All The Damn Lies

:::: Before you read the following post, please note that I do believe that murderers belong behind bars. I feel that anyone who can take the life of another person falls in the category of the vilest type of human being. I had a close friend of mine murdered and watched the heartbreak and pain of another friend deal with the murder and loss of her niece. I am well aware of the ripple effect that a murder has on family and friends of the victim. And I do believe that anyone who is capable of taking a life should be locked away from society. This is not about freedom or sympathy for murderers. It’s about understanding humanity as a whole and our willingness to get revenge–even when innocence and mental health are obvious. ::::

I recently finished watching “Confessions of a Killer” on Netflix. I knew nothing about Henry Lee Lucas. Which was nice. I was able to watch the documentary roll out as if I was a juror in a trial- remaining unbiased while taking in all the evidence.

Initially, when hearing that Lucas had murdered his own mother and supposed girlfriend- I thought to myself that that was clear cut. After all, he confessed. But then when I started seeing the video clips, it became obvious that things were not what they seemed.

Lucas was not only mentally ill but, he was being manipulated by the authorities to confess to not one murder but somewhere near 600. The hardest bit, for me at least, was the fact that he was put on death row for a crime that he didn’t commit. And there were those who were more than happy to cheer on the fact that an innocent man was going to be killed for killing.

Why are humans so eager to watch people be executed? I think that’s for another post.

This post is about how quickly we are to assume one side of a story. I am not saying that this is true of all cases. It’s not.

Was Lucas guilty? Of course. He killed his mother.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative–  for every 9 nine people executed, 1 is innocent. I am not going to get into the death penalty debate in this post, but you can assume from this that I am strongly against capital punishment.

No. This post is about how mentally ill prisoners are treated by authorities and the justice system. About how easily we are capable of only looking at criminals through a pinhole rather than looking at the whole picture. A person is either innocent or guilty-no one wants to see the gray bits that wade in the middle. Five to ten percent of prisoners on death row have a severe mental illness. I have already discussed the wrongfulness of placing prisoners with mental illness in a prison in my post on Ed Gein.

How is it ok to place a criminal with severe mental illness on death row?

My guess is that we live in a society that already places a stigma on those who have a mental illness. 

It’s easy to dismiss any discussion or talk on mental illness (and yes this does count even those with major depression and anxiety) and psychiatric care. I am often curious about whether the execution of a mentally ill inmate is more about getting rid of society’s “burden” than it is about the crime itself.

People here “he murdered…” and quickly brush off a defense of insanity. Yes, there are a lot of criminals who try to use that defense. But honestly, someone with a diagnosed mental illness like schizophrenia really is pleading insanity.

Mental illness is a chemical imbalance in the brain. No one chooses to be mentally ill. And no mentally ill inmate should be placed in prison, let alone placed on death row.

Its time society starts to look at the gray in between guilt and innocence.

A Soap Box Moment

Ok. I need to stand on a soapbox for a moment. My speech of “I am going to change the criminal justice system” has begun. Or not? Sometimes I think it’s so far gone that change is impossible. Yet, here I am accumulating student loan debt that probably will not get paid off until I am dead.

Let me be frank here: The justice system sets people up for failure.

Sorry, it does.

I work (currently) as a Drug Screen Coordinator at a rehabilitation clinic for recovering drug addicts. It’s not the most exciting job, but it allows me to get a sneak peek on the crappy court system that these patients go through. Now, I am not going to lie. When I started his job, I was like “fuck drug addicts they did it to themselves.” Yeah, me being judgmental. I learned from it though.

Yes, there are patients who will more than likely be repeating and repeating rehab for years. You can tell the ones that are only there because the court ordered them to be there to avoid jail time and not that they really want to change themselves.

But then there are the ones who are working their asses off, following rules and doing everything they can to start over again. However, the stories I hear piss me off so bad that I would love to just go to court with these people and tell the judge a thing or to (not that thats his/her fault.)

Here are just a few:

A patient was in a court-ordered rehabilitation class. She was wearing grey shorts and got her period. She asked the instructor if she could leave. The instructor told her if she leaves, then she will be marked incomplete. Her choice was just to sit there and bleed through her clothes or leave the class to put in a tampon and have a mark against. She left of course. And at her next court hearing, she had to explain to a room full of people on how she got her period and had to leave.

A patient is a single mother and low income and can’t afford a sitter. She has to come in and do a drug test. She brings her 3-month-old baby to the clinic, and because we are not allowed to watch the baby while she does her drug test, she gets marked incomplete. Meanwhile, there are six staff members who could have easily watched her baby for the 5 minutes it takes her to do her drug screen.

Another patient is ready to complete his rehabilitation with our clinic. He is still on probation and will have to report to his probation officer for drug screens. Mind you, this patient is working a full-time job and getting his shit together. Our clinic is open from 6a-6p so patients who work have time to come in and do their thing. Now he is on probation and they only do drug screen check-ins from 10a-4p. So this guy who is finally working and getting on his feet now has to leave randomly during his workday to see his probation officer. If he doesn’t, well….back to prison.

These are just a few examples of how the justice system sets people up for failure. It’s frankly not fair. One on hand they expect them to better themselves, and on the other hand,  they fuck with their opportunities to get their shit together.

Can this be fixed? I have no idea. But I can tell you, I will do whatever I can to help people recover and get their lives back in order….somehow…..