AUGUST, 2021
Theme: The Word, "CRAZY!'


published bimonthly

Leif K-Brooks

My Dad's Blog -

My dad has been and done a lot of things, but at the core, he's a psychologist. He knows everyone has a rich internal life, and he has a deep need to connect with whatever lies below the surface.


He likes trying to make store clerks laugh by telling them a joke. For him, it's not just a way to have fun or kill boredom. He wants to eke out any genuine human connection he can get from their brief interaction. He wants to touch their soul, at least a tiny bit.


His natural foil is "customer service drone" types who speak in scripted platitudes, revealing nothing of themselves. I'm not sure he's ever fully made peace with the fact that some people will never open up to him.


Once, when I was little, my dad and I were in a carpool with another kid and their mom. My dad tried to start a conversation with the kid's mom: "Do you think there are people who are insane, but they still put their clothes on straight, go to work on time, and no one really notices?" I don't remember what she said, but I don't think she was impressed. I remember wondering: "Is he really talking about himself? Does he feel insane?"


Maybe you've got to be a little insane to have the kind of faith in humanity he does. But I'm grateful he's my dad not just for his parenting skills, but also for the stories he has shared with me; unique experiences that could only have happened to someone like him.


Immortalizing some of his stories in writing, and allowing future generations to gaze into his soul, is exactly what my dad could be expected to do. And I truly believe it constitutes a public service.

Steven K-Brooks: "WHO I AM"

Vermont Psychiatric Survivors        https://www.vermontpsychiatricsurvivors.org/ 

Counterpoint — Vermont Psychiatric Survivors newspaper

https://www.vermontpsychiatricsurvivors.org/current-issue-of-counterpoint  

Mad In America
“Getting to the Root Causes of Suffering: An Interview with Patricia Rush, M.D. “

https://www.madinamerica.com/2021/07/getting-root-causes-suffering-interview-patricia-rush-md/ 

Phoebe Sparrow Wagner’s Blog

https://phoebesparrowwagner.com/2021/08/01/crazy-or-not-here-i-come-2/


About This Issue

“Families have crazy secrets and beliefs that go unquestioned by the majority. Entire institutions are built to defend those secrets and beliefs. Only a few dare to point out that the emperor has no clothes.”  Joey’s comment on May 29 “Who’s Crazy?” story.

“Psychiatry has damaged and destroyed many promising lives, both in the past when women like your aunt was put away to be forgotten, many for reasons having nothing to do with so-called insanity. And of course many things were deemed “insane” in order to justify this practice.” Phoebe Sparrow Wagner’s comment on the May 29 “Who’s Crazy?” story.

editor’s notes

‘Who’s Crazy?” sparked a cascade of feedback. 

Um, did I say, “cascade?” Well, actually it was a half-dozen or so, but they were powerful reactions from people with first-hand experience on both sides of the Mental Health Industry: Patients, as well as psychiatric professionals. 

The comment that I heard the most, was also the one which most haunted me:

“As soon as someone labels you crazy, they can do whatever they want to you because nobody will believe you.”

Commonly, hospitalization or the threat of same has been a misogynistic weapon. I heard about a woman whose family had her locked up to silence her from disclosing family crimes. Currently, actress Britney Spears high profile struggle to be freed from her father’s control, highlights that the mental illness label can disempower even a wealthy woman.

As a composite narrative: During staff meetings in a hypothetical psychiatric facility, it was the group’s professional opinion that a certain Patient “A”  had imagined certain disturbing goings on, which terrorized her. How did they know that Patient “A”   had imagined everything? Because “her sister said that she is deranged and makes things up” (even though Patient “A‘s  sister was in another city when the “imagined” events happened!)

Here is something important. It is from my sister, Lora Frisch, sent to me in an email:

Years ago I wrote an essay about Rose, I’ll have to look for it.  I met her a few months before she died at 85.  As thoughtless as anyone in our family, I just sat there with  Fanny and Yetta, while they talked.  At the end of the visit she asked who I was.  I said I was Lora, Jessie’s daughter.  She said “who?”.  Her sisters told her I was Ida’s daughter.  No one had told Rose that our mother had changed her name.  As we left Fanny told me they had never told her that our mother had died.  I also learned that she could have been discharged twenty years before.   According to Fanny, Rose’s daughter threatened to bring a lawyer into things to stop that.  Her daughter felt she didn’t want any responsibility for her mother, although the assessment at the hospital was that Rose was capable of being self-sufficient.  One time, our mother told me that Rose’s husband was a sadist.  When I mentioned this to Fanny, she said, “your mother was always a kind person”.  Mom told me he committed suicide by driving his car into a subway pillar.

