John Oliver Talks Mental Illness Reform: Blaming the Mentally Ill For Gun Violence Is A Red Herring

Bravo to John Oliver who in twelve minutes manages with humor to say what many of us have been trying to tell the public for years!

1 in 4 Inmates Have A Mental Illness: Quit Bickering & End The Cycle


(10-4-15) Mira Signer, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Virginia, reminds us in this Op Ed printed this weekend in The Washington Post that we know how to help persons with mental illnesses who are locked in Virginia’s jails and prisons — we simply aren’t doing it.

This is true in other states as well. The problem is not a lack of knowledge but of political clout.  I believe we will only gain that power when we create a strong mental health coalition and a PAC that will contribute to campaigns of candidates who support mental health reform.  Thanks Mira for speaking out so eloquently.

Closing the gaps in mental health care in Virginia

  Published in The Washington Post

Two recent incidents, each horrifying, should give Virginians pause about how much progress has been made in recent years regarding our mental-health system.

●  Twenty-four-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell, who had a history of mental illness, died in a Virginia jail while waiting three months for a hospital bed to open up.

● Natasha McKenna, a 37-year-old mother from Alexandria with a history of mental illness, died in a Fairfax County jail after being shocked multiple times with a Taser. Her death was ruled accidental.

So many questions. So much heartbreak. So much outrage.

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A Boston Doctor Washes Feet And Treats Street People “Lost In Plain Sight”


After Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, was published, I wanted to write a book about homelessness. Georgetown Ministries in Washington D.C. allowed me to spend several weeks with one of its workers who patrolled the streets handing out water bottles and helping mostly homeless men who had mental illnesses and co-occurring addictions. I met a handful well enough to write what I thought was a fabulous book proposal.

But when my agent showed it to my editor, he rejected it, telling me that “No one wants to pay $30 for a book about those people.”

I’m glad that Dr. James J. O’Connell and the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program didn’t listen to my editor because Dr. O’Connell’s recently published book Stories From the Shadows: Reflections of a Street Doctor, is one that I wished I would have written. It is a gem and one of the best books about homeless Americans that has ever been written.

Stories From the Shadows is being marketed as a memoir, but it really isn’t. What Dr. O’Connell has assembled are 30 short stories — some more diary entries than narrative tales  — about men and women who have crossed paths with him since 1985 after he earned his M.D. at Harvard Medical School, completed his residency in internal medication at Massachusetts General Hospital and decided to spend a stint inside what then was New England’s largest and oldest shelter in Boston.

He intended to stay only a few months before moving to what surely would have been a rewarding and profitable career in oncology. He not only stayed working as a doctor on the streets, but two years later helped form the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. Scores of homeless men and women in Boston are better because of it.

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Dying in Jail Cells: No Room In State Hospitals For Jailed Prisoners

mitchell(9-30-15) In a comprehensive front page story in today’s edition, The Washington Post describes how a 24 year old black man with mental illness died in jail after waiting three months to be sent to a Virginia state mental hospital.

I published a blog about Jamycheal Mitchell’s death earlier this month based on a story written by Lisa Suhay in the Christian Science Monitor. Post reporter Justin Jouvenal goes beyond that initial story to expose an ongoing national scandal — the warehousing of persons with mental illnesses in local jails because of a lack of psychiatric beds in state hospitals.

Mitchell should never have been jailed. He was accused of stealing $5.05 worth of food from a convenience store. He should have been diverted into community care and treatment. His death is yet another senseless tragedy caused by our neglect in providing adequate mental health services and reforming our criminal justice system with an emphasis on diversion.

Mitchell’s name can be added to an increasing number of preventible tragedies that have happened because we are using our jails and prisons as defacto mental asylums. What the public needs to understand is that even if Mitchell had been sent to a state hospital, the goal of the doctors there would have been to restore him to competency for trial — not necessarily to treat him!

Kudos to the Post and Reporter Jouvenal for continuing to expose flaws in our mental health system here in Virginia and across the nation and to Mira Signer, NAMI’s executive director in Virginia, for speaking out about this travesty.

Man accused of stealing $5 in snacks died in jail as he waited for space at mental hospital

By Justin Jouvenal   The Washington Post 

Jamycheal Mitchell had stopped taking his schizophrenia medication before he walked into a 7-Eleven near his family’s Portsmouth, Va., home in April and allegedly stole a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake totaling $5.05.

After the 24-year-old’s arrest, a judge ordered him to a state psychiatric hospital to get help. But like an increasing number of the mentally ill, he sat in jail for months as he waited for a bed to open.

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NAACP Asks Me To Speak About Natasha McKenna’s Death; Her Family Issues Public Statement

natasha mckenna

PRESS PLAY BELOW TO HEAR MY MY SIX MINUTE SPEECH AT THE RALLY* (also see correction at bottom of blog.)


A new crisis assessment center for persons with mental illnesses in Fairfax County, Virginia, should be named after Natasha McKenna. That is what I told a crowd Sunday (9-27-15) outside the jail where the 37 year-old black woman was stunned with a taser four times by sheriff’s deputies and later died.

Shirley Ginwright, the president of the Fairfax Chapter of the NAACP, asked me to speak at the rally. In my six minute talk, I said McKenna should never have been arrested or taken to jail. She had schizophrenia and had been to emergency rooms seeking help five times prior to her incarceration.

I asked  the NAACP to recommend that the county’s new crisis center be named in Natasha McKenna’s honor to remind everyone of the importance of jail diversion and of providing community based mental health services.  Having a mental illness should not be a crime.

Natasha McKenna’s family’s attorney, Harvey Volzer, read a statement at the rally, which I’ve printed below. It is the first time the family has spoken about their loss.

As we have coped with the tragic loss of our beloved Natasha McKenna, our family would like to thank everyone who has prayed for us and supported us. Natasha’s death weighs heavy on our hearts because our dear loved one suffered and died unnecessarily.

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Dropped Coins Collected For Homeless By 2nd Grader: A Surprising Story

Be certain to read to the end for a surprise.


This 7-Year-Old is Making Life Better for Homeless New Yorkers

Seven year-old Maribella goes to school in the East Village.

Every day she and her mother, Michelle, walk through Tompkins Square Park, where they see more and more homeless men and women suffering on the streets. Maribella decided she couldn’t just walk past them again and do nothing. So she figured out something even a second-grader could do to help.

About a year ago, Maribella began collecting loose change that she found on the sidewalk and under couch cushions, keeping the spare pennies, nickels and dimes in a special jar on her bedside table. She carefully kept track of what she collected in a journal. Now, a year later, her jar holds $25 dollars in change! She decided she wanted to give the money to one of the homeless people she sees everyday – along with a note of well wishes:


“Dear _____, I’m giving you money because you need a house and food to [survive]. You might [be] able to get a [meal]. We collected this just for you, by picking up money from the ground. This might make you have a better life, cause we don’t want you to be homeless. Love, Maribella. We care about you”.


Maribella didn’t stop there! In addition to continuing to collect spare change, she and her mother will host a lemonade stand and stoop sale in Ridgewood, Queens this Saturday (9-19-15). The money raised will go towards helping even more homeless New Yorkers through the life-saving programs of the Coalition for the Homeless. Maribella and her mom will also be sharing our facts about homelessness with visitors to educate and raise awareness about homelessness in New York City.  Thank you, Maribella, for your compassion toward and support of our homeless neighbors. You are truly an inspiration to all of us! Make a direct donation to the Coalition’s programs that serve 3,500 homeless men, women and children each day.

And now the surprise: Maribella is our granddaughter. We knew she was collecting dropped coins but had no idea that she would decide to give them to the homeless.