. I didn’t take off my shoe but I swear his fingers were as big as my rather large toe. I stared at them every chance I had.

Since I was the grunt we both found ourselves in the midst of labour and conversation. I saw enough of his laugh and intelligence to want more. He was quiet but I tried to talk to him through the silences labour brought. We started talking about old bars in the city and surrounding region. Roger mentioned that in his hometown and at least one other establishment in the city there was either a side for Natives or another section entirely. I was shocked. “How old are you?” I then pleaded for the decade. It was the early seventies. I was sure racial barriers were long less than that. I was glad to have helped Roger for I held nothing but grief in my heart for him. What might it have been like to grow up on the wrong side of humanity?

Roger accepted much less pay than any job near this size might command. His wages were closer to the decade he was segregated. I think we expect people who have been wronged to stand up and protest. What if it is the person wronged who should be approached? If you do not believe Native Canadians are worthy of your respect it does not mean they should not be apologized to. I worked hard for the hired man. If it was a weight on a scale I did more. I only hope my back was stronger when I knew his pain.

Roger is proud in a way that involves no chest but plenty of heart. In discussing one of the premiere builders in the city he couldn’t understand that they do ten jobs and laugh at their customers while he does so many more for so much less.

We celebrate success but there are some who measure it differently. Is Roger less than builder Dan with his truck and trailer or is he more as he bikes from job to job?

Oh Canada!!!

Stigma is a reality. I cannot change the attitudes and actions of others in society but I can protest when my government perpetrates and condones stigma and discrimination to the highest degree.

There have been a variety of problems at the provincial jail within the city of London, Ontario, CANADA. There have been a series of severe beatings and a homicide. An inquest into the death of a charged but not convicted shoplifter has given rise to recommendations that are being blatantly ignored by the government and its institutions.

Just because someone’s actions fall outside of the law does not mean they should not be protected by the law. Consider for a moment that many who find themselves in jail have lives of disadvantage. Does anyone deserve to be beaten and bullied for their food? We wouldn’t tolerate this anywhere but in jail. We have agreed and turned into law basic human rights. We shake our heads at countries who torture their prisoners when we need to pull ours from our asses and consider the fact that we condone the same here. Our governments try to find as much distance from these events as possible while they rest their heads contently on pillows of inaction in their homeland.

A certain judge’s comments were recently reported in the media. In his remarks to a Young Offender he outlined some of the treatment he could expect when he finds himself on the other side of the law as an adult. He mentioned that his proximity to adolescence would render him a victim to any of the larger inmates. What I found more disturbing was his warning that if he was on psychiatric medication he could expect to be punched in the stomach until he vomited them up for others to use. Judges don’t visit jails but we can assume his comments are based on fact.

When we are talking about people using psychiatric medications we are talking about individuals with mental illness. We are talking about vulnerable individuals at least and possibly individuals with a disability. Would we flip to the sports section as fast if it was reported that people in wheelchairs were being assaulted into giving up their assistive devices? If you have ever wondered what stigma is and how it leads to discrimination this should be illustrative enough. Our elected officials and many civil servants seem not to find outrage in this. Sadder still is that many in society are even less alarmed.

There is one main difference between those with physical impairments and those with mental impairments. One is bathed in stigma and discrimination while the other is usually accepted and understood. Understand this! To be looked down on and to be left uncared for as the result of impairment is like pissing on coffins; only assholes do it!

This government’s insistence that it is the wish of the majority to cut back on social programs and expand the incarceration system is only a screen for the fact that one entails a profit. We are morally bankrupt if we accept this. We are all guilty. We are guilty of complacency when we should be outraged.

If the government’s response to “decreasing” crime rates is to institute mandatory minimums, we should hold some for them. Shouldn’t it be a mandatory minimum of government to ensure basic human rights and protections for anyone despite their legal situation? Shouldn’t it be a mandatory minimum to protect and care for the mentally ill regardless of their residence? There are some who find themselves on the wrong side of the law because they are on the wrong side of proper mental health care. Jails are overcrowded because we find more value as a society in punishment than in treatment.

