Tag Archives: Depression

Book Blurb for Supermax Prison: Controlling the most dangerous criminals

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I feel fortunate to have received a book blurb for “Supermax Prison:  Controlling the most dangerous criminals,” written by Terry Turchie, author of “Unabomber:  How the FBI Broke Its Own Rules to Capture the Terrorist Ted Kaczynski.  Special Agent Turchie is now retired, pursuing a writing career.

Rarely does a book come along that truly shows the final point in the life of a violent criminal.  Supermax Prison does just that.  It brings the reader into the lowest depths constructed for human life in the United States:  incarceration for the human being too violent to live with others, even other convicts.  A must read for everyone interested in criminality, law and order and well written books.
-Terry Turchie, Speical Agent FBI (retired) Unit Director Unabomb Task Force

 

Wallow in the writer’s high

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The title of my book has been changed to “Supermax Prison: controlling the most dangerous criminals,” which is due to be released in mid-June. I decided to share some of my thoughts before writing this book.
***
Writing is a journey of twists and turns laced with uncertainty. Gone are the predictable warm summer nights in southern Illinois, or the haunting call of a whip-poor-will.  Perhaps I have a general idea of where the story might lead, but I never know how it will end.  That would not be investigative journalism.  No, that’s back-ass storytelling.

I have logged in countless hours of psycho-therapy and written about troubled minds with difficult pasts.  Things are not as they appear. Perceived reality is a combination of our genetic makeup and life experiences, and opens the door for misguided decisions.  An individual’s perception of right and wrong oftentimes differs from mine.  False judgements and bias are not permitted.  Knowing this, allows me to experience empathy, understanding, and a host of emotions.  Only then, can I find the “sweet part” of the story where creativity is unleashed.

It has been said that artists perform their best work when under the influence of drugs.  One could argue that a gentle high might unleash a degree of creativity, but when you are trashed, the work has a manic flow.  I admit to the occasional glass of wine to prime the pump, but I’ve found a better way.  Look to the free spirit of childhood and envision the swish and sway, the pirouette and tour en l’air of a child dancing to the beat and lyrics of a simple song; the free flow of unrestrictive creativity; an emotional rush that trumps the steady pull from your favorite weed or a glass of wine.

While emotion and creativity are the staples of powerful writing, it must be harnessed with a loose bridle, allowing a degree of freedom. Writing requires the use of the right and left side of the brain at the same time.  If I can harness my creativity, writing skills, a nonjudgemental mind, the strength of a lion sprinkled with a dose of love, I can wallow in the writer’s high.

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.

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/

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?

Come dance with me.

7301_100437136820483_587807534_nIt’s always there to some degree, mocking my every move.  A jig, a waltz, maybe Chubby Checker’s famous twist, or a seductive embrace as we move across the floor — my dancing partner, my pain.  Maybe it’s sharp, a get your attention pain; a boxer’s jab; possibly an unrelenting tooth acne; or a sustained, never-ending pain.  

Pain can be physical, psychological, or both, and when latched onto an individual, becomes unique.  Physical pain can be tested and more easily diagnosed than the illusive psychological pain that sometimes plays hide-and-seek with the mental health specialist.  Treatments for back pain are many — injections, physical therapy, spinal adjustments, medication, meditation, acupuncture, and when all fail, the surgeon sharpens his scalpel.

Two weeks ago I had a bone fusion performed in my lower back.  A herniated disk and the movement of two vertebra called for a bone fusion to eliminate the pain.  A back brace for support and oxycodone for pain are being used during the healing process.  I have become friends with oxycodone and refer to her affectionately as “oxy.”  When in my medicated buzz, I sometimes call her “foxy.”

As a survivor of childhood physical and sexual abuse, I have experienced psychological pain as well.  Memories of the abuse left me wrapped around a porcelain stool while I vomited poison into the mucus-colored water.  It was an emotional pain like I had never felt before.  Scared, lost, and without direction I turned to a therapist and have been treated with medication and talk therapy.  Life is good.  I have moved beyond surface emotions, and now experience the depth of feelings that life has to offer.

Whether physical or psychological pain, we must always be aware of the monster in the closet, better known as depression.  Pain breeds depression.  While my depression pales in comparison to someone with a severe mental illness, it can be debilitating.  Depression is waking up in the middle of the night covered with leeches that suck the spirit from my soul.  But now, after years of therapy, I can spot them from a distance as they slither over a hilltop and crawl my way.  I refuse to allow a single leech to take residence in my soul.

