New Movie Shows Successful Ways To Defuse Confrontations In Jails and Prisons

Six minute CODE Trailer from NAMI, TN from Dixie Gamble on Vimeo.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness Tennessee has created a training film specifically aimed at correctional officers. It is called CODE, an acronym for Correctional Officers De-escalation Education. Filmmaker Dixie Gamble gained unprecedented access to the Tennessee state prison system where she interviewed inmates and correctional officers. She also spoke to me and numerous mental health experts including LEAP Institute’s Dr. Xavier Amador, NAMI’s Ron Honberg and Dr. Ken Duckworth, and CIT Expert Sam Cochran. The film is narrated by Steve Lopez, author of the best-selling book that inspired the film The Soloist.

NAMI Tennessee Executive Director K. Jeff Fladen announced that the World Premier for CODE will be held Thursday, June 18th, at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are $15 and will be used to help defray the cost of the film. CODE also will be shown at this year’s NAMI Convention in San Francisco on July 8th. I will be in the audience for that event.

We know that Crisis Intervention Team training has revolutionized how police departments interact with individuals who are in the midst of a psychotic break. Now, CODE offers us training specifically aimed at Correctional Officers. Given that jails and prisons have become our new mental asylums, this is an important film. Please circulate the trailer, make your local correctional departments aware of CODE and spread the word.

Thank you Dixie Gamble and NAMI Tennessee for this important life saving contribution!

Here is Dixie Gamble’s recent 31 Stories/ 31 Days posting.

Personal Stories

31 Stories, 31 Days: Dixie Gamble


Dixie Gamble

The crossroads where criminal justice and mental health intersect can be a dangerous place for people with mental illnesses. Nothing highlights this fact like living it. My youngest son, Garin, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder complicated by schizoaffective disorder in his early 20s, after being found in our bathtub holding a butcher knife to his own throat.

NAMI’s Journey of Hope program saved our sanity during this daunting, heartbreaking time for my husband and me. We left the program with communication, emotional, and psychological skills to support our own sanity and well-being.

The run up to Garin’s diagnosis was characterized by manic behavior that, even as a former psychotherapist, I thought was drug use. Garin was homeless and living on the streets when one summer night, my phone rang at 1 a.m., jolting me out of sleep.  A kind voice on the other end of the line said, “My name is Sgt. Twana Chick. I don’t want to startle you by calling this late, but I just started my shift.” She went on to say she was part of a law enforcement task force that worked closely with people on the street who had mental illnesses. She had been observing Garin and had reason to believe he was suffering from a mood disorder. We arranged to meet the following afternoon with Garin, but he was not ready to get help. It took another few months before his illness inundated his psyche to the point of suicide that he finally asked for help. Thankfully, Garin spent several weeks in a psych hospital and came out on medication.

A diagnosis and a prescription aren’t enough for many people, and they weren’t for Garin. He soon encountered law enforcement again, and this time the experience bore out our greatest fear: harm done by an officer not trained to respond to people with mental illnesses. Garin had only been out of the hospital for a couple of weeks when he began thinking his car was threatening him and he took a metal chair to the vehicle. Neighbors heard the commotion and called the police, who arrived later while Garin was sleeping. The officers kicked the door in, startling him. He was beaten with batons so many times his arms were black with bruises.

It took me several days to find Garin in jail, severely psychotic and confused. He was charged with felony resisting arrest. I knew in that moment that more officers needed to be like Sgt. Chick, empathic and well trained for crisis encounters with people with mental illnesses. I’m a filmmaker, and although I had never created a training film, I promised Garin that I would give it a shot.

My first training film featured Sgt. Chick as well as several people living with mental illnesses who spoke out about the dire need for crisis intervention training for first responders. Today, almost all police officers in the state of Tennessee have received the two-hour training and seen the video. I just completed my second training film for NAMI Tennessee, to raise awareness and improve skills for staff in jails and prisons. I’m proud of the work inspired by Garin’s experiences, but I’m not done.

Dixie Gamble is a documentary filmmaker and the producer of two training films on mental health for criminal justice professionals: SAFE: Safe Aware First Responders Education and CODE: Correction Officer De-Escalation Education. She lives in Southern California.

This profile is part of a series that will publish 31 stories in 31 days during Mental Health Month. See how NAMI is working with others on The Stepping Up Initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails.

– See more at:,-31-Days-Dixie-Gamble#sthash.pGun4GLf.dpuf

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.