Checking In: Postscript to a Lament

Re: Steve Kawaratani’s column (“A Parent’s Lament,” April 12 edition.)


 By Catharine Cooper.

By Catharine Cooper.

You’ve seen them on the streets, the ones who talk to themselves.  The ones who scare you with foul language.  The ones you wish would just leave your beautiful town.  The homeless folks. The mentally ill.

If they had cancer or a broken leg, you might take them to a hospital. Get them treatment.  Sometimes, they do get picked up: a 5150 for a few days stay at Mission’s “Behavioral Health” unit.  They get medications, a place to sleep and unravel their tangled thoughts, and then, back to the streets or some type of secured housing.

The problem, really, is that for the most part, those with mental issues do not believe that they are ill. They believe that the rest of the world is either crazy or lying to them about the voices that they constantly hear evaluating and critiquing their every action.

We look at them as broken, almost sub-human, disgusting. I know. I’ve been down that road. And then I re-met my son.

My son went into prison for the sale of controlled substances.  He came out of prison a completely different person. Whatever pre-disposition he had to schizophrenia, it bloomed with a vengeance while behind bars. He became one of those people – the ones who don’t always make sense, and when he is lost to the voices, he is lost to me.

At the core of every parent is a foundational need to care for their child – even when they reach adulthood.  None of us wish to see them suffer or fail.  We know we can’t save them from their life choices, but when we see the chance, we do offer up whatever help seems appropriate.

With my son, I am trapped in a space of helplessness.

Because he is on parole, only a court appointed psychiatrist can treat him. This doctor, totally overburdened by too many patients and too little resources, sees my son once a month for approximately five minutes.

This psychiatrist asks how he is, listens to the answer and prescribes whatever medications are on the county-approved list. On one visit, my son said he was depressed.  Instead of adding an anti-depressant to his regime, he replaced my son’s anti-psychotic.  The result was evident within three days. A job that he had worked hard to get in the process of getting off the streets slipped through his fingers, as his rapidly warping mind began to send emails that he does not even remember sending – or believe that he could have sent.

When he’s reasonably balanced, he comes to my house. He walks my dog. We play basketball together. We hug and talk of the past and the future. We hang out and surf. He is neat and meticulous to a fault, and yet he is trapped in a system he may never be freed from.

As long as he is on parole, no other doctor is allowed to prescribe mediations.  No other therapists can treat him.  So he does not get – cannot get – the help that he needs, and so will continue to fall into the parole violation crack.

His latest crime? Cell phone harassment. If it were you or I, we would get a slap on the wrist. Because of parole, he is back in jail for 90 days. He is being punished for being mentally ill – because he does not believe – nor understand, that his phone calls were harassment.

The mind that he just uses to make decisions is the same mind that is broken. Schizophrenia has no known causes. There is no blood test – only manifest behavior to define the diagnosis.  His symptoms are classic.

My son does not want to be ill – in fact, he does not believe that he is ill.  He simply believes that the government planted technology in his body that allows the world to hear his every thought – and he to hear the worlds.  Voices he has begged me to turn off.

I refuse to let go of hope, and I am forever grateful to the Friendship Shelter for the counsel and shelter they have given my son.  My dream is of something not yet on the table …. but I continue to dream that this once bright star can find a modicum of relief and happiness within the parameters of a normal life.


Catharine Cooper put her roots down in North Laguna, 1956.  She can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. Melinda Romo

    It is truly heartbreaking that human ignorance and fear places people like your and Steven’s son is a category that allows for nothing more than a pill to solve a problem that needs much more than a pill to be tamed and treated. One can only continue to hope and pray that one day this issue will become at least as important as some of the frivolous issues that those “in power” champion.

  2. Merri

    And now the poor kid is on the wrong drug?

  3. Jane Lynne Stahlheber

    Wow. How well I understand your Postscript to a Lament. I just spent 11 days in the BHU, my first stay in a loony bin, begging to try a different medication regimen in a controlled environment so that I won’t lose my beautiful home that it took me 12 years and 3 episodes of homelessness to put back together. Yet, the response I got was the old party line of, “we don’t do that here.” So they shipped me off in a taxi they kept threatening to cancel because I didn’t get my belongings together fast enough. Oh well. I kinda like the voices sometimes and decline many medications because of the side effects (e.g., tardive dyskinesia). But I tend toward what is labeled “Religiosity”. Mostly I thank God and have fun joking around with Jesus, but sometimes I get quite angry, and I do my best to leave my anger with Him. Then I walk up to the Hare Krishna temple, leave a gift for Tulsi, come home and read my Qur’an, listen to Dr. J. Vernon McGee on the radio, cook up some Matzah Brei, swear loudly like a sailor, and do the psych med disco. Luck to you and your son. Friendship Shelter helped and continues to help me more than I can say.

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