Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mental Illness that is the criminal justice system.

The rhythmic metrical beat of the music synchronizes itself to the white lines of the freeway. I am once again headed to the Mental Health Court, that aging beat up space once known as a pickle factory. An old red brick building, dressed up in parts in hastily drawn gang graffiti and naked in parts as the paint has slowly been peeled off by the patient hands of time. Her dark stories are many… her tragic comedies of human error and fallibility even greater. Her secrets and her pains, etched in the hallways, in the courtrooms, on the walls, and in the holding cells much like her muted cries are only visible and audible to those who share the hallucinations of the patients who breathe life into her.

Life here is the theater of the absurd. A poorly painted tableau of incomprehensible and hard-to-decipher images of mental illness, family shame, disappointment and human tragedies intertwined with murder, rape, violence etc…. This is a rabbit hole, and I never know what to expect.. The mental health patients from various hospitals loiter around in the sitting area waiting for their cases to be heard… Some are catatonic. Others clearly responding to internal stimuli. Some are ragged looking. Others disheveled. A few well groomed. The army of nurses, forensic doctors, clerks and attendants glide invisibly much like the agony and torment of these patients.

As I walk down the hallway, my heels syncopate on the bare floors. I feel the breath of the building, rasping under the weight of the cases… or at least, the weight of my cases, in this building, is too much …. A son charged with attempted murder of his mom by driving a knife into her face to rid her of the perceived evil that had engulfed her, another man charged with murdering his best friend while in Meth induced psychosis, and yet another 21 old beautiful girl with a schizophrenic breakdown charged with attempting to blow up an imaginary bomb and yet another 50 year old charged with hate crimes and terror threats against those he believes have planted monitors in his head and have raped him electronically….

I walk to the security area to gain access to the holding cells where the incarcerated ones are held. The long walkway smell acrid. The putrid smell of a meat packing house sauced up with putrescent air fresheners attack the senses. I look at my wrists. Unshackled, unbound, and free… I am walking to the holding area. I lift my arm and bring my wrist closer to my nose. I remembered to wear my perfume today. It lifts me to a happy place, to a place of love, comfort and sweet tenderness… of music, joy and euphoria. It’s my defensive wall in this harrowing place.

Dressed in Yellow connoting “mental health” jail classification, my client stares at me with vacant eyes. He has not shaved, bathed or brushed his teeth or hair in days… Dogs on the streets are better managed, I remark to myself. Our conversation is stunted, the content void of any significance, legal or otherwise… I slowly trudge back to Court and wait for my case to be called.

I think it is Victor Hugo that said that "society is culpable in not providing a free education for all and it must answer for the night which it produces. If the soul is left in darkness sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.”

We have failed… we as a society have failed to provide basic necessities, such as education, health care, mental health care and jobs… and if these souls are left in the darkness to commit sins and crimes against the society, it is US that is guilty… for we have turned away from the light… We are the cause of the darkness.

Signing off.
Alaleh Kamran

Uncollected Writings, 2015

Lecturer, Radio Host, Citizen Journalist, Blogger