Determined Mother Put Words Into Action To Help Son With Schizophrenia

Chris, Charles, and Lisa. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Taliaferro.)

(7-5-23)  Lisa Taliaferro and her husband, Chris, felt cursed.

Three of their five children were diagnosed as  young adults with varying degrees of schizophrenia. They began to believe that they hit the trifecta!

“We began questioning God,” Lisa recalled in a recent interview. “What did we do wrong? Why Us?”

Over time, the deeply religious couple found solace.

“Each of us is put on earth to do something,” Lisa said, “and when you are able to find your purpose, that’s when God begins to speak to you and He shows you what He wants you to do. It may not be just for you or your family, but for other multitudes of people that need to be touched and helped by your story.”

Lisa decided to spread her story of hope and also put her words into action by creating a non-profit, mental illness organization called Patients Not Prisoners based in Saint Augustine, Florida.

She launched a grass-roots non profit  after her youngest son, Charles, became entangled in the criminal justice system like so many others with serious mental illnesses.

“Charles is very intelligent,” she explained. Her son graduated from a private military academy with a 4.2 academic record and received 8 full-tuition-paid scholarship offers. He planned to eventually join the military, but during the first semester of his accepted  scholarship offer, he appeared before his mother one day and said, “Mom, something is wrong with my brain, Mom it’s dark.”

Charles had multiple hospitalizations. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Taliaferro.)

This was the beginning of a treacherous journey that continues today. He was diagnosed with rapidly progressing schizophrenia. Chris began self-medicating with illegal drugs. When his symptoms grew worse, he had multiple suicide attempts. During a twelve year span, he was hospitalized 52 times.

Parents Tried Everything To Help Their Son

“We never gave up on Charles,” Lisa said. At various times, she and husband took sabbaticals from their careers to take care of Charles at home. Lisa quit one high paying job at an international investment firm. “We love our son through thick and thin and wanted to give him the help he needed to fight this disease.”

But both parents soon discovered they were no match for Charles’ debilitating brain disease.

Charles was arrested in Florida for misdemeanor trespassing. Three prisoners in his cell attacked him and when correctional officers responded there was a melee. Charles was charged with a felony – battery of a law enforcement officer – even though his parents insist a jail video of the incident questions these allegations.

Charles was transferred to a more secure facility that held violent/high risk prisoners where he waited for five months for a state hospital bed to be available – not to treat him but to restore him to competency so that he could be put on trial. Thirteen months later, his hearing on the battery charge was held.

Lisa and Chris accepted a public defenders advice and urged Charles to plea no-contest rather than fighting it in court. The judge sentenced him to time served and three years of supervised probation. Charles was sent to an assisted living facility (ALF) to ensure that he took his medications.

Their Son Was Sent To Live With  Elderly Residents In Nursing Home

“That house turned out to really be a nursing home with Charles, other mentally ill patients including elderly residents,” his father said. “This process was extremely frustrating because everyone was operating in their own silo. There were gaps in communications and processes. There was little continuity and no specific process for the severely mentally ill.

Charles began hearing voices, telling him that he was in danger so he left the ALF, walking seven miles to his parents’ home. Knowing their son was violating his probation by leaving the ALF without permission, Lisa and Chris drove him back. But instead of excusing Charles’ short absence, his probation officer had him arrested for parole violation and returned to jail. (He was still there when I interviewed the couple.)


As a result of a generous grant from MEASURE, Lisa and 12 other community members met for 14 weeks to create solutions to this problem.  Sometimes Traditional evaluation fails to meet the needs of the people most impacted by inequity.This was a new approach that put community members at the front of research and evaluation.

This process produced a community mobilization plan and  Patients Not Prisoners. Was formed to help Other parents who were going through the same trauma.”

Patients Not Prisoners has three goals: Advocate for Change, Public Education and Family Support. Lisa reached out to Colonel Joseph Wells, the chief deputy at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, and found a willing partner in her campaign to foster restorative rather than punitive justice

I first met Lisa and Colonel Wells where Patients Not Prisoners’ chose my book, CRAZY: A Fathers Search Through America’s Mental Health Care System, as part of a community read-a-book program and later when I spoke at the group’s Day Of Compassion event that brought representatives from the courts, law enforcement, mental health providers and the county together to discuss ways to better coordinate services. Lisa told me that a second Day of Compassion will be held next year, May 18, 2024.

Lisa, who is Baptist, and Chris, who is Catholic, said their faith has been their family bedrock as parents. The couple attends Baptist and Catholic services together each Sunday. “We call ourselves “Batholics. .”

It was their faith, she said, that convinced them that they were not cursed, but given a new purpose. “We were chosen to not only help our son but others.”

Lisa Taliaferro, with Patients not Prisoners is here to help us, and help those suffering in our community. from The 904 Now on Vimeo.

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.