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.

Suffering From Depression, CBS Newsman Mike Wallace Extended A Helping Hand

(1-23-20) FROM MY FILES FRIDAY:  Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes  fame quietly helped my son, Kevin, when he suffered a major psychotic break. Wallace understood mental illness because he suffered from depression and had contemplated ending his own life. After Wallace died in 2012, I revealed how he had intervened at my request to help my family – a fact that Wallace had asked me to downplay in my book because he felt CBS might not react favorably to his action.)

Mike Wallace Helped Me When I Needed Him Most  

Mike Wallace and I didn’t start off as friends.

The great CBS newsman, who died Saturday at age 93, telephoned me when I was writing my first book, Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Jr. Spy Ring.  It was 1986 and Wallace had learned that I was the only reporter who had gotten John Walker Jr. to talk to me.

At the time, Walker hated the media and didn’t want to talk to anyone about the 18 years that he had spent spying for the Soviets or how he had recruited his son, Michael; his brother, Arthur; and his best friend, Jerry Whitworth, as traitors.

For those of you who haven’t read my book or might not remember the case, John Walker Jr.’s arrest in 1985 was the biggest spy scandal in the U.S. history since Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and executed in 1953.

Walker’s treachery stunned the nation and Mike Wallace was eager to get the first television interview with him.

I was flattered that someone as important in broadcast journalism as Mike Wallace would call me. I immediately went to work to help him. I got Walker to agree to give Wallace an exclusive for 60 Minutes. At one point when Wallace was interviewing Walker, they took a break in filming and Wallace called me from the federal prison in Marion, Illinois, to check some facts.

Wallace’s interview with John Walker Jr. was mesmerizing. It was Wallace at his best as an interrogator. In one memorable scene, Wallace eviscerated Walker by asking him how he could be so cruel as to groom his only son to be a traitor. It was such an incredible interview that Wallace was rewarded with an Emmy, one of some 20 Emmys that he won.

And what of my book and me?

Wallace never mentioned either. He and 60 Minutes basked in the limelight.

I felt duped and hurt.

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I Watched The Actual Just Mercy Story Unfold – At Bryan Stevenson’s Invitation

Photo courtesy of Slate

(1-20-20) “I know he’s innocent,” Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy and real life star behind the movie by the same name, assured me when we first talked in 1991.

This was before Stevenson was famous – when he was in the midst of trying to prove that Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian, an African American death row inmate in Alabama was innocent of murdering a white teenager in Monroeville, the town that Harper Lee used as her inspiration for the classic, To Kill A Mockingbird.

My good friend, Walt Harrington, had urged me to call Stevenson after I mentioned my interest in writing a book about the death penalty. Harrington was among the first journalists to “discover” Stevenson, years before he began receiving international attention (appearing on Oprah and Ellen) for his tireless efforts to save children and adults sentenced to death. [Read Harrington’s story about Stevenson here.]

I warned Stevenson that if I investigated Johnny D.’s case and felt he was guilty, I’d write that. Without hesitation, Stevenson invited me to Alabama.

During the next three years, I interviewed eye-witnesses, followed Stevenson’s legal fight and did my best to discover the truth about who had murdered Ronda Morrison, a white teen found dead in a main street laundry on a busy Saturday morning.

My account, Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town, published in 1995, won a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award  and an Edgar for Best Fact Crime Book. 

So let me share my thoughts about Just Mercy, the movie, and additional information you might find interesting after watching it.

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Lessons I’ve Learned As A Parent: Virgil Stucker Interviews Me On His Podcast About Hope, Healing, & Trends

(1-15-2020) Long-time mental health worker and advocate Virgil Stucker recently interviewed me for his Mental Horizons Podcast.  Virgil is best-known as the former founding executive director of the CooperRiis Healing Community, “retiring” after a forty-year career working in therapeutic communities. He now runs Virgil Stucker Associates, a private firm that “empowers mental health decision making for families and individuals… advocating for integrative, holistic solutions to the challenges of mental illnesses.”

In this episode, I talk about my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, what helped my son, and the challenges and successes we face as parents and advocates.

From his website:

Being psychotic is not a crime: Pete Earley, celebrated author & father, is taking action.

