By: Jomel Silverio, Advocate
In class this past week we spoke about signs and symptoms of mental illness and trauma. This topic reached home for a select few of the class mates in our class, the It’s T.I.M.E. class. The main topic of interest was the difference in acceptance into the Behavioral Health Court and mediation programs for those who committed violent crimes as opposed to non-violent crimes, even though both groups of people share mental illness as a way of life.
One of the classmates, who is now 49 years old, spoke about the harsh reality he faced as a child in foster care, and having to turn to a life of crime, due to the fact that nothing else was readily available as an alternative for a better life. He, like many others in the class we have facilitated, never had a family and supports that would accept him.
The conversation was reciprocal for another student in the class, who is now 45. They spoke about the injustice they face, and that the problem was mostly systemic. The class listened to these two speak about the inequality that plagues inmates who either spend the majority of their lives in jail, or have to return to the same people, places, and things that presented a life of trouble. The conversation flowed without interruption, and I expressed that change comes with numbers, and that no matter how small the change may be, it is still significant to those lives that are given a moment of clarity. As was discussed in the class, not being accepted in the BHC program, can be stressful and discouraging, especially because the acceptance criterion is so specific and exclusive.
The main theme I felt from this class is that far too many people fall through the cracks. There is a need for employment, education, and acceptance for those who have moved beyond the past and are ready to change their lives. There is a need for support without stigma and without bias.
Over 100 advocates from Philadelphia and its suburbs rallied in Harrisburg this month to stop legislators from cutting $9 million from community mental health funds.
In a joint effort, Mental Health Partnerships and the Southeast Regional Community Support Program (CSP) Committee, organized various teams of advocates and planned meetings with legislators before and after the Human Service Rally for a Fair Budget.
About 700 individuals from across the state crammed into the Rotunda at noon, filling the marble steps and spilling over into the upper levels of the grand hall. Boisterous chants of “Put People First” and “Recovery is Real” filled the room as speakers from all human services fields pointed out the need for adequate funding and to keep “the humanity in human services.”
Advocates from the Southeast were armed with lobbying tips and a three-prong agenda:
- Support Behavioral Health Parity
- Support a Budget that Values Mental Health; and
- Support the Responsible Closure of Norristown State Hospital’s Civil Unit.
Jason Matlack, Certified Peer Specialist from Central in Norristown, spoke at the rally as a person in recovery and a member of CSP.
“Recovery is real,” Matlack told the crowd. “However it is not free and it is not easy. It’s crucial we have the services we need so people can recover.”
Matlack added that many people with mental health issues, including himself, have experienced poverty and homelessness, adding “we thought our lives were over and not worth living.”
But Matlack overcame those obstacles and reminded people that “You cannot put a price on human life because recovery is real.”
For some CSP members, it was their first trip to the Capitol and the first time meeting with legislators. Although it was a uphill battle for those members meeting with fiscal conservatives, most of the activists reported an overall positive experience.
Eric Ayers, a member of the Delaware County CSP, had embarked on this first-time experience with video camera in hand. Ayers created a 9-minute video of the bus trip and rally which can be viewed at https://youtu.be/fDiYA48dhLY.
By: Kathie Mitchell
The Montgomery County Commissioners approved a resolution in May to officially join the national Stepping Up Initiative which focuses on reducing the number of individuals with mental illnesses in county jails across the country.
By its proclamation, Montgomery County joins more than 350 other counties representing 35% of the United States’ population, to commit actions toward reducing the number of people with mental illnesses in their local jails.
In May 2015, The Stepping Up Initiative was launched. It is a partnership between the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG), the National Association of Counties, and The American Psychiatric Association Foundation.
In January 2015, the Montgomery County Forensic Mental Health Coalition was formed in response to concerns from local advocates, families, mental health providers, corrections and community corrections about the need to tackle the issue which has been labeled “the criminalization of the mentally ill.”
The county’s Forensic MH Coalition has adopted four goals:
- Reduce the number of people with Serious Mental Illness (SMI) who are booked into jail;
- Reduce the length of time people with SMI stay in jail;
- Increase the number of people with SMI getting connected to community-based services and supports, and
- Reduce the number of people with SMI returning to jail.
The Coalition has a Steering Committee which meets monthly. There are three working committees – Data, Diversion and Reentry -that also meet on a regular basis.
By joining the national initiative, the county becomes the 14th county in the state to join the initiative. The county will have access to technical assistance that is offered through webinars and the partnerships’ resources.
In addition, Pennsylvania launched a statewide Stepping Up Initiative on April 4, making it just the third state in the country to take on the issue, following Ohio and California, the CSG Justice Center reported.
