Donald Trump, the Carnival Barker turned presidential candidate.

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Each weekday I watch “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, hoping to catch a glimpse of intelligent conversation, and to jumpstart my brain.  The debates oftentimes turn into verbal poop, but that’s okay, that’s to be expected.  But I can’t take it anymore.  It’s driving me crazy. Trump, Trump, Trump that’s all they talk about.  I switch to CNN and it’s more of the same. They are covering the news, that’s what they say.  Maybe they don’t understand, or perhaps they do, that their continuous coverage promotes Donald Trump, the Carnival Barker turned presidential candidate.

Trump labels illegal immigrants from Mexico as criminals, rapists, and general bad asses — oh, I forgot.  Trump said there are “probably” a few good ones — or he hurls disgusting remarks directed  towards Megyn Kelly, a Fox network newsperson, who according to Trump, has blood running from her mouth and from “you know where.”  Let’s give Donald a little credit, he loves the Mexican people and they love him, so he says.  My initial reaction is to call the circus absolute and complete bullshit.  But it’s working for him and I know why.

America is upset at congress which is sporting a nineteen-percent approval rating.  How can you not be upset with a congress unwilling to accomplish any meaningful legislation?   Hey people, in case you don’t know, President Obama holds a positive approval rating that hovers around 50 percent; not bad from a pissed-off America.  Oh, and how about the House of Representatives who have voted over fifty times to repeal Obamacare.  If they want to make improvements, work with the president to improve a law that currently helps a lot of people.  Screaming does not help.  It just makes people scream more.

Donald Trump is a master at pushing the hot buttons on a downcast, long-faced society.  I can tell you how he does it.  Meet someone at your favorite coffee shop and drop some words or phrases that you know will light a fire in his/her ass.  To be successful, it helps to know the person’s political slant.  Try this one on the extreme, rightwing leaning individual — Hey, buddy, I’m damn tired of those illegal Mexicans coming into our country, taking our jobs, and raping our women.  I guarantee a strong reaction.  Now lets try lighting the fire of the leftwing leaning individual — Hey, buddy, I’m damn tired of this garbage coming out of the cesspool called Donald Trump’s mouth.  Again, I guarantee a strong reaction.  It’s all about pressing someone’s “hot buttons.” Ready yourself for an immediate, knee-jerk reaction.  And by the way, they will love you for saying it.

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I’m reminded of the Music Man, a long running musical about a salesman, possibly a Carnival Barker, who comes to River City, a small-town community, to sell all of the children a musical instrument.  Of course, the Music Man has no intention of delivering the instruments.  His plan is to collect the money and skip town.  He goes about selling the idea that the local pool hall will destroy the moral compass of their children.  A pool cue in each child’s hand is the first step towards juvenile delinquency, imprisonment, and possibly hell.  I can hear the woeful sounds of the townspeople now.

Compare the rantings of the Music Man to those of the Carnival Barker who became a presidential candidate.
People:
We’ve surely got trouble!
Right here in River City!
Remember the Main, Plymouth Rock and the Golden Rule!
Oh, we’ve got trouble.
We’re in terrible, terrible trouble.
That game with the fifteen numbered balls is a devil’s tool!
Oh yes we got trouble, trouble, trouble!
With a “T”!  Gotta rhyme it with “P”!
And that stands for Pool!!!!

Get the idea?   You’re most likely a Trump supporter if he activates your deep frustrations and beliefs.  But if you count to ten after he bellows out his song, you might realize that the carnival barker has no solutions.  Building the tallest of all walls on the border separating Mexico from the United States, paid for by Mexico; sending back eleven million illegal immigrants to Mexico; and ignoring the constitution’s fourteenth amendment is not going to happen.  History is filled with stories of statesman-like congressional members  and senators who have worked together for the betterment of our society.  Oh where oh where have the statesman/stateswoman gone?

I wrote two books on prison inmates who are currently serving time for murder; and a memoir about a young boy who was physically and sexually abused by his brother and others; by the way that was me.  I’m familiar with people who operate on a “hair trigger.”  My first book was about an inmate who was held “accountable” for the murder of a gay man.  You might say that her emotions were activated by the touch of a “hair trigger.”  The slightest provocation could put an end to our three-hour meetings — the allotted time in the prison’s visit room.  Each interview required a gentle stride as I walked through an imaginary bed of hot coals.  Any misstep could burn my ass. I suppose that it was inevitable.  On one visit she stood, turned, and quick-stepped her way to another room where she was strip searched before rejoining the general prison population.  Six months passed before she spoke to me again. So much to learn.  Life changed in so many ways; my horse blinders were removed, a broader, crystal clear vision came forth, and spiritual seeds seemingly sprouted from my soul.

In her world, many of the people — good and bad — have a “hair trigger” of their own, ready to fight at the slightest provocation.  We are the product of our genetic makeup and our life experiences.  This much I know.  Change is difficult, but possible.  Of course there are individuals who have been so emotionally damaged that they are beyond repair.  That is the unfairness of it all.  Most of us have heard the expression count to ten before answering what you perceive as a provocation, if needed count to one hundred.  This simple rule can be found in Thomas Jefferson’s writings, “The Canons of Conduct.”  For Jefferson it was common sense, but for many of us it is a lesson unlearned.  Hair trigger, count to ten, knee-jerk reaction share the same message — think before you accept the Carnival Barker’s message.  Today it seems more difficult than years past.  There is a segment of the population that is aware of America’s short fuse, and use it to their advantage.  They’re called politicians.

Politics is a cesspool possibly found around the dinning room table when certain relatives come to visit, the local coffee shop, and any place where two or more people engage in conversation.  The cesspool is formed, in part, by the daily shit dumped on the national airwaves.  Lies and half-truths are peddled as absolute truth and designed to activate the hair trigger, knee-jerk reaction, the inability to count to ten, and in general terms, reach people unable to think with a clear mind.

We, as individuals, need to base our actions on truth rather than an emotional reaction to some word or phrase that ignites our prejudice, racism, and downright ignorance.  Be gone, the Carnival Barker, the Music Man, the Medicine Man who peddles the merits of his latest elixir, and the politician who preys upon your emotions for a rise in the latest polls.

Hornet dude, show me your stinger.