If we condone through inaction and accept the corporal punishment being perpetrated in our jails we need to legislate it. If this is acceptable let’s not be hypocritical. Make a law for the world to see the conditions we as a society accept for anyone in trouble with the law. We talk out of the side of our mouth and espouse democracy and human rights while the other side is silent when they are denied.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Orphans of Democracy

Why is it that people depending on food banks is near the bottom of most election debate? What does it say about the elected and the electorate? Even in democratic countries the issues of the vulnerable are often lost in the fight for better contracts. We can fight and strike but what power do the vulnerable have? They can’t rally or march but still we consider them equal participants in democracy.

What if that one voice is not heard? Should we erect a monument to the “unknown member” of democracy? The one affected by every decision but without the ability to participate.

In sport we do not have to question what is fair. The entire Olympics are built on rules whose only purpose is to give each participant an equal footing. Why do the laws that govern our lives not have more of the same?

How is it fair to sleep on the street? Society will embrace you if you are a baby but to be homeless as an adult there isn’t even pabulum; only its box to call home. What changes in the child that they begin to lose worth as they age? The ones we see struggle are always someone’s child, it is up to us to see that they do not become orphans of democracy.

“Worthy of the pay….”

This posting is some more of my psychotic thinking. For entertainment purposes only.

“I only want to help. I mean no harm so someone simply let me know what to scribble on my sign.

You give us political views and publish budgets and agendas and offer them as gifts. You elect to keep much of what you do a secret. We only want to know what it is you devise behind closed doors. A child does not leave their artwork in a drawer; we gladly display the work we are proud of. An employee does not hide in a box the fruit of their toil; they want their employer to know what they have done to be worthy of the pay. You are employed as my representative; it is I who employ you, why do you hide your efforts from me?

Freedom of Information should not be and Act, it should be a Right! When we learn of your blunders without you telling us first, what are we to think? You cling to innocence but what seeps from your mouth is always more lies!

We need to think why the government and how the government voted that governmental business was something to be uncovered. Where is it written that our elected should carry out OUR affairs and business in secrecy? The enemy will always have secrets; all I ask is should our government also? If it is to the essence of by the people and for the people, why are the people not given eyes to see what it is you do for them?

I can carry the flag from my car window and even pin it to my chest but it is only you that wraps it about your body as armor. Why are you protected by the flag but not me? If I can serve and even die for my country you have no right to lie to my country.

You pound into our heads “more jobs” all the while not doing yours!

I am a flea on the ass of government!!!”

Second Chance

Sometimes a second chance is simply recognizing where you fell short the first time. I was given a second chance this afternoon. I take my dog to get her nails clipped at a plaza near my home. The plaza I frequent is also the home to a rather elegant liquor store. I’m not sure why picking up a bottle of booze has to be a person’s greatest shopping experience but in Ontario it usually is. As I entered the plaza I noticed another man in a motorized wheelchair with a hat in his lap. This was my second chance. The last time this opportunity presented itself I chose differently.

After Ani got her nails clipped I approached this man. He wore very dirty long pants but I could clearly see both of his feet were amputated well above the ankles. His hat had fallen to the pavement in front of him and he was pleading for someone to pick it up. Two people entered the liquor store doing their best to ignore him. When I got close enough his pleading was clearly directed at me. “Can you help me pick up my hat?” “Sure.” His change was strewn about ‘his feet.’ There was a Loonie, a couple of quarters and a dime. I showed him the money I intended for his hat and he smiled. “What’s your name?” “Murray.” “Nice to meet you Murray, I’m Brett.” I picked up his money and gave him back his hat which had doubled in worth. He grasped my extended hand and I wished him a good afternoon; I too had doubled in worth.

As a society we care for Murray or he would be without a wheelchair. I fear though that our mandate of accessibility and inclusion slips from the hands of some. We ensure that Murray can get from point A to point B but when point B is the entrance to a liquor store we need to re-assess. Clearly Murray needs more than his wheelchair and a ramp into McDonald’s. We all want the dignity of standing on our own two feet. Just because we are without them doesn’t mean we can’t. To be disabled is a shame but it doesn’t have to be shameful.

