A Mother Says Her Son Is Trapped: No One Listens To Her Pleas


Dear Pete,

My son, Dwayne Hicks, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder twenty-four years ago. He is one of the most talented, creative, artistic, patient, and sincere people you would ever meet. He figures out how to make things work and/or how to restore old things to make them appear new again; when others would have discarded them. He is an excellent hands-on dad. His two children love to play with him – and they enjoy just having him around. He has a heart of gold and loves anyone that half-way loves him – unconditionally.

I am writing to you because Dwayne is currently in the Virginia mental health system and it has been a nightmare trying to get him the help that he needs to recover. I believe my telling of his story might not only get attention and help for him, but also for others.

I also am writing to you because your son’s story — about how he broke into a stranger’s house to take a bubble bath — and my son’s story are eerily similar only with much different outcomes.

Our son was living with us along with his two children in late 2012 and had been working at a used car parts business when he began having trouble sleeping and began talking irrationally. I called the local crisis intervention services office, which is the Cumberland Mountain Community Services (CMCS) in rural Virginia. They told me there was nothing they could do unless he was trying to hurt or kill himself or hurt someone else.

One night, his girlfriend told him that he had to leave. He and his daughter had been watching TV – somehow he thought the TV told him to leave too. The family had just moved into a rental in the Raven, Va., area. After leaving the house, he walked to a nearby house, opened the unlocked basement door, went inside and sat there with the lights on. We are not sure how long he was there before the family came home. The police were called. Dwayne was not violent or argumentative; he was however, very confused and could not explain why he was there.

He was arrested, taken to jail and charged with breaking and entering to commit a burglary. Burglars do not usually sit in basements with the light on waiting for someone to find them. He spent two months in jail without medication. I told them he was a mentally disabled person and that he had been diagnosed when he was 18 years old with bipolar disorder. I tried to get him medication and treatment. I reached out to the jailers and medical staff at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Tazewell Facility; his court appointed attorney; the Tazewell County Commonwealth Attorney; the Tazewell County Sheriff Office; other county officials; as well as my Virginia State Legislators. Most everyone gave me kind words of advice, then pointed me in the direction of someone else. I continued contacting the next person I thought of or was told I should contact. I literally begged them to help Dwayne get some medicine prescribed for him while he was incarcerated. I explained that he was not a criminal. He was sick. I refused to give up but kept hitting brick walls.

I explained to anyone who would listen that there were periods, lasting sometimes as long as 5 years, when he was fine. He held a job, mostly doing carpentry, and received the title of “master carpenter.” Those years, he did not show any signs of bipolar disorder, and was an ordinary guy. I explained that Dwayne’s bipolar only surfaced when there were major traumatic events in his life, such as breaking up with a girlfriend.

Despite my pleas, Dwayne’s health continued to deteriorate during the two months while he was waiting for a hearing. I was afraid that he would die in jail. He was kept in solitary confinement part of the time. Other times he had to sleep on the floor because the jail was so overcrowded. Some of the jailers harassed him, telling him he needed to snap out of it and accusing him of faking mental illness. They verbally bullied him. Dwayne told us that some nights, they would not give him a blanket. Since he barely had any clothing – so he did not get to sleep. The concrete floors were hard and he stayed so cold. His children were begging me to help get their Daddy home, especially his little girl. It was a terrifying, heart wrenching experience for all of us. By this time, he had become incoherent and could not figure out what to do or why this was happening.

Before the hearing, the prosecutor amended the charges against him, from burglary to “Stalking with intention of bodily harm, burglary, and grand larceny.” This was a more serious felony. I was told the stalking charge was included because the girlfriend of the man renting the house that he had entered said there was someone in the road looking up at the house six months prior to that night, therefore they assumed that it must have been Dwayne. She also said that on another occasion, someone turned the doorknob while her 14 year-old daughter was home alone, but they did not see who turned the doorknob. Since Dwayne was found in their basement, they concluded it must have been him.

At the hearing, Dwayne was declared “not guilty by reason of insanity.”

After spending six months in jail for entering that house, he was sent to the  Southwest Virginia Mental Health Institute (SWVMHI) in Marion, VA. He would spent nearly three years there!

Dwayne participated in group therapy and did everything they expected of him. They were very strict and watched his every move. Several times he was written up for trivial things, like taking an apple from the dining room or forgetting to hand is his razor after shaving. Each time he was reprimanded and time was added to his stay. He was allowed to work in the canteen, or snack bar type store, and make a few dollars to spend on snacks for himself. He attended ceramics classes and made some exquisite art. Obviously, we visited him with his girls as often as we could.

