Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mental Illness and Crime

I recently finished the book Crazy: A Father's Search through America's Mental Health Madness by Pete Early. I also recently volunteered to speak to local police officers in the Crisis Intervention branch of the local police department. This is a program through which people who have mental illnesses speak to officers to help educate them about mental illness. This has been shown to result in lower numbers of people with mental illnesses being shot by the police, as the book I just finished indicates. It probably also results in fewer arrests of mentally ill people who really belong in a hospital and not a jail.

I will mention something here, in this vein of educating people about how mentally ill people may end up committing crimes. Some of the things I may have done when I was psychotic, would be deemed illegal. I believe that the reason I was never arrested when I was psychotic was because I did not fit the stereotypical image of a criminal. I am white, female and was, at the time, very thin. I fit in with society's sexist and racist beliefs that a white female is less likely to be a criminal than a black man, who is (in fact) much more likely to end up in prison.

At one point when I was psychotic, I may have stolen a car. I will not admit or deny that this happened, I will just say it might have happened. I don't know what the legal ramifications would be of me saying it did happen. I may have had the following experience:
While getting off a bus because I saw a sign that said JC on it, and being so delusional I thought I was Jesus Christ reincarnated (this thought explained the bizarre experiences I was having), I got off the bust because I believed that sign was not a business sign but a message for me, Jesus Christ, that I belonged at that auto repair shop.

Somehow I ended up wondering into a nearby grocery store though, and walking around. What I was doing was hearing voices that told me I was going to be sent to a concentration camp if I did not get a car and stop riding the bus. I had many reasons why I honestly believed there were real concentation camps in the US which people were being sent to. The voices told me there was a car waiting for me in the parking lot. So I walked out into the parking lot and as I was Jesus Christ, I saw the car meant for me - a Chrysler. The voices said that car was named after you, it is meant for you, you have a DUTY to take it, and if you do not take it you are going to a camp. I walked up to the car and saw that the key was in the ignition. The doors were unlocked. I may have taken this car. If I did - it is because I THOUGHT I WOULD DIE IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP IF I DIDN'T TAKE IT. If I did take it, I also abandoned it in a parking lot a day later.

Other times when I was psychotic, I thought that I was supposed to have a job, for which I would not be paid. I thought that everyone "won" things, like the way I won that car, so people only worked for free, not because it made them money. I thought this for a long time. I went to stores, like a grocery store, and a department store and walked right into the areas that were for employees only. At the grocery store, I put on an apron that the people working in the deli wear, and I went behind the deli counter. But I felt confused, because I did not know how to do the job, and I was afraid that I might not be in the right place, so I left. I did not get into any trouble, because I did not get caught.

At one department store, I did get caught. A manager asked me who I was and what I was doing. I said, "I was sent here". She said, "by who??" I said, sensing she would not believe me if I told her the voices sent me, "I was told I am supposed to be the other store in Palm Harbor". She said "who at that store told you to come here to work??" I said, "the manager". She asked my name. I said, "Michelle" (this is not my name). She called the other store and asked if someone had sent a person named Michelle to work here. This was not happening like it was supposed to. The people were supposed to KNOW that I was there because I was sent there by the New World Order way of sending people to work in places that needed help. I did not expect to be paid, I just wanted to work, to avoid going to a concentration camp.

When the manager picked up the phone, I bolted for the door and quickly fled the area, to avoid problems that seemed likely to happen because these people at this store were not "Theta" and could not read my mind and understand I was meant to be there.

I could, especially if I was another race, or a man, easily have been arrested for this. If I had stayed in the store, I feel quite sure I would have been sent somewhere, either jail or a hospital. But I didn't stay there to find out if that would happen. What I thought was, everybody being sent to jail or a hospital is actually sent to a concentration camp. I wanted to avoid this fate at all costs.