Colour Blind

Psychosis and my psychotic thoughts have had a profound and lasting impact on my life. Some of these thoughts firmly rooted themselves and grew like trees while the rest were scattered and covered my world like a lush lawn. They endured like your beliefs and were no less ingrained.

I spent over a year with words, phrases, lyrics and gestures combining into a map of belief. Odd and even numbers confirmed messages while vowels, consonants and gestures of left or right guided me. Full words and conversations sent me in a thousand directions. When the lyrics of a song reach in and match your thoughts instantaneously, they can’t be ignored.

When you are psychotic, all events revolve around your thinking and everything becomes connected creating a reality as solid and based in factual events as that being experienced by anyone else. When something happens that doesn’t fit into your world it sometimes snaps you into a different frame of reality but usually it only causes a shift which can easily be meshed with your world of psychotic thought once again. It could be likened to not knowing you are colour blind. Someone may point out that your blue shirt is yellow but it takes much more to convince you this is so.

Thanks to anti-psychotics my associations and delusions have ended. However, it took time to erase the trails left by psychosis. I am unsure if most people recall their psychotic moments and thoughts but I do. Several were too terrifying to forget while others were all encompassing. If everything you saw and experienced pointed to the world being flat, nothing less than a paradigm shift would change your perception and perspective.

I can look at my psychosis as a simple illness but that does not change the fact that I was guided safely on a perilous journey. I was witness to sane people who were met with violence while I stood unharmed despite my behaviour. Today I blend more with my surroundings and words are often meaningless but my psychosis still holds meaning for me.

Eye of the Beholder

I am at the family cottage sitting on the picnic table at the edge of the pond. It’s not much of a pond at present. It is low in water and made murky by its clay bottom. My dog is taking dips and stirring up the goldfish only aware of her pleasure. I am otherwise alone here listening to music. I am rich.

I have seen uglier times. Perhaps that is why I have such an appreciation for these moments. I could wish for more but peace is not having things but appreciating things. I can recall peering through bars and a heavy metal screen a pencil would not fit through. I was witness to sunsets that although obscured, I remember still. Colour penetrates much. I have been witness to many great sunsets here on Lake Huron but the ones that penetrated the jail seem more memorable. I wonder if my fellow inmates saw what I saw. I believe the gift of the sunset is Grace but the ability to recognize its beauty is also Grace. Is the meal extraordinary or our present sense of taste? Is it what resides in us that allows us to interpret beauty and be moved?

Two people can taste a fruit but neither will experience the same sweetness. Perspective and interpretation can be gifts. I am at times grateful for people and experiences in my life but I forget to be thankful for perspective. I am richer when I can acknowledge the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; beauty does not exist unless it is beheld.

Psychosis

To be the Second Coming of Christ can be exhilarating but also a terrible responsibility. Part of the problem for me was that I had no disciples. Knowing the story of Christ, disciples have their downside but at least they can attest to your miracles and share a meal.

My Garden of Gethsemane moment came while I was secluded in the medical cells. What you read here happened just like your first date. I remember it as you might. I remember what I could see and touch and what I was thinking and the emotions that resulted from all. I remember it better than my first date possibly because it was so real and intense for me; I did not plead for God’s mercy on my first date.

I waken in the night and hear nothing. No breathing, no snoring, no footsteps, no keys; the jail is lifeless. I begin to panic, my mind starts to somersault and I think the world is ending. I begin to pace. I hear only my bare feet brushing the cold cement. I start to pray, Lord save this world; nothing. I begin to plead with God to save the world; nothing. I pace with more panic. I pee in my toilet and put some on my head, I am desperate. I get down on my knees and start crying. I tell God I will give up seeing my children ever again if He saves the world. Still in tears I resort to the unpardonable sin, I curse the Holy Spirit. I know this will banish me to Hell and keep me from loved ones but it is my last hope, I curse with all my heart. My arms slash through the darkness as I throw every word I know into the night. I flush my toilet, an unpardonable sin in jail at night. Everyone on the medical range is awake. There are swear words and I grab my bars and scream at them about how ungrateful they are; I have just saved the world. The guard arrives and they lodge their complaints. Quiet once again falls on the jail and I am left to ponder what I have done. In the morning I am lead from the medical cells to the Hole.    It’s as close as they come to crucifixion in Corrections Canada.

