3 1/2 Years Demanding Treatment In Hospital, Rather Than Prison. A Chance For Redemption

(7-16-19) This is part two of Elena Broslovsky’s courageous telling of her family’s struggle to help Gabriel whose serious mental illness led to him being incarcerated for a violent attack that happened when he was psychotic.

Of Dragons, Magic Pills, And A Nine Word Incantation (Part Two)

Guest blog by Elena Broslovsky, author, blogger, advocate and mother.

My husband and I were on a Ferry boat sliding through Alaska’s Inside Passage.  It was my Birthday.  My phone rang.  We were told there was no cell service and I thought I had turned it off.   The call was from the 707 area code.  I almost didn’t answer as I block most calls from places not in my contacts.

“Hello, I am in Napa,” a breathless and excited voice exclaimed

“Who is this?”

“It’s your Son!  Happy Birthday!  They transferred me to Napa, I thought I was going to Atascadero but …”

He was cut off.  Cell service really ended and the boat was not set to stop till Wrangell.  When it finally docked, I tore down the gang plank  knowing I had limited time as it was a short unloading stop.

A few people with dogs got off to let the dogs sniff and pee.  There was one tiny out building but no phone I could use.  I ran to the highway,  risking the boat leaving.  There were tall quiet pines on the other side of the two lane highway.  An occasional beat up truck whizzed by.  I crazily speed walked down the edge of the road and miraculously caught a bar and hit redial on his call.  It was a pay phone and a patient answered who didn’t know by son’s name but finally said,

“Oh, it’s the new kid..”

A painful silence ensued and then my son’s voice sounding brighter than it had years excitedly stumbling over the events that brought him to Napa and describing the conditions there and what it was like to be out of a small cell.

My husband was wildly waving from other side of road.  People and pets had returned to boat. The gang plank was being removed as the fog horn bleated its last warning.

“Wait” I wailed, elated as I scrambled back across the road, through the parking lot and the purser, as the gate was being chained closed.

Gabriel had stayed in jail for three and a half years while we fought to get him hospitalized. 

A very small percent of those charged with a violent felony are granted this life saving privilege, even with a proven serious mental illness.  Most are inhumanely kept locked in cages where a cure is highly unlikely.  Most become sicker and remain a danger to themselves and others.  Most do not have the  advantage of two loving parents who are able to appear at each court appearance.  (Gabriel had 23 court appearance over three and a half years.)  Most do not have the services of a committed, compassionate Public Defender as we did.  Many do not know how the court system works.  Many do not know that they can advocate with letters and provide medical and psychiatric histories even though their loved one has not signed a release.  In larger cities the courts are so clogged and the Public Defender’s have such heavy case loads that many suffering from debilitating mental illness are coerced to accept a plea even when there is a defensible case. This happened to our son after his first arrest.  I was determined not to let it happen again.

As a NAMI volunteer I prevailed on our chapter President to send a letter of support to the DA.  She lost her own son to suicide and has worked tirelessly since then to educate and advocate.  She is well known and well respected in our county.  Her letter stated that

“…this case cries out for a thoughtful solution that will protect the public and also provide needed treatment for the defendant. We know that treatment works.”

As I  write, it has been ten months since his healing journey in Napa State Hosptial began. While it is a locked, secured facility and there are gates, guards, and barbwire, it is also a place of healing and support. The difference in Gabriel is astonishing.

For over three years we had visited behind a glass wall after he was shuffled handcuffed and in leg irons, in his orange jump suit.  Many times he would make no eye contact for the entire hour visit.  Often he would refuse to speak and I would just sing to him through the wall phone.  I never even dreamed I would be able to look into his eyes or hug him again.

But we left a prison system where there was no respect or teaming with loved ones (other than to allow visiting) and little hope of recovery.

Our first visit to Napa felt like we were entering OZ, a technicolor place bright with hope for a possible recovery, connection to loved ones, and a productive life.

Who was the handsome, clean cut smiling man, who looked me in the eye with a huge smile and bear hug?

We met in a a large lunch room type area after going through triple security checks.  There are other families each seated at a round table.  We are allowed to bring in food and there are vending machines for drinks.

Families and friends are encouraged to visit and to interact with staff.  In November the staff volunteers to put on a Thanksgiving meal for over 600 family members.

The patients in Napa are treated with respect and dignity.  While they must wear tan or brown clothes they are given a choice of different types of shirts and pants and responsible for laundering them.

Not everyone responds are well as Gabe who is taking ten classes and participating in relapse prevention, substance recovery, symptom management groups, as well as computer class.

He is learning what he must do if he is ever to reintegrate into society.  He must come to terms with what he did and understand why.  He will not be considered “cured” and turned out on the street dazed and confused as so many are after a 72 hour hold.  Instead, he will go through a conditional release program CONREP, and gradually learn how to become a taxpaying contributing member of his community.

These are some of the differences I observed.

  1. The use of family members by staff as part of the treatment team both with and without release forms.
  2. Trauma Informed Care training given to Corrections Officers, Police Force, and all staff that interface with patients and family members.
  3. Safe, supervised space where family members meet, eat, and interact with loved ones.
  4. Partnership, education and special events offered to family members by staff.
  5. Con Rep services.  (Continued monitoring and support for conditional release)

Of those patients admitted to NSH (Napa State Hospital) about 65 percent get well enough to be discharged. Once hospitalized and on CONREP many persons with serious mental illnesses become tax payers and not tax users. If long term hospitals are built, the number of incarcerated mentally ill and homeless mentally ill would fall substantially and any cost the hospitalization would be more than made up for in a decreased need for homeless programs, housing, jail cells.

As a NAMI volunteer, I answer our Helpline and facilitate Family Support Groups.  We see so many families lost, confused, and frightened, looking for and needing answers. We need to work together to find ways to end that confusion, that fear, and offer answers. The practices at Napa are so much more conducive to recovery than jails and prisons. But we need to look backward to when my son and others first get sick. We need to help them before they end up in Napa.

I look back and see so many missed opportunities.  I look back and I can still smell the sweet spot on the crown of my baby’s head, and see his bright blue eyes smiling up at me.

I look back on the night he attacked Dove. It could have been me. It could have been another.

Now, I look forward with hope. I look for a chance to heal. I look for a chance of redemption.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elena and her husband Attorney Allen Broslovsky live in Aptos CA where they advocate for families dealing with SMI Serious Mental Illness.  They are members of the local NAMI chapter https://www.namiscc.org/ where Elena is part of the Helpline team and a Family Support Group facilitator.   They are also members of the amazing NAMI Family Support Group that meets at NAPA State Hospital and is supported by the NSH Staff. You can read more of her blog posts here.



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.