Waiting All Night Outside Jail Afraid Daughter Will Be Released To The Streets: Part Two of A Mother’s Plight

Mother struggles to get daughter released from Jefferson Parish Correctional Center after seven months and mounting charges (photo source WVUE)

(11-4-20) This is the second in a two part account of Lisa Aneiva’s attempt to help her daughter, Mariel Vergara, who has a mental illness, PTSD and autism.)

Janet Hays first heard about a young Hispanic woman being held in disciplinary lockdown inside the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center from a source in law enforcement who was concerned because Mariel Vergara was clearly mentally ill and was racking up more and more criminal charges while incarcerated.

Mariel’s arrest had been a big news story, especially in New Orleans, after she walked naked into a terminal at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International airport in April and demanded to buy a ticket. Deputies were called. There was a confrontation and Mariel was arrested on 5 charges, only to have six more criminal charges added while she was in jail awaiting trial.

Janet Hays, mental health advocate

Janet had began advocating for better mental health care in her state after a close friend died in 2009 because she couldn’t get mental health care. Hurricane Katrina had devastated the city in 2005 closing Charity Hospital, where her friend always had been treated. The hospital had 128 long-term psychiatric beds and 50 crisis stabilization beds. Janet urged the state to convert the hospital into a modern mental health care and research center but developers were smacking their lips at converting the downtown New Orleans property into condos and shops.  Janet initially formed Healing Minds NOLA, a non-profit advocacy organization, as part of her Charity Hospital campaign. Since then, Healing Minds has expanded into other advocacy efforts. Most recently, Janet broadcasts webinars with guests, including such heavy-weights as U.S. Senator Dr. Bill Cassidy (R.). Even the police have asked her for help dealing with seriously mentally ill residents who are homeless.

Mariel’s mother, Lisa Aneiva, was learning about Janet at about this same time. Lisa, who lives in Northern Virginia, was happy to accept Janet’s help. She told the advocate that she feared Mariel’s mental illness was getting worse in jail. Studies have shown that prolonged isolation while incarcerated exacerbates mental illnesses. Janet was familiar with stories of inmates with mental illnesses in Louisiana being held in isolation cells, often naked in the dark for long periods. The Jefferson Parish Correctional Center also had made headlines after four inmates committed suicide, the last while waiting for a repeatedly delayed mental health examination.

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Woman Walks Nude Into Airport & Is Arrested. What Happened Next Was Worse. A Mother’s Struggle To Rescue Her Daughter

Happier Times: Mariel and her mother, Lisa

(11-3-20) This is part one of Lisa Aneiva’s struggle to help her daughter, Mariel, who was arrested in April after she walked nude into a New Orleans Airport. Mariel has a mental illness and was jailed rather than diverted into treatment. )

“What kind of mother are you?”

Lisa Aneiva, a single mother living in Northern Virginia, didn’t understand why she was being criticized on her Facebook page in early April.

Seconds later, another Facebook attack: “How could you let this happen?”

That second comment came with a link to a Fox News article.

“Woman arrested for entering New Orleans airport naked amidst coronavirus lock down.”

Lisa clicked on the link.

“People used to get dressed up to fly. A woman was recently arrested after allegedly arriving at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans completely naked. According to local reports, she refused to leave when the airport staff told her that she could not fly with no clothes on.”

The naked woman was Mariel Vergara. Lisa’s 27-year-old daughter.

“Mariel suffers from schizo-affective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is on the autism spectrum,” Lisa told me. “At first I was relieved when I read the article.” Mariel had disappeared two weeks earlier after getting into a squabble with a relative. “I was so happy we knew where she was.”

At that moment, Lisa didn’t realize that she and her daughter were about to be swept up in a frustrating and frightening nightmare that continues today. Sadly, what happened to Lisa and Mariel is an all too common experience for parents of adult children who become one of the 2.2 million Americans with mental illnesses who are booked into jail each year.

Rather than getting mental health treatment, their adult child is punished.

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Fatal Police Shootings Raise Interest In “CAHOOTS” – Oregon Program That Reduces Violence, Unnecessary Arrests & Gets People Help

photo courtesy CAHOOTS/White Bird clinic

(10-30-20) The fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., this week in Philadelphia, who had a mental illness and was wielding a knife, made national headlines, drew comments from both presidential candidates, sparked rioting, and once again raised questioned about whether the police should be the first to respond when someone is in a mental health crisis.

CNN yesterday posted a story about five other recent fatal shootings of Americans in the midst of a mental health crisis.  At least one in four fatal shootings  by police involve a person with a mental illness.

Whenever talk turns about shifting responsibility from the police to mental health workers, the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets ( CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Ore.,  is cited as a successful example of how communities can safely lessen police involvement.  An article written by Mark Obbie in The Crime Report highlights the “most thorough, thoughtful stories” about CAHOOTS. Thanks to Obbie and the Crime Report for sharing this index.

