U.S. Senator Openly Discusses His Depression – Courageous Candor That Challenges Stigma

(4-4-23) Thomas Eagleton was forced to resign as George McGovern’s presidential running mate in 1972 after Eagleton acknowledged that he’d been treated for depression. This Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning,  Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) told Jane Pauley (who has written about her own mental issues) about his debilitating depression. In this editorial, The Washington Post rightly praises Fetterman for disclosing his struggle. Another step forward against stigma and shame.

 John Fetterman shines a light on dark days and nights

John Fetterman at a news conference on Nov. 9, after winning a U.S. Senate seat representing Pennsylvania. (Joe Lamberti for The Washington Post)

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) on Sunday offered a moving and exemplary profile in courage, one that could help millions of other Americans by defying the stigma on mental illness.  In an interview broadcast on CBS’s “Sunday Morning” with Jane Pauley, the senator described in raw, personal terms how he had confronted depression and checked himself in for treatment following his victory in the marquee race of the 2022 election.

Mr. Fetterman, then Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, suffered a stroke last May, and his health became an issue during the campaign. Declaring he was fighting for everyone “that ever got knocked down,” he defeated Mehmet Oz, the celebrity television host, for the Senate seat. Then, a dark cloud appeared to envelop him after Election Day.

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Born Bad or Made Bad? Did Years Of Abuse As Kids Turn Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain Into Killers? Genetics/Choice?

“Sitting silently thinking and screaming 4 freedom from this constant insanity and endless solitary confinement.” Drawing by Thomas Silverstein about being in isolation for years. (Copyrighted Pete Earley Inc.)

THIS IS THE LAST DAY to enter the GoodReads giveaway to win a free copy of No Human Contact. Click here.

(4-3-23) Were Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain born bad or did they become bad because of the childhood physical abuses inflicted on them, including the savagery and depravity that each endured as youngsters and later in prisons? 

Silverstein was physically abused by an alcoholic and vicious mother who relentlessly beat him. Fountain’s mother shot him with a pistol in the leg and his Marine father would dispatch him into the woods to be stalked during a sick game before beating him. Both men murdered correctional officers. Silverstein was accused of committing three other violent murders while in prison. Fountain committed four additional killings.

Was this violent behavior linked to years of abuse?

Silverstein and Fountain are not the only men born into violent homes, who endured corporal punishment when it was common practice in schools, and who were sent to youth correctional facilities and ultimately prison. Few commit multiple murders.

In this excerpt from my new book, NO HUMAN CONTACT: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security, and Two Inmates Who Changed the System, Silverstein describes his twisted love/hate relationship with his abusive mother.

NO HUMAN CONTACT by Pete Earley, available April 25th.

     “No mommy! No!”

    The five-year-old lifted both hands to block the leather belt that his mother was swinging. It slapped into his bare thighs and he screamed.

    “You wet the bed!” she hollered, lifting her belt and again hitting the child cowering in front of her.

     She grabbed a paper cup. “Pee in here,” she yelled.  

     Sobbing, he dropped his yellow stained white underwear to his feet and peed into the cup.

    “Now drink it! You drink it or I’ll swat you again. You’re going to drink every drop every time you pee in the bed!”

     “Mommy don’t make me drink my pee pee.”

      He yelped when she struck him again. He raised the cup to his mouth.    — One of Thomas Silverstein’s first vivid memory of his mother, Virginia.Click to continue…

“Mental Illness Should Not Be Your Ticket To Death.” Calls To Police End In Tragedy

Five fatal police shootings of mentally ill examined by Portland   Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

(3-25-23) When you call the police because a family member is in the midst of a serious mental health crisis, you are desperate for help. But despite years of encouraging officers to undergo Crisis Intervention Team training, tragedies continue to happen.

My son, Kevin, was shot twice with tasers when we sought help from the Fairfax County (Va.) Police. We were lucky. Last July, Fairfax Police officers fatally shot Jasper Aaron Lynch, 26, inside his parent’s home after they asked for help and CIT officers responded.

The death of Irvo Otieno in Henrico County, Va., has sparked national coverage and outrage as officials scramble to explain what happened. I received a phone call asking me to reserve judgment immediately after Otieno’s death, but as more and more information leaks out, it is difficult to believe this was an unavoidable “accident.”

Virginia’s political leaders need to investigate what went wrong and implement changes. One would be to stop the police for filing assault charges against an individual in a mental health crisis if they become violent.  Unless the assaults lead to a serious injury, such charges only exasperate a problem. (They often are based on spitting at an officer or shoving a hospital worker.)

Otieno was charged with felony assault on law enforcement – five criminal charges – even though he was in the psychiatric unit of a hospital exhibiting what many psychiatrists would deem symptoms of his mental illness.

As Otieno’s outraged mother, Caroline Ouko, told reporters: “Mental illness should not be your ticket to death.”

Sadly, the Otieno death joins a long list of preventable tragedies that have claimed lives in Virginia dating back to the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings that killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.

Let’s see how Virginia officials respond this time around.

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Virginia NAMI Issues Statement About Death Of Irvo Otieno. I Get A Phone Call Asking The Public To Reserve Judgment

UPDATE: 3-23-23 Events surrounding the alleged murder of Irvo Otieno continue to be released. Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill released a second surveillance video from inside the jail showing Otieno being combative in his cell before officers arrived to take him to a state hospital. Baskervill identified a sheriff’s department sergeant as the “most culpable” of all 10 people who face murder charges after piling atop a shackled Otieno during a mental health crisis. Henrico County sheriff’s Sgt. Kaiyell Sanders, 30, of North Chesterfield, struck Otieno multiple times around the head and upper body at the jail and played “the most aggressive” role later, at the hospital, Baskervill said at a bond hearing. An earlier video is posted below.

