Monday, March 22, 2010

Communing with the angels in the Dallas jail

If you need evidence that the legal system doesn't really know how to accommodate voice hearing defendants, look no further than delays in a routine misdemeanor case that have stranded a mentally ill inmate for months in the Dallas County Jail on minor charges, as reported in the Dallas News ("For mentally ill man, 45 days stretches into 6 months," March 20):

Nicholas Sauve says he talks to angels in his Dallas County Jail cell.

The severely schizophrenic man has had months alone to do so. Arrested for shoving his mother against a car, he was sentenced in September to 45 days in jail.

Six months have passed. He is still in a cell in the West Tower Jail. During a jailhouse interview last week, he drummed his long, dirty fingernails against his nose and cheek and questioned why he couldn't go home.

"Why am I still here?" he asked, his eyes flitting from left to right. "They're all criminals for keeping me here. It's on their flesh and spirit. I'm a holy angel. I don't sin."

The legal filings in Sauve's case show he hasn't been lost in the criminal justice system since his arrest June 12. But the delays in his case are readily apparent. ...

"I knew him when he could write poems, paint, sculpt. And now sometimes he doesn't recognize me," said Billy Elrod of Irving, a friend who has visited him in jail. "When he doesn't get his medicine, it hurts him. Every time he goes, the person we get back is only a part of who he was before. If we don't get him back soon, we'll never have him again."

This case dragged out, in particular, because TDCJ refused admission to court-ordered drug treatment (SAFP) based on the probationer's psychotic state - the program simply has very few beds designed to handle offenders with serious mental health needs. So that particular sentencing decision was probably a misjudgment to begin with, particularly as a probation condition on a minor assault. But the situation points to the larger truth that we have no good answers for such defendants except forced medication, and that only lasts as long as taxpayers foot the bill to keep the fellow locked up.

Large numbers of people wrapped up in the justice system - about 3 in 10 Texas inmates - were clients of the state's indigent mental health system before incarceration. While most cases don't drag out as long as this one, Sauve's case emblemizes the problem of mentally ill offenders arrested for minor offenses who soak up large amounts of criminal justice resources over what's essentially a medical problem, except their medical care is primarily delivered as part of a punitive system.


doran said...

The fact that the "severely schizophrenic" hear voices does not necessarily mean that all those people who hear voices are schizophrenic. Various American cultures, religions, and even politics include many examples of hearing voices, some of those being from God, some from ancestors, some from dieties other than God.

Reverend Charles from Tulia may not have "heard" God calling, but I have heard many Baptists, lay and preachers, who absolutely believe they have heard the voice of their God and also have communed verbally with the ghost of that carpenter who lived in the Middle East more than 2000 years ago. And why shouldn't they hear his [or her] voice? After all, if one prays [talks] to a diety dailey for years it is not at all that strange that the diety might respond with a voice as well as with "signs", such as burning bushes. The important question that is not being asked, or if asked, not answered, is Why do our judicial system and medical establishment think it severely schizophrenic to hear the voice of a diety, but not severely schizophrenic to actually talk [pray] to that same diety?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

RE: "The fact that the 'severely schizophrenic' hear voices does not necessarily mean that all those people who hear voices are schizophrenic."

According to Daniel Smith, "Approximately 20 percent of patients suffering from mania and 10 percent of patients suffering from depression hear voices. ... Combat veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder report high rates of voice-hearing. So do women who have been sexually abused - more than 40 percent according to one study. ... Voices an be a symptom of brain tumor, Parkinson's disease, migraine headaches, hyperthyroidism, temporal lobe epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, and various type of delirium."

doran said...

The hearing of voices can also be a symptom of religious fervor, which might, I suppose, be considered a form of delirium.

How many politicians have you heard, or heard of, over the past 12 years who have claimed that "god" told them to run for office? Or to start a war? We have at least one district judge in Central Texas who made exactly that claim to a group of little old lady Republicans in a campaign appearance/talk a few years ago. Delirium? Venality? Opportunism? Or the voice of God?

Andrea Yates brutally murdered her three children and is legitimately considered mentally ill. George Bush brutally murdered thousands of children and others, including American soldiers, and is legitimately considered by many to be mentally ill. As you will notice, the difference in treatment between these two is that one is institutionalized in an upscale neighborhood in Dallas, while the other is not.

Grits, I do not intend to belittle your reference to Daniel Smith and his work. But still, why is the hearing of the voices of god almost always attributed by medical and legal dogma to some kind of mental, physical, or emotional disorder, while the talking [praying] to those gods is not?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

doran, fwiw, Smith doesn't discount religious experiences on behalf of science. I didn't mean to imply that, I was just quoting alternative causes.

