“A magnificent gift to those of us who love someone who has a mental illness…Earley has used his considerable skills to meticulously research why the mental health system is so profoundly broken.”—Bebe Moore Campbell, author of 72 Hour Hold
Former Washington Post reporter Pete Earley had written extensively about the criminal justice system. But it was only when his own son—in the throes of a manic episode—broke into a neighbor's house that he learned what happens to mentally ill people who break a law.
This is the Earley family's compelling story, a troubling look at bureaucratic apathy and the countless thousands who suffer confinement instead of care, brutal conditions instead of treatment, in the “revolving doors” between hospital and jail. With mass deinstitutionalization, large numbers of state mental patients are homeless or in jail-an experience little better than the horrors of a century ago. Earley takes us directly into that experience—and into that of a father and award-winning journalist trying to fight for a better way.
Suffering delusions from bipolar disorder, Mike Earley broke into a stranger's home to take a bubble bath and significantly damaged the premises. That Mike's act was viewed as a crime rather than a psychotic episode spurred his father, veteran journalist Pete Earley (Family of Spies), to investigate the "criminalization of the mentally ill." Earley gains access to the Miami-Dade County jail where guards admit that they routinely beat prisoners. He learns that Deidra Sanbourne, whose 1988 deinstitutionalization was a landmark civil rights case, died after being neglected in a boarding house. A public defender describes how he not always happily helps mentally ill clients avoid hospitalization. Throughout this grim work, Earley uneasily straddles the line between father and journalist. He compromises his objectivity when for most of his son's ordeal Mike gets probation he refuses to entertain the possibility that the terrified woman whose home Mike trashed also is a victim. And when, torn between opposing obligations, he decides not to reveal to a source's mother that her daughter has gone off her medications, he endangers the daughter's life and betrays her mother. Although this is mostly a sprawling retread of more significant work by psychologist Fuller Torrey and others, parents of the mentally ill should find solace and food for thought in its pages.