In yesterday’s post, I made reference to an article that I read recently about a Sheriff in Cook County Illinois. The Sheriff, Tom Dart is threatening to sue state and local government officials. Why? Because, according to the article. “the county jail is so overwhelmed with people whose offenses are more attributable to mental health issues than criminal impulses that the facility has become a source of mental health care for the city, and he’s sick of it.”

Dart says that the system “is so screwed up that [he’s] become the largest mental health provider in the state of Illinois.”

The article goes on to say that “of the 11,000 prisoners detained at Cook County Jail at any given time, Dart estimates that about 2,000 suffer from a serious form of mental illness. At an estimated cost of about $143 per detainee per day, the overflow from the nearby state-run Elgin Mental Health Center, which can handle only 582 patients at a time, stands to put an undue burden on the jail’s resources.”

ABC Chicago interviewed some of the many repeat offenders who spend time in Dart’s jail, several of whom described it as one of their only options for consistent access to mental health care and medication.

“What ends up happening is, there’s no safety net to catch them, so they end up committing crimes, getting swept up by the police and coming to jail,” jail psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Howard told ABC.

Our nation is at a crossroad. Political rhetoric is as heated as I’ve ever seen it. “Smaller government!” The candidates scream to feverish applause. “Personal responsibility!” they intone to blood-thirsty crowds.

Santorum has laid out his plan for helping those in need in our society. It’s brilliant in its simplicity. It’s idiocy in practice.

“I’m not going to go out and lay out an agenda about how we’re going to transform people’s hearts. But I will talk about it,” he said. “One of the important things that the President of the United States can do is talk about things that the federal government shouldn’t do but talk about what a good society should do.

“If government is going to get smaller, then people have to get bigger. And that means they have to stretch out more, they have to do more things,” he said. “But how beautiful is that. How beautiful is that that you’re going to have to do more to help those in need in our society?”

Beautiful in its idealism? Yes. Able in any practical sense to keep Tom Dart from being Illinois’ largest mental health care provider? Not so much. Just ask the homeless lady huddled by the fence in front of the church.

When I began advocating politically, my girl was just a toddler. Our town’s education budget, like so many others around the country, was shrinking dramatically and tough decisions needed to made about where the limited monies would be allocated. The arguments that I made to our local officials revolved largely around the fact that providing appropriate support for kids like Brooke was simply The Right Thing To Do.

Within short order, I learned that school boards and government officials are not particularly swayed by The Right Thing To Do. So I started talking about money.

I told them that we had a choice – to spend some money now in order to enable a generation of kids to participate in and contribute (heaven knows what great things that lie beyond our limited imaginations) to our society OR pay exponentially more later when we have a generation of adults who are wholly reliant on us because we didn’t give them the skills they needed to be even partially self-sufficient when we had the chance. I wondered though, if that idea was simply too vague to really sink in and impact the political process.

Well, thanks to Sheriff Dart it’s not so vague anymore, is it?

The current crop of candidates is big on Bible thumping. And despite the fact that a host of religious leaders have come together to ask them to cut it out, I’m happy to engage in a little thumping of my own. Especially because the following parable from the Gospel of Matthew happens to be the basis for one of my baby girl’s favorite scenes in her beloved Godspell.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Our kids need support. Many of them always will. And I am determined to ensure that that ‘support’ doesn’t come in the form of a ten-year old girl handing them a couple of dollars on the street.

So when arguments based on compassion seem to fall on deaf ears, or reminders of our sacred responsibility to care for one another (no matter what the level of need may be) as members of a civilized society go nowhere, and Bible thumpers tell us that individuals and churches will care for those in need, send them this as a reminder that one way or another, we WILL support those in need. And I can’t imagine that ANYONE thinks that our jails are the best place to do it.

23 thoughts on “support

  1. Absolutely. Never is the hipocracy of some government officials more obvious than when budget talks focus on making cuts to services that benefit the most vulnerable in our society. So timely. Thanks for pointing it out so clearly.

  2. So many thank-yous from those of us fighting in Cook County for decades against these self-righteous resource-hoarders whose version of Christianity has no Christ in it whatsoever. (We are also really grateful to people like Sherriff Dart for standing up and announcing the hypocrisy from the inside.) Go Jess!

  3. This is how the world evolves to be a better place. Not by politicians vaguely asserting the ideology of societal responsibilites, using ‘God’s Word’ by scribbling it on a cocktail napkin at a fundraiser or touting ‘family values’ during the fifty-third debate this year.

    Rather, we are living in His image when we care for all of our brothers and sisters from the start. *Investing* in the future of all by supporting those who need it before it is too late to do more than slap a bandaid on their mental health and call it a day by turning the key to their cell and calling ‘lights out’.

    My daughter is worth more than a budgetary cost analysis as a preschooler. All of us are. And she is worth more than $143/day jail cell when she’s grown. This is not a new concept that the investment now is worth immeasurable quality of life and hope for independence later.

    We just need to keep speaking up, as Sherriff Dart did. Until it is no longer a vague ideology skated over by politicians, but a victorious shift toward a better world for all.

    Thanks, Jess.

  4. Hi Jess,

    As always thank you for sharing. I live in NJ, am a wife mother and student.Two of my daughters (17yr old twins) have cerebral palsy. I am 20 weeks away from completing my BS in criminal justice. I intend on working in the juvenile justice field mainly for the reasons in which you are speaking of. Up intill last year (due to budget cuts) I was working in a residential facility that houses troubled teens, many with mental illness issues, that were not being treated (in my opinion) properly. I found you on facebook a few months ago and have been following your blog for sometime. I can’t begin to tell you how your words are helping me pull myself together, as I have been really struggling recently. Mental illness is an issue that I am also very passionate about! I suffer from depression and PTSD from a pretty horrific childhood. My story is pretty long and involved and I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I just wanted to share with you that I could not agree with you more!!

