Your cover story "Insane Incarceration" (Feb. 24) missed the mark, and badly. By focusing on the incredibly rare insanity defense plea and ignoring the nearly 300,000 Tennesseans who have severe mental illness and are never violent, Joe Sweat perpetuated the myth that the mentally ill are dangerous. He walked into the room and ignored the elephant.
Whether we're aware of it or not, each of us knows people who bravely cope with the pain of depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. When their disease is treated, they hold jobs, raise children and work out at the gym just like everybody else.
Yes, one in every five of the inmates in Tennessee's jails has a diagnosable mental illness. But no, the vast majority of them are not violent. Mostly, they're just depressed and confused. They don't realize they are trespassing because they don't know where they are, or they yell at voices symptomatic of their illness, not realizing that they're frightening others in a public place. And so they end up in police custody.
At a time when nearly 30,000 people with severe mental illness are likely to lose their TennCare benefits and end up on the street, in hospitals and in prisons, I am saddened that the Scene chose to bolster the archaic notion that these are people we should fear. That's exactly the sort of thing we at NAMI work to rectify. We offer education and support to families dealing with mental illness, and we advocate for better treatment for these diseases, which ultimately touch us all.
Executive director, NAMI Tennessee
Treat, don't punish, the mentally ill
I was very happy to see last week's article by Joseph Sweat on the problems associated with the misguided criminal prosecution of the mentally ill. I have written articles on the subject myself and would like to share some statistics with you regarding the death row population. This information comes from a team of psychological experts who have presented the most in-depth research in the country on the predictors of lethal violence. David Freedman and David Hemenway conducted a death row sample in 2000 concluding that 87.5 percent of death row prisoners were chronically abused during childhood. The same percentage of death row inmates came from families with histories of multigenerational abuse. Approximately one-third were sexually abused, most of them chronically. One hundred percent suffer from one or more substantial impairments, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, retardation, severe depression, poly-substance abuse and psychosis. And they are being punished rather than being treated for their mental impairments.
The impact of childhood abuse on the formation of the mental and emotional functioning of its victims, particularly in the area of potential for lethal violence, is overlooked in our country's courtrooms. Insanity pleas, diminished capacity and mitigating factors have been bypassed and treatment for the violently mentally ill has been tossed aside and instead they are incarcerated with no psychiatric treatment programs in sight.
While fear of repeat offenders has led America to go tough on crime, studies of early environment show that institutional failure was experienced by 94 percent of death row inmates. This means that institutions designed to help children (foster homes, schools, correctional and psychiatric facilities) let them down and also exacerbated existing problems due to misdiagnosis, mis-medication and additional physical and sexual abuse. It would be wonderful if the state's lawmakers could thoroughly examine this problem and rework our current law with the emphasis being on treatment rather than punishment for people who have already been severely marginalized and victimized since infancy.
Those damn liberals
You provided real insight into the liberal mind-set regarding TennCare ("Devil's Advocate," Feb. 24). Matt Pulle wrote, "But the new standard specifically states that services must be the 'least costly alternative course of diagnosis or treatment that is adequate for the medical condition of the enrollee,' which advocates say shortchanges health care for the poor and sick." This is controversial? That's exactly the standard for financial decision-making I was taught in accounting classes. It certainly sounds like the standard my insurance company uses for me.
The money quote: " 'When you get your car repaired, would you tell your mechanic to use the least expensive parts and just do an adequate job?' the Tennessee Health Care Campaign's Tony Garr asked the Scene last year. 'We don't do that with our cars, yet the governor wants to do that with people's lives.' "
Garr lives in a dream world. That is exactly what I tell mechanics. In fact, every person who's had to choose between an $1,100 new transmission or a rebuilt $600 transmission on a student's budget understands that situation intimately. In a perfect world, we'd all get the best of everything; in the real world, there are competing priorities. I am happy to live in a state where we provide for those who cannot help themselves, but I don't understand why people receiving charity are "entitled" to a level of care much nicer than the one my family enjoys.
Mark T. Gibson
Two words: Red Bull
If James Blumstein did 400 hours of work within approximately four months for TennCare ("Devil's Advocate," Feb. 24), I fail to see how he could be a full-time professor at Vanderbilt Law School. Surely there is some error somewhere. I have been a full-time teacher for 40 years and I cannot see how this is possible. Are you sure this information is correct?
Want to write for the Scene?
Regarding "Adopt This" (Feb. 24): Pity the poor South. Ever since Mr. Lincoln took away our slaves, and we lost the War of Northern Aggression and the Yankees came to town (reconstruction, not Phil Bredesen), it's been a hard ride. And then to make matters worse, the blacks got civil rights, the commies and outside agitators faded into history and, in a final blow, the liberals even took our flag! I asked myself: how can Southern folk like Tennessee's own Reps. Frank Buck and Dewayne Bunch and Sens. Diane Black and Doug Jackson (to name only a few) continue to feel morally, intellectually and culturally superior when all their best props have disappeared?
So I can only imagine how thrilled and relieved the Bunch bunch must have felt when they discovered gays living right here in Tennessee and, yes, having the nerve to even think about adopting a child. Standing on the shoulders of such bold Southern luminaries as Bull Connor, Strom Thurmond, Lester Mattox and those thousands of brave men concealed inside their white hoods, Sens. Black and Jackson and their ilk have wasted no time blazing ahead to again lead their fellow Southerners into the light of discrimination and intolerance.
I am a gay woman, a Southerner whose family helped settle the city of Nashville and the state of Tennessee. My great-great-great grandfather died for the South in the civil war. How dare you shameful politicos tell mea true Tennessean who is a kind and loving life-partner, aunt, sister, daughter, cousin and friendthat I am unfit for parenting! Your cruelty to Tennessee's gay citizens and its thousands of children who will never know any home life at all makes me feel profoundly ashamed to be a Tennessean.
Yeah, they just found out about bluegrass in Austin, genius ("The Spin," Feb. 24).
Have you been to Austin? If so, head back again and check out their music scene when SXSW isn't going on. You'll be pleasantly surprised I'm sure. Austin is a blues-rock sort of town. No country, no twang, and if you want bluegrass, hit up String Cheese Incident's three-night run that happens every April, without fail, at Stubb's.
Don't try to hide your jealousy. Anyone familiar with both Nashville and Austin knows that the little Texas town is more musically on fire than Nashvegas ever could be. I wish even half the musicians who do shows in Austin would come here.
Thank you for your recent coverage of Ruby Green and the art of Donte' K. Hayes ("Our Darkest Fears," Feb. 17). I enjoyed reading about this groundbreaking artist and Ruby Green's continuing support of cutting edge art in Nashville.
The article suggested that Little Black Sambo was created as a caricature of the African American male. That is not exactly true. Although the name "Sambo" has been associated with African Americans since the early 1700s, Helen Bannerman's popular book, The Story of Little Black Sambo, was set in India. The fact that Mr. Hayes includes Sambo in his work is, in my opinion, an acknowledgement that issues of stereotyping and discrimination affect those outside of the African American community as well.
It is important to recognize that these issues affect our entire society and the way that we relate to the larger world. None of us will be truly free until all of us are free.
(Ruby Green board member)
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