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It was a typical mid-August day in southern Illinois:  95 degrees, a heat index of 104, and an apple pie was in the oven.  Two of our granddaughters, ages seven and nine, were
staying over on a summer day.  My wife, two granddaughters, and my dog — a mostly white golden-doodle with golden ears — alternated our play between outside and inside.  Sweat covered bodies and my dog’s rapid-fire panting dictated our activities.  

My seven-year-old granddaughter asked my wife what was in one of our trees. There, hanging within reach, was a hornet’s nest as big as a basketball with hundreds of hornets flying in and out, doing whatever hornets do.  (I later learned that a mature hornets nest in late summer can have as many as seven hundred hornets.)  We quickly retreated to the inside of our house where I instructed the girls to stay away from the tree, and what could happen if the hornets came after them — multiple butt stings that would penetrate their skin like nails in a pine board.  My granddaughters, with their saucer-sized eyes, took in everything that I said.  They would stay away for now, and most likely would need psychotherapy in later years.

Being a seventy-two-year-old man, I had been taught that it was the man’s responsibility to protect his family.  It wouldn’t have been right for me to insist that my wife take care of the hornet’s nest.  So, I did what all old, educated men do.  I went to my office, turned on the computer, and began to google — how to destroy a hornet’s nest before they destroy you.  Okay, what kind of hornet are we dealing with, I thought.   Ah, there it is:  a vespa crabro,  a european hornet originally introduced into the United States, one of twenty hornet species found in the US.  My backyard hornets, as I call them, are one to one-and-a-half inches long strapped with two pairs of wings, six legs, and boast a reddish brown color.

The hornet’s lightweight nest, an engineering feat by any definition, is constructed by a mixture of the hornet’s salvia and pieces of wood fiber.  Granted my backyard hornets are quite impressive, but their stings are something to behold.  Unlike the ordinary bee that is limited to a single sting, this baby can sting you multiple times, leaving a nasty venom behind.  The symptoms  can leave the victim with a fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, convulsions, and possibly death if you have an allergic reaction.  Holy shit, that’s what I thought.  There was a mixture of testosterone and fear racing through my brain.  Oh, and forgive me.  There was a sentence or two about the hornet’s attributes to humanity — they eat insects that can become pests to your habitat, contributing to a healthy ecosystem.  And I’m suppose to worry about these flying varmints that might drill holes into my exterior?

If I am to destroy the nest, which most articles advise against, I should follow a recommended procedure:  approach the nest in darkness while the worker hornets sleep; use a flashlight with a red lens; wear quite shoes, boots would be best; thick rubber gloves; long sleeves and long pants made with thick material; and above all, don’t wake up the hornets.  Oh, by the way, each year forty people in Illinois die from hornet stings.  But that most likely happens to allergic people or old people like myself.

There is a time when a man has to check his bravery, or admit he is a “chicken shit.”  I knew this was my moment.  Still, I decided that I should approach this from a more intellectual standpoint.  Facts:  I’m seventy-two-year-old, two back surgeries within the past eighteen months, three face cancers surgically removed two weeks ago.  Okay, candy-ass Franklin, go hire someone.  But then, almost miraculously, the next morning changed everything. There, lying under the tree was the nest, possibly knocked down by one sick or dead raccoon.  I shared the news with my wife, making us feel content in the fact that the hornet problem was gone.

Later in the day my wife told me that half of the hornet’s nest was still hanging from the tree.  I ran outside and took a look.  Dammit, I whispered.  I didn’t want to disturb the hundreds of hornets working on the nest.  Something came over me, like a wave of bravery or possibility a big bunch of stupidity.  Whatever, I was pissed.  “Go into the house,” I told my wife.  “I’m going to take care of this fucking nest.  “Be careful,” she said, as she ran into the house to see if my life insurance policy was still in effect.

deerfly-pd-wcI went into the garage and grabbed two cans of wasp/hornet spray guaranteed to shoot twenty-seven feet into the air.  I disregarded all of the advice that I had obtained from my google search.  Here I was dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt, possibly confronting one of life’s biggest challenges.   I approached the nest with determination and a good deal of bravery.  The hornets were buzzing in and around the nest.  I didn’t flench as I held a can of spray in each hand.  I pointed the cans, stood in a crouched position, pulled the triggers as a heavy fog filled the nest which began raining hornets.  Bunches of them fell to the ground taking their last gulp of air as they died.  A few strays headed for my face.  I bopped and weaved to the left and then to the right.  The fog continued to fill the sky as they dropped dead before landing a single sting.  They were dead.  They were all dead.  My wife opened the front door and began clapping as I ran circles in the front yard spiking the cans to the ground like a Green Bay Packer wide receiver after hauling in a thirty yard pass.  Even my golden-doodle joined in the fun.  The two of them were mighty proud of me — the old fart turned hero.  Once again, man prevailed over the insect world.  Damn, life is good.

 

Thanks for the memories — Colbert and Stewart

laughing-horses_1507421iA few months ago I lost one, and now I’m about to lose another; an empty feeling, but not like losing a family member, one of my closest friends, or God forbid, my dog.  I’ve never shook their hand, exchanged hugs, or offered to be their facebook friend.  I suppose I consider them my imaginary television friends:  Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.  I’m quite fond of Jon and Stephen, and if given the chance I would love to have a cup of coffee with them, maybe a couple glasses of wine, discuss some serious topics, and then just laugh our ass off.  Now I’m left to watch recorded copies of their shows, and savior the memories of days gone by.

I either watched the Daily Show and Colbert Nation in real time, or on one of my many recordings; four days a week, year after year.  I loved watching the two of them discuss the day to day political happenings.  Although they were loaded with satire, they were damn dead serious.  If you can’t laugh about the political ongoings, how can you get through the day?