 

Giving up the possibility of seeing my children in heaven was possibly more significant than it might usually be. I had not seen, written to or spoken on the phone with either of my children in over three years at the point of this story. When it seemed too painful to carry them in my heart; I looked and they were there. When it would have been easier to put them out of my mind; I thought and they were there.

I was not and am not well versed in the Bible. I had a friend who was a Born Again Christian before and during his incarceration. He was my only friend when I was sick or well. He was in his late 60’s and I made his bunk up for him at night. One of W.’s lessons was when he informed me that there is only one unpardonable sin. He warned me never to curse the Holy Spirit. He informed me I would not be forgiven in this life or the next and pointed out the verse in the Bible: Matthew 12:31-32

“And so I tell you, every human sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And anyone who says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but no one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven either in this world or the next.”

Keys

February 8, 2006

Keys; have you ever thought much about them? We seldom carry just one unless we pin them to our bathing suit at the Y.M.C.A. We carry them in our pockets or around our necks these days. Some people clip them to their sides, some spin them on their fingers and fidget with them, but have you ever thought about what they mean? I know what they mean- power. They say I have control over this set of doors or this vehicle or this classroom or this part of the institution. I hate the sound of keys. I learned to hate them in jail. Every time I heard keys it meant my keeper was coming. He was coming to wake me or take me to court or to feed me or deliver a new inmate or to order me back into my cell. It wasn’t all bad when my keeper came, sometimes she was good looking, for a guard, or she brought the mail or took me to a visit or as I said a meal. But she always delivered control.

If you’ve never been in jail you will not understand how loud keys can be and how attuned you become to them. Firstly a jailer’s keys are as big as your hand so when they hit each other or fumble in the lock you really hear the brass. Jails are empty of anything that absorbs sound so everything carries and seems louder than sound on the outside. Secondly when you’re in jail you always want to know where or when the jailer is coming. They usually do a “walk about” every half-hour (there are no clocks or watches in jail) and you could hear them coming from the keys hitting their sides. If you wanted to share a smoke or worse, you timed it well but still “kept six” or listened and watched for a guard as they could show up at anytime to deliver someone to or from court or the nurse or a visit.

The morning I came back from escaping to the Sarnia hospital, I opened the doors coming into the jail myself as they were electronically locked. I had a great sense of power to be able to open those two doors on my own. They were heavy but I know I flung them open as I shambled through cuffed and shackled in my hospital booties.

Now when I hear keys I still hear control. You see I still don’t often have keys in my hands and I have to turn them back in to people with many more keys than I. They have keys to my room, to outside doors, to medication drawers, to shower rooms, kitchens, etcetera. Even when I went to school I would cringe when the teacher threw her keys on her desk. I liked her but she had keys; keys to freedom like a car and a house and a mailbox, a bike, even the school. Not me, I had only one key, a key to my brother’s bike. But hear this, no one has felt as free and as happy on a bicycle as I have on many occasions on that bike. The bike is barely worth locking up but to wear that key around my neck is priceless.

Baptism By Fire

When I was a youngster my paternal grandmother was burning leaves in her front yard as was practiced in our small town at the time. My brothers somehow own the memory of the day when I fell into the fire. It is a tale they find amusing though I have blocked out the event and there were no scars to authenticate their memories. I guess it could be said I was baptized by fire. To my understanding this is, was and never will be something a person would seek whether your interpretation is religious or secular. One of its many meanings is reserved for soldiers who are literally trained by the fire of battle. It is basically a severe ordeal experienced for the first time. It will either kill you or make you stronger.

I was quickly immersed in a hell where my life was threatened by delusion at least and possibly in fact. For any who have experienced delusions they are only unreal in hindsight (if one is fortunate enough to be released from that perspective). To say I was terrified would be accurate. I sat at tables with criminals picking food from my tray as I was convinced to eat or drink would result in my death at the hands of my fellow inmates. I was witness to the screams of another inmate beaten by the hard plastic cups of his peers. The smell of the dreaded disinfectant they used on the blood was also nothing new to me. I was so thirsty at times I would quickly lick my hands in the semi-privacy of the common toilet area.