Another time, when I was psychotic, I thought my brother's friend had telepathically told me, or told me in double speak, that I should take his bike and it was mine. So I took it, and left it in front of my apartment thinking that it belonged to me, and it was my new mode of transporation. The next day my brother an my mother, and my brother's friend showed up and they said something like, "what the hell is wrong with you?" I didn't understand what was happening because I thought the friend had given me the bike, but evidently I was incorrect. To this day my mother says I should apologize to this guy for stealing his bike - as if I knew what I was doing at the time. I would apologize if I had contact with this person but I would not say I knew what I was doing, because that would be a lie. This is another example of something I could have gone to jail for, if it had been reported.

I also had the delusional belief that people did not really work for money, nobody got a paycheck, and everybody got things by 'winning' them. For this reason I stole small items that the voices told me I won. I never took anything worth more than a few dollars, but every time I took something I heard someone tell me to take it - a real per son, but I probably was hallucinating what they said. I am sorry about this too, but it happened years ago and after I got on medication, I never took anything again. Obviously, if I had stood out more or if I had been more obvious about what I was doing, I could have been arrested for it. I am very likely that never happened.

So, you see that I have had many experiences where my mental illness led me to do things that are not exactly legal or honest, and I did them because I THOUGHT I HAD TO. Anybody who truly believes they have to steal lipstick, because the won it, and Anderson Cooper told them that they would go to a concentration camp if they did not take it, is most likely going to take it. I was so delusional I was living in a world where the rules and laws of the real world did not exist. I had a delusional world with its own rules and regulations.

If I had been caught doing these things and someone had reported them, I might have ended up with legal problems, and I might have been thrown into a jail cell while I was delusional and thinking it was a concentration camp. I am very lucky that this did not happen.

The incident that landed me into the hospital long term, where I finally got the help I needed, involved me having bought, learned to use, and loaded a .357 magnum. I was picked up by several police officers, and put in handcuffs and taken to the hospital. I got out about five months later. T hat was the best thing that could have happened to me. If the police had found me with this gun without a suicide note and a living will lying next to it, they may have thought I was going to use it on someone else, not myself. I could have - in that situation - been shot by the police, if they thought I was going to use the gun on them. I am lucky that they knew, from my family informing them, that I was mentally ill and that I was going to commit suicide, so they took me to a hospital and not a jail. I had legally purchased the gun and kept it in my trunk, which is not illegal, so there was nothing illegal that they could charge me with.

I think it is very important for police officers, who have frequent contact with people who have psychiatric illnesses, to know what psychiatric illnesses are like, what they might lead someone to do, and why they could lead a person to do things that the person would not do if she was not mentally ill. I look forward to a few months from now, when the next CIT training takes place, so I can become one of the people who educates the officers in order to help other people who are mentally ill who might end up having contact with the police. Jail is definitely NOT the proper place for people with mental illnesses, and unfortunately with the overcrowding in hospitals and the expense of hospitalization, I don't know what the proper place is.

Pete Early, in his book, suggests that people with mental illnesses were better of when there were state hospitals to take them in. I don't agree with this because the conditions at most of those hospitals were horrific - the stuff of nightmares, and no one with a mental illness deserves to be mistreated like people often were inside those hospitals.

Please add your thoughts on this issue in the comments area, if you have any ideas.


  1. I think that speaking to the police about mental illness is a wonderful idea! We recently had a person in Jacksonville with mental problems killed by an officer when they wouldn't drop a knife. From what I read about the incident, it sounded like this person was very confused and was threatening to harm themself, not the police officer.

  2. Ken -
    I think incidents like that happen far too often. That is why I want to speak to the police, to prevent such unnecesary tragedies from occuring because people are ignorant about mental illness.

    Thanks for your input!