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert:  ridicule, sarcasm, truth, comedic satire, and many laugh like hell moments are reflections of my buddies, Stephen and Jon.  Oh how I loved the Colbert Nation when Stephen came flying through the air like a superhero all wrapped in an American flag with an eagle by his side.  I have to admit that my initial reaction was one of disbelief and a feeling that this guy was in love with himself; not the type of person that I generally like.  But it soon became obvious that Stephen was a made-up character who crossed his fingers while he worshiped Bill O’Reilly, Fox news, and every right-wing politician who unloads verbal poop.  A story teller, a songster who could sing in tune, an intellect, and a brain that popped and crackled like a pan of popcorn on a red-hot stove.  A real thinker, that’s what I call him, able to explain complex issues in a humorous way.  Even when he was in character, you knew there was both a madness and seriousness living together like a hand in a glove; a feat very few performers can obtain.  Yes, I know, Stephen Colbert is taking over the David Lettermen show.  But what will happen to the character I loved on Colbert Nation.  What will Stephen have in store for his new audience?  Hopefully he will give us a moment with the character that I love so much.  Thanks for everything, Stephen.

And then there’s my other imaginary friend, Jon Stewart.  Sixteen years, that’s how long Jon has hosted the Daily Show.  So many memories of days gone by.  Not unlike Stephen, Jon holds many of the same qualities:  ridicule, sarcasm, truth, comedic satire, and many laugh like hell moments.  But Jon brought his own outwardly intellectual side to his show.  There was no doubt when Jon was disappointed, upset, or downright pissed off with the day to day politics.  When congress has a 19% positive rating, there’s reason to be mad.  And then Jon would add a humorous bend to his presentation, showing the stupidity of the situation.   After all, if we can’t laugh we’re left to cry.  Thanks for everything, Jon.

Stephen and Jon are both young men and have lots more to offer.  But please don’t wait too long.  There’s a void in my psyche.

Kudos to the Fitness Forum — Anna, Illinois

physical-fitness-clip-art-587563 (1)I’m the man with a crack in his back who takes oxycodone each day, and just happens to like green eggs and ham.  But that was yesterday.  Today, I’m quite different.  Take a peek into my recent history:  January 2014 — Laminectomy to relieve bone pressure on the nerves in my lower back.  August 2014 — Spinal Fusion to stabilize disks in my lower back.  Hence, Spinal Stenosis/Arthritis and a general pain in the ass.  Eight months later I withdrew from the oxycodone and now take one over-the-counter Advil, sometimes two times daily, to relieve a mild discomfort in my lower back. It has taken a year for the damaged nerves in my back to heal.

Thanks to my surgeon, Jeffrey Jones, and most recently, Rebecca Cerney, who with her mother Jane, own the Fitness Forum in Anna, Illinois.  Maybe it was fate, or possibly I was just lucky when I met with Rebecca.  Being 72 years old and a recipient of Medicare, I qualified for a program called “Silver Sneakers,” a hokey name but a damn good program if you want free admission to a qualified fitness club.  My wife and I met with Rebecca who structured a fitness program for the two of us.  Rebecca, a fitness and nutrition advisor, just happens to have an impressive “six pack.”  But I must confess that my “six pack” is a mixture of muscle and a jello-like matter, but hey, Rome was not built in a day.  I must say that I am enjoying the experience that is literally changing my life.  I’m gaining strength, endurance, flexibility, and having a good time.  It’s a bonding experience for my wife and I as we strive for better health.

If you live anywhere close to the Fitness Forum in Anna, Illinois, I recommend you check it out.  A small town business where the owners treat you right and appreciate your business; that’s the Fitness Forum.  Rebecca, thanks a lot.  You are the best.

A get your attention book

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

Mnemosyne:  A Love Affair with Memory is a beautifully written, powerful book about two men from different centuries who are struggling with memory.  One is struggling with his own memories; the other is working to define and codify what memory is.  These two stories, however, are more about the soul journey of each man.  Larry’s journey is one through the painful memories of childhood sexual abuse — a journey through the darkness of the soul into the light.  Richard’s story is a journey of a man who goes from the height of his career to being shunned for his research into memory and the decisions he made in his life.  The powerful scene at the end of Richard’s story is a image that will stay with you.  Larry’s story, however, is one that inspires and uplifts.  It is a testament that life can be a joyful experience, even if one has endured horrifying abuse as a child  As a therapist, I have worked with many clients who struggle with a painful past.  As such, I honor the courage Larry has shown in creating a work that will be an inspiration to any person who is struggling with life’s painful issues.
Review by Olivia  

***

Mnemosyne:   A Love Affair with Memory, written by Larry L Franklin, is a work of creative nonfiction, and can be purchased as an ebook, paperback or hardback at Amazon and most bookstores.  Please checkout the links to the Introduction and Chapter One.

https://llfranklin12.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/introduction.pdf

https://llfranklin12.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/chapter-1.pdf

 

 

 

 

Ode to Billy Joe and the faceless manikins

Tallahatchie_bridge-Hwy_7_MississippiIt was the other day, June 3, 2015 to be precise, when Paul Morris, a fellow MFA Goucher graduate, reminded me of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe.”  Forty-eight years ago, on June 3, 1967, Gentry penned her masterpiece.  How could I allow decades to pass before revisiting the rhythmic, haunting lyrics depicting the day when Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the 220px-OdetobillyjoeTallahatchie Bridge?  Gentry and I had a reunion of sorts.  I began listening to a YouTube performance of her “Ode to Billy Joe;” over and over, perhaps twenty to thirty times.  It was as addictive as my Oxycodone pain-poppin’ pills that kept my back from breaking apart in the hills of southern Illinois, some five-hundred miles north of the Tallahatchie Bridge.  Maybe the passage of time has blessed me with a deeper understanding of Gentry’s lyrical gem.  Or perhaps years of therapy has graced my psychic with insights never experienced before.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_T4qsvFAkFM
***

Ode to Billy Joe
by Bobby Gentry

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered out the back door, “y’all, remember to wipe your feet!”
And then she said, “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And papa said to mama, as he passed around the blackeyed peas
“Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please
There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow”
And mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he, and Tom, and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?
“I’ll have another piece-a apple pie; you know, it don’t seem right
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And now ya tell me Billie Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And mama said to me, “Child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning, and you haven’t touched a single bite
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

A year has come and gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe
And brother married Becky Thompson; they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going ’round; papa caught it, and he died last spring
And now mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything
And me – I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

***

How can a song spur my imagination with so many unanswered questions:  What did that girl and Billy Joe MacAllister throw over the Tallahatchie Bridge?  Perhaps a baby?  Were they lovers?  Maybe Billy Joe had sex with a gay man in 1967.  Could that be why Billy Joe took his life?  And then there was Papa who said, “Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits please.”  Was Billy Joe’s reasoning, or lack of it, that simple.  So many questions, and many more.  Ms. Gentry, tell me why Billy Joe jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and oh, by the way, pass me the blackeyed peas.