In September 2015, Dwayne was granted a conditional release and sent to stay at a group home called Town and Country in Lebanon, VA. He was assigned a new case worker and doctor, neither of which had ever met Dwayne before.

Soon after he settled in, we noticed during a visit that Dwayne did not seem as stable. A month later, he started acting moody. He began losing weight. On Sunday, November 8, 2015, he spent the day at our house with his children. (We had been granted custody of them five months earlier.) He was irrational and irritable, but harmless. The only thing he wanted to do was discuss conspiracy theories and he seemed to be obsessed with strange ideas.

I called the group home to let the folks there know our concerns. The woman supervising the home told me she had been concerned ever since the psychiatrist had reduced his medicine. I was stunned. I was not aware that his medicine had been reduced. I told her that cutting his medicine in half was bound to trigger a mental breakdown, which is what seemed to happening.

Please note that no one talked to us about his medical history even though we had been at his side from when he first was diagnosed. What the family knew or said didn’t matter. Instead, people who barely knew him were calling the shots.

The group home supervisor told me that she had called his  case manager three times to let her know that Dwayne was acting psychotic. Despite these warning, the doctor, NGRI coordinator and that case manager said that they thought he was fine. None of them had spent any real time with him, certainly not as much as his family had.

My husband, his sisters, and I couldn’t believe this was happening. It was so frustrating. Dwayne had been stable when he first reported to the group home – until the doctor began reducing his meds. We found out later that he had been pretending to take that lower dose.

I decided to begin making calls to advocate for my son. I began with his case manager. I told her how Dwayne had acted when he had visited our house. She said she had only met with him a few times, and he seemed fine to her, but she admitted that she did not know him very well. She said she had not been able to tell me about the doctor’s decision to decrease his meds because Dwayne had not signed a HIPAA permission form. I told her he already signed one before. That’s when I found out that those orders expire after one year. She got him to sign a new one and arranged for me to be at his next doctor’s appointment.

I met Dwayne and went in with him to see the doctor on Monday, November 16, 2015. The nurse and the social worker had already told this doctor, who had only seen him twice, that Dwayne was having trouble. The doctor agreed to put him back on the same dosage as before. I prayed it wouldn’t be too late.

Four days later, I received a call. Dwayne was missing from the group home. My heart sank when she told me that she had called the commonwealth attorney in Tazewell County Virginia and an arrest warrant was issued for him. I became frantic. I left work and began calling everyone who he knew.

About a half hour later, my husband called to let me know the police were searching our house. Not long after that, Dwayne returned to the group home. Because he had left without permission, my son was told he would not be allowed to continue living there.

I raced over to speak to Dwayne. He told me he had been in the woods praying.

“God healed me, I do not need the medicine,” he said.

 A few moments later, the police came and I watched them handcuff him, put him in the back seat of the police car, and take him back to jail.

He could have been released from the group home in six months to one year but now we had to start over. That evening, I called the jail and discovered that he was not there. I assumed he had been sent back to the state mental hospital but after making more calls, I learned he’d been moved to a nearby jail in Abingdon. I talked to a mental health worker there and she said Dwayne seemed to be doing okay but that he was refusing to take his medication because he believed God had cured him.

Days turned into weeks and then a month went by. A hearing was finally held, but I was not allowed to attend. Dwayne spent another Christmas in jail, without bond. I was told that Dwayne would stay in jail until his next court hearing on January 12, 2016.

I discovered that the mental health workers, who were in charge of Dwayne at the group home, had tried three times to get him back in the state hospital before he left the group home  without permission. They knew he was sick but because he was not dangerous, no one would do anything until he got into trouble and then they wanted to punish him.

Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought caseworkers, social workers, coordinators, and doctors/psychiatrist were supposed to promote wellness and better mental health. Instead, all those in charge of his care stood by and watched as my son gradually got  worse, and eventually had another mental breakdown.

On January 27, 2016, my son was finally transferred back to the hospital from the jail.

I am so frustrated. My son is sick. He is not a criminal. Yet now he has a serious criminal record and he is stuck in a system that treats him with indifference and refuses to listen to those of us who love him.

His next court hearing is July 14, 2016. At that time, he may be sent to another group home, for another try.

This time, I will try to make certain no one lowers his medication.

More than three years have passed since he entered that basement. Three years.

I have read on your blog about CIT and Jail Diversion. None of that happened in my son’s case.


Diana Stinson

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.