100,000 Readers Touched By Mother’s Letter: 3 Editorials Decry Jamycheal Mitchell’s Death: Is Anyone Listening?

AFP6E1 Silhouette of a woman sitting by a window in a dim room and holding her head

(3-25-16) A letter by a distraught but courageous mother whose son has both autism and a mental illness was the most read article on my Facebook page and author’s website this week and, so far, the entire year. It was shared more than 180 times on Facebook and was seen by an estimated 100,000 readers.

Why did this mother’s letter resonate with so many readers? (If you missed it, you can read it here.

It’s because she is not alone in her suffering and her frustration about our broken mental health care system that is failing so many of our loved ones.

In addition to her letter, I posted blogs this week about the death of Jamycheal Mitchell, the 24 year-old African American with mental illness who literally wasted away in a jail cell waiting for a bed in a state hospital. Three prominent Virginia newspapers have published editorials about Mitchell’s preventible death, joining in the chorus of advocates demanding to be told how a prisoner was allowed to starve himself to death while under the watch of the for-profit, private NAPHCARE medical staff and state mental health officials.

The mother’s letter to me and Mitchell’s death are the latest examples of why we need significant reforms that have yet to come from Congress or state leaders.

Here are three snippets from emails sent to me by readers who were touched by the mother’s letters, followed by comments lifted from the editorials about Mitchell.

I feel her pain – literally. She spoke for so many of us who face the same things day after day. I know the agony of trying to make things better for a child (and now a grandchild) when they don’t understand why they even have to exist because they are in such pain.  Also the fear of the future and what it might bring.  I hope she has access to support – NAMI has been my lifesaver.  Just sharing with others and knowing that I am not alone is helpful.  I am sending love and prayers to her. –B.

Her story is so real.  I love her analogy about trying to climb a hill of sand. It really nails the experience and the frustration.  We all want hope but I guess many of us are not really sure what hope is??  People in our situation see hope differently from others because of the reality of the illness.  -R.

I have been a mother to a child for 34 years of whom doctors have said there is no hope. I have been advised to prepare for possible suicide, as the same doctors have seen that horrible end occur to others with a similar diagnosis.( PTSD from trauma endured since babyhood, bi-polar, severe drug-resistant depression. and more diagnosis on top of those). I know the anguish of not being able to take away the pain that causes the suicide attempts. I know the maddening urge and accompanying guilt when ‘momma fails to fix all boo-boos.”   No one can love or look out for my child as I do, and no one is as fiercely loyal to the  personal medical needs as I am, and no one takes more responsibility for my child’s existence than I do. There are loving devoted mothers, and then there are Type-A mothers who never ever will quit on their children, themselves, and any obstacle, even God, that may get in the way of their child’s health and happiness. My mother and most that I know are not Type-A.  After years of telling myself I was indispensable to my child, that I accepted all responsibility, and all the guilt and blame where applicable, I stopped and asked myself — if my child by some miracle pulls through, will I take all the credit? Why of course not, so what is going on here?   Eventually I let the guilt, shame and embarrassment dissipate. I learned how to delegate and disappear, and so became less indispensable. I stopped trying to make everything right which meant I had to make concessions. I wrestled with hope and almost wrote a book on it. 

              No one can tell you, dear lady, when to stop fighting, sacrificing and literally bleeding for your son’s life. I did as you for three decades, though closer to the bottom 99%. I haven’t stopped – and I never will – but I have forced a kindness and compassion upon myself that none other can. I have pronounced myself forgiven, of all that I have perceived as having failed my grown child. I remind myself that in my typical high-achiever fashion, I did my utmost best and will continue to – and albeit if not good enough well then – se la vie. There is a certain resignation that one must acknowledge and achieve. It is not a giving up, or giving in to hopelessness. It is more like working with the stark realities as they are, instead of pushing or wishing them away. I became weary of clinging to hope after a while, and so I smacked it as if it were slacking off the job, and started looking around at love, and patience, and where anger and injustice fit in. When I changed my expectations in regard to my child’s life, my own life became less impossible. 

            I wish the best for you and your family with my words of intended encouragement. Much of what I’ve learned on coping with life’s sometimes seemingly insurmountable tragedies, is due to my lifelong diagnosis of bi-polar disorder. I am of the 4% with severe chronic bouts of mania and depression. I share my ‘mental illness’ with gifted creative geniuses, and tormented mass murderers alike. I tell you this so as for you to take heart – -if I can find a peaceable way to face life with an “incurable”, child, certainly you, an intelligent lawyer with no mental illness of your own to manage, can do so – ! and you will….. M.

Editorials about Jamycheal Mitchell’s death after he was arrested for stealing $5 of snacks.

The Richmond Times Dispatch wrote:  CRUEL INDIFFERENCE IN VIRGINIA JAILS 

The tragic mix of incompetence, indifference and error that caused the death of Jamycheal Mitchell would be disheartening even if it were an isolated case… Problems like those illustrated by the Mitchell … case rarely turn out to be isolated. More often the cases that come to light exemplify systemic flaws that require comprehensive responses. Will Virginia finally coordinate such responses — or will the state simply wring its hands for a day or two and then wait once again for the next tragedy?


The state can drag its feet no longer. A young man’s life was lost because of institutional failures. Atoning for that tragedy requires that we tackle Virginia’s problem in Mitchell’s name, to make certain his death is the last of its sort.

The Daily Progress in Charlottesville wrote:  SYSTEM FAILS AGAIN ON TREATMENT

How many more people must die?

After the tragic death of state Sen. Creigh Deeds’ son, when mental health authorities failed to find a hospital bed for him when he was in crisis, a new report details the death of Portsmouth inmate who similarly was waiting for space in a mental health facility.

His paperwork apparently got lost. He finally died in jail, covered in his own urine and feces.

Thankfully, Sarah Kleiner, an investigative reporter at Richmond Times Dispatch, is continuing to pursue this unfolding story. So far, NAPHCARE officials have not commented.

mitchell (1)

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.