People have asked Bobby Gentry to explain the true meaning of her song.  And to their surprise Gentry said there is no hidden meaning in “Ode to Billy Joe.”  If anything, she once said, it’s about a family of manikins sitting around their dinner table talking about Billy Joe’s suicide.  The narrator obviously knew Billy Joe quite well, so much so that she couldn’t eat a bite.  When Mama told the family about Billy Joe jumping off the Tallashatchie Bridge, they ignored the narrator’s feelings and asked someone to “pass the biscuits please,” followed by Papa telling Mama to “pass the blackeyed peas.”

Foreshadowing is a literary technique of indicating or hinting what might come forth in the next sentence or so; perhaps sooner than later, or maybe not at all. This is how a great storyteller adds mystery and suspense that turns a mundane story into a page burner.  I’ve watched some great movies and questioned the director’s intent.  Oftentimes I was left to fill in the blanks, wanting more.

Of course I love the pulsating rhythms, the poetic prose, and the mystery of Gentry’s song.  But that’s not what moved me so, grabbing my soul and giving it an attention-getting twist.  It’s the faceless manikins sitting around the dinner table that day in Carroll County Mississippi.  Hell yes, those people drive me fucking crazy.  I’m a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse.  And I’m not alone. Most of my fellow abuse victims share similar feelings: Manikins don’t care if we’re left to wallow in our misery; hey, maybe the rapes were our fault; don’t air our dirty laundry; perhaps they feel uncomfortable talking about such things, and possibly lack the emotional depth.  And worse yet, what if they don’t believe my story?  Now that drives me so fucking crazy that I want to join Billy Joe MacAllister and jump off the Tallashatchie Bridge.

From hairy legs to nose hairs.

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

I’m sitting in my office listening to Eric Clapton belt out some cool sounds.  Steady rain outside.  Springtime trying to make its way into summer; that’s what is happening in southern Illinois.  I’m drinking some wine, looking at my legs while I sport a pair of summer shorts, and evaluating my body’s transition into old age.  I’m 72 years old and find myself wondering what happen to all of the hair on my legs.  Damn depressing, I might add.  I remember my early years when I first saw tiny strains of hair on my legs and some peach fuzz on my face.  That was pretty cool.  I was becoming a man and would soon enjoy the company of wild girls, a beer belly that would rival the older guys in the Louisville Pool Hall.  Party time, that’s where I was headed.  Well, I did have some exciting years, but not quite what I had expected.

Now back to my leg hair.  No, it didn’t disappear.  The hair has moved to different parts of my body.  I now have an abundance of belly hair, a nose filled with bushy hair that needs daily trimming, and strains of long hairs growing out of my ears and dangling downward from my earlobes.  And my eyebrows.  If I didn’t trim them I would have “handle-bar eyebrows.”  I assume that if I checked out the DNA of my leg hairs, they would match the hair growing out of my nose.  Yes, I’m certain that it’s the same hair.

Now I’m not one to question God, but come on.  What’s the point of my hair moving from one part of my body to another?  I’m okay with my gray hair as long as it doesn’t turn blue.  And the wrinkles come in handy.  Being a writer, I believe that every wrinkle tells a story.  Apparently I have lots of stories to tell.

Despite the moving hair, things are looking up.  I had two back surgeries over the past year; lots of pain and depression.  Now I have minor pain at times but nothing that I can’t handle.  I’ve begun working out at a local fitness center, and with a little imagination, I can see the beginnings of a six pack.  Never had one of those before.  Since some of the hair on my legs has moved to my stomach, I would have a hairy six pack.  Pretty cool.  Maybe….

The wine bottle is empty and I need to take my dog for a walk.

Hey funny man, show me your pain.

broken-heart-sad-wallpapers-pics-for-boys.7Robin Williams, John Beluski, Chris Farley, Freddie Prinze:  all funny men who chose to die.  Robin was my favorite.  His improvisational skills had no boundaries, as he hurled funny lines fast and furious, seemingly from a place where few have ventured.  These comedians, ambassadors of humor, sang lyrics meant to tickle your soul, while suffering an inner dissonance that challenged their ability to get out of bed.  They lacked any resolution to that harmonic pedal point of misery, a can’t-move sadness that creates the illusion that death is more attractive than life. They call it depression.

Depression can be caused by many things — genetic makeup, physical and sexual abuse, conflict, death or loss, physical or emotional pain, reaction to medication, to name a few — causing a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The misfiring of a handful of neurons can bring you to your knees.  When information is transferred from one neuron to another, the gap between the terminals and nearby neurons is filled by chemical substances called neurotransmitters, which fire across the space, sending signals to other neurons.  At times, brain activity might resemble a well-lit midway at a county fair, with hundreds of rides and booths operating simultaneously.

Medication and psycho-therapy are the preferred treatments for depression. Medication controls the level of neurotransmitters that flow from one neuron to another.  This is done by “tricking” the neurons into changing their actions based on the assumption that they have received an increased or decreased level of neurotransmitters.  Certain medications force the release of the neurotransmitter, causing an exaggerated effect, while some medications increase neurotransmitters known to slow down or reduce the production of other neurotransmitters.  Some medications block the the release of neurotransmitters completely.  Medications can be a godsend, but the side effects can be intolerable for certain individuals. Maybe the newfound drug will work, and then, without warning, cause the individual to curl into a fetal position and wait for the pain to pass, or choose to die.  The next drug will bring them peace, it certainly will.  Perhaps….

Psycho-therapy is the art of understanding and creating strategies to deal with the tormented soul.  Reliving the physical and sexual abuse was my journey.  In the process, I became desensitized to the emotional trauma, leaving me with a soft melodic hum that I hear each day, warning me if depression is on its way.  Some people check the weather each day, I check the forecast for depression.  Is it going to be a cloudy or sunny day?