  3. I came to this website today, because I am trying to do research on myself. I have an eating disorder and I am diagnosed Bi-polar and OCD with sleep disorders and I might have had some psychotic moments, according to my therapist. It seems to ge getting worse with age. Anyway, my insurance doesn't cover mental illness and thus, I can only afford a medication appointment once a month and the cheap knock off drugs of Prozac and Trazadone. Plus, my husband and I were wanting to get pg, so these are supposedly the safest drugs. I used to be on Lamictal, Geodone, Lexapro, Topomax and a sleep drug. For the most part, from about 25-40 I have done a pretty good job of managing my illness (not so great on my eating disorder, though, that is a lifetime battle). Lately, though, I don't know. In the last two years I have quite my job, moved for the first time in 40 years, and had a miscarriage (at the end of my 1st trimester) two months ago. I was aware that all this could be hard for me, given my illness, but, I thought I was doing okay. I have been using alcohol, now, to cope...I realize... and a few days ago something terrible happened. I have been having intrusive weird thoughts again, ruminating and saying things over and over in my head, having panic attacks, started throwing up again, and then stole stuff from a store. I got caught and have a court date. I called my therapist and she said this goes with compulsions and impulsivity related to my illness. I just remember being manic, talking to myself, and stuffing things in my bag. The store security approached me and I couldn't think and things didn't go well. I said things that I don't think made sense and made me look bad. The guy was really forceful and verbally attacking and I started having another panic attack. He grabbed my arm and tried to wrench my bag off my arm. I hung on to it saying "wait a minute, wait a minute, please tell me who you are and show me your ID". He said, I already did that. I didn't remember. He told me to work with him or he would call the police. I was trying to ground myself in the moment as I could feel the fight or flight feeling. I wasn't running or yelling, but pleading for him to give me a moment to compose myself. I thought I was trying to work with him, but he didn't see it that way. I was trying to talk with him and then he had his buddy call the police. He then showed my his ID and I couldn't read?!?! It made no sense to me! After the police officer arrived, and searched my bag and found more stuff (they wanted me to tell them everything I had taken, but I couldn't remember all of it and some I was afraid to tell). They kept asking why I did it and all I could say was "I don't know." This, I guess, was not a satisfactory answer. I got sighted, given a court date, and then I drove home a bawling mess, confused, and feeling like I wanted to hurt myself because I was so bad. I am waiting to see my therapist in a few days (she is out of town.). My husband is so supportive and is trying to tell me it is part of my disorder...but I am so afraid it is just that I am a bad person. I know I don't fit the profile of a typical shoplifter (whatever that is, actually) as I am a white 42 year old woman, with a 20 year old kid and a 5 year old kid. I have been a teacher for 20 years (quit two years ago to move), have my BS and Masters degree, study religion, eat healthy, care about others and the environment and our world, volunteer two days a week in my daughter's kindergarten, am on the PTC, in a book club, play bunco, workout to be healthy, volunteer in my daughter's dance class, active in my church and help my husband with our family how could I have done this!!!! My husband says to look at my past....I grew up with a mentally ill mother, was sexually abused by my uncle from 11-20 years old, my father died suddenly when I was a young adult, and have had anorexia/bulimia since I was 15 and have tried to commit suicide as a teen. But really, there are people who have had soooo much worse in their life. I thought I could get past all this, though, with enough strength, morality, and education. After the other day, though, I don't know what to think. I committed a crime...why? Mentally ill? A criminal? Anyway, that is my experience. I have been hiding under the covers, too sick to eat, and ruminating over it all. I can't go out of the house and everytime I hear a police siren (we live in town- 1st time in my life) I panic. I was plagued with nightmares for the last two nights (in one all my teeth fell out, in another my daughter died). I haven't showered for two days and I keep crying. I can't shake this horrifying scared feeling, the panic, the doom, the hopelessness.
    I appreciated reading your post on your illness and the bizarre things you did. I don't feel quite so weird. I do wish, though, that at my court date the judge would say..."lets get you help and I will order you to intensive therapy with a therapist and medication...on me." I think if I had the right care and meds, maybe this wouldn't have happened. But in saying this, I realize that it just sounds like a dumb excuse. I will probably just get a fine, be treated as bad, have a record, and somehow...I have to not do this again. Will I always be afraid of what I will do now? If it is my illness, how else it will manifest itself? I don't trust me now. Yet, my nature is to fight and try to fix I know that somehow I will get past this. I just wish that the security, police, judge, and so forth were more award of the possibility that mental illness could be at work. I don't want to be a bad person; that has never been my intent.


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