Speaking In Three Cities in Four Days: Sadness, Hope and Inspiration


Treat a disease, you win, you lose. Treat a person…..

Last week found me in East Lansing, Michigan, at the invitation of  NAMI Lansing, whose leadership did a terrific job setting up a public forum. I was especially delighted that a high school teacher had brought about a dozen students to hear me.  They’d read my book in his psychology class.

After I speak, I always spend time talking to audience members and the most common comment that I hear is: “You’ve written my story.” 

I was approached by a woman in East Lansing whose brother was in jail charged with a minor crime linked to his mental illness.

“Please, can you help me?” she pleaded. “He’s never been in trouble before and now he’s sick and we can’t get him help! What can we do!”

The next day, I drove to Ann Arbor at the request of NAMI Washtenaw County where I met a distraught mother who told me that her twenty-something daughter was in jail because she had gone off her medication after becoming convinced that she’d been healed during a religious service. Her parents were afraid to bond her out because they couldn’t get her into see a psychiatrist for several weeks.

“What do we do until then?”

After speaking to her, I was approached by a young mother who whispered that she had been arrested after she caused a scene while shopping. She was taken to jail,  stripped naked and put into an isolation cell where she had to wait for her husband to come bond her out.

“It was the most humiliating experience in my life,” she told me. 

In both of these specific cases, neither woman had any sort of criminal past and both had been charged with misdemeanors. In most such cases, a defendant is released on his/her own recognizance but these women were jailed because they clearly had a mental problem and the police were reluctant to free them.

If the only stories that I ever heard were sad ones, it would be easy to feel hopeless.

After I gave my speech in Ann Arbor, I moderated a panel discussion and heard about what that community is doing to stop the jailing of persons with mental disorders. Dr. Christine Negendank described work that she was doing as a psychiatrist at the jail, linking prisoners with community services. I was impressed when Renee Blaze, a certified peer support specialist, described how she was part of Dr. Negendank’s team. Renee told her recovery story and like all such stories, it was inspirational.

One of the most important statements that night came from panel member, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie, who said that his office understood there were two sets of victims whenever a crime was committed by someone with a mental disorder. He spoke eloquently about how it was a prosecutor’s responsibility to seek justice for both sets of victims — those who were harmed and those who harmed them because of an untreated mental illness.

I wish other prosecutors in our country understood that.

From Michigan, I flew to Tampa, Florida, where I spoke at a gala hosted by NAMI Pasco County. I really enjoyed it because NAMI was giving its annual awards. In a moving nomination letter, a writer recalled how a Crisis Intervention Team Trained sheriff’s officer had literally saved his life. A local mental health provider was honored for the countless hours that she spent helping individuals with mental illnesses and co-occurring drug and alcohol problems. A judge was saluted for his efforts to get individuals treatment. The final advocate of the year award was presented to Kevin Fulford for his openness in telling his own recovery story and for helping others get help through NAMI.

In his acceptance speech, Kevin quoted the lines from the movie Patch Adams.

“You treat a disease, you win, you loose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”


Three speeches in three different cities in two different states in four days is tiring, but also a reminder of how much we still have to do, what happens when an individual decides to make a difference, and how wonderful it is when someone recovers and then decides to help others recover.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.