Tireless Advocate Norm Ornstein Tells MSNBC Audience How To Fix Our Broken Mental Health Care System

(5-4-23) Norm Ornstein, who lost his son to mental illness, did a fabulous job this morning on the MSNBC show, Morning Joe, calling for better mental health care in our nation. A tireless advocate for those living with a serious mental illnesses, Ornstein echoed many of the same points that he and fellow advocate, Miami Dade Judge Steven Leifman, made in an article entitled: Locking People Up Is No Was To Treat Mental Illness, published this month in The Atlantic Magazine.

I’m printing that article because it is excellent and because Morning Joe did not feature Ornstein’s remarks on its MSNBC page, instead showing a clip of the Rev. Raphael Warnock, junior Democratic U.S. Senator from Georgia, discussing mental health. This editing is unfortunate because of the powerful points that Ornstein made.

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Blaming Parents: 2 Prominent Psychiatrists Mistreated By Their Own Profession When Helping Daughter

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

(5-3-23) Dr. Mark R. Munetz is a familiar and well-respected name in mental illness/health circles. He is co-author of the ground breaking Sequential Intercept Model that identifies key points in the criminal justice system when individuals with serious mental illnesses can be shifted  into treatment and rehabilitation. He and his wife, Lois S. Freedman are both prominent psychiatrists.

So why was it so difficult for this esteemed couple to get help when their adopted daughter, who had multiple psychiatric diagnoses, developed skin lesions?

In a Psychiatric Services article, the couple writes that they encountered what many of us parents have been faced with when seeking help. We or our loved ones get blamed and are marginalized.

“Our daughter has been traumatized repeatedly by both her chronic diseases and the medical community. Her initial physicians jumped to erroneous conclusions. Her personality, although engaging to most who know her, makes some uncomfortable. Her history of alcoholism (in remission now for 14 years) and multiple psychiatric diagnoses led physicians to overattribute her symptoms to mental illness. Perhaps what contributed the most to the discomfort of physicians encountering our daughter was their uncertainty about what had caused her symptoms. This discomfort led them to blame the patient for her condition. As parents, we were viewed as annoyances at best and enablers of our daughter’s pathology at worst. Insecure physicians did not appreciate being challenged by parents who were their colleagues. It was easier to dismiss us as part of a family illness.


Imagine for a moment if you don’t have financial resources. If you are not a psychiatrist or well educated. Perhaps you speak another language or are an ethic minority. What chance do you have?

The fact that Drs. Munetz and Freedman were treated so shabbily by their own profession should be a wake up call for those who practice medicine, especially their colleagues in psychiatry.

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I Use The Release Of My New Book To Focus On Prisoners With Serious Mental Illnesses

(5-1-23)  Literary Hub, a popular and prestigious website about books, asked if I would submit an article about my new book, NO HUMAN CONTACT: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security, and Two Inmates Who Changed the System. I used this much appreciated opportunity to describe my book and also focus the discussion on how individuals with serious mental illnesses often are locked in solitary confinement and why that is horrible. The Lit Hub editor asked me to name five books about the causes and jailing of individuals with mental illnesses. My thanks to publicist, Ann Pryor, at Kensington for making this happen.

What books would you add to this list?

No Human Contact: On Solitary Confinement’s Origins as a Tool for Handling Mental Illness

Pete Earley Recommends Five Important Books on Incarceration

April 27, 2023

No serious conversations about criminal justice reform can be undertaken without studying the lives of Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain and the role each played in expanding the use of isolation and solitary confinement in America’s prisons.

In October 1983, they separately murdered two correctional officers on the same cellblock in the same prison. Both already had killed other inmates in prison. Both were associated with the Aryan Brotherhood, a savage white supremacy prison gang.

In 1983 there was no federal death penalty, and prison officials argued that convicts such as Silverstein and Fountain had nothing to fear by continuing to kill. To protect other inmates and guards, both men were placed under what was dubbed: NO HUMAN CONTACT. Stripped to their boxer shorts, Silverstein and Fountain were moved into isolation cells the size of king mattresses.

The walls were white, the lights burned 24 hours per day, the cells’ doors were solid steel. No radios, no televisions, no newspapers, nothing was allowed in their cells except a thin mattress and toilet. No mail, either incoming or outgoing. Silverstein and Fountain were sealed off from the outside world—as if they were characters in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic The Cask of Amontillado, in which a victim was entombed behind a brick wall with no escape. Officials privately hoped both men would end their own lives, but neither did. Restrictions were gradually eased—not out of kindness but from necessity. It proved difficult to control a prisoner without having something to take away to guarantee good behavior.

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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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