While a “bring-you-to-your knees” pain has many negative side effects, it can be a blessing, and serve as a reminder of how good life can be.  Imagine a musical phrase of dissonance and intensity that drives towards the final cadence and then, with true beauty, resolves into a morning spring.  Tension followed by release brings joy to one’s life.  I will dance a jig without pain as my partner.

 

 

On Thursday I met with my surgeon — yada, yada, yada

7301_100437136820483_587807534_nYou might recall that I’ve written about my back problems before:  two herniated disks in my lower back, successful surgery, months later I have pain in another location of my back, yada, yada, yada.  (In case you don’t know, yada is code for “more bullshit”) After having an MRI on my back, I met with my surgeon to discuss the findings.  It was a 7:40 a.m. appointment.  He must be working me in, I thought.  The man loves my back — a guaranteed annuity for a surgeon.  My spine looks a bit like a shiska-bob, chunks of meat and bone ready to place on a hot grill.  Ten minutes on each side, a heavy coat of bar-b-q sauce, and you have some mighty fine eating.  I know, you prefer ribs and I’m getting a little weird, yada, yada, yada.

Okay, back to the meeting with my surgeon.  For privacy purposes, we’ll call him Dr. Belly Button.  Dressed in his hospital blue scrubs and uncombed hair, Belly Button greets me and my wife as I shake his hand.  He is a reasonably handsome young man with a bounce in his step and a smile on his face; all traits that I once held but have come and gone.  You see, I’m a 71 year old man with uncombed gray hair, and shuffle my feet because the pain in my back hurts like hell.  It feels like, oh you know, yada, yada, yada.  Belly Button had a smile on his face, much like the last time he diagnosed my back problems when he recommended surgery.  There’s that smile again.  “I know what the problem is,” he said.  “And I can fix it.  You have another herniated disk in your lower back,” he said with a slight chuckle.  “We don’t know how it happened, but it’s there.”

I was relieved that all of the pain was not in my imagination, and that he located the problem.  But OMG, I have to go through more surgery?  Belly Button fires up the computer and the three of us hover around the computer screen.  He begins pointing out all of the bones and disks in my spin.  Oh look at this disk.  It looks pretty good, but now look at this one, all flattened out with goo seeping out.  Looked like a stepped-on jelly donut to me.  You have bone on bone.  And look where the nerve is located.  Just looking at it made my back hurt.

We could do the same procedure as last time when I cleaned the area, removed some bone fragments.  You know the routine, yada, yada, yada.  But this time the situation demands another technique,  I would insert some metal hardware.  You know — plates, rods, and screws.  That’s the most secure way of fixing your problem.  The recovery time will double but you can be back to normal — my mind began to drift, pain free, rough housing with my dog, messing around with my wife, yada, yada, yada.  We can use either procedure, Belly Button said, the simple but uncertain one with a shorter recovery, or the more complicated one with a longer recovery which provides for a better outcome.  We can schedule the operation in a few weeks.  Let me know which technique you would like to use.

Belly Button told me that he understood how debilitating nerve pain can be.  “It can cause depression,”  he said.  Oh really, I thought.  That’s quite an understatement. Your fucking A it causes depression.  It’s a “can’t move” depression.  Lets open my back up right now, I thought.  Here, hand me the knife and I’ll do the slicing myself.  Look, there’s that stepped-on jelly roll.  Hand me a stapler and a couple of rubber bands.  There, it feels better already.  Ooops, I’m losing a ton of blood.  Looks like I’m a quart low.  Give me a can of 10-40.  That takes care of anything.  Pains gone.  Time to go home.  Thank you God for my imagination.  It always makes me feel better.

 

 

Facebook World — Heroin in a Mousetrap

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

It was another session with Olivia, the therapist who brought me back from the dark side of childhood sexual abuse.  Although I am in a relatively good place, a little tuneup is needed now and then.

“I noticed a significant decrease in the number of blogs that you have written,” Olivia said.  “How do you feel about that?”  Olivia knows that without writing I tend to lose my way, allowing depression to slide under my door.

My eyes stared at the floor.  “I don’t feel good about it.  With my back pain and a bit of depression, I am not motivated to write.  But I need to write.  I can’t imagine my life without it.”

“So what have you been doing?” Olivia asked.
“I’ve been spending some time on facebook,” I answered.  “But that’s not without its problems.”
“Tell me about it,” Olivia said.
“Sometimes I get sucked into a pointless political discussion.  Reading some far, right wing post pushes my hot button and I feel compelled to respond.  Its always a pointless discussion with no resolution.  A total waste of my time.  Stupid stuff.  A real downer.”