At the county and state level in PA, local leaders and community stakeholders will follow a roadmap that addresses six key questions that the community must answer in order to develop a comprehensive strategy to impact the problem. The roadmap addresses key elements of a successful plan, including the need for screening and assessments for mental illness upon admission to jail; establishing a baseline for data for counties to follow; tracking progress on key outcomes, such as recidivism rates, and ensuring connections to treatment, according to the CSG Justice Center.
To: Dear Staff and Peers
I want to first state I have learned a great deal about myself in these 8 weeks I have been attending the It’s T.I.M.E. class. I have been inspired from this program and the breathing exercise really helps me a lot, especially during times of frustration. When I am upset about something or angry at something, I use what I have learned in the It’s T.I.M.E. to cope with my feelings, such as the breathing and counting exercise that I have to continue to practice though out my life. The stress that I was having has lessened by the day, and I am more relaxed as the days of practice and just doing the exercise integrate into a part of my everyday routine.
Understanding the criminal systems and the different Courts of the Common Pleas, such as Drug Court, Treatment Court, and the Criminal Court, has helped me out a lot. I have learned to be patient with receiving the help of getting my medication. It was a process and I am receiving the proper medication finally. I have been able to identify the warning signs, triggers, and the behaviors of my old self when it comes to the ADDICTION side of life.
I must stay focused and committed to staying clean and sober and to never fall back into the same old patterns that took me down the past, coming back to prison is a fear that I have gotten since I have been incarcerated this time around, and it’s very sad for me to be here at this stage of my life. Giving up my freedom, family and real friends, has been a playing a part in my thinking. I not only hurt myself but I hurt those that care for me and love me the most.
I have learned a lot about others, and tools that I have already put into place with practice. I would like to thank Kathie, Jomel, and Jeff for everything that you have given me. Thanks for the hope and shining light that has been tuned back on that dulled by the life that I was living, and I want to say thank you all for bringing me out of the state of mind that I was in for some time now, and now I am the light in the darkest situation….. May God Continue to bless you all and continue to help people save themselves from confused lifestyles.
By: Kathie Mitchell, Director
On April 13, at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, nine men participated in their final assignment before earning a graduation certificate. Each student gave an example in six words of what they learned during the 14-week recovery and reentry class. Here are some examples:
“How to deal with my anger.”
“Identifying my triggers is a must.”
“How to be a better person.”
“Fail to plan, plan to fail.”
“Anger turned inward, distorts reality always.”
“Changes we make, change our lives.”
As a supervisor and observer of this project for past seven years, I’ve been privileged to watch the growth of our students and the class facilitators as we shared information, introduced new concepts and provided a pathway for changes. The newest concept “Telling your story in six words” is an exercise brought to us earlier this year by Cabrini University Professor Catherine Beckowski. By looking at the examples above, you can see it works. Each of the statements relate to a topic we cover in the session and express a feeling or self-reflection.
“Thoughtful. Concise. Poignant. Insightful. Inspiring. Humbling.” These are the six words that came to me as I heard the examples on graduation day. The men take this activity seriously and demonstrated what we at Community Advocates knew: The men who participate in the class are trying hard to learn how to change their actions and/or thoughts, educate themselves about resources and return to the community with a plan to succeed.
“I tried too hard to help,” said one man. “That’s what got me in here.”
This man’s story, like many of our students, is a complicated one. A member of his community’s Lion’s Club, he had recently reconnected with his biological brother. He had a good job and owns a home. But somewhere along the way, his life as he knew it, fell apart.
According to his Community Advocates Reentry Plan, he has a home plan and a few options to try to obtain financial support in the community. He is considering college or trade school and named a few places where he might volunteer. He knows that it’s important to have people he can count on and says in his plan that he will connect with these resources. He also has a plan for idle time and a self-care plan for living in the community.
But his case has not been settled yet. He has applied to be accepted into one of the specialty courts but the process can take a few months and rejection is possible if he doesn’t meet the criteria.
Meanwhile, this man along with his classmates and many others before him, are connecting with peers who facilitate the class. They receive individual help when needed and some are learning about themselves and how to advocate for themselves, for the first time.
Trust is a big issue. And finding the resources in the community that will help each person make the changes they desire, isn’t always easy. Going back to the same life and same place where the trouble started is unfortunately, sometimes the only option.
But something that won’t change is the new knowledge the students have acquired. They have resources to seek out. And peers to support them.
“Being in class, there’s other people like me,” said one young man who also found a spiritual connection along the way. “Loving myself has increased my faith. It allows me to have patience for myself and others.”
His six words: “Faith, trust, understanding, strength and love.”
These graduates showed us they were thinking, identifying areas in their lives that need work, and are ready to make changes to enter a new life.