He’s Being Held Twice As Long In Prison As Someone Without A Mental Illness. Now Virginia Correctional Officials Are Ignoring A Prison Video Showing He Didn’t Attack Guards

Sana and James are seeking help for their son, Christopher, who has paranoid sczhophrenia. He’s served twice as long in a Virginia prison as the state recommends for someone convicted of identical crimes.

(7-24-23) I’ve heard stories about individuals with serious mental illnesses being trapped and mistreated in our criminal justice system. The case of Christopher Sharikas is among the most egregious, by far.

Sharikas, who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, has been imprisoned in Virginia for 26 years after being convicted of felonies that carried a state recommended maximum sentence of eleven years.  Based on state guidelines, that’s more than twice as long as someone without a mental illness would serve.

But there is more to this injustice – information that I only recently learned that is simply outrageous.

When Sharikas appeared before the Virginia Parole Board in December 2020, he was denied release after the Virginia Department of Corrections said Sharikas had assaulted prison guards nine years earlier. What the parole board was NOT told is that a video of that alleged incident exonerated Sharikas. It proved that he had not attacked officers.

When challenged about this irrefutable evidence, a Department of Corrections official told Sharikas and his family that video evidence didn’t matter. Guards at the prison had sworn that he’d attacked them. That was sufficient for the department. Put simply, it backed its officers regardless of contrary evidence.

I first wrote about Sharikas on this blog in 2017. I followed up with editorials in The Washington Post and USA Today. The Post published a prominent story about Sharikas. Yet, no state agency, elected official or mental health advocate has stepped forward to help Sharikas. The only mental health organization that has offered assistance is the Treatment Advocacy Center.

This is shameful.

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Determined Mother Put Words Into Action To Help Son With Schizophrenia

Chris, Charles, and Lisa. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Taliaferro.)

(7-5-23)  Lisa Taliaferro and her husband, Chris, felt cursed.

Three of their five children were diagnosed as  young adults with varying degrees of schizophrenia. They began to believe that they hit the trifecta!

“We began questioning God,” Lisa recalled in a recent interview. “What did we do wrong? Why Us?”

Over time, the deeply religious couple found solace.

“Each of us is put on earth to do something,” Lisa said, “and when you are able to find your purpose, that’s when God begins to speak to you and He shows you what He wants you to do. It may not be just for you or your family, but for other multitudes of people that need to be touched and helped by your story.”

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Searching For Light: A Son’s Death, Mental Illness, Suicide, & Drug Addiction

(6-16-23) It is important for families and individuals to share their stories. Doing so puts a human face on mental illnesses and addictions and, by personalizing these painful memories, helps educate the public.

A while back, I posted a blog about Renate LeDue’s moving book: For The Love Of Jeremy – A Memoir of a Family Affliction: Mental Illness and Addiction, which will be published June 20th. It is unique because she brings multiple perspectives to her story – those of a mother, daughter and sister – each aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness, substance use disorder and suicide.

I was pleased to learn that her book recently received two nice endorsements.

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Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid Cares About Fairfax Residents With Mental Illnesses: She Deserves Your Vote

(6-13-23) I don’t often engage in politics on this page because my focus is on bettering our mental health care system and that should be a non-partisan goal.

But I feel obligated to endorse local candidates – regardless of their party affiliation – who are knowledgable about mental health issues and are working to improve our system, especially our criminal justice system.

Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Ann Kincaid is one of these local leaders. I would urge you to support her re-election bid in the June 20th Democratic primary and later in the November general election.

I have written numerous blogs about how Sheriff Kincaid has worked tirelessly to make the Fairfax County Detention Center into a gold standard for how her officers treat individuals with serious mental illnesses. At one point, the Sheriff noted that up to 60% of inmates in her jail have addictions and 40% have a diagnosable mental illness.

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A Friend Asks: Are You Retired? No, Well, Sorta. A Personal Note To Readers


(6-7-23) My friend and tireless California NAMI advocate Mark Gale recently asked me in an email if I had retired.

Well, no and sorta.

I have written a weekly blog about mental health for the last 16 years. As of today, that’s 1,688 blog posts.  While I will continue posting my thoughts on this page, I will no longer adhere to a weekly schedule. Instead, I will post blogs sporadically. That might be once a week or none for a month.

Last month, my newest book, NO HUMAN CONTACT: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security, and Two Inmates Who Changed the System, was published. It is my 22nd book and, most likely, my last.

Available on Amazon

Because of my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, I have spoken in 49 states (still waiting for that invitation from Hawaii), and five foreign countries. A highlight was speaking at the White House during the Obama administration. While I will continue to do some speeches, I am limiting them too.

So why am I cutting back?

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How Should We House Murderers In Prison – Solitary Confinement? Colorado Public Radio Questions Me About ‘No Human Contact.”

Available on Amazon

(5-24-23) What should society do with men who commit multiple murders in prisons and have no qualms about killing again?

Andrea Dukakis, a producer/reporter/host for Colorado Matters on Colorado Public Radio, raised this question during a phenomenal interview with me about my new book, NO HUMAN CONTACT: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security, and Two Inmates Who Changed The System.

My book describes the troubled lives of Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain who murdered other inmates in federal prisons before each killed a correctional officer on the same day in the same cellblock. Because there was no federal death penalty, both were held under total isolation – cut off from society – for decades.

Colorado is home to the federal Bureau Of Prison’s “Super Max” penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, where Thomas Silverstein was being housed before his dead in 2019.

During our conversation, Reporter Dukakis asked if long-term solitary confinement is harmful (it is) and if there a better alternative. Our interview begins with her questioning me about the horrific childhoods of both Silverstein and Fountain.

You have to visit the Colorado radio website to listen to our conversation. 

New book paints a picture of two men who spent decades in solitary confinement

The United States Penitentiary's maximum security prison in Florence. Oct. 27, 2021.Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
The federal supermax facility in Florence, Colorado was built in response to two men, Tommy Silverstein and Clayton Fountain. Each murdered a prison guard — and people who were also incarcerated. Both were considered too dangerous to be housed in the general prison population.

The book “No Human Contact” examines what to do with people in prison who are deemed dangerous, and whether isolation is cruel and unusual punishment. Author Pete Earley profiles two men who spent years in solitary confinement with virtually no direct contact with the outside world. Their crimes were by all accounts heinous: Each man killed a prison guard and other men incarcerated with them. The book traces their childhoods, their crimes and their punishment and explains why their actions led to the construction of the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.