When they ran me off the Range for the second time because of my erratic behaviour, I was destined for the Hole. Here I could consume but I was also consumed. I had no anchor to reality and easily disappeared beneath my delusions.

Obviously, I have risen from this immersion in hell but what have I pulled from the ashes? I am not naïve enough to think my struggles are over but I am fairly confident I can withstand what might come my way. I have had much support from family, friend and professional in my years of treatment following this but I navigated the worst of my ordeal on my own. I don’t suppose a soldier looks forward to the next battle or the loss of comrades which is inevitable but they may have a sense of peace knowing the worst can be endured. It may be like the human immune system. When we are exposed to a virus we produce anti-bodies. Following our illness, exposure to the same virus is nothing. Interestingly, the modern word “immunity” derives from the Latin immunis, meaning exemption from military service.

Time

I took my watch off this weekend. I wanted to get rid of my tan line and it was the only respectable thing I could remove. I have been without a watch for long periods. When you are in jail it is one of the identifying features to be removed. I suppose it saves the odd wealthy person from being mugged but outside of that it only succeeds in slowing down time which crawls at the best of time. I never heard an inmate mutter anything about time flying. “Wow, it’s been six months, where does the time go?” A season like summer can fly by if you’re a student but in jail or hospital it’s simply long and hot. When it is over often there is another season to endure.

When I was in the Hole, time did not exist in a fashion I was used to. Circadian rhythms were blocked out by the concrete surrounding me. The only cycle I knew was delivered on a tray and often did not coincide with any hunger. If I was able to sleep I would wake up and wait for a guard to peek through my four inch window. I would gesture to my wrist and he would hold up fingers. I would already have my blankets folded and be ready for a meal. Often it was three in the morning. I had no fridge to open to occupy myself with food. There was no TV and iPods weren’t even invented let alone allowed. There was no one to ask “are you sleeping?” in the hope of stirring another into my uncomfortable void. Usually I would vacuum. I always went barefoot and would walk around my 5 by 8 and brush crumbs and lint that collected on my feet into my toilet. I retain this habit and can often be found in my apartment brushing whatever might cling to my feet into my toilet or the nearest garbage. I have a cat and dog so the vacuum is always running. The entire jail slept while I ran my jail powered model. The guards would sometimes put me in different Holes and medical cells and I am certain it was in part due to my cleanliness. Some cleaning fell on their shoulders and it was delegated to me. I could write a housekeeping article on how to use toilet paper and water to make your “house” sparkle.

I digress. Back to time, rather than back in time. Without my watch this weekend I was conscious of how many times I looked at the pale skin on my wrist. I didn’t have my “friend?” to tell me things. Time tells us when to eat, whether we are hungry or not and when to sleep, whether we are tired or not. Time tells us when to come and go, whether we are ready to or not. It tells us when we can drive, vote and drink as though a day causes some miraculous shift in maturity. Time tells us we have plenty of it or not enough. It can change our behaviour from relaxed to stressed simply with a glance at some gears on our wrist. Time tells us how old we are regardless of how we might feel otherwise. Time tells us when to have children or to make the attempt. It can tell us we should be married despite happiness or whether we are in love or not. Time can tell us many things but maybe we need to listen more to ourselves.

Time is a measurement created by mankind but is it a measure of mankind? All life is seemingly moved by time but humans seem the only creatures bound by minutes. The sun rises on time and sets on time but there can be no time like the present to get your vacuuming done 🙂

Scars

I have a large scar across the muscle above my knee. At one time it contained thirty stitches to hold it together. It was a trauma that I have a total recall of. I also have scars that are less physical. I was sewn together by a great many healers, some professional and some who had no clue they were helping me to heal. Here as well I have total recall.

