Added the stars to the website / blog background again for Christmas
I finally got around to watching Oceans 11. Fun little caper flick. Mel & I got sick on Pollo Tropical for lunch… I got a headache, and she got some ickies, too. No Parrot Jungle for us. We hung out while feeling icky-ish, and then called it an early night around 8. It was sort of nice, though we were both sickish. Newt was very sweet to us both… probably out of a understanding sicky vibe. (He can get fairly jealous of Mel at times.) We spent the evening surfing the web for places to find ideas about breeding birds, swapping stories about our respective skeleton closets, and found a solution to the cubase problem.
I wouldn’t mind catching Oceans 12.
Somebody plugged the manatee kiss video to ipodder… I’d really like to know who the original referrer is… if anyone out there could let me know, I’d appreciate it.
It’s been a year to the day since they found Saddam Hussein hiding in his spider-hole in Tikrit. At the time former Gov. Howard Dean, the Democratic frontrunner, said that the capture didn’t make Americans any safer, and he caught a shit-storm for saying it.
Time is the ultimate vindicator.
He roams his corner of Little Havana, cursing, drinking, pulling his pants down in the street — a menace with nothing to show for 54 years on Earth but his schizophrenia.
In the small, disordered world of Castleberry Mejias, there is no barrier between real life and the sound and fury of his own imagination.
Mejias has followed the distortions of his mind to jail at least 35 times and an additional two dozen times to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s mental health crisis center. He was once arrested trying to light a Dollar Discount store on fire because he wanted a cigar to heat up his “frozen lung.”
Across Florida, there are at least 25,000 people like Castleberry Mejias — lives reduced to homelessness and jail by a mental illness that many of them do not understand they have.
Two decades of broken promises and budget cuts have made the untreated poor an accepted staple of life in Florida — filthy apparitions sleeping in the shadows, muttering aloud, smoking crack to fight off the disembodied voices in their minds.
”The mental healthcare system is in shambles,” said Michael Mathes, former president of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Florida and current chair of its legislative committee. “The most needy, the most seriously and persistently mentally ill, fall through the cracks. And people just turn their heads and ignore it.”
Per capita spending on mental health in Florida is lower than in 45 other states, and getting lower. New York spends five times what Florida does. Only New Mexico, Utah, Arkansas and West Virginia rank lower, according to 2001 figures analyzed by the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation.
At a time when psychotropic medications are more effective than ever, an estimated 171,000 people with serious mental illness in Florida do not get the publicly funded treatment they need.
Those with the condition known as anosognosia — the inability to recognize your illness — suffer the most, because they often refuse treatment. Only when they commit a crime or pose a threat can they occasionally be forced on medication.
The wretched reality behind the numbers is startling.
Rodney Brown is 51 years old and wears a spaghetti strainer on his head to keep the ”bubble men” from stealing his thoughts.
He has made a home office out of the oil-stained parking lot behind a Speedy Food drive-through, right next to Interstate 95 near North Miami.
”I put my notes in there,” he said, pointing to a trash bin. He wears the plastic guard of an old fan as a shield.
Brown has been homeless since he was 18. He has never been treated and is surprised when a visitor asks if he has ever been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
”Like you’re crazy or something?” he said, twirling his finger around his ear. “Nah.
“When I was walking by the church, an invisible person stuck something in my ear. One of the bubble people. They come in a flying saucer.”
Day and night, burning heat, driving rain, Brown sits in the same spot, flattening cans, smoking cheap cigars, tending a group of kittens. When two of them are hit by cars, he dutifully buries them in the weeds with a spoon.
Sami Ahmed, the owner of Speedy Food and a native of Pakistan, looks after Brown, but can’t understand how someone can get so stuck in such a wealthy nation.
”He isn’t causing trouble for anyone,” Ahmed said. ‘He needs help. I ask the police, `Why don’t you take him to the shelter and get him some treatment?’ They say they can’t if he doesn’t want to go.
“But he has no sense.”
Brown says he would go to his mother’s house in Carol City, but the Speedy Food needs him to look after the place.
“I’m going to go see her. I ain’t been there for so long.”
He doesn’t know the house is vacant. His mother died in June.
Brown is just one of the many psychiatric castaways drifting in the neighborhood.
Three blocks away, Alexander Horn chews a wet cigarette after a heavy storm in July, resting on a sponge of a mattress under a tree off Northwest Seventh Avenue. He has one shoe on, his pants are tied together with electrical wire, and he is typing furiously on a battered husk of an old keyboard.
Horn is 50 years old and has been homeless since his mother died in 1992, the saddest day of his life.
His hands tremble and his tongue circles heavily in his mouth. He is thin as a scarecrow and disoriented, his eyes half-lidded.
”I’m just sitting here reading my Bible,” he said. `I don’t mean no harm.”
The Bible is a crumpled, water-stained Jehovah’s Witness magazine. He is reading it upside down.
”I got good sense,” he said. ”If I want to go to a shelter, I’d go find one.” When people stop to help him, he thinks they are police trying to put him in jail. He has been there as often as he has been to a shelter, and he likes neither one.
