Handcuffs Save Lives

Nov. 3, 2013

So much media attention has been given to the connection between crime and mental illness, but I am not here to join that fray. I am simply stating a fact: my 21 year old bipolar son is in prison.  Though he had no criminal record, he may serve more than 3 years for the crimes he committed. 

There are days when I barrage myself with questions, aching with anxiety over my son's new reality. Why him? Why us? Where did I go wrong? What did I miss? Why did he do it? And, Why didn't I just bail him out? Was I too upset? Too hurt? Too angry? Too frightened? Why didn't I just bail him out? 

There were so many factors involved in my decision not to bail him out. Not only was his bail set so high it exceeded the value of my home, I was standing behind something I'd been telling him—“If you get arrested, I am not bailing you out.” Tough love they call it. I'd been telling him this for over a year, “If you get arrested, I am not bailing you out.”

Today, seven months after his arrest, I definitely go through pangs of heavy guilt for not trying harder to gather the bail money. I probably could have done it with family and friends' help. But when I am really honest with myself, I know the truth: 
Being arrested saved my son's life.

During the time leading up to my son's arrest, he was a ticking time bomb. He self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, unable to hold down a job. He no longer lived with me, a choice he made when he refused mental health treatment the year before. Instead, he planted his belongings at his dad's house but more often than not, slept wherever his head hit a pillow or even floor. More than once, he was even kicked out of his dad's house for stealing, something he'd done to me too.

And the lies. The lies he told us just added to our pain. He had himself convinced that we didn't know about his lifestyle, but we knew. We all knew. In his own words, now seven months later, he calls himself “a lying, cheating, piece of sh*t con-artist.” I can't disagree. That's who he was. That's what his illness left untreated allowed him to become. So back then I was living day to day with this reality: I will someday get a phone call telling me one of two things—either my son has been arrested or my son is dead.

When I received the call in March, there were no theatrics. I didn't cry or yell. I simply sat down in a daze and thought, “At least he's not dead.” There were no tears that night, just a thick fog in my mind and a sick feeling in my gut, neither of which have subsided since.

These past seven months have been filled with a lifetime's worth of pain for our family. And the pain is not over yet. There will be years of it. But there is hope. Yes, there is indeed hope. On the day of his arrest, my son told the officers that he was bipolar and that he'd been off his medication. He asked if he could go back on it. So after a short bout of detox the hard way, cold turkey, my son began to take a prison prescribed regimen of bipolar medications. While these aren't the desired ones that his doctors would have prescribed, they are at least something in the right direction. His mania and depression are somewhat treated, though not completely. But in prison, mental health care is subpar, or at least that's what we've experienced.

Today, though, my son is a new man. Yes, he wears DOC whites and speaks to me through glass when I visit, but he is completely a brand new man. He has accepted the consequences of his actions. He is seeking forgiveness from all those in his life that he wronged. 

And he is himself again. He is the articulate, curious, clever, creative, witty, charming lover of life I knew before bipolar disorder took him from me. My son is back. And when he gets out of that cement hell, he will be a man whom people will respect and revere. 

Being arrested saved my son's life.

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