Eventually you have to remove the bandage and live with the scar. We have to step back into our lives and walk on. A scar can be a reminder but it shouldn’t keep us from what we aspire to. To leave the bandage on longer than is necessary may in fact make things worse. The more we try to protect ourselves the less we experience. After my emergency I went to my family physician to have my sutures removed. He was uncomfortable with my wound and thought it best to leave them in. It was my experience that the longer a stitch is left, the harder it is to remove. I returned home and removed them myself. I was fairly confident I wouldn’t open up again or fall apart. We are more resilient than we sometimes allow ourselves to be.

For me, recovery is not a return to the way things were any more than my physical healing leaves me without a scar. The fabric of my life, like the flesh of my wound has changed. I am fortunate that my scar on my leg like the other scars I live with don’t interfere with the majority of my functioning but I have been altered.

Every scar tells a story but they do not have to be the whole story. Scars of the flesh are miraculous. Without thought or conscious effort the body reconstructs itself. Through Grace some of my other scars have healed as well. It can be time and distance or simply the decision to live with the scar. We don’t have to stand still to mend, in fact going through regular motions is often more helpful. I pick at the scabs of my life like we all do but some wounds heal only when we let them.

Spilled Milk

Mental illness often entails loss. Obviously there is a loss of health which can entail a loss of functioning. We sometimes cannot do the things we did in the past. I have personally experienced other areas of loss. Mental illness can displace us from employment, family, friends and community. We often lose respect from others and even ourselves. We suffer from financial losses and loss of overall status. Even freedom can be lost.

I had pointed out to me that when a glass is emptied of a liquid it is subsequently filled with air and vice versa. I have found myself empty and void of many of the things that filled my life. My friend pointed out to me some of the things that rushed in as my life spilled out before my eyes. I have had professionals enter my life that have sustained and quenched me in ways I could only have hoped for. The family and friends who leaked from my life have been replaced by others who in no small way nourish and enrich my life. I have experienced love and met many individuals only as a result of my mental illness. They have joined me on a journey that despite its pain I would not abandon. My glass is not filled with what it once contained but it is surely full.

Maybe that’s what they mean by “don’t cry over spilled milk.”

Chia Pet

We’ve had a couple of thunderstorms here in London today and yesterday. Like the weather life changes. Sometimes it shifts quickly and makes you pay attention. When the rain starts you think about yourself and your home. We can shut our windows and carry an umbrella but like one individual I noticed this morning, a driving rain renders the best umbrella useless.

At times we are unprepared and there is no opportunity to take action. At times the shift is so drastic and immediate there seems no safe place. What do you think of in moments like these? In my case it was people. I was relatively safe but the changes I encountered were still drastic. I could only think about those I loved. Where were they this instant? When will I see them again?

As my situation also happened to be of a more permanent nature, I had time to ask other questions. Will they remember me? Do they love and miss me as I do them? I thought about their troubles between bouts of my own personal misery. I could do little to assist in either. I had few if any answers through my struggles but I kept in my heart those I loved. I was lost to them but I could sometimes hope. The times I lost hope something saved me from myself.

To have no hope is like being a Chia Pet. Thoughts of suicide sprout up seemingly on their own and cover up what might otherwise be viewed as decent. To be suicidal is a point of severely altered perceptions. You focus so much on what hurts that you cannot recognize anything else. You see nothing of what good could, would or even should happen if you simply abandon your thoughts. You grasp at all the negative with white knuckles only because that is all there is. Without hope there is nothing to anchor the good that is the shape beneath the growing Chia Pet. Pointing out the good to a suicidal person is like pointing out the apple at the top of the tree to a starving one armed man.

I don`t know exactly what made me abandon my suicidal thoughts. It may have been luck or Grace or love. Maybe all three have something in common. They can exist outside of ourselves and without them we might be very different or even dead. Think about where you are; hopefully it is somewhere you can stand. If it is, you can decide which if any of the three plays a part.Image

Home

I am officially home now after a dozen days away. I have seen family I haven’t seen in years and missed others who I have the privilege of seeing more frequently.

I am thinking about the saying “home is where the heart is.” My actual heart has been far from home at times but when I think about it, my thoughts were often found beyond the places I inhabited. I’m unsure of what actual presence I had among family and friends when I was unable to be with them. It would please me to know they thought of me half as much. It is interesting how when we are in one place our minds are in another. I get the idea of being present in the moment but there are times when to survive we must escape the moment and live where we cannot.