Hey funny man, where does the humor come from?  How can you suffer through such sadness, spout jokes and act crazy all at the same time?  For me and my fellow comedians, it’s quite clear.  Psychologists call it coping mechanisms.  Coping is a method of dealing with the misery.  Maybe you learn techniques from your therapist, perhaps the medication, or some self-imposed means — drugs, alcohol, meditation, compartmentalization of memories, dissociation.  And yes, we can’t forget “humor.”

I remember a certain day when I was barely fifteen.  It was a time when Johnny Carson was the funny man of late-night television.  Sitting in the isolation of my home, the idea entered my mind that I could become the next Johnny Carson.  I seemed to have a talent for saying “witty” things, acting crazy, and making my friends laugh.  Then, I added alcohol and hours of practice on my trumpet.  I had formed my identity.  If I had not become funny Larry, the boozer, the trumpet player, perhaps I would have died.

If my misery ever became too much for  me to handle, I had my ace in the hole.  Death was a way out, an escape hatch of sorts.  During childhood, throughout my teenage years, and well into adulthood, my imaginary conversations with God were direct  “Keep sending the misery,” I challenged.  “I’ll deal with what I can, but if it ever becomes too much I’ll end my life.”  Surprisingly, this gave me the element of control that I needed.  I had a way out, and I was in control.  Hey, funny man, that’s pretty cool.

Decades later, I retired from playing the trumpet, became a moderate drinker, but I’m still considered a funny, crazy man.  I asked my therapist if my humor was annoying, and whether I should refrain from being “funny.”  She asked me to imagine myself without the humor, and whether I liked that person.  I quickly came to the conclusion that the imaged person was boring and without feelings.  She smiled, followed by a few quite seconds.  “Hey funny man,” she said.  “I like who you are.”

I know why some comedians appear to be so funny.  For many, it’s how they cover up their misery.  I’m not surprised that so many have committed suicide.  Perhaps their misery was greater than mine.  Maybe I was just one of the lucky ones.  Or perhaps my therapist saved my life.

http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/robin-williams-why-funny-people-kill-themselves/

Let’s throw a Rent Party

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Creative survival, that’s what I call it, when African Americans struggled during times of low wages and high rents.  It began in Harlem, so the story goes, when small gatherings of neighbors and friends came together in a  community-like effort to pay next month’s bills.  The earlier parties consisted of small gatherings where they passed the hat and listened to a couple of musicians who donated their time.  Rent Parties, as they were called, document the struggles of the African American population while spreading jazz across American.

Rent Parties were not limited to the 1920s.  They sprouted up during the great depression of the 1930s, during the current recession of 2009, and anytime people were in need.  The parties became the perfect prescription for helping others while having a good time.

When politicians call for lowering taxes on the wealthy and cutting governmental programs, organizations like The Women’s Center will feel the pain.  The Women’s Center, established in 1972, continues to provide services to the surrounding counties.  In 2013, we assisted 141 children and 862 adults with 11,715 hours of domestic violence services, 6,713 nights of domestic violence and 5,413 nights of transitional housing, and 16,429 meals to residents in shelter.  Public education, professional training, orders of protection, and hotline calls were provided as well. We have little debt and manage to show a respectable balance sheet.  We manage our money wisely.  But where we struggle is raising enough money to maintain a $1.3 million dollar budget.  We receive our financial support from various federal, state, and private grants, and donations from you.  While Governmental programs decrease we continue to deal with increased services.

This is not just our Women’s Center, this is your Women’s Center as well.  A few of our donors have helped by throwing a Rent Party, with great success I might add.  Our most recent host invited twenty-five people and received donations of $2,500 for the Center.  Any size party helps the cause.  A party of eight people collecting a total of $300 or three people sitting in a coffee shop donating $20 each, share their love as well.  This is about helping the Center which has provided services for forty-three years.

There are no set rules for a Rent Party.  Invite who and how many people you want.  Supply refreshments or ask attendees to bring a dish, a bag of chips, or some drinks.  We, at the Women’s Center, would send one or two people to explain our mission, and partake in the party.  Call us and we can share some ideas that you might find appealing.  Some say that societies will be judged by how they help the most unfortunate amongst us.

The Women’s Center
610 Thompson St.
Carbondale, Il 62901
618-549-4807

I killed someone. Am I insane?

IMG_0088In a matter of days, we will know the fate of Eddie Ray Routh who is on trial for the murder of Chris Kyle, an American war hero, and his friend, Chad Littlefield. The twelve jury members of Erath County located in Central Texas, will decide one of four verdicts:  not guilty, guilty, guilty but mentally ill, not guilty by reason of insanity.  While Routh admits to having killed Kyle and Littlefield, the defense attorney claims that Routh was insane at the time he committed the crime, and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Less than one percent of defendants in criminal cases plead insanity, and only one-fourth of them are successful. The majority of those acquitted by reason of insanity are schizophrenic or suffer from bipolar disorder. The insanity defense has become the last choice, an act of desperation, giving only a glimmer of hope for the most disturbed, who, while in a confused state of mind, sometimes make an unconscious choice to commit a violent crime.

Insanity can be as mystifying as a trip to the moon. The photos, the words, the creative simulations that bring us close to flying through space or walking on the moon, seem like make believe. Traveling through the world of insanity, where neurotransmitters pop and crackle like fireworks on the fourth of July, is even more baffling. Only one percent of the population, roughly 2.5 million people, make the trip. They are so unique that we call them by a different name – schizophrenic or bipolar.  Was Eddie Ray Routh insane when he killed Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield?

While lawyers argue in legal terms – insanity is a legal, not a medical concept – psychiatrists reason in the scientific language of behavioral and cognitive psychiatry. Psychiatrists often complain about being asked, sometimes months after the act, to determine whether a defendant knew the difference between right and wrong, to determine a moral question rather than an evaluation of the defendant’s mental competency. How could the jury be certain that Routh, or any defendant, was insane when they committed a crime?  The jury, saddled with their personal bias, is left to judgments based on the quality of counsel, the attitude of the trial judge, photos of a brutal crime, and the salesmanship of the expert witnesses. Not guilty by reason of insanity is determined by a not-so-exact science.

