My Son’s In Jail Getting Worse, Mother Says. What Will Happen To Him?

(6-22-20) If you publicly call for better mental health services, you will begin getting emails from individuals seeking help. Here’s a recent example that I received from a Florida mother. Because her son is an adult and will be in court Wednesday for a competency hearing, I have chosen to delete their names. If you believe you have helpful advice, post it on my Facebook page. 


It’s a call no one wants to get.

“Your son has been arrested and is in jail.”

The person on the other end of the phone was saying my son had been charged with battery of a law officer, resisting arrest, and harm with a deadly weapon.

I replied: “Are you sure you have the right person?”

My son had never been violent before and certainly did not carry a deadly weapon. I handed the phone to my husband.

Our son has a mental illness and it has been getting worse. More recently, he began going into restaurants to order a meal and drinks, and then leave without paying the bill. When he remembered he owed money, he would go back the next day and pay his debt. When I asked why he did that he had no answer.

Growing up our son was very social, smart and liked by many.

He worked at the same university, that he graduated from, as a hurricane researcher. His future looked bright. However, seven years ago, before his thirtieth birthday, his life changed dramatically.

On his way home from work, he was distracted by a bug flying into his car. He did not notice the van in front of him had suddenly stopped and he ran into it. The collision knocked the van forward and it was side-swiped by two other cars. The driver of the van was in a wheelchair and the wheelchair fell over during the accident. At first, it seemed she was fine but she later died of internal bleeding. Our son was devastated and very upset for the family. After months of litigation, it was found the wheelchair wasn’t properly installed. But that didn’t ease how badly he felt.

After the car accident, he quit his job and moved to California. Things didn’t go the way he was hoping. He lost all his savings in trying to start a new endeavor. Then he almost lost his life when he was threatened and had a gun pointed to his head during an incident. He left for Boston to visit a friend but ran into more bad luck. While snowboarding, he struck a tree and suffered a head injury.

From there, he went to Tampa to visit other friends. He began searching for a job but had a mental meltdown. He called me and sounded stressed and paranoid. He had to get out of Tampa so we arranged for him to come home to the Fort Myers Beach area.

He was not the same person who left.

I spent the night reassuring him that everything was ok. I had never seen our son in such a bad state. I took him to a crisis center where he was diagnosed as having schizophrenia. After a year with hospitals, doctors, and medication changes, he was able to be well enough to leave our home and get a job in a different city.

We were hopeful but after two months, he called and said he wasn’t feeling well. He was hearing voices. We told him we were coming to get him, even though he didn’t want us to. When we got to his apartment he was lying in bed and was having a hard time functioning. He’d stopped taking his meds and had been drinking. We convinced him to pack everything up and move back home. I contacted his doctor and he told me to increase our son’s medication doses. With the increase, our son could not get out of bed. Worse, he was still hearing voices in his head. Instead of getting better, the medication was making him worse.

I did some research and it seemed our son could not metabolize his medications properly. I asked the doctor to do a gene drug test. The doctor said he didn’t think it necessary, but I insisted. After the testing, the doctor went over the results with us. Our son was a poor metabolizer and certain medications could make him worse. The medication that he was taking was one of the ones that he couldn’t metabolize.

This led to several weeks of more medication changes and experimentation. Our son was now having full blown conversations with himself and had a hard time sitting still. Some of the conversations would be talking about the accident and wondering if the person had a seat belt on, if she was okay or if she was still in the hospital.

I contacted the doctor several times through phone calls, emails and fax. He decided our son was in such bad shape that he Baker Acted him. (editor’s note: This law allows an individual to be taken involuntarily into custody and delivered to a mental hospital for evaluation.)

He was in a facility for 25 days.

Even though our son still was not well, we were told that he was going to be discharged. When he was released, we took him to a different doctor to be examined. This doctor immediately Baker Acted him, and he was taken to a different facility for another 25 days.

When he came home to us, he was wired. He was not sleeping and walked around the neighborhood for 23 hrs. I called the facility for advice, but was told by the staff that he was not their patient anymore once he left there.