We all find ourselves in places we would rather not be whether it is in line at the grocery store or the waiting room of the proctologist. Maybe the sages who sit on rocks can find something meaningful to cling to when they are having their prostate checked but all I can think about is getting my ass out of there. There can be meaning in things that never happen or places we wish to be. Imagination is a gift and a tool. If I can make a fairy tale out of something unbearable I am no worse off than the one who actually enjoys the taste of jail toothpaste. I did embrace the puddles of sunshine rare as they were but it was what I carried in my heart and mind that got me through.

In jail it is forbidden to whistle. The story was that the guards would whistle as they led an inmate to the gallows. If you can carry a tune in your head, the wind across your lips and the sound in your ears can remain silent while the song rings strong. What we carry in our hearts is at times more magnificent than the scenes we actually play out. A melody in your heart can transport even the most withered soul to shore.

Symbiosis

We had the pleasure of touring and old Basque/French/English bastion here in Placentia Newfoundland. We also had the pleasure of knowing our guide whose services seemed above and beyond. On a rugged path through the forest between forts he pointed out the moss which grew on some of the trees. He mentioned symbiosis and how we depend on each other. Without the tree to cling to the moss would not exist.

As alone as we sometimes feel, we do depend on others for our existence. The tree does not think about or even notice its relationship with the moss. As humans we have the ability to foster and encourage growth in those around us. Even as we are connected we sometimes don’t have the perspective to see how what we do and say impacts and carries forward in the lives of others. I would probably only be known as the idiot who rides his bike all winter were it not for certain individuals. On one of my rides a vignette formed in my mind. When I returned to the hospital I immediately put it to paper. Soon after I shared it with the hospital chaplain. He saw merit in it and approached me later for my permission to have it shared by another therapist who was convening a group therapy session. The only thing about me that had been shared in years was negative. Had the chaplain simply said “well done” or “I like it” I would have soon forgotten about it. Instead I began to write. I began to tell my story and illustrate some of my experience with words. I ended up with a book. My stories were a form of entertainment for myself and another patient and I had no intention of sharing beyond family.

In walks another individual. After I was living on my own in the community my best friend during my forensic journey passed away. I used a portion of my book in a eulogy I delivered which this individual was present for. He pressed me several times to share more with him. I had no intention of sharing it with him but eventually I emailed my book. He thought it was worth sharing and organized my first speaking engagement.

Anyone can write a book and we can all speak in front of a small group but for my withered soul these were David and Goliath moments. For someone who was just as apt to be naked and writing on walls it was an “about face.” I’m not sure “about face” is the correct figure of speech but my gaze was turned upward.

These two individuals saw in me and my efforts something worthy of sharing and through their small acts and words my life has changed. Like the moss, I was allowed to grow at their sides. I might not have survived let alone thrived without them. When we see and cultivate worth in another they have a harder time denying it in themselves.

The Ant

I just brushed an ant from my patio table. I looked down at where I thought it might have landed. I did not see it and assumed it fell through the deck boards. I suddenly realized it might never arrive where it once was. I’m not sure how long an ant lives but it is a possibility.

I have been brushed from where I once stood. Unlike the ant I was quite aware of the fact. I felt the sting of my landing and had a clear view of where I had been. At first I only wanted to return to where I once was. I longed for most of what I was and had. Living without, my gaze eventually fell on other points. Like the ant I started my journey over. I can’t say I simply brushed myself off. I had many people help me to my feet and point me in directions I could not see. I am unsure of my destinations but I am satisfied with where I find myself most days. I could still have my eye on where I was but it would only interfere with seeing where I am.

Fool For A Client

I was clearly psychotic for much of my time in jail but I was at times in complete possession of my intellect. I might have looked and sounded bizarre but I made sense at times as well. I was at a disadvantage because of my illness. I was taken advantage of by certain inmates and often disregarded by the authorities. As much as they deny you in jail you also maintain certain freedoms. My case was still before the courts so I was allowed to cast my political ballot. I was in the medical cells at the time so I’m not sure what voter turnout was but I possessed my usual political will. I was resigned to the fact that none of the parties was overly concerned with me as an individual or population but it is a vote I will always remember. I was stripped of most of what makes a citizen but I stood tall with my golf pencil in hand.

