Sentenced With a Side of Stigma

May 23, 2014

Today my son was sentenced to 3 years in a level 5 facility for crimes he committed in March of 2013. Because he has been incarcerated since his arrest last March, he only has 2 years more to serve. The sentence he received was the mandatory minimum sentence so for that we are grateful. We are also hopeful that with time off for good behavior and with completing a court-ordered treatment program while in prison, he may be released earlier than scheduled.

So the sentencing is over. Now we know what to expect; we have a clearer picture of the future. But something else happened today in court that has me troubled. Actually, the more I think about it, the more it bothers me.

There is something in my state called Mental Health Court. This has different implications depending on the severity of the crimes committed. In my son's case, Mental Health Court would allow him to have a probation officer who has mental health training once he is released and put on probation. Today our attorney asked the judge to consider this as part of my son's sentence, citing the volumes of documentation he has of my son's mental illness history. The judge denied his request.

But that isn't what bothers me. What bothers me are the words that he used while denying this request.

The judge said instead of Mental Health Court, he thinks my son should "just do it himself."

Do what exactly, your honor? Do you mean he should manage his neverending waves of mania and depression alone?  Isn't that what landed him here in the first place?

While I would have liked to see my son assigned to Mental Health Court for his probation, I am not really angry about that decision. I don't understand it, but that's not what upsets me. No, what upsets me is that a person in such an important position of power, a well-educated, seasoned professional --a judge-- could be so ill-informed about mental illness that he thinks it is something one can simply self-regulate.

And to think, May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Perhaps he missed the memo.

This experience is just one more in a long list of ways that the stigma of mental illness has affected our lives. The stigma kept us from revealing our crises and seeking help in the first place. Now it has surfaced once again, in what I hope is the last chapter of this hellish story.

No comments:

Please share a comment