(3-22-23) NAMI Virginia is calling for improved mental health services in the state following the death of Irvo Otieno in Henrico County.

Surveillance video released by a prosecutor Tuesday shows Irvo Otieno being pinned to the floor by multiple security officers at a Virginia state mental health facility in the moments leading up to his death earlier this month.

Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill’s office also released 911 calls about the incident in which a caller described Otieno as “very aggressive” and repeatedly asked for an ambulance, saying he was not breathing.

After watching that video, Prosecutor Baskervill charged seven Henrico sheriff’s deputies and three hospital security guards with second-degree murder. Those charges have made the tragedy into a national news story.

Hours after Otieno died, I received a telephone call from someone familiar with the officers who were involved urging me to reserve judgment about what had happened. The caller insisted Otieno’s death was an accident. One of the accused was a Henrico Crisis Intervention Team trainer. I was told that a lack of an available hospital bed exacerbated the situation by delaying transport. Otieno’s mental condition reportedly deteriorated during that delay.

It will be up to the justice system to decide if this was an accident or those involved committed murder.

What I do know is that these sorts of tragedies often can be prevented if a community has meaningful mental health care services in place. Which is why I am happy that today, NAMI Virginia issued a statement about the need to improve our state’s system, something Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has promised to do.

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100 Copies Of My New Book Being Given Away: NO HUMAN CONTACT Explores The Lives Of Longest Held Prisoners In Isolation

The “Click Here” in the above graphic doesn’t work. Here is the link.

This is not about mental illness. 

(3-20-23) My new book, NO HUMAN CONTACT: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security and Two Inmates Who Changed the System, will be published in April and beginning today, the popular website, Good Reads, is giving away a 100 copies to those who enter its giveaway.

For the past 16 years, the focus of my blog has been mental illnesses and the problems exposed in my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness. I care deeply about improving our system for those we love.

But I also have written books about American spies,  the wrongful conviction of an innocent man, everyday life inside a federal penitentiary, and the government’s witness protection program.

One of my continued interests is conditions in prisons and jails, and how we deal with those incarcerated in them.

No Human Contact takes readers inside a Super Max penitentiary by exploring the lives of two convicted murderers, Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain.  Both entered the criminal justice system as teenagers. Both were affiliated with the brutal Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. Both committed savage murders inside prisons and in 1983 each separately killed two federal correctional officers. Because there was no federal death penalty at the time, the federal Bureau of Prisons condemned them to the harshest punishment allowed by law. It was dubbed NO HUMAN CONTACT – literally being cut off from all other humans and society.

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Communities Struggle To Keep Group Homes Open, Faced With Few $$, Hungry Developers, Needed Repairs & No Community Housing

UPDATE 3-23-23 SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) – Calls are growing louder to save Portage Manor.
St. Joseph County Commissioners approved a resolution Tuesday night to look for other ways to fund the facility moving forward. Since the county will not continue funding it, private developers could take over ownership.
The council and commissioners said they will now delay a vote for 60 days, which will give private developers time to come up with viable plans.
“The people have spoken and we have listened. So, I’ve tasked the council, led by Mark Catanzarite, to have a 60-day window to explore all the options and have weekly meetings, report back to us, make them available to the public so everybody can weigh in. So, hopefully we can find a decision that somebody will take that over, which that would be the best case scenario,” said St. Joseph County Commissioner Derek Dieter.
St. Joe County Attorney Mike Misch said it would cost roughly $40 million for a new building and the transition phase but said this is not feasible.

Photo from HealthyPlace.Com

(3-10-23) I posted a blog earlier this week about the probable closing of Portage Manor in South Bend, Indiana, and the fate of its 101 residents with disabilities and serious mental illnesses.

Portage Manor is a local story but what is happening there is part of a larger story being played out nationally as communities struggle to find adequate housing while being pressured to close group homes.

Joseph Dits, a talented and fair-minded reporter at the South Bend Tribune has published an excellent article describing the complexity of keeping Portage Manor open or shuttering it, including the county’s financial options. Local mental health officials are worried that residents living in the facility will not receive adequate care once the home is shuttered despite promises by officials. St. Joseph County Commission President Carl Baxmeyer is quoted by Reporter Dits promising the county “will ensure that each resident is housed and settled somewhere.” Matt Costello, who runs the local Disability Rights group, counters: “What I don’t think the commissioners realize is how hard it is to place people.”  Many require 24/7 care. A local mental health service provider is quoted saying if the Manor closes, the community can absorb only 10 residents, adding there are “very few places that provide the level of care they need.”

All of this is playing out while developers push to buy the land and historic preservationists ask the county to pay for restorations. County commissioners voted 2 to 1 to close Portage Manor. The county council will vote next Tuesday without any apparent plan for the future of Portage Manor residents.

Back in 2014, I wrote an OPED for The Washington Post warning that closing group homes without first creating meaningful community services would end tragically. South Bend officials are now facing that reality.

(Has your community closed down group homes? Tell me about it on my Facebook page.)

Pete Earley: Sending the mentally ill from group homes to an uncertain future.

First published in The Washington October 30, 2014

The federal government is pushing two initiatives that will radically change how mental health services are delivered. Both are long overdue. So why, as the father of an adult son with a mental illness, am I skeptical?

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