The United States followed England’s The McNaughtan rules from 1843 to 1953. “A person may be insane if at the time of committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, arising from a disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.”
***
It was Friday, January 20,1843, when Daniel McNaughtan, a thirty-three-year-old stout Scotsman of average height, walked from Charing Cross to Downing Street. A typical afternoon in London – men, women, a few horse-drawn carriages, and the occasional stray dog moved along Downing, a street lined with two, three, and sometimes four-story brick structures – was about to change. In a sliver of a second, McNaughtan’s actions changed how the United States’ judicial system would view the insanity plea for the next one-hundred-and-ten years.

McNaughtan approached Edmund Drummond from behind, so the story goes, and pushed the muzzle of his pistol into Drummond’s back and fired. Drummond fell to the ground. While McNaughtan returned the recently-fired pistol to his breast pocket and pulled out a loaded one, a nearby policeman lunged at NcNaughtan and wrestled him to the ground, causing the second pistol to fire erratically into the air. McNaughtan was shackled and taken to jail. Drummond was treated by a physician who removed the steel ball that had lodged under the lowest left rib next to the skin’s surface. The next morning Drummond experienced breathing difficulties, and upon further examination, it was determined that the rib had been shattered, and the wound had become inflamed. In an effort to treat the inflammation, the physicians extracted a quantity of blood from Drummond’s temporal artery, and a large number of leeches were applied to his back. On Monday, two days later, his condition worsened and he was bled again. On Wednesday, Drummond died.

Friday, the day of the shooting, when McNaughtan was taken to the police station, he was asked about the identity of the person he had shot. “It is Sir Robert Peel is it not?” he replied. In his haste to right his perception of social injustice, McNaughtan had mistakenly shot Edmund Drummond, private secretary to Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, his intended target. McNaughtan’s statement reflected the depth of his paranoia.

     “The Tories in my native city have compelled me to do this. They follow, persecute me wherever I go, and have entirely destroyed my peace of mind. They followed me to France, into Scotland, and all over England. In fact, they follow me wherever I go. I cannot sleep nor get no rest from them in consequence of the course they pursue towards me. I believe they have driven me into a consumption. I am sure I shall never be the man I was. I used to have good health and strength but I have not now. They have accused me of crimes of which I am not guilty, they do everything in their power to harass and persecute me; in fact, they wish to murder me. It can be proved by evidence. That’s all I have to say.”

On Friday, March 3, 1843, Daniel McNaughtan stood trial for the murder of Edmund Drummond. Sir William Follett, solicitor general, represented the prosecution, while Alexander Cockburn led the defense team. Chief Justice Tindal, assisted by Justice Williams and Justice Coleridge, presided at the trial.  Through a series of witnesses, Follett established a narrative that McNaughtan had killed Drummond. And the fact that Sir Robert Peel was the intended target did not lessen the crime. The murder was the result of an “ill-regulated mind,” so he said, “worked upon by morbid political feelings.” Anticipating an insanity plea, Follett told the jury that they needed to consider the defendant’s state of mind at the time he committed the crime. “If you believe that when McNaughtan fired the pistol, he was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong…, that he did not know he was violating the law both of God and man: then undoubtedly, he is entitled to your acquittal.” Follett went on to explain that if the defendant committed the act under partial insanity, that his disease was confined to politics, then according to the “principles of the English law” the jury must bring a verdict of guilty.

Cockburn, attorney for the defense, asked the jury to show proper respect for the medical experts, and to consider the fact that past judicial treatment of the mentally ill was formed without the benefit of modern medical knowledge. “Madness is a disease of the body operating upon the mind…and a precise and accurate knowledge of this disease can only be acquired by those who have spent a lifetime in its study.” Cockburn went on to explain how the mind is divided into two separate parts: one houses the intellect – the perceptions, judgment, and reasoning; the other holds the moral faculties – the sentiments, affections, propensities, and passions. While one section might be subject to disease, the other could be healthy. One diseased section might make a man “the victim of the most fearful delusions.” The fact that the defendant was able to formulate and carry out his plan did not mean that he was sane. It was his moral side, not his intellect, that was without reason.

Cockrun called both lay and professional witnesses. The lay witnesses contended that McNaughtan suffered from delusions of persecution almost two years prior to the assassination of Drummond. The professional witnesses, led by Dr. Edward Thomas Monro, examined McNaughtan four weeks after his arrest. Monro maintained that the defendant’s moral faculties were impaired by his “extraordinary delusion.” Monro testified that for McNaughtan, everything was done by signs: that encountering a man on the street carrying an armful of straw meant that he was destined to “lie upon straw in an asylum.” The defendant received a “scowling look” from the victim as he passed on the street, another sign that aroused feelings of past persecution. Shooting Drummond gave McNaughtan much needed relief.

After several additional medical witnesses supported Monro’s diagnosis, Justice Tindal asked Follet if he had any expert witnesses to contradict the defense. When Follet answered no, Tindal said; “We feel the evidence, especially that of the last two medical gentlemen…who are strangers to both sides and only observers of the case, to be very strong, and sufficient to induce my learned brother and myself to stop the case.”

Justice Tindal told the jury that all of the medical evidence seemed to support one side, and that he questioned whether it was necessary to go through the other evidence. “If you think the prisoner capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, then he was a responsible agent and liable to all the penalties the law imposes…If not so,…then you will probably not take upon yourselves to find the prisoner guilty. If you think you ought to hear the evidence more fully…I will state it to you, and leave the case in your hands.”

The jury foreman answered, “We require no more, my Lord.”

“If you find the prisoner not guilty, on the ground of insanity…proper care will be taken of him,” Justice Tindal said.

The jury did not retire to its chambers. They huddled in a group, so the story goes, and exchanged brief whispers that McNaughtan did not know what he was doing. After retiring to their chairs, the foreman stood and addressed Justice Tindal. “We find the prisoner not guilty, on grounds of insanity.”

McNaughtan was taken to the criminal lunatic department of Bethlehem Hospital to “await the Crown’s pleasure:” the equivalent of a one-day-to-life sentence. An 8 x 10 foot stone cell, containing a trundle bed, straw mattress, chair, and small table, became his home for the next twenty-one years. Except for one incident when McNaughtan refused to eat and had to be force-fed, he was considered a model inmate-patient at Bethlehem. But his photograph taken in 1856 showed a hardened man with a chiseled face and eyes like petrified wood. In 1864, this troubled man was transferred to the new State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Crowthorne in Berkshire, where he would reside until his death on May 3, 1865.