In addition to religious delirium, there's also drug-induced voice hearing, and quite a few people apparently hear voices of loved ones soon after they die.

As for your question on prayer vs. voice hearing, it's easy to see the most obvious distinction: Talking to God is an act of faith. Thinking He responds arguably is either prophetic or delusional from the perspective of those who don't hear it. Smith's arguments place voice hearing somewhere in between - in a house of mirrors of the mind's own making that calls into question knee-jerk definitions of free will and even of "God."

doran said...

The "rational" analyses of Smith and others totally discounts the very idea of spirituality that is a core facet of Christianity and other religions. They deny that there are "spirits" which can communicate with humans.

On the other hand, there is a wealth of cultural history and practices which affirm the kinds of spirituality which the rationalists deny.

I think you short-change a huge number of religions and the members of those religions by limiting prayer to being nothing more than an act of faith. Grits, lotsa people who pray really think they are talking to god or to Jesus. Or to other dieties. We don't characterize them as mentally ill because it is not politically acceptable to do so. We do characterize those to whom god or Jesus or other dieties respond with voice communication, because it is politically acceptable to do so. Science has little, if anything to do with it. If judges were to start putting away people who pray---well, you can just imagine the outraged response.

In what, may I ask (even though I have to start the sentence with a preposition), is the act of praying an act of faith? If it is an act of faith, isn't it faith in the belief that there really is some kind of God-guy out there listening to the person praying? Why isn't that delusional?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"lotsa people who pray really think they are talking to god or to Jesus."

That does not contradict the interpretation that prayer is an act of faith. The difference to me seems pretty clear, you'd just like to claim religious people are mentally ill on the same level as someone who hears audible hallucinations and I don't think that's true. The distinction between hallucinating and not is more significant than you want to pretend.

Also, Smith did not "deny that there are 'spirits' which can communicate with humans." He neither accepted such claims at face value nor denied them. You're projecting your own prejudices into his argument.

doran said...

Actually, Grits, I do not "claim religious people are mentally ill on the same level as someone who hears audible hallucinations...."

Look at that quoted statement of yours. I think it reflects the prevailing belief of scientists, lawmakers, and jurists -- in fact the prevailing belief of the dominant culture in America -- that religious people who hear the voices of their gods are mentally unstable, if not mentally ill. That is, a religious person who is not mentally ill, as I interpret that quote, could not possibly claim to hear the voice of god.

I'm here to tell you that religious people I know who hear the voices of their own particular gods, are probably not mentally ill. Nor are those people who talk to their gods via prayer. Yet, this American culture treats these two groups in drastically different ways.

Consider this: A witness in a trial who admits to praying to god every day, or even several times a day, will get a better reception from judge and jury than a witness who admits to hearing god talk back to him. That is, it would be difficult to use the religious beliefs and practices of the first witness to impeach him, but not difficult to impeach the second witness upon the basis of his religious beliefs and practices.

I wonder if any lawyers following this have ever been successful in getting a judge to give a civil trial jury an instruction along this line: "If you believe from a preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant was told by god, or acting upon instructions from god, to [insert your favorite tort, or breach of contract, or trespass, or libel, or conversion of property, or etc here], then you will find for the Defendant."

What I hope to be getting at here is this: That we have institutionalized the "rationalist" beliefs about voice hearing to such an extent that a "spiritualist" position cannot get a fair hearing. Rationalists start from the premise that there are no spirits out there to hear {this position is implicit in their works}. I feel sure that this premise is based upon science, that is, the rationalists cannot weigh or otherwise measure or detect those spirits, so therefore they do not exist. Q.E.D.

I need to clarify an earlier statement of mine: I should have written "If it [praying] is an act of faith, isn't it faith in the belief that there really is some kind of God-guy out there listening to the person praying? Why isn't that considered delusional if hearing the god guy's voice is considered delusional?" I hope I have made it clear that I don't consider every instance of hearing the god-guy's voice to be delusional. My question is addressed to those who do.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I've answered, "why?" (at least IMO), Doran, you just choose not to accept the disagreement. As I said, you're ignoring "The distinction between hallucinating and not."

Also, you're being disingenuous claiming to champion the rights of religious voice hearers when you're really mocking and seeking to discredit them.

doran said...

Got it wrong again, ol' friend. I'm trying to mock and discredit those who deny, explicitly or implicitly, that there is a spiritual world from which people apparently hear voices.

Talking to God may be, for you and many others, a simple act of faith. But for some, it is an act of communication with a "higher" being residing in a spiritual world.

Since there is no one here but us, and I'm not getting an answer to my question, I'll have to ask one of my devout religious friends the question I've posed here: Prayer is an act of Faith in what?