About this time I was quite displeased with my lawyer as was my family. I was doing my best to dodge his services but he dragged me to court every other week to pad his pockets. It was a several month battle to have him removed from my case. The authorities in the jail were advised that I was representing myself; by myself. I did have a fool for a client but I was given a privilege above my fellow inmates. I was allowed access to the institution copy of the Canadian Criminal Code. After I filled out a form I would be locked in a lawyer’s room with my disclosure documents and the big book. I was a whirlwind of activity. Within a few weeks my papers were in tatters and filled with notes. My golf pencil had no erasure so I would use my shoe to erase my previous episodes of lawyerly notations. I was often in a panic looking over what I had written. Each time I would read the Canadian Criminal Code my defense would change. One day I stumbled on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I had never read them before. I couldn’t see any help for me in them but I read them intently.

During this period I was spiritually charged as well. Any time I had access to a phone or a pencil and envelope I would reach out to religious leaders in the community. I had regular visits from a Baptist minister, a Catholic priest, a Muslim Imam, an Evangelical minister, the institutional minister and several lay-people from the community who offered religious guidance. Sometimes when Reverend X. was at the institution she would take me to her office in the basement and we would smudge. I learned to love the smell of burning sweet grass and was always moved by the ceremony and gesture.

To add to my religious education I got my hands on a copy of Malcolm X and started copying the customs he described involving his conversion to Islam. One of the guards was also a Muslim and I looked to him for guidance. One day I waited with my breakfast. When he came to the bars to collect my food tray I asked if I was permitted to eat. There was ham on it, he nodded and I woofed it down.

I didn’t have a clear idea what I was through all this. I even had some knowledge of Judaism to throw in the mix. One thing that became clear to me was that I shouldn’t be eating meat. I asked a guard if I could change my diet to Vegan. “You’ll have to fill out a request form.” I did and was denied. I asked to see a lieutenant. I was again denied. “I want to speak to the Warden.” “You’ll have to fill out a request form.” I did and within days he was standing outside my cell door. I made my request. “It’s jail policy that you can’t change your diet after being admitted.” “It’s not a security issue” I said. “If you had requested a Vegan diet when you landed here I wouldn’t have a problem.” “But it’s part of my religion.” “What religion is that?” “Well I might be Jewish.” “You’re not Jewish.” “I have a new religion.” “I don’t recognize your religion so as I said you’re out of luck.” “I have the right to practice and follow any religion whether you recognize it or not.” “I can even follow no religion.” He walked away.

Jails and those employed in them are overseen by the Ombudsman. If an inmate has an issue he or she can ask for a “Blue Letter”. It required no stamp which furthered my excessive correspondence and unlike our other mail it could be sealed to escape the censor system of the jail. I filled out a request form and asked for a “Blue Letter” and filled it out. About a week later I was notified and given a number to contact the Ombudsman by phone. The woman asked me if I had exhausted all internal measures. “Yes”. She said she would look into it. The only other person who knew of my battle was Rev. X. After another week or two I was again asked to call the Ombudsman. The woman was quite pleased to inform me that the Ombudsman had sided with me. I had the right to follow my religious conscience. I could practice any religion or no religion. It was my first victory as a lawyer. The Reverend came to my cell and was clearly pleased as well.

I was punished for taking things beyond the institution. The kitchen gave me some kind of meatless cabbage rolls three days a week. As much as I hated them they did have a certain sweetness:)  I could have created some havoc within the jail by passing on my knowledge to my fellow inmates but being a lawyer I steered clear since there was little money to be made. I never held it over the Warden. When I regained the majority of my sanity he went on vacation for a couple of weeks. He had a habit of walking around the entire jail and checking to see that our pillows were left in our cells when we were locked out. I saw him come around the corner and walked up to him with a huge smile and said “welcome back”, it was my jail too.