My Aunt Rose remained locked up an additional 20 years although the hospital’s assessment was that she was cable of being self-sufficient, because her release would have been inconvenient to her daughter?!!!  Joey’s and Phoebe’s remarks were spot-on: Entire institutions have been built to defend dysfunctional families’ secrets, destroying lives! 

“Who’s Crazy?” has been held over in this issue, as its publication in the Premier Issue broke open the question of psychiatric imprisonment. The lead article in this issue is Phoebe Sparrow Wagner’s powerful, first-person account of the horrendous, routine abuse of human beings in the guise of psychiatric care.

 

Who's Crazy?

Every family has secrets. Mine had more than its share. If there were a way that my mother could have avoided telling me about Aunt Rose, I am sure that I would never had found out about her. 
 
Rose had been in Rockland State Hospital since the 1930s when her brief marriage failed, and she lost custody of her only child. Now, in 1956, her three sisters (Aunt Fanny, Aunt Yetta, and my mother) were planning a visit. We went in two cars: Uncle Irving’s DeSoto Deluxe, and Uncle Mac’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88. 
Mac was my favorite uncle. He was warm in a manly way: a World War II veteran whose speech was seasoned with crude slang. Having a Christian uncle, meant that every year I got to help decorate a Christmas tree. Although Irving was Jewish, my parents seems to consider him almost as unrefined Uncle Mac.
 
“Irving eats hotdogs at Yankee Stadium,” my mother said disdainfully, “even though he has ulcers.” My father agreed. Yetta, the eldest sister and the only one born in Europe, was stylish; sophisticated; and loved the hell out of Irving, despite his hot dogs and cigars. 
 
It was a sunny day and there was not much traffic. We had just left the City when a convertible pulled alongside. But instead of passing, the people inside were pointing at our car and yelling something. Irving ignored them. Apparently referring to their color — they were Black — Irving said: “Don’t pay any attention. They think it’s funny to play tricks on white people.” 
 
Pretty soon, we had to pull over… to change the flat.
 

CRAZY OR NOT,
HERE I COME

by Phoebe Sparrow Wagner

I used to be “crazy.” Labeled CMI, chronically mentally ill, prone to psychosis, I was a revolving door mental patient, one who spent almost as much time in her adult life in the hospital as out of it. Although I had various diagnoses, the main one was schizophrenia, or the variant of it, schizoaffective disorder, that some claim combines features of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Over time, as I bounced from hospital to home and back to the hospital, the doctors would tack on other labels as well, like PTSD and different personality disorder.

We patients knew the judge virtually always sided with the doctors, since we were by definition “crazy” and could not know what was good for us.

Although I had various diagnoses, the main one was schizophrenia, or the variant of it, schizoaffective disorder, that some claim combines features of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Over time, as I bounced from hospital to home and back to the hospital, the doctors would tack on other labels as well, like PTSD and different personality disorders. 

Although I occasionally was admitted “voluntarily,” most of these hospital stays started out involuntary, until nurses, brandishing paper and pen, advised me of my right to sign in as “voluntary.” I would sign, but this did not mean I could leave because not even voluntary patients could leave at will, not in the state where I lived at the time. If you wanted to leave before the doctor thought you should, you had to sign a  paper stating this. Then wait to see if the doctor challenged the paper. 

If she did so within three days, you could be taken to probate court for a judge to hear the case. This was never good. We patients knew the judge virtually always sided with the doctors, since we were by definition “crazy” and could not know what was good for us.

But let me go back to the schizophrenia thing. I heard voices, most of the time. They were usually awful voices, voices that jeered and mocked and threatened me, voices that led me to burn myself dozens of times in an effort to rid myself of them. I heard and saw messages to me in everything, from the television and radio ads to newspaper headlines. 

I saw tiny scintillating red lights that swarmed about me like a cloud of gnats, and which I called the Red Strychnines.

 

 

 

"Crazy Old N_____"

In the 1970s, in Buffalo, NY, I knew an African-American man in his 70s named Joe Low. Joe was a landlord, but when he visited his properties, he pretended to be the superintendent, working for the absentee landlord. Joe was a licensed plumber, and took care of most repairs himself. 

One time, Joe took me with him to collect rent from a tenant. He rang her bell, and then handed me his briefcase. The woman came to the door, and even though Joe normally collected the rent, when she saw me holding the briefcase, without a word she handed me — a complete stranger —  the check. Joe did a lot of antics like that, never explaining anything. But I think he wanted to show me how little it took to transfer the rightful authority of a Black man to a white-identified total stranger. (Actually, that was my then wife Carol’s explanation.)