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“We have a mental illness crisis!” Pastor Outraged After Homeless Man Is Crushed Sleeping Under Truck

(1-13-20) The death of a 56 year-old homeless man, who was crushed to death, has outraged Brandan Thomas, director of a rescue mission in Winchester, Virginia. I recently posted a blog about a 12 day motorcycle ride that Thomas made to call attention to the plight of homeless Americans. Thomas is director of The Winchester Rescue Mission, which has beds for 32 men and recently opened a second location with beds for 15 women. Some 300 individuals in the Winchester are homeless. Thomas recently said it can take six months for someone who walks into his shelter with a mental health issue to get an appointment with a doctor.

The death of Michael Kenneth Martin was especially troubling to Thomas because he had arranged for Martin to receive Rescue Mission services once he was released from jail, but Martin was freed without the Mission being notified.  The rescue mission is an outgrowth of Canvas Church, which Thomas started in 2013 in a Winchester garage. It has since grown to 200-plus in attendance. He is an example of the power of single individual to foster change in a community.

Homeless man’s death prompts call for change

Reprinted from The Winchester Star newspaper.

WINCHESTER — Last week’s death of a homeless man in Winchester provided a tragic example of what can happen when someone can’t get help for mental illness.
That’s according to Brandan Thomas, executive director of the Winchester Rescue Mission, who vented his frustration with the situation in a Facebook video that was posted Monday morning and had more than 9,500 views in just 24 hours.

“This man is dead because he was mentally ill and was seeking out the best form of housing he could because we did not help him,” an emotional Thomas said at the end of the three-and-a-half-minute video.

Michael Kenneth Martin
Photo provided by family

Michael Kenneth Martin, 56, was crushed to death on Jan. 1 while sleeping underneath a tractor-trailer in a Berryville Avenue parking lot. According to the Winchester Police Department, the driver, whose name was not released, got in the vehicle and pulled forward, not knowing that Martin was lying in front of the trailer’s rear tires.

Police reported that Martin smelled of alcohol and may have been intoxicated at the time of his death. Court records revealed that Martin had several previous convictions in Frederick County and Winchester general district courts for public swearing/intoxication and trespassing.

But the incident report and arrest logs only tell a small portion of Martin’s story.

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Part Two: Daughter Wanted Help But There Was A Ten Week Wait. The Grim Harm Of Not Helping A Teen

Marie’s wrist strapped to hospital bed after suicide attempt

(1-9-20)  In Part One of The Shape of Loss: Teen Suicide and the Failure of Mental Health In Public Schools posted yesterday, the mother of a teenager described the attempts that she made to help her adopted daughter, Marie, before she attempted suicide in December 2019. Both mother and daughter agreed to share their story but pseudonyms are being used to protect the family’s privacy. 

The Shape of Loss: Teen Suicide and the Failure of Mental Health in Public Schools: Part Two

Just before starting high school, Marie spent the summer living with her father, my ex-husband, holed up in a dark room, easily weakened from a walk in the woods or around the track. She complained of depression, isolation, a vulnerability that spoke of clipped wings, and I saw a new gauntness around her eyes when she returned home.

During a trip to the Oregon shore, which she loved, I noticed when she pushed up the bottoms of her pants to wade into the ocean, her calves were marked with razor thin white scars that turned shades of pink and purple in the cold water.

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Part One: “No One Wanted The Baby!” I Did and Still Do: A Mother and Daughter’s Story About Mental Illness, Lack of Treatment, Waitlists & Suicide

(1-8-20) Sadly, this first-person account by a mother whose daughter recently attempted suicide has a familiar ring. I asked her to write about the experience and after consulting her daughter, both agreed. Even so, I’ve chosen pseudonyms to protect the family’s privacy.

The Shape of Loss: Teen Suicide and the Failure of Mental Health in Public Schools : Part One

On June 15th, 2004, I was called by the adoption agency and told they had a newborn baby girl they wanted me to consider for adoption. Her birth mother was a patient at the state psychiatric hospital, and, I was told, “no one wanted the baby.” Chances are, she would likely end up in foster care.

The following day, I arrived at the agency to read through the birth mother’s file before making my decision. What I read was heartbreaking.

The twenty-three year old birth mother — Jean — lived with a diagnosis of bi-polar schizoaffective disorder and had endured repeated traumas beginning at the age of fifteen, with a sexual assault and subsequent suicide attempt. In her photo, she looked like a tangled-haired hippie who had just walked out of the woods after a week with no food. The medication she must have been on appeared to have replaced her youth with eyes dull and hopeless, her mouth was closed shut in what must have been a ferocious silence.

I would like to say that I knew the risks before I agreed to adopt her daughter, whom I will call Marie.

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