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.
Ron participated in every class in session 18 of the It’s T.I.M.E. class we, the Community Advocates, teach at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. The purpose of the class is to help men think about the reasons they came to jail, identify possible solutions, make changes and to start a new life.
Ron was always composed and participated by reading and sharing his thoughts on issues that he could relate to. Ron had begun to participate in our current session, (session 19), of the It’s T.I.M.E. class, and one class we expected to see Ron, but didn’t see him and wondered why he hadn’t showed up.
Turns out that Ron had a court appearance the previous day and was discharged into the community, and then, just last week, we had a surprise visit…Ron dropped by the HopeWorx office to get some resources squared away.
It was such an awesome feeling, seeing one of our students make it out of Montgomery County Correctional Facility, and making their first stop in the community at the HopeWorx office after getting released.
Part of our goal is to stay connected with individuals once they leave jail to give support and see if their plans are working out. If they need treatment and need to be connected to a particular resource, we are there to help. And that is exactly how the advocates helped and will continue to help.
Anthony’s six words are:
Faith, trust, understanding, strength, patience, love
By learning to have these six words for myself, I have learned to apply them towards others. Loving myself has increased my faith and trust in God and I have more of an understanding of him and my purpose. This class has taught me to be strong and patient with others so I can have love for them, true love that is unconditional.
The following is a letter from a student in our It’s T.I.M.E. class:
First of all, I would like to take time out to thank the It’s T.I.M.E. program for putting me back on the right track again. Being in this class has taught me how to deal with society and myself. It’s been a trying situation for me and my family. First it has been important to address the need of my medications and the need of gaining my self-respect back. This class has taught me how to make my own decisions and identify with my true feelings.
Here are the six words I chose to identify with myself:
Identifying my triggers is a must.
I say this because most of my life has been motivated by the way I feel and react toward my feelings. I must admit, my distorted thinking process has ruled over me for at least eight years. People, places and things have been my downfall. I never had the problem solving skills or socialization skills, so I pretty much stayed to myself and isolated a lot. Most of my anger has come from my childhood days. My mother and father and grand-parents were functional alcoholics and partied every weekend and holidays. By my own choices I chose to pick up drugs, (crack-cocaine) and have been battling with it for the last eight years, after the death of my mother. I took that experience so hard and lost contact with reality.
.And here I am again, sitting behind prison walls, as well as being a prisoner in my own mind. By being in this class for a second time I have gained some tools to help fix some problem areas in my life. I would like to thank the it’s T.I.M.E. team again for the support and time that they have given me. I will truly stay in touch, to keep my sobriety on the right path, and to stay on top of my mental health issues.
A student, Ryan, of our 18th session of the It’s T.I.M.E. class, shared a memory on graduation day. Students are asked on the last day to describe what they learned, discuss a goal or tell a story using six words. Here are Ryan’s six words and the thoughts that followed:
I LOVE BEING IN THE WOODS
As a kid growing up in the suburbs, every summer my friend and I went to the woods. We would ride our bikes on the picnic benches and hit the jumps there first for our warm up. Then it was off to the bigger of jumps we made further back in the woods. After a while, we would ride our bikes out of the woods and stop at Burger King and grab a bite to eat and something to drink, and then back to the woods we would go. This time though, my friend and I would bike to the other side of the woods to the rope swing and Train Trestle, swing off the rope swing, or float down stream and try to walk back up the river against the current, to see who could do it. If you couldn’t you’d swim over to the embankment, get out of the river, and walk back to the rope swing. My friends and I did this all summer long day in and out, only going home to have dinner, watch our nightly cartoons, and off to bed so we could wake up to this all over again. Today I’m 30 years old and I still go to these woods, because it is quiet, peaceful, and just a wonderful place to be with all the sounds from birds, the river, and wind blowing through the trees. So if you really are my friend then you’ll know where I’ll be, that’s in these woods listening and watching all these things take place around me.
Ryan has participated in the class, and also had some kind words to share:
Great class and the volunteers that teach us really listen to our questions or answers. I think the students of the class should read more than the teachers because when we read out loud, we have a better understanding of what we read. Keep up the good work and never stop helping and teaching us because you are needed, wanted, and appreciated.