“That’s just the way it is, I’m alone. I ain’t got no problem being by myself.”
A few minutes later, he is bellowing and slamming at the broken keys of his keyboard, sprawled on a sidewalk as the sane world streams by down on the avenue.
In the eyes of those who try to care for them, people like Horn and Brown are modern-day versions of 19th century lepers, forsaken by society because of a false stigma.
”It’s a banishment of people whose symptoms are considered so repugnant and fearful they are judged to deserve their fate,” said Mathes of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
With more people going untreated, the state’s mental health budget is increasingly consumed by crisis.
Under Florida’s Baker Act, authorities can involuntarily commit people to a crisis center for 72 hours, at the most, if they are a threat to themselves or others.
BACK ON THE STREETS
For most homeless people, this is the only exposure to behavioral healthcare, and it is usually very brief, with no follow-up. The moment the patient is calmed down, he must be released.
Police are appalled to find that the person who was raising hell on their beat in the morning is back on the streets in the afternoon. Families sigh as their tormented son or daughter arrives on their doorstep — untreated — hours after being taken away.
”It’s a terrible drain on resources, not to mention continued suffering, for people to be cycling in and out of crisis care and never getting treatment,” said Rosanna Esposito, a staff attorney for the Treatment Advocacy Center, a Virginia-based nonprofit organization.
In 1997, 69,235 Baker Act commitments were initiated in Florida. By 2002, the number had climbed to 105,062.
Tragically, some of those hospitalizations involve the same people going into crisis over and over again. A study by the University of South Florida found that 540 people in the state were hospitalized at least eight times each during a two-year period. And still, no one could force them to take medication.
Psychologists say there is a solution. They point to various ”assertive community treatment” programs around the nation in which case managers are assigned to the persistently ill and make sure that they find housing and stay in treatment.
But such programs are costly because they require constant follow-ups. And states, including Florida, have provided only limited funding.
”What’s really sad is recovery is possible,” said Xavier Amador, a Columbia University psychology professor and author of a book on anosognosia.
No one witnesses the futility of the revolving door more than street cops.
”You more or less know the addresses already when the call comes in,” said Miami police Officer Mario Garcia.
One January afternoon, Garcia is on patrol in Little Havana. He is talking about a particularly troublesome case.
”You Baker Act him, you Baker Act him, you Baker Act him,” he says. “His name is Castleberry.”
Within hours, a call comes from the Fronton Bar at 12th Avenue and Flagler Street. It is 6:30. Garcia knows the address. He knows who it is.
Castleberry Mejias is already in custody when Garcia gets there.
He threatened to kill the woman who owns the bar with a knife he did not have.
He is charged with felony stalking and taken to the Miami-Dade County Jail.
Paranoid schizophrenia has laid waste to Mejias’ life since he arrived from Cuba during the Mariel boatlift of 1980.
He has nothing else left.
He was once a mechanic and father and husband.
Now, he doesn’t have a single friend. He has not seen his four children, Claris, Ana Iris, Wilfredo and Gladis — their names tattooed prominently on his arms — for 24 years.
`SHE NEVER WRITES BACK’
If he could arrange his thoughts into an unbroken line, he could call 411 and find Claris in New Jersey or his aunt Iluminada in Puerto Rico, for whom he has been searching for more than a decade.
”I wrote to her, but she never writes back,” he says in jail after his arrest. He shuts his eyes and sobs.
Mejias has heard voices since he was 19. He has been medicated only while in custody, convinced that the doctors give him pills for ”sleeping problems.” He stops taking them the moment he is free.
”When he takes his medication, he’s under control,” said Miami police Officer Jose DaPena, who has played a cat-and-mouse game with Mejias for years. Without it, “he’s a time bomb.”
Mejias has thrown chunks of concrete at moving cars, lunged at people with broken beer bottles, slammed windows with a metal pipe. A lump on his head commemorates the time a bartender subdued him with a pool cue.
DaPena takes Mejias to the hospital whenever he sees him start to act up.
‘I go to the crisis center and they say, `How come you keep bringing back this person?’ ” DaPena said. “I say, `Why do you keep releasing him?’
“The citizens call me. They say he’s throwing rocks. What am I supposed to do?”
After his arrest this January, Mejias’ stalking charge was dropped, but he stayed in jail on a probation violation as prosecutors looked for a way to get him into treatment. He stayed for nine months. Still, there was no program to accommodate him.
On Oct. 5, Mejias did what so many other Floridians with severe mental illness do.
He went to prison, where he will stay for 4 ½ years.
1 year ago – the secret message, Bro & Danny visit, lizards in the tummy, truck surfing, riddle, some reference,
2 years ago – nightmare, balloon hats, fudge and dinosaurs, Danny and I win a Tomato Recipe contest!
3 years ago – nice dreams, flesh eating robots, wacky day, SOP
4 years ago – coffee, hello kitty murders, village blacksmith, books to read, I get a Sigmund and the sea monsters tape!