One day, Joe got arrested on some minor infraction. Carol and I got a ride with a friend to bail Joe out. He was not in the downtown lockup, but in one of the outlying towns. After paying the bail, we waited in a room where there were a couple of guards. Joe was released in that room, and we went to the car. 

The first thing that Joe said when he got in the car was: “Crazy old N____r.”   Later, Carol’s explanation was that he was articulating the disrespect of the guards. All the way home, Joe endlessly repeated: “I am a Negro. . . Not a N____r!”  obsessively, like “N____r” was stuck in his craw. That ugly epithet must have been directed at Joe in that jail, and now he was vomiting out the poison. 

Joe, of course did not say, ” N_____r,” but rather he said the actual word.  In theory, it is a horrible word that no one should say, ever: Yet in the context in which he said it, it is hard for me not to feel that Joe had a special license. Not that long ago, writing about this incident, I would have spelled out the word, reasoning that I am simply giving an account of events, not using the “N” word pejoratively. It does detract from the impact of certain stories not to spell out or actually say this word, but I have come to the conclusion that it is more important to avoid in any way signaling to other people a message that it might be OK to use that word.  

Steven K-Brooks

Farewell, Scorpion.

The sign reads, “Fresh Poems.” A handsome young fellow with dark, curly hair sits on a folding chair, his fingers caressing his Smith-Corona. Today this young man’s saxophone is nowhere in sight. Today is dedicated exclusively to poems. 

A man slows down as he approaches. Then he stops, reads everything on the sign, Weddings, Memorials, Blessings, Blasphemies, Bar Mitzvahs, but nowhere on the sign is there a mention of money. The man wonders how much is the fee. He walks on and into the Co-op to buy a lemon.

Over the years, this man has developed a knack for selecting lemons: Not shriveled, not green, not beyond fresh.  Ripe. . . perfectly ripe!

The checkouts are crowded. Even the 10-or-fewer items register has a long line. 

So the man walks back to produce. He puts the lemon back in a particular spot with the point up and at a certain angle so that he will spot the best lemon quickly upon his return, but it will stay under everyone else’s radar. 

Now, outside again, the man is sitting on the bench near the Co-op’s exit (this was awhile ago, at the old Co-op building). He watches people come and go, and thinks about the poem that he would like to request. A woman he knows sits down next to him.

LOCAL NEWS:

Introducing New Brattleboro Police Chief: Norma Hardy

Norma Hardy will become became Brattleboro’s Police Chief on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. 

Hardy had a distinguished 26-year career with the Police Department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. After 10 years of service as a Police Officer serving at a variety of Port Authority facilities, she was promoted to Construction Sergeant at the World Trade Center site in 2002, to Executive Officer at the World Trade Center site in 2006, to Police Captain and commanding officer at the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels in 2008, to Police Inspector and Northern Zone Commander in 2011, and to Chief of Port Authority Bridges, Tunnels, and New Jersey Airports in 2013.

She received numerous internal commendations and external awards during her career with the Port Authority, including the 2014 Officer of the Year Award from the International Association of Women Police and the 2016 Trailblazer Award from the National Organization of Black Women in Law Enforcement. Hardy attended the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York and also has completed advanced training in law enforcement leadership, personnel and finance administration, security assessment, and emergency response management. 

Hardy was appointed by Town Manager Peter Elwell from a strong field of 23 applicants. Elwell and a selection panel conducted screening interviews on Zoom with seven applicants. That panel and a panel of community members each conducted in-depth interviews on Zoom with four semi-finalists. Two finalists had in-person meetings with the Selectboard, Town department heads, Brattleboro Police Department employees, and the Town Manager. Elwell selected Hardy in mid-June and the Town completed a thorough background check before finalizing the terms of Hardy’s appointment and employment. 

Elwell said he is eager to begin working with Hardy, both in her role as Police Chief and as a member of the Town’s senior management team. “Chief Hardy brings to Brattleboro a wealth of law enforcement leadership experience and a demonstrated commitment to work with the community on recalibrating the roles and expectations of the police and our civilian community partners,” said Elwell. “She also brings lived experience outside of law enforcement that will help advance the Town’s work on diversity, equity, and inclusion.” 

“I can’t wait to get started,” said Hardy, noting that high priorities for her first months as Chief will include police officer recruitment and retention and becoming familiar with Vermont laws and procedures. “What I am most looking forward to is working with Brattleboro’s experienced police officers and engaged community members,” said Hardy, “because the key to achieving community safety is collaboration and mutual respect.”  

TOWN OF BRATTLEBORO Town Manager’s Office 230 Main Street Brattleboro, VT 05301 (802) 251-8151 FAX (802) 257-2322 

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