Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Pickle Factory that is the Mental Health Courthouse.

I'd rather be anywhere but here today... Parking is hell.. and there are no available spots for at least 3 blocks... I squeeze my car into a tiny hole, on badly mangled asphalt disfigured by mighty root trees that refuse to change their nature in the construct of man-made civilization.   I stumble out of the driver seat by catching my heel on the ground. 

The weight of my client's case carries heavier in my heart than my huge briefcase stacked with Jail records, Mental Hospital and psychiatrist reports.  I walk by the railroad tracks, on my way to get to Courthouse.  The train drags by along the tracks, lingering & hesitant... It too, is loathing arrival at the destination point. 

I walk into this building, an old pickle factory, now transformed into the Mental Health Court.  The hallways are packed with patients from different mental hospitals, accused of some type of a crime, or being placed on hold for being either a "danger to self" "danger to others" or "unable to provide for their own food shelter & clothing"....

Some are disheveled... others talk to themselves and respond to internal stimuli.  Yet another is catatonic and is staring into the dead space... There is a distinct smell to Mental Illness, permeated in the hallways by the pungent odors of disillusionment and the putrid smells of confusion, disappointment and desperation.

I made the mistake of becoming emotionally involved with this case.  I made the humoungous mistake of meeting family members in this wretched case of mine, and allowing my mothering instincts to gel with that of the mother.   I am now twined to the case, twined to the defendant who is facing a life sentence, twined to his mother, and his family members ....  and I have lost my footing.

I was up all last night.  My insides writhing with anguish, struggling with strategy, policy, morality, and law.     Yes, after 22 years of practice, there are still some cases that grapple my soul, and etch themselves to my inner fibers... 

The tragedy of Mental Illness occurs when it collides with the defunct, bankrupt and dilapidated criminal justice system... Years ago, in an effort hailed by the Republicans as Reaganomics, all fundings were stripped from Mental Hospitals, Mental programs, outpatient and inpatient programs much like the way ISIS strips its prisoners dignity prior to killing them.

I walk to the back of the Courtroom towards that long hallway that leads to the holding areas.  Walls are painted an ugly forest Green and the familiar smell of jail burns my nostrils.  It smells like a dirty meat shop.  The heart of this courthouse is the testament of our failure as a society.   Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political philosopher of the 19th Century once said that the best way to judge the success of any democracy is to measure how it treats the mentally ill and the incarcerated.  And by what I have seen in the last 22 years and having worked a great part of my law school career in the mental health units of the criminal justice system, I know that we have failed.  Utterly, absolutely, unequivocally and without a single doubt. 

September 4, 2014
CDAK
Alaleh Kamran



Alaleh Kamran, Attorney at Law
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