Thursday, December 20, 2012

SM Johnson ~Thursday Morning Coffee~ Someone Knew

It was a fairly average Monday morning here in my house. I left the house early for a doctor appointment. My husband woke IzzyG and badgered her to get ready for school. I don't know if he sent her to the bus or dropped her off on his way to work, but yes... our child went to school today. This is our reality. And our reality tells us that our child's school is a safe place.

Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT had standard lock-down practices in place.

Our school doesn't.

And still we send our precious girl to school.



Last night I looked at the pictures and read the short biographies of the murdered children and teachers of Sandy Hook. I looked into their eyes and imagined them as real people, who sing and dance and talk and play. And I cried. And me, who avoids tragedy and violence like the plague, who avoids popular media whenever possible - I vowed that I would keep looking, and keep reading, and keep crying.

And still I send my daughter to school.

Because this is what I know... we cannot predict the violence.

Schools, shopping malls, college campuses, movie theaters, political rallies. Airplanes, subways, walking into a convenience store or walking down the street.

We can't predict the moment a murderer strikes or the venue that he or she chooses.

We cannot be proactive at this moment in time, we can only react.

And whether you love the NRA or hate the NRA or think guns are bad, or good, or at the very least, we have the right to bear arms - it matters not one bit.

The enemy is not the gun-owner, the manufacturer, or even the arms dealer. The enemy is not the government or the NRA.

The real enemy? The true enemy?

Our broken mental health system.

Because here is the message I want to send:

SOMEONE KNEW.

The list is too long and too disheartening for me to re-create here, and, truth be told, I am not real keen on contributing to infamy by listing the names of killers here on my blog. You can go look at a compilation with map and details over at Mother Jones.com. What you will find is that a mix of legal and illegal weapons were used, but what's very clear is that nearly every shooter has a history of mental illness.

So go ahead, ban all the guns you want. It will piss a lot of people off, and in the long run, won't change a fucking thing.

Because SOMEONE KNEW these mass murderers were capable of the acts of violence they committed. Not only did someone know - that someone had very likely asked, begged, even, for help that a broken system could not give.

I read an essay last night titled, "I am Adam Lanza's Mother." Click and read it now. I'll wait here quietly while you go do that.

This is the conversation we need to have in America.

There are people who cannot function safely in society, and for their safety and the safety of others, need to be institutionalized, for life, at government expense.

That's it. The end.

I work in the field of acute mental health. I can name 4 or 5 individuals off the top of my head that I have met, spoken to, and cared for, who are capable of walking into an elementary school and killing children. Killing my child.

These are people driven by the demons of mental illness. In moments of lucidity, they would not want to kill children. But within the realm of psychosis, delusions, paranoia, mania and rage - they are capable of doing it. Sure, some are of lower mental functioning. But many are not, the narcissists and sociopaths, in particular, tend to be of average intelligence and functioning. Believe me, they are capable, and when they are acutely sick, there is no way to predict what they might do.

They don't get convicted for their "petty" violent crimes and threats of terrorism because they are labeled "mentally ill", and the corrections system doesn't offer appropriate treatment options. If they are arrested and charged with anything, it's "disorderly conduct."

And so the doctor begins the "commitment process" - to have these people committed to the supervision of their county for, typically in MN, six months.

Those that have perpetuated violence on us (the healthcare team) and others sometimes get sent to state-run programs for longer-term treatment. And when I say "longer-term", I mean weeks or possibly months. But these people are eventually deemed "healthy enough" for community based living.

Community based living for persons with mental illness is in your neighborhood, folks. Eventually these people with consistent and chronic mental health issues earn privileges and freedom from supervision.

Sometimes committed people have such long and violent histories that no agency or community based program will take them on. They land at their parents' home, or on the street, homeless. Either way, once again, they are in your neighborhood, folks.

And they are able to walk into your school and kill your children.

So what happened to state-run mental institutions, anyway? Well, the nice story is that community based living is more humane and offers a better quality of life than an institution. The less pretty story is that large, permanent or semi-permanent long-term mental health facilities are expensive to run and maintain, and smaller, privately owned community based living agencies shoulder much of that cost, while providing somewhat less comprehensive care.

Hmm... Here are links to a couple interesting articles I found:

History of Psychiatric Hospitals

A fairly comprehensive look at deinstitutionalization in the field of mental health.

Please pay special attention to the last section, a heading in bold:

CMHCs Fail to Fulfill Their Promise


This is where I tell you again: SOMEONE KNEW.

The people who work within the system know that it is broken. The parents, and siblings, spouses, ex-spouses, and friends of persons with consistent and chronic mental illness - these people know that the system is broken.

Our government refuses to view the system as broken, because fixing and maintaining a healthy system will be very, very expensive.

What can we do?

How about a hot-line, maybe run by the Department of Homeland Security, so the People Who Know can call and ask for real help. A number that psych staff can call to say "I believe this person is fully capable of eventually carrying out their threats to society and NEEDS TO BE MONITORED."

The mother of "Michael" in the essay I referenced above could maybe report that her son needs to be monitored BEFORE he steals a gun from the neighbor's house and murders her and her younger children while they sleep.

Wouldn't that be better than wringing our hands afterward and saying such stupid things as "Gosh, if only someone knew..."

Because I'll say it again and again and again: SOMEONE KNEW and could not get help, because the current system is broken and there is no help.

Maybe we need a Federal Psych facility. It could be a nice place, despite seclusion rooms and restraint beds. It could have kind staff and grounds to allow fresh air and sunshine. A swimming pool. Tennis courts. A gymnasium. Art classes and a library and internet access. Hell, make the fucking place a RESORT, for all I care - just keep these people out of society, because they cannot function when mixed in with the rest of us. 

They are not safe and will never be safe. And the violence will continue.

***

A few thoughts on guns and gun control, just to show you that I've been thinking about these conversations, as well.

So what about the hot issue of gun control? What should we do? What can we do?

For starters, lets hold gun owners accountable for the whereabouts of their guns. Require they purchase and register a gun safe. 

FINE them heavily if their gun is used to commit a crime or found otherwise to be out of their control. Or rescind their right to bear arms if they have not managed to keep their guns secure. Let's not forget that with rights come responsibilities.

I never wanted guns in the house. Never, never. But my husband has become something of a gun enthusiast. We have a big, heavy gun safe. Every gun we own is locked up, except for the one my husband has a permit to carry, when circumstance dictates he carry it. We know where all the guns are all the time, and they are not allowed to disappear, and they are not allowed to languish around the house unsecured.

Which isn't to say that someone very motivated couldn't break into the safe, but it wouldn't be easy, and it would take them some time. Oh, and we'd be immediately aware that it had been broken into.

I do think the sale of assault weapons to individuals should be severely restricted, or even banned. My husband, the gun enthusiast, doesn't agree withe me. He said the right to bear arms protects us from our government. I just laughed at him and said, "You with ALL your guns unlocked and loaded would still be no match for a SWAT team with tear gas and flash grenades. Give me a break."

The right to bear arms doesn't necessarily have to mean the right to bear assault rifles with 100 round clips. That is absolutely ludicrous. 

But the truth is, criminals and murderers will always find guns - legally or illegally, so why waste time and money passing laws that create more hassle for the people least likely to use those guns in random killing sprees?

It would be far better to use our resources to identify and secure the dangerous people who have the potential to pull the trigger.

I wish you peace this holiday season.

I have no words of comfort to offer the folks in Newtown, CT - because words just fail. All I can say is that I will continue to look at their beautiful faces and even though I am far away, and cannot truly imagine what you are going through, I am grieving your unfathomable loss.


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