We have often pointed out in our Facebook posts and in our blogs how our prisons have become the largest mental health facilities in the country. So many who suffer from mental illness end up behind bars and in an endless loop of incarceration after incarceration. Unfortunately, many of these people don’t have the wherewithal to break the cycle and get the help they need to turn things around. That’s one of the reasons we have taken the initiative and are the only mental health agency operating inside the Westchester County Jail System. The goal is to decrease recidivism and to give people a foundation to build on BEFORE they are released from prison. Westchester County Corrections is at the forefront of these efforts and we’re proud they called on us to help.
Joseph’s story is all too common….see what he was given to work with upon release from prison…and imagine what might have happened to him if we hadn’t been there to work with him. We’re proud of Joseph for all that he has accomplished and hope that there are more and more Joseph’s in the future.
In the words of his care coordinator:
One day Joseph walked into our NR office and said he had heard on the street that we helped people. He told me that he had very recently been released from Rikers Island after a brief stay. He was released the way so many people are: he was put on a bus with about 30 other men. They were let off the bus on a street corner. He had been given a prescription for his psychiatric medication, one MetroCard and the name and address of a clinic to make an appointment to be seen by a psychiatrist. Joseph told me that he had been ill for many years and when he couldn’t get medication he “self-medicated” with alcohol and/or street drugs. He told me that he had committed a minor offense in NYC; the reason he was at Rikers Island; and was now under the supervision of the NYC Dept of Probation for 3 years. This is a standard sentence for a misdemeanor conviction. He had to report once a month to the Probation Officer assigned, and in between times, he had to go to a Probation Kiosk and “report in” by entering a fingerprint. Once under Probation supervision, a person may not relocate out of that county without having his Probation supervision transferred to a new County.
Joseph told me that he had decided that if he stayed in NY City any longer he would die. He said he really did not want to die. He used his MetroCard to come up to Westchester and was sleeping on the streets. He had DSS benefits, but they were only good in New York City. I called the Probation Officer in NY City and we discussed how difficult it is to get a misdemeanor case transferred within the state. She told me that as long as he reported regularly and stayed out of trouble, she would not file a violation against him for being out of the county; until we could figure out a solution. She was able to arrange for me to get a copy of Joseph’s Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) report (with his consent).
The PSI was extraordinarily well written and told a story of astonishing physical and sexual abuse that Joseph endured as a child. Frankly, I was surprised that he had survived at all. He had been married and had two daughters. He did not know where his wife was and had not seen her for years. He believed that neither of his children would want to see him since he had essentially abandoned them when his illness drove him out of the home, into hospitals, jails etc..
After a great deal of negotiating the NY City Dept of Probation managed an expedited transfer and the Westchester County Department of Probation agreed to accept Joseph into one of their intensive programs where people receive substance abuse and mental health treatment at a location where a Probation Office is actually stationed. This allows for more support for the client. Joseph’s NY City DSS benefits could not be transferred to Westchester County until he had been a resident here for 30 days and the Shelter programs only accept Westchester County residents!
A CHOICE Case Manager took Joseph to the Drop-in center and arranged with them for him to be able to “drop in” every night for a month. CHOICE provided him with MetroCards so he could go to treatment and to NY City periodically to report to Probation there until his case was officially transferred. After 30 days the Case Manager took him to DSS to get his benefits transferred and then assisted him getting admitted to the shelter. We started the application process for him to receive supportive mental health housing here in the county.
While he was waiting for permanent housing, he located his daughters. One of them told him she did not want any contact with him. The other, however, who lived in Queens with her husband and children, not only wanted to see him but invited him to join her family for Thanksgiving Dinner. When he told me this, I was very happy for him. He smiled and said he wouldn’t be able to go. The reason? He did not have train fare to get there and back and he felt that he needed to bring a gift for his daughter and his grandchildren! I asked him if that was the only reason he was declining the invitation. When he replied yes I told him that we would just take care of all of it. CHOICE gave him the MetroCards needed for a round trip and convinced him that since his daughter had said no gifts were necessary, that he should just bring himself!
Since that trip, Joseph has remained in contact with his daughter and her family. He has his own apartment now, is getting Social Security benefits, has his own vehicle and a “girlfriend”. He has been clean and sober and in recovery from his mental illness for over 5 years now. He has been off Probation supervision for 2 or 3 years. He has a number of physical ailments but is able to get regular medical care for them.
There was a great deal of work between agencies and a lot of supportive efforts to help Joseph keep going when things were difficult…..but look at the fabulous outcome! Here’s to many more Good Outcomes!