    When it comes to mental illness I have not only been effected within myself, but my mom suffered for years, (she passed away 2 years ago from cancer), and I lost my best friend 2 years ago; after suffering for years from mental illness and addiction. We tried for years to get her the right help, but sadly (at least around where I live) the mental health profession is not just a mess, but is an absolute embarrassment! If you are lucky enough to receive medical insurance through the state, it is all about medications, and as we know many people who suffer from mental illness will often turn to drugs. The rate of psychotic drugs that are being dispensed to these people is INSANE. My friend Dawn, was in and out of rehab/mental facilities for years. Every time she would go in they would detox her from one drug and replace it with three others, which she would then go home and abuse…terrible, sad, vicious cycle; that in the end took her life. Then there are my daughters. One of my daughters has also been diagnosed with mental retardation as well as her CP. She has outburst and some tendencies that often look like various other mental illnesses. My husband and I often talk about where these girls would be if they were born in another generation or, to parents who just could or would not have what it took to cope.

    I am currently battling my own demons, and have been doing everything I can to reach out for help. As I said my story is long, accompany my childhood demons with two differently abled children and I am a mess. I have no resources, no medical insurance, and will NOT succumb to the current help that is being offered. I did turn to this help almost 11 years ago, after I had a “breakdown”. I was admitted to a mental hospital. During my stay there I was treated with several medications, I essentially walked around like a zombie. Upon my discharge I was given prescriptions for 12 medications, most of which were anti psychotic medications. To top it all off I was sent home without any after care plan. I stayed on these medications for about a year, my husband being afraid to leave me home alone with my children. One day I just made a decision that I would no longer do this. I took a very big risk and just stopped taking all medications against the advice of my family doctor. I had too, I could not function. After a couple months of dealing with the side effects of coming off these medications, I began to take control of my life. It has been a long hard struggle, and I have good days and bad, as I am sure you can relate. Which leads to where I am today, I know I need help…mainly counseling, so that I can deal with what I have been through properly, accept what it is, and move on from it. I know that my chronic ups and downs are not only are a reflection of being a mother to two special needs children, but the need to face my past and be able to put it away for good, so that I can focus on things that are happening today.

    Ok I feel like I am starting to babble here, so let me move on. I want to HELP. I intend on sharing this info on my facebook page. My underlining point being that many children whether it be something like autism, mental retardation, PTSD, or whatever…it is essential that the right supports and services be in place and utilized while they are young. As we know the younger the therapies begin the better the chances. Please let me know if there is anything else you know that I could do to help bring much needed light to this issue. I am going to do some research in my state to see where things stand and what I can do, such as getting in touch with my government representatives, as well as through my career within the criminal justice system.

    Again I thank you for all that you share everyday, I look forward to your posts everyday!!


    • oh jenn,

      you are incredibly brave – not just to face the demons head on and to know yourself and your needs but to share your journey.

      as far as helping, it certainly sounds like you’re on the right track by starting in your area. by telling our stories, putting human faces to what might otherwise be no more than statistics to many and by acting locally, we can effect change.

      stay strong, lady. and thank you.


  5. It’s all very frightening. Not sure if things can really be fixed with either party. I do think citizens need to take control and say enough is enough and not only fight for what is morally right but start adding creative solutions to their arguments. It’s one thing to say there is not enough money but we need to get together to come up with different solutions. If your program is working, prove why it is working and show the successes and be honest about what is not working. If you had more money what would it do. I’m not even sure insuring every citizen and creating a socialist like medical environment will fix the deep problem. I think instead it will become more like the county jail and quality will go further down than it is. I worry about my daughters and their future. What I am trying to plan now is how to set up our own private plan instead of relying on the government to come up with one for them. I don’t trust that if I sign things over to the government that my children will be taken care of. It’s bad now, will it be better in the future?? I doubt it. All I can do is pray, fight and plan.

  6. Sooooo right on! The right thing to do is my mantra in Michigan with legislators when they insist on trying to plug the damn and not tackle the problems from the ground up. Early childhood interventions are common sense…what’s with these people anyway??

  7. This post came at a perfect time.

    This week (Tues.) the state of Florida will be changing the school grade standards. This will greatly effect children with disabilities across the board. While it is good to hold schools accountable, at the same time when schools and teachers are faced with an impossible standard, the frequent response is to say “how do we get around this?” For this problem, the loophole is getting rid of those students.

    For those who are being educated in schools that have “centers” or “clusters” of two or more ASD classrooms and support services: This plan will make it unlikely a principal will want a large population of children with ASD on special diploma or struggling with standardized assessment at his/her school. Dismantling of grouped programs will decrease available support services, not only for those in self-contained ASD classrooms, but for those who are included in general education classes and on standard diploma track.

    The change will also discourage inclusion, as well as lead to loss of good ESE teachers for our slower learners, as teachers will be graded based on the progress of their students held against standard set for intellectually average students. Teachers will be less likely to want students who fail FCAT in their classrooms.

    More and more parents are being told at their IEP meetings to either take the McKay scholarship and “find a better suited school”, home school or virtual school their children. These options is allowing schools “wipe their hands clean” of the so-called “problem”.

    I have written letters to the Governor as well as the Senators reguarding this issue and the effects it will have on their future citizens. If our children our not taken care of at the school age level, then the issue that is taking place in Cook County will take place in other states as well. I don’t think they really see the big picture. I hope they can come up with a better solution.


  8. Thank you for this beautifully written piece. I hope that you do not mind that I reblogged to my site. I have been talking about the right thing to do and spirituality in some of my posts and your arguments fit right in.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s