The stress level in our lives increased. He was picked up by a sheriff’s deputy who Baker Acted him again due to his bizarre behavior. I was not able to talk or visit him and was told by the facility that HIPAA laws prevented them from telling us what was happening. I told the staff: “My son is delusional and doesn’t know what is going on.” I need to see him.  I was able to see him after five days and he was in such bad shape that the other patients were telling me to get him out of there. He had not slept in 5 days. The hospital was giving him one of the medications that were on the list I gave them that he shouldn’t have been taking!

He was released from the hospital, not because he was better, but because the courts said he could come home.

His thoughts were irrational. He thought he had kids. He even told me their names and ages and they were here for a visit during Christmas. Our son has never been married and has no children. He started believing that I was not his mother and he said he didn’t know me.

Life now revolved around more doctors, hospitals and different medications. I called every facility and rehab hospital I could. He needed long term care where he could be monitored for medications and treatment for all his trauma. In Florida, a patient had to consent to treatment. He’d had enough of hospitals and would not agree to go.

My husband emailed the governor for months sharing our concerns about getting help for our son. The emails were forwarded to others but still no one helped us. I continued calling places that advertised in helping patients with mental health issues, even rehabs that treat PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. Either they couldn’t help without our son’s consent or they didn’t take insurance.

I hired an attorney to gain guardianship. The attorney assured me that once I had guardianship, I would be able to get him the tests, treatment and help he needed without his consent. Unfortunately, after paying the attorney a huge fee, this proved to be untrue. We were told that we still needed to get his consent to help even though he was unable to think rationally.

I couldn’t rest whenever he left our house at night to roam the streets. Many times, he was out all night and wouldn’t come home until the next morning. The times he didn’t come home I would look on the Sheriff ‘s website to see if he got arrested or Baker Acted or went to the hospital. All I could do was pray for his safety.

The feeling of powerlessness was overwhelming.

On one such night, I looked on the sheriff web site and I saw our son’s name. I called the jail right away explaining his condition and asked what I needed to do to get him out. My husband and I paid a bail bond company $150.00 for his $1500.00 bond for a trespassing charge. The owner of a restaurant had called the police and had him arrested. I’d previously visited the restaurant and explained that our son was sick. I told them that if he ever caused any trouble, my husband and I would deal with it. They never notified me; instead they called the police and made a joke about his arrest. The manager told the media that he kept a picture of our son by the bar and mentioned that one-time our son tried to take a shower in the bathroom (there are no showers in the bathroom.)

We met with a Public Defender who had experience in mental health cases.

I had read that once a person with mental illness is arrested, a judge can court order them into treatment but the lawyer told me our son’s charge was a misdemeanor and he had to be charged with a felony to get a judge’s help. I couldn’t believe it.

Which brings me back to the night that I received the call about him being charged with battery of a law officer, resisting arrest, and harm with a deadly weapon.  Three felonies!

Our son had gone into a different restaurant at closing time. After being served, he was asked to pay his bill but he went into the bathroom mumbling to himself. He came out and sat down. The manager called the sheriff’s office because the manager thought our son was going to leave without paying the $18 bill. A sheriff’s deputy arrived and put his hand on our son’s shoulder and went to handcuff him because he was being arrested. Our son hadn’t seen the officer approach him from behind. He jumped up and swung his arm over his head and struck the deputy in the face. The deputy and our son ended up on the floor and when the deputy broke free, he grabbed his taser and shot our son three times. Our son tried to grab the taser away. By then other deputies arrived and took him down.

The local news made this a big story about a man dining-and-dashing and hitting an officer after not paying a $18 bill.

My son has been sitting in jail for 7 weeks now and not doing well, he’s been in the infirmary since he has been there. Wednesday he has a court appearance.

I want my story to get out. Many judge those with mental illnesses, arguing they need to be locked up in an institution. We parents are judged for not being able to help our adult children. I used to think that way until it happened to my son.

Now I see how the mental health system and our legal system are flawed. Laws need to change so a family member, who has legal guardianship over a mentally ill patient deemed irrational and non-functional, has authority to get them help in spite of the patient’s refusal. We need facilities where the patient and family members get the right type of help that includes testing, therapy and proper medication. Lastly, our police officers need more education and training in approaching a non-violent citizen. When a person is approached with force it’s a normal reaction to defend one self.

Meanwhile, my husband and I keep asking ourselves: what will happen to our son?

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.