Virginia’s disAbility Law Center Digging Into Death Of Irvo Otieno. 7 Deputies, 3 Hospital Workers Criminally Charged

(4-28-23) I am delighted that Colleen Miller, director of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, is pushing forward with an investigation into the death of Irvo Otieno in Henrico County.

As reported in The Washington Post, Otieno, a 28 year-old Black man, was in handcuffs and leg restraints when Henrico County sheriff’s deputies and workers at Virginia’s Central State Hospital piled on him for 11 minutes, leading to his death by suffocation on March 6, according to surveillance video and the medical examiner. His death was ruled a homicide, and seven deputies and three hospital workers are facing second-degree murder changes.

The disAbility Law Center is the state’s P & A – Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness- watchdog established by Congress to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect in the mental health care system, and is charged to seek legal or administrative remedies if a health-care provider is not complying with the law.

I was critical of the law center when it chose not to investigate an equally horrific death in 2015. Jamycheal Mitchell, a 24 year-old Black man with a serious mental illness, died in the Hampton Roads Jail about four months after he was arrested for stealing about $5 worth of snacks from a Portsmouth Va., convenience store. His cause of death was a  heart condition  prompted by “wasting syndrome of unknown etiology (starvation).” Jail staff had allegedly denied him many meals, cut off the water to his cell and left him naked with no bedding or shoes as he smeared feces on the window of his urine-covered cell.  Mitchell lost about 40 pounds during his time in jail waiting for a hospital bed.

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Heroic Lawyer Discovers Abuses In Federal Prisons: Horrible Stuff Documented In My New Book

“After he ate his finger, they were taking him out of his cell and one of the officers asked him what his finger tasted like.”

(4-25-23) My new book: No Human Contact: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security, and Two Inmates Who Changed the System, goes on sale today and while it documents the stories of two prisoners who were held for decades in complete isolation, there is a chapter about how the federal Bureau of Prisons mistreated seriously mentally ill prisoners at its most secretive, maximum security prison.

I fear the inhumanity at the ADX in Florence, Colorado, which became public only because of a landmark class action lawsuit that ended with the federal government promising reforms, is not that uncommon in many jails and prisons where individuals with severe mental illnesses are easy targets.

Ed Aro forced govt. to improve mental health care in prisons

This excerpt is a tough read, but necessary for those of us who love someone with a serious mental illness. It also is a warning and a tribute to Edwin Aro, a lawyer who took on the government.

NO HUMAN CONTACT: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security and Two Inmates who Changed The System. By Pete Earley, Copyright, Pete Earley Inc. PublisherKensington Publishing.

Edwin Aro was not an activist attorney. His specialty at the Denver office of Arnold & Porter, one of the country’s largest and most prestigious law firms, was corporate litigation.  The Colorado native had a reputation for coming in late to multimillion-dollar lawsuits between large companies and helping his clients turn a losing hand into a winning one.

His bosses asked him in 2011 to investigate a complaint by an ADX inmate who had been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. Under the BOP’s own regulations, prisoners with severe psychiatric problems were never supposed to be housed in the Super Max because of the austere, isolating living conditions there.

Aro and another lawyer drove to the prison expecting to find one or two mentally ill prisoners who had simply slipped through the cracks. Minutes after meeting inmate Richie Hill, the attorneys realized they were dealing with a much larger and alarming problem.

“Hill was a lunatic,” Aro said later in an interview. “He was not medicated and was completely insane and almost incoherent. It was impossible to spend five minutes with him and not realize how sick he was.”  Aro found talking to Hill disconcerting because he’d tried to gouge out one of his eyes with his fingers causing his eyes to look in different directions.

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Childbirth Caused Rage, Depression: Podcast Interview Examines Mental Health & Having A Baby

(4-13-22) Dr. Nicole Washington and my good friend and nationally recognized mental health advocate, Gabe Howard, recently interviewed Jessica Ekhoff, on his popular podcast, INSIDE BIPOLAR as heard on Healthline Media podcast.

I posted a blog last year about Jessica’s book, Super Sad Unicorn: A Memoir of Mania, that describes her experiences after giving birth to her first child. I believe this is an important topic.

Ekhoff describes her experience with postpartum-onset bipolar disorder, mania, and psychosis, rare – and even more rarely discussed – mental health complications of having a baby.

Thanks Gabe for discussing this important topic on your show and sharing it with me. Here’s the interview:

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Advocate Creates ‘Patients Not Prisoners’ Non-profit, Using My Book To Spark Community Discussion












(4-11-23) A few months ago, I was contacted by Lisa Taliaferro, who was launching a new non-profit called Patients Not Prisoners based in St. Augustine, Florida. She’d read my book and wanted to use it to help draw attention to the inappropriate incarceration of Americans with mental illnesses.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Lisa Taliaferro, who has mental illness in her family, is an energetic and tireless advocate. Within a few weeks, she had gotten her fledging group off-the-ground and had begun planning community events.

I was excited last night to speak via Zoom to the first meeting of a book club that Lisa started. The group is studying, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness and hopes to use it to create discussions about why jails and prisoners have become warehouses for the seriously mentally ill and what communities can do to change this trend.

The zoom based book club is free and will meet every Monday from now until May 15th. Lisa wasn’t content just with starting a single book club. She developed a free study guide to use with CRAZY that can be downloaded and she is offering advice about how to start book clubs that will feature CRAZY and other books focused on mental illnesses and law enforcement.

“Patients Not Prisoners‘ goal is to bring communities and first responders together to create and capitalize on empathetic solutions to bridge the gaps of our current systems,” she told me.

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Creativity and Mental Health: 3 Musicians Sing About Their Struggles In Powerful Videos Worth Watching

Emmy Villa Atchinson’s original song is poignant and powerful.

(4-7-23) When Emmy Villa Atchinson’s grandmother sent me a Youtube of Emmy singing an original song about her teenage years, I was awestruck.  My son, Kevin, uses music to describe his experiences, as does Andrew Neil. All three talented artists are using music to tell important stories about mental illnesses.

Emmy Villa Atchinson – Everyone is worthy of help.

A college student at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, Emmy Atchinson told me why she shared her music.

Everyone is worthy of help. I think a big roadblock for me in the mental health recovery process was feeling like I was able to get help, but undeserving of it. I was not undeserving, and neither is anyone else who feels that way. My therapist told me that it doesn’t matter if a person is drowning in 2 feet of water or 20 feet; they’re still drowning and they need help. It may feel like your problems aren’t important enough or that you yourself feel inherently unimportant, and that’s a very scary and isolating feeling. But everyone’s feelings are valid and their life is valuable. Everyone deserves happiness. There was a point in my life when I thought I wouldn’t be alive at 20. I’m so glad I was wrong. When I say that I hope to see another year, I truly mean it. I wouldn’t have been able to say that if I hadn’t decided I was worthy of help.

Bravo Emmy! You can learn more about Emmy and her music here.

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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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