If anybody should know the issues and problems associated with the complexity of providing mental health care to severely mentally ill (SMI) persons it is Arizona Governor Janice Brewer of Arizona. She has a son that ran afoul of the law and was considered to be eligible to be housed in a state hospital rather than the state owned prisons. This was a definite benefit for her as a mother as she was assured her convicted son was going to receive treatment for his illness that was a factor in his crime. According to public records, he is still there at the state hospital getting his medication and treatment as prescribed by a psychiatrist.
Last Friday, November 5, Channel 12 did a story on Tony Lester that was identified by the Arizona Department of Corrections as preventable suicide. The story resulted in mass viewer concerns about the mentally ill as they have no voice in the community and need protection by those who care. To summarize his death, he was given a razor blade to kill himself while sitting in a detention cell isolated from treatment and care when he experienced an episode that resulted in his death. Before he died he wrote the words ‘voices” with his own blood to explain his behavior to others.
Just another name, another SMI person, Anthony Lester, was convicted of a crime and sent to prison without any considerations for treatment whether inside the state hospital or the state prison. He was discarded, abandoned and left on his own to survive his illness in a most predatory environment and received no help from anyone unlike the governor’s son. The difference between the two is one major fact. Tony Lester was not the governor’s son. Although Janice Brewer was not the governor at the time of this consideration, she was an influential politician in state government and given preferential treatment in the care of her son.
Anthony Lester committed suicide within a few months of his incarceration in prison. His needs were ignored by the agency and he was ignored as an SMI person incarcerated and denied care that was recommended by the judge that sentenced him and despite personal pleas from his family to high officials inside the corrections agency to allow him to be put in a mental health setting, it was ignored. Tony Lester was diagnosed to be “manipulative and gamey” by the top doctors and officials inside the Arizona Department of Corrections. He was denied care. Tony Lester earned that title of being “manipulative and gamey” from the behavior of others who are NOT mentally ill but use it as a tool to seek special housing assignments or single cells. He was put in a stereotyped class of manipulators inside prison and denied the opportunity to receive care and treatment already documented in his file.
Since the investigation there is sufficient information that there exists an obvious lack of support within the prison administration and cultural setting that allows the existence and success of prison therapy programs to work and be effectively management without political or cultural interference. The dangers associated with these released SMI persons who have not received care while in prison effects our communities and increases their chances of committing crimes again almost assuring society that they will spend the rest of their lives inside a prison with lengthy and determinate sentences to keep them off the streets in the name of public safety and tough on crime mandates or kill themselves while incarcerated as they lose their ability to cope and funtion accordling within this most toxic and harsh environment, even for those who do not suffer from a mental illness.