You seem to totally dismiss the possibility that a person might actually hear the voice of a god. And I mean "hear" in the physiological sense of having sound waves impact that person's ear drums.* Your end of this discussion seems to be based upon your opinion that an audible voice from a god is a hallucination, brought on by drugs, emotional problems, mental health problems, alcohol and drugs. Let us not forget the favorites of seers down through the thousands of years: Fasting, chanting, and sleep deprivation.

I don't understand your position, because it seems so dogmatic and so dismissive of so much of human religious and spiritual experience.

*I don't mean to dismiss the possibility of voices heard in the brain without the physical impact of sound waves. Just keep in mind that we all -- all of us who are not deaf -- hear voices in our heads.

Anonymous said...

What a pity this conversation is going off into lala land.

My friend's schizophrenic son has been in jail since Thanksgiving morning, when he dropped a dollar into a Starbucks tip jar, then reached his hand in to make change.

It was presumed he was stealing the tips. An off duty policeman chased him to the parking lot, wrestling him down and arresting him.

The off duty cop was awarded a citation for his 'bravery', and the kid is off his meds.

I've read somewhere schizophrenia is the #1 human ailment - of all dieases.

This kid needs help. My friend's kid needs help. This is beyond tragic, and Thank You for making us aware of this travesty.

Anonymous said...

I think the story is omitting that the Defendant was sentenced to 5 years straight felony probation and the 45 days was a condition of probation. DMN makes it sound like he got time served, or a misdemeanor. This is the enhanced FV law at work.

Anonymous said...

Since I can do so anonymously, I'll throw my 2 cents into this la la land conversation. I definitely believe there is a spiritual world and based on experiences working with mentally ill people and observing a mentally ill family member I've come to think these people may have a heightened awareness to the spiritual world.

I was listening to a radio show on a Christian radio station a while back. I think it may have been on Dobson's program. There was a guy who had been a missionary in Africa to one of those really remote and isolated villages. He said that the people in the village said that when he walked into the village all of their spirits left and wouldn't return as long as he was there. They said this was because they saw a more powerful spirit in him (the spirit of God). Later he brought the chief of the village to the US. The chief said he saw the same spirits here that they had in their village but the people here don't see them.

After hearing that story I began to wonder. Maybe it has something to do with the culture you grow up in as to how aware of or sensitive to the spiritual world a person is. In our culture we minimize the spiritual world and often deny that it exists. That may explain why the chief could see the spirits and we don't.

A couple of years ago I went through a very traumatic series of events. I was experiencing a great deal of stress, grief, trauma. Under those circumstances I became more aware of both the presence of God and of the evil that surrounds us in this world. I realized just how much evil surrounds us.

Most of us profess to believe in the Bible. I think the Bible makes it clear there is a spiritual world. It also makes it clear that evil exists. Deception is the primary weapon that evil uses against us. Since the experiences I mentioned above, I have become aware of many, many things in this world that are truly evil but are disguised as good. And, many, many people are fooled by these things. The Bible says that even Satan can disguise himself as an "angel of light". If we deny and ignore the existence of a spiritual world we are more likely to fall for these deceptions. Someone once said that most powerful lie Satan ever told was that he doesn't exist.

Not only have I come to a greater awareness of the spiritual world but I've also come to believe the spiritual world is more real or significant than the physical world. Christ came to show us the Kingdom of God. He made it clear this Kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom, not a physical one. I believe that our purpose in this world is to come to the knowledge of the Kingdom of God and to bring that knowledge to others. If you think about it, its all about kingdoms. Everyone in some way is building their own little kingdom. Politics is the best example of this. Politicians are building their own political kingdoms. Businessmen are building their business kingdoms. But, all of these kingdoms will be gone in a flash. The Bible describes our lives as a vapor or mist. In the perspective of eternity we are here for a very short time. The Kingdom of God is the only kingdom that will stand forever. Thinking in that kind of eternal perspective, you can see how insignificant the kingdoms of this world are. This world is mostly an illusion. It's the spiritual world, that really matters.

doran said...

To Anon 10:42.

I trust that you are fully aware of how magnificently subversive are the concepts of a spiritual world/kingdom of god.

If the children of America are taught along the lines you suggest -- not religious dogma but spirituality -- the American Empire will collapse and probably our contemporary economy along with it. Our ruling economic elite, who of course do not want that to happen, do what they can to corrupt spirtual movements. They cannot continue to rake in the dough if they cannot find useful idiots to labor in their factories, offices, etc.

I think the most effect anti-spiritual offensive by the Fat-Catocracy is the support they give to organized religion. The mega-churches and the TV evangelists are essentially getting paid to distract millions of Americans from pursuing spiritual lifes.