Would the CAHOOTS model work in your community?

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CRISIS NOW: National Campaign To Create A Uniform Mental Health Response And Recovery System Not Dependent On Police Or Emergency Rooms

Three minute plus video explains model crisis care system.

(10-26-20) What are we doing to create a better mental health care system?

CRISIS NOW, a four prong approach, is gaining national attention from SAMHSA and being endorsed by many of the nation’s largest mental health organizations, including The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD), the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, CIT International, RI International, the National Council for Behavioral Health, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

That’s a powerful coalition so what is CRISIS NOW?

David Covington, the CEO and President of RI International, described the approach at a recent meeting of ISMICC, a federal panel appointed to advise Congress about the most innovative and best practices in mental health.

The goal behind CRISIS NOW is to create a uniform mental health system that is not so heavily dependent on the police and hospital emergency rooms. The first prong is creating Crisis Call Hubs, which can be contacted by voice, text, or chat through a specific telephone number rather than having those in crisis call 9-1-1. President Donald Trump recently signed into law bipartisan legislation identifying 9-8-8 as a three digit number for a Mental Health Crisis Hotline. Slated to go into effect nationally in July 2022, it will replace the current National Suicide Prevention Hotline, a more complicated 10-digit number — 1-800-273-TALK.

But this new number under the CRISIS NOW approach would offer much more than its predecessor.

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Two News Stories: Police More Likely To Fatally Shoot In Smaller Communities; San Francisco Shifts Crisis Calls Away From Police

Patrick Kenny before he was fatally shot by CIT trained officers in Springfield, Oregon. Disgraceful.

(10-23-20) Two recent news stories about law enforcement and mental illnesses are worth reading.

I’ve always supported Crisis Intervention Team training. Years ago, Patti and I donated $500 each year to our local police department to honor a CIT officer of the year. I know of numerous incidents where CIT officers have prevented suicides and helped individuals in crisis get help rather than hauling them to jail.

Sadly, some officers who have undergone CIT training don’t get it. One of the worst instances involves four Springfield, Oregon police officers who underwent CIT training but killed a young man in crisis. I posted a first person blog written by Kimberly Kenny about her brother’s death in July and The Washington Post used that tragic killing this week to illustrated a story with the headline: Fatal police shootings of mentally ill people are 39 percent more likely to take place in small and midsized areas.

The second news story comes from NPR and is entitled: Removing Cops From Behavioral Crisis Calls: ‘We Need To Change The Model.  San Francisco, California is preparing to deploy teams of professionals from the fire and health departments, rather than the police, to respond to most calls for people in a psychiatric, behavioral or substance abuse crisis. The action “will be among the largest and boldest urban police reform experiment in decades.”

When someone becomes violent, there’s often little choice but to have the police respond. But I would argue that they shouldn’t be the first called and, in a majority of cases, don’t need to be involved. In June, I posted a blog about how Albuquerque, Mexico officials were studying ways to free law enforcement from mental health crisis calls.

What’s happening in San Francisco and Albuquerque is a much needed shift that should be endorsed by law enforcement as well as those of us with a family member who has a serious mental illness. My son, Kevin, was shot twice with a taser when the police were called. That didn’t need to happen.

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What More Can We Do? Parents Ask After Years Of Trying To Help Son With Mental Illness & Alcoholism. Is Jail The Only Answer?

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

(10-19-20) A mother from Fairfax County, Va., recently sent me an email about her son who was about to be released from probation. In addition to having been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, this young man also is an alcoholic and was born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder that he inherited from his birth mother. It is difficult for individuals to get treatment for a mental disorder. When you add an addiction, it becomes even harder and if an individual refuses help, there are even fewer options. I asked the mother to share her family’s story and I was stunned when I received a detailed account that dated back to her son’s birth. The mother and her husband have tried every possible program in Fairfax with limited success.  I am posting her account anonymously and with pseudonyms to protect the privacy of those involved.

Dear Pete.

My husband and I have tried everything to get help for our son since he was born. He has fetal alcohol spectrum disorders from his birth mother and has been diagnosed with borderline schizophrenia, OCD, learning disabilities, and a sociopathic personality. He is an alcoholic and dangerous when he drinks. He refuses all help offered.  We can’t live with him or around him.
What more can we do?
We have been through the Community Service Board’s services (mental health services in Virginia,) our local jail diversion programs, have hired life coaches and mentors. We’ve found him housing only to have him be evicted. He is about to get off probation. It seems involuntary commitment is a short term solution but he was in (a local mental hospital) several years ago and they released him after seven days.
We are at a loss.

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