Immediately following the trial, the public was outraged, and feared an imaginary group of madmen might kill with impunity. They believed that McNaughtan had gotten away with murder. The Times argued that even if McNaughtan was persecuted the way he imagined, he still should have been held accountable. They further believed that “the judge in his treatment of the madman yielded to the decision of the physician, and the physician in his treatment became the judge.” The Illustrated London News added that those who passively indulge themselves in the doctrines of socialism and infidelity and thereby willingly undergo a process of mental intoxication cannot claim to be entirely without legal or moral responsibility. The Examiner questioned how the medical experts could be certain about the state of McNaughtan’s mind, while The Weekly Chronicle took the position that the defendant was insane, and that it would do little good to punish him.

Queen Victoria felt that justice had been denied. She directed Sir Robert Peel to push the legislature into requiring the judges to follow the law as laid down by the lord chancellor. In response to her concerns, the House of Lords took up the question of criminal responsibility, particularly in the area of insanity. Chancellor Lord Lyndhurst declared that no change in the laws concerning insanity was necessary. He believed that the “only course…the Lords can pursue is to lay down some general and comprehensive rule, and to leave those who administer the laws…to apply that rule.” The chancellor then suggested that the judges of the Supreme Court of Judicature be gathered to hear opinions on the law on insanity, with particular attention to the McNaughtan trial. What evolved from those hearings became known as the McNaughtan Rules, which examined three general areas of the insanity law: criminal responsibility of persons laboring under partial delusions; direction to the jury in such cases; and evidence, i.e., medical witnesses present at the trial. Stated briefly: To establish a defense on the grounds of insanity, it must be clearly proven that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong.

In England, the McNaughtan Rules were the test of criminal responsibility until the Homicide Act of 1957, which introduced the Scottish concept of “diminished responsibility.” The Act allowed the jury in first-degree murder cases to find a defendant guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter, provided the defense could prove by a “balance of probabilities, that the defendant was suffering from such abnormality of mind…as substantially impaired his mental responsibility.” For the defense, the choice was clear: A not-guilty due to insanity sentence resulted in an indeterminate, possibly life stay in a mental hospital, while the lesser crime of manslaughter followed a court imposed penalty, most often of shorter duration. After the Homicide Act of 1957, and the repeal of the death penalty in 1965, the McNaughtan Rules were seldom applied in England. In the United States, however, the McNaughtan Rules were followed for over a century.
***
The Durham rule (1954) “An accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or defect.”
United States v. Durham 214 F.2d 862.

The first significant change came in 1954, when Monte Durham, a 23 year old man who had been in and out of prison and mental institutions for the past four years, was convicted for housebreaking. Although the defense failed to convince the judge that Durham did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the act, Durham’s case was appealed on a technicality, and reached the Appellate court. Citing leading psychiatrists and jurists of the day, the appellate judge – determined to right the McNaughtan rules – stated that McNaughton was based on “an entirely obsolete and misleading conception of the nature of insanity.”

Justice Leventhall, Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals, expressed concerns that McNaughtan’s language on the right/wrong provision for insanity was out-dated, no longer reflecting the community’s judgment as to who ought to be held criminally liable. The Durham rule more accurately reflected the “sensibilities of the community as revised and expanded in the light of continued study of abnormal human behavior.” But critics complained that Durham lacked specificity, allowing alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, drug addicts, and the like, to successfully use the defense to avoid a variety of crimes.
***
The Brawner rule (1972) A defendant is not responsible for criminal conduct where he, as a result of mental disease or defect, did not possess “substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.”

United States v. Brawner 471 F.2d 969

It was 1972, so the story goes. After a morning and afternoon of heavy drinking, Archie W. Brawner Jr., went to a party, where he was injured in a fight that broke out in the evening hours. Brawner, beaten and alone, left the party and told some friends that several men jumped him, and that someone was going to pay. Minutes later, he returned to the party, entered the apartment building, moved down the hallway, and shot several times into a metal door. One of the bullets pierced the door and hit Billy Ford, who fell to the floor and died.

At the trial, a friend testified that Brawner “looked like he was out of his mind.” Expert witnesses, called by both the defense and prosecution, agreed that Brawner suffered from a disease of “psychiatric” or” neurological” nature. But the experts could not agree on what part the mental disease or defect played in the murder of Billy Ford.

Brawner’s case was later heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which argued that the Durham rule was too restrictive, and should give more power to the juries. What became known as the Brawner rule was based in large part on the American Law Institute’s (ALI) Model Penal Code, which said that a defendant is not responsible for criminal conduct where he, as a result of mental disease or defect, did not possess “substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.” Although subtle in appearance, the changes were significant. The substitution of the word “appreciate” for the word “know,” as used in McNaughtan, showed that a sane offender must be emotionally as well as intellectually aware of the significance of his conduct. The use of the word “substantial” was meant to respond to recent case law developments that required showing total impairment for exculpation from criminal responsibility. Brawner broadened the definition of mental impairment used in McNaughtan, including both the cognitive and emotional aspects of mental illness.
***
The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 (U.S.) A person accused of a crime can be judged not guilty by reason of insanity if “the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.”

March 31, 1981. Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, finished a speech pushing his economic program and deploring the rising violent crime in the inner cities. Surrounded by secret service agents, metropolitan police, and white house staff, Reagan left the Washington Hilton Hotel and hurried through a light rain toward a limousine parked some twelve feet away. It was 2:25 p.m., so the story goes, when Reagan, looking very presidential with his Reaganistic smile, and a slightly cocked head that was a staple in his movies, waved to a hundred or so well-wishers standing behind a roped-off area. Reporters readied for a story; cameramen wanted that special photo; and a patchwork of people waited for a glimpse of their President. It was a scene that would be replayed countless times on the daily news, and discussed on every talk show across the nation.