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Coalition for the Responsible Closure of
The Norristown State Hospital Civil Unit
February 27, 2017
Letter to: Ted Dallas, Secretary of Human Services and Dennis Marion, Deputy Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
Dear Secretary Dallas and Deputy Secretary Marion:
As members of the Coalition for the Responsible Closure of the Norristown State Hospital (NSH) Civil Unit, we are writing to request a meeting to discuss the process that will be used to close the Civil Unit.
Our coalition—comprising representatives of mental health advocacy groups across the commonwealth—applauds efforts to support more individuals in the community, and we are generally supportive of the closure.
However, we have concerns about the processes that will be put in place to support the individuals currently residing at NSH. These concerns were echoed by nearly everyone testifying regarding the closure at NSH on January 31st.
In particular, we believe that:
- The state must view this as a closure and not simply a larger-scale Community Hospital Integration Projects Program (CHIPP) effort. Substantial resources will need to be invested in the community to support this transition.
- The state must ensure that all individuals leaving the NSH Civil Unit are discharged into the community, with the services and supports to ensure a successful transition. There must be no transfers to other state hospitals or to South Mountain Restoration Center.
- Because the future of continued CHIPP funding is currently uncertain, the state must annualize CHIPP funding that is not subject to block granting or included in base funding.
- Every person must have a fully operational and thoroughly vetted individual plan modeled after the Community Support Plan process used in past state hospital closings.
- This initiative must be funded with no artificial cap and must also include dollars to repair and support our community-based service system, which is currently underfunded and operating with limited capacity.
- The monies made available by the closing of the NSH Civil Unit, and any additional funds allocated to successfully accomplish the closing, must follow the discharged individuals into the community, and be indicated in the budget as an uncuttable line item.
- The closure should be coordinated with the forensic litigation and the courts related to individuals with current charges residing in the NSH Civil Unit.
- The state must invest in a team of mobile advocates who can work to protect the rights of individuals transitioning to the community, to ensure that their voices are heard and their choices are respected in service planning and that the settings they move to are of a high quality and free of abuse or exploitation.
Our coalition members have a wealth of experience with past state hospital closures, and would welcome the opportunity to contribute to making sure that this initiative is successful. If the state and the advocacy groups work collaboratively, we can ensure that the individuals in the discharge and diversion groups—that is, everyone affected by the closing—do not fall through the cracks, and that they go on to enjoy successful lives in the community.
We request an initial meeting as soon as possible between Secretary Dallas, Deputy Secretary Marion, and representatives of our coalition to plan for the closure. We also request that the state convene a stakeholders group shortly thereafter.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to a response at your earliest convenience. Please contact Joseph Rogers, National Policy and Advocacy Consultant of the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania at firstname.lastname@example.org or 267.507.3844.
Community Advocates of Montgomery County (Kathie Mitchell, Director)
Disability Rights Pennsylvania (Peri Jude Radecic, CEO)
NAMI of Pennsylvania Montgomery County (Abby Grasso, M.S.W., Executive Director)
NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania (Christine Michaels, Executive Director)
Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania (Sue Walther, Executive Director)
Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania (Michael Brody, President and CEO; Joseph Rogers, National Policy and Advocacy Consultant; Alyssa Schatz, M.S.W., Vice President of Advocacy)
Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association (Lynn Keltz, Executive Director)
Bucks County Department of Mental Health/Developmental Programs (Donna Duffy-Bell, Administrator)
Bureau of Community and Hospital Operations (Phil Mader, Director)
Chester County Department of Mental Health/Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (Gary F. Entrekin, Administrator)
Delaware County Office of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities (Jonna L. DiStefano, Administrator)
Montgomery County Department of Behavioral Health/Developmental Disabilities (Pam Howard, Administrator)
Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (David T. Jones, Acting Commissioner)
Southeast Regional Mental Health Services Coordination Office (Tory Bright, Southeast Regional Mental Health Services Coordinator)