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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Born Bad or Made Bad? Did Years Of Abuse As Kids Turn Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain Into Killers? Genetics/Choice?

“Sitting silently thinking and screaming 4 freedom from this constant insanity and endless solitary confinement.” Drawing by Thomas Silverstein about being in isolation for years. (Copyrighted Pete Earley Inc.)

THIS IS THE LAST DAY to enter the GoodReads giveaway to win a free copy of No Human Contact. Click here.

(4-3-23) Were Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain born bad or did they become bad because of the childhood physical abuses inflicted on them, including the savagery and depravity that each endured as youngsters and later in prisons? 

Silverstein was physically abused by an alcoholic and vicious mother who relentlessly beat him. Fountain’s mother shot him with a pistol in the leg and his Marine father would dispatch him into the woods to be stalked during a sick game before beating him. Both men murdered correctional officers. Silverstein was accused of committing three other violent murders while in prison. Fountain committed four additional killings.

Was this violent behavior linked to years of abuse?

Silverstein and Fountain are not the only men born into violent homes, who endured corporal punishment when it was common practice in schools, and who were sent to youth correctional facilities and ultimately prison. Few commit multiple murders.

In this excerpt from my new book, NO HUMAN CONTACT: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security, and Two Inmates Who Changed the System, Silverstein describes his twisted love/hate relationship with his abusive mother.

NO HUMAN CONTACT by Pete Earley, available April 25th.

     “No mommy! No!”

    The five-year-old lifted both hands to block the leather belt that his mother was swinging. It slapped into his bare thighs and he screamed.

    “You wet the bed!” she hollered, lifting her belt and again hitting the child cowering in front of her.

     She grabbed a paper cup. “Pee in here,” she yelled.  

     Sobbing, he dropped his yellow stained white underwear to his feet and peed into the cup.

    “Now drink it! You drink it or I’ll swat you again. You’re going to drink every drop every time you pee in the bed!”

     “Mommy don’t make me drink my pee pee.”

      He yelped when she struck him again. He raised the cup to his mouth.    — One of Thomas Silverstein’s first vivid memory of his mother, Virginia.Click to continue…

“Mental Illness Should Not Be Your Ticket To Death.” Calls To Police End In Tragedy

Five fatal police shootings of mentally ill examined by Portland   Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

(3-25-23) When you call the police because a family member is in the midst of a serious mental health crisis, you are desperate for help. But despite years of encouraging officers to undergo Crisis Intervention Team training, tragedies continue to happen.

My son, Kevin, was shot twice with tasers when we sought help from the Fairfax County (Va.) Police. We were lucky. Last July, Fairfax Police officers fatally shot Jasper Aaron Lynch, 26, inside his parent’s home after they asked for help and CIT officers responded.

The death of Irvo Otieno in Henrico County, Va., has sparked national coverage and outrage as officials scramble to explain what happened. I received a phone call asking me to reserve judgment immediately after Otieno’s death, but as more and more information leaks out, it is difficult to believe this was an unavoidable “accident.”

Virginia’s political leaders need to investigate what went wrong and implement changes. One would be to stop the police for filing assault charges against an individual in a mental health crisis if they become violent.  Unless the assaults lead to a serious injury, such charges only exasperate a problem. (They often are based on spitting at an officer or shoving a hospital worker.)

Otieno was charged with felony assault on law enforcement – five criminal charges – even though he was in the psychiatric unit of a hospital exhibiting what many psychiatrists would deem symptoms of his mental illness.

As Otieno’s outraged mother, Caroline Ouko, told reporters: “Mental illness should not be your ticket to death.”

Sadly, the Otieno death joins a long list of preventable tragedies that have claimed lives in Virginia dating back to the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings that killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.

Let’s see how Virginia officials respond this time around.

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Virginia NAMI Issues Statement About Death Of Irvo Otieno. I Get A Phone Call Asking The Public To Reserve Judgment

UPDATE: 3-23-23 Events surrounding the alleged murder of Irvo Otieno continue to be released. Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill released a second surveillance video from inside the jail showing Otieno being combative in his cell before officers arrived to take him to a state hospital. Baskervill identified a sheriff’s department sergeant as the “most culpable” of all 10 people who face murder charges after piling atop a shackled Otieno during a mental health crisis. Henrico County sheriff’s Sgt. Kaiyell Sanders, 30, of North Chesterfield, struck Otieno multiple times around the head and upper body at the jail and played “the most aggressive” role later, at the hospital, Baskervill said at a bond hearing. An earlier video is posted below.

(3-22-23) NAMI Virginia is calling for improved mental health services in the state following the death of Irvo Otieno in Henrico County.

Surveillance video released by a prosecutor Tuesday shows Irvo Otieno being pinned to the floor by multiple security officers at a Virginia state mental health facility in the moments leading up to his death earlier this month.

Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill’s office also released 911 calls about the incident in which a caller described Otieno as “very aggressive” and repeatedly asked for an ambulance, saying he was not breathing.

After watching that video, Prosecutor Baskervill charged seven Henrico sheriff’s deputies and three hospital security guards with second-degree murder. Those charges have made the tragedy into a national news story.

Hours after Otieno died, I received a telephone call from someone familiar with the officers who were involved urging me to reserve judgment about what had happened. The caller insisted Otieno’s death was an accident. One of the accused was a Henrico Crisis Intervention Team trainer. I was told that a lack of an available hospital bed exacerbated the situation by delaying transport. Otieno’s mental condition reportedly deteriorated during that delay.

It will be up to the justice system to decide if this was an accident or those involved committed murder.

What I do know is that these sorts of tragedies often can be prevented if a community has meaningful mental health care services in place. Which is why I am happy that today, NAMI Virginia issued a statement about the need to improve our state’s system, something Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has promised to do.

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