It was sudden, like a flock of black birds in startled flight. Gunshots pierced the air, six of them. Bang, bang, and then a pause, followed by four successive shots fired from within the crowd. It appeared as though the President had not been hit. Secret service agents had pushed him into the car. But an eye witness, as reported by Lou Cannon of the Washington Post, said it all; “The President winced. The smile just sort of washed off his face.” Three men fell to the ground – Timothy J McCarthy, a secret service agent, Thomas Delahanty, a metropolitan policeman, and James Brady, the likeable press secretary who friends called “the bear.” While McCarthy and Delahanty each had flesh wounds, Brady took a bullet to his head. Rain washed puddles of blood down the sidewalk and onto the road. Agents pounced upon a white, blond haired man, later identified as John Hinckley, a twenty-nine year old dressed in a raincoat, blue shirt, and dark trousers, who gripped an automatic handgun while they wrestled him to the ground. Hinckley was then subdued and whisked off to jail. The President’s limousine and police cars raced to the George Washington University hospital.

President Reagan’s wound was serious: a .22 slug penetrated his chest, ricocheted off a rib, and entered his lung, resting about one inch from his heart. An eighty-minute surgery followed by   twelve days in the hospital led to a full recovery. McCarthy and Delahanty recuperated as well. But Brady was not as fortunate. The bullet seemed to explode in his head, causing permanent brain damage.

Numerous eye witnesses and a video recording left no doubt that John Hinckley was the shooter. Initial public speculation centered on whether Hinckley would spend the rest of his life in prison, or if he would be put to death. But as days passed, Hinckley’s future became less certain. His mental state began to unfold. In 1976, five years before the shooting, Hinckley became obsessed with the movie Taxi Driver, where a psychotic taxi driver, Travis Bickle (played by Robert DeNiro), contemplates political assassination and then rescues a young prostitute, Iris (played by Jodi Foster), from a pimp. Hinckely took on the mannerisms – the army fatigue jacket, the fascination with guns, and even the taste for peach brandy – of the Bickle character. Hinckley’s infatuation with Iris developed into a full-fledged imaginary love for Jodi Foster, so much that he sent her love letters and stalked her on the Yale university campus. It was later revealed that Hinckley had even stalked President Carter and planned to assassinate him to impress Jodi Foster. But each time, he was unable to follow through on his original intent. A love letter sent to Foster just hours before he carried out his assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan showed the depth of Hinckley’s mental illness.

Dear Jodi,
     There is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan. It is for this very reason that I am writing you this letter now.
     As you well know by now I love you very much. Over the past seven months I’ve left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me. Although we talked on the phone a couple of times I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself. Besides my shyness, I honestly did not wish to bother you with my constant presence. I know the many messages left at your door and in your mailbox were a nuisance, but I felt that it was the most painless way for me to express my love for you.
     I feel very good about the fact that you a least know my name and know how I feel about you. And by hanging around your dormitory, I’ve come to realize that I’m the topic of more than a little conversation, however full of ridicule it may be. At least you know that I’ll always love you.
    Jodi, I would abandon this idea of getting Reagan in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you, whether it be in total obscurity or whatever.
     I will admit to you that the reason I’m going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you. I’ve got to do something now to make you understand, in no uncertain terms, that I am doing all of this for your sake! By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me. This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel. Jodi, I’m asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance, with this historical deed, to gain your respect and love.                    I love you forever,

John Hinckley

The insanity law at the time of the shooting provided that an accused was not criminally responsible for his act if, at the time of the commission of the crime, the defendant, as a result of mental disease or defect, “lacks substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.” Vincent J. Fuller, the lead attorney for the defense, said that their challenge was to show that Hinckley did not “appreciate” the “wrongfulness” of his conduct. The psychiatrists for the prosecution concluded that Hinckley was legally sane – that he appreciated the wrongfulness of his act – at the time of the shooting, while the psychiatrists for the defense testified that Hinckley was psychotic – and legally insane – at the time of the shooting. The lead psychiatrist for the defense said that Hinckley had “an incapacity to have an ordinary emotional arousal, autistic retreat from reality, depression including suicidal features, and an inability to work or establish social bonds.” Hinckley was schizophrenic.

John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The public outcry was fast and furious. Less than one month after the trial, congress flexed it’s muscle and held hearings on the insanity plea. The emotional shock and anger in the attempted assassination of a popular sitting president, and the not guilty verdict, caused congressional leaders to create laws based more on polls than on common sense. What happened over the next three years were limitations of the insanity plea, requiring the use of the word “severe” mental disease, and replacing “unable to appreciate” with “lacks substantial capacity”; a shifting of the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense; stricter procedures governing the hospitalization and release of defendants; and limiting psychiatric testimony by enacting a statute stating that “No expert witness testifying with respect to the mental state or condition of a defendant in a criminal case may state an opinion or inference as to whether the defendant did or did not have the mental state or condition constituting an element of the crime charged or a defense thereto. Such ultimate issues are for the trier of fact alone.”   Three states – Utah, Montana, and Idaho – abolished the insanity defense.

In 1984, Congress passed, and President Ronald Reagan signed, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The federal insanity defense now required the defendant to prove, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that “at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.” The insanity defense seems to have made a full circle back to the McNaughtan rules of 1843: the “knowing right from wrong” standard.

Another byproduct of the debate was the “guilty but mentally ill” (GBMI) verdict, which was adopted by twelve states. (By 2000, twenty states used GBMI). While the defendant is considered guilty of the crime, he is judged to be mentally ill, and therefore entitled to mental health treatment while institutionalized. If the defendant recovers, he will spend the remainder of his sentence in prison. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), opposes the GBMI statue because the statue punishes rather than treats the person with a serious mental illness who committed a crime as a consequence of their illness.

It can be argued that the GBMI is a compromise, possibly a copout, no longer requiring the jury to make the difficult choice between guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity. If the jury wants to hold the defendant accountable, but wants to show compassion for someone who is mentally ill, GBMI provides the illusion of justice.  Ralph Slovenko, Professor of Law and Psychiatry at the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, said that “guilty but mentally ill is a sham. It is nothing more nor less than another guilty verdict.” According to Slovenko, the jury has the misconception that the defendant will receive special treatment for his illness. Instead, the guilty, and the guilty but mentally ill, are sent to the same prison.  The defendant remains in the mental health wing until they are well enough to survive in the general population.  Meaningful treatment is not the reality.

I killed someone.  Am I insane?