Michael Brown Shooting Got National Attention. What About Deaths of Mentally Ill Prisoners?

Christopher Lopez, 35, sits restrained with a spit hood over his head in the final hours of his life. (Provided by the Colorado Department of Corrections via a lawsuit by the estate of Christopher Lopez)

Christopher Lopez, 35, sits restrained with a spit hood over his head in the final hours of his life. (Provided by the Colorado Department of Corrections via a lawsuit by the estate of Christopher Lopez)


While I was reading and watching news coverage of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri,  I found myself thinking about the deaths of three prisoners who had severe mentally illnesses.

*Jerome Murdough, a 56 year-old former Marine with schizophrenia, died in his Rikers Island jail cell in New York  after he was arrested for sleeping in a stairwell to avoid inclement weather. Temperatures in his cell exceeded more than a 100 degrees and, as one city official later put it, Murdough “literally baked to death.” The officers watching him were supposed to be periodically checking on him, but didn’t.

*Darren Rainey, age 50, was locked in a shower stall with steam and scalding water for more than an hour as punishment by correctional officers in Florida after he defecated in his cell and refused to clean it up.  His screams for help were ignored and when his lifeless body was removed from the stall, his skin showed signs of “slippage,” which happens when badly burned flesh literally begins falling off. Rainey had a mental illness and was serving time for cocaine possession.

*Christopher Lopez, age 35, died from severe hyponatremia, a condition that develops when a person’s sodium levels fall fatally low. It’s been suggested that Lopez had been given too much psychotropic medication, which caused his body to begin shutting down. According to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by his family, several guards, nurses, and a mental health clinician stood outside Lopez’s cell, where he was lying  manacled on the floor, talking casually and laughing while he suffered a series of seizures. He had schizophrenia.

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Ten Years Later: I Still Miss My Best Friend


8-25-14  While my schedule keeps me from responding to all of the emails that I receive, I do read all of them. I especially enjoy reading personal stories. Here is one from a reader in Australia that I wish to share. While it is a sad note, it also describes the beauty of friendship. Having friends is important, especially when someone has a serious mental illness and often feels isolated and alone.  

Dear Pete,

I had a friend who took lithium for 25 years. It kept her sane and she was able to work fulltime, but it eventually destroyed her kidneys.
She was on dialysis for four years before she died in a private hospital.

When her kidneys began to fail, she had to be taken off lithium, and all sorts of other medication was tried to keep her thinking straight. Before she was on lithium, she was suicidal and jumped off the Auckland Harbor Bridge. She landed near a boat where men were fishing, and they dragged her aboard. The police picked her up and took her to hospital.

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Opponents Form PAC, Murphy Stumps For Votes, Fight About Mental Health Continues


Representative Tim Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act didn’t make it to the House floor for a vote this year, but the Pennsylvania Republican’s promise to reintroduce the bill in the coming legislative session continues to keep both its supporters and opponents busy.

Opponents have created a Stop The Murphy Bill Political Action Committee (PAC) to kill the proposed legislation. The PAC’s spokesperson, Jeanne Peschier, explained in a statement that the group will focus on mid-term elections and “will advocate for legislation that reduces forced psychiatric treatment and increases funding for alternatives to it. We will educate Congress and the public about the harms of forced psychiatric treatment.”  You can read more about the PAC and Jeanne Peschier at the Mental Health Civil Rights Protest blog.

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Florida College Renames “Maniac” Mascot Because Of Your Emails!

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Your voices have been heard!

Risdon Slate, a fellow mental health advocate, told me in April about an offensive mascot called The Maniac that a Christian college in Lakeland Florida had created.  I wrote a blog about how that mascot appeared to marginalize and stigmatize individuals with mental illnesses. Several of you agreed and voiced your concerns in emails to the college’s president.

This weekend, Risdon sent me this follow-up.

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Clubhouses offer HOPE: We need more of them!



8-22-14  (The Hilton Foundation, http://hiltonfoundation.org, announced last month that Fountain House/Clubhouse International was chosen to receive the 2014 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.  At $1.5 million, the Prize is the world’s largest and most prestigious humanitarian award. It is presented to a non-profit judged to be doing extraordinary work to alleviate human suffering. This is the first time the Hilton Prize has been awarded to a mental health organization. In 2010, I wrote about the importance of clubhouses. Congratulations to Fountain House and to the many Clubhouses that it has helped launch.)

Clubhouses Change Lives

I am always touched when I hear recovery stories, especially those told by young people.  Jourdan Miller, a beautiful girl in her  early twenties, described how important the HOPE Clubhouse in Ft. Myers was to her recovery. As with so many of our young people, Jourdan had excelled as a teenager and had gone to college with big plans – only to become sick.  She was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and not long after that she became so ill that she had to drop out. At one point, she was suicidal. When she called the local police during a manic episode, rather than getting help, she ended up getting arrested and  jailed — “to be taught a lesson.”  That experience – at the hands of unsympathetic and poorly trained sheriff’s deputies — resulted in her developing PTSD.

Jourdan  spoke eloquently at a recent luncheon about how she was in such anguish that she simply wanted to give up —  until her parents got her to visit the HOPE CLUBHOUSE.

“The HOPE CLUBHOUSE,” she said. “Saved my life.”

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Federal Prosecutors’ Thirst For Revenge: The Nexus Between Robin Williams and John Hinckley


(8-18-2014)  Robin Williams’ suicide touched a wide swath and judging from the number of emails that I received, those of us who deal with mental illnesses  felt especially compelled to comment. But while Williams’ death saddened me, it was a less noticed news item last week that alarmed me.

Federal prosecutors announced they were considering filing new charges against would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr. after a Virginia medical examiner ruled that former White House press Secretary James Brady’s recent death was a homicide.

Hinckley shot Brady while trying to kill President Ronald Reagan in 1981 outside a Washington D.C. hotel. However, Brady didn’t die until earlier this month while living in a Virginia retirement home. He was 73 years old.

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