My remarks were followed by silence.  There’s always the quite moments when Olivia leaves me to think about what I just said.  (Its like she is saying, hey buddy, you need to figure out some of this shit yourself.)

“Okay, ” I said.  “Let me use a metaphor to explain what is gong on.”  I feel like I’m a mouse stranded in a large maze with multiple hallways and individual rooms.  Each room houses a friend who shares emotional contact with me, but no physical interaction.  It’s an attractive way to spend idle time away from the stresses of life and, oh yes, my nagging back pain.  But there is a down side to the pleasantries — the mouse trap, a dark seductive device.  I take a stroll down the hallway to visit a friend, and “lo” without warning is a mousetrap topped with a chunk of blue cheese emitting a fragrance that I cannot resist.  I know, as certain as I know my name, Mickey, this is a trap that will kill me, slow or fast, my certain death.  So far I have pulled away at the last moment, but I don’t know how long I can resist?  If I put heroin in the mousetrap I have my story.

“Well, this is certainly about facebook,” Olivia said.  “Sounds like you are bored. Although you find the political discussions pointless, your curiosity is challenged.  Maybe it is trying to take the place of your writing.”

“Wow,” I said.  “You cut to the point, hard and fast, like a box cutter slicing through a cardboard box.  You’re right.  I’d better be careful or I will become a political pundit instead of a writer.”  The two of us laughed followed by silence.
“So, what can you write about?”  Olivia asked.
Silence again.  “I know what I’ll write,” I said.  “I’ll write about facebook and how I feel like I’m being stalked by a mousetrap.”

Hence,  Facebook World — Heroin in the Mousetrap

 

A soul-sucking depression

IMG_0088It was a cold, fall day.  Red weathered Maple leaves were on the ground.  Becca and I were sitting in the visit room at the Dwight Correctional Center where she was serving a sixty-year sentence for allegedly killing her five-year-old step-daughter.  Becca still does not remember committing the crime, but believes that she did because the authorities told her that she did.  I often wonder if Becca’s abusive husband might have killed the little girl.  The two of us, Becca and I, had numerous visits spread over a three year period.  I continually tried to crawl into her mind and grab hold of her feelings; experience her emotions, and then put them into words.  As a writer, that’s my job.

Throughout my book, “Cherry Blossoms & Barren Plains:  A woman’s journey from mental illness to a prison cell,” I used metaphors to describe Becca’s mental state.  “It was as if someone or something, possibly alien, took over her mind.  I can see how an imaginary octopus-like creature might have controlled her thoughts.  Living in the lowest part of her brain and hidden by darkness, this creature, the one I imagined, reached outward with it eight tentacles, each lined with two rows of suction cups, and latched onto her mind.   No one escaped its grip.  When threatened, it released an inky-black liquid that allowed it to slip away.  Even if one of its tentacles was severed, one quickly regrew, making it impossible to kill.  This octopus-like creature, the one that I imagined, the one that invaded Becca’s mind, is called bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness.”

I’ve felt the soul-sucking depression before.  Not to the extent of someone suffering from bipolar disorder, but enough to put me into a fetal-like position, while I waited for the darkness to pass.  It was the same feelings I experienced in therapy when I relived my memories of childhood sexual abuse.  The idea was to desensitize the feelings of depression so I could better manage them.  “Manage” is the key word.  They never completely go away.  Now, I sense when depression is on the horizon.  Although it moves in like a fog at morning’s first light, it’s quite different. A black fog, yes that’s what it is.  One that seeps upward through the earth’s crust, and most likely originates from hell. The devil must regurgitate this foul smelling substance and send it my way.  Sometimes I run away or walk around it.  Other times I am able to muster up an invisible shield that protects me from its onslaught.  But I must admit that there are moments when the black fog reaches me as I struggle to escape.  If unchecked, it can engulf me into total darkness with no way to escape.  Sometimes I play dead until it passes.  For some, it can be so bad that they choose to die.

One time, while in a sleep-like meditation, I thought about the people who weren’t able to escape depression.  I was focused on a person that I had known from years past.  She was found hanging from the ceiling.  How could she have chosen such a painful way to end her life, I thought.  Then, right before my eyes, I imagined this person like I had never seen her before.  I believe that she showed me an image of her inner self on that tragic day.  No words were needed.  The dark bags under her eyes pulled her sight downward.  Skin the color of tree rot covered his face.  And if she had tried to smile, her face would have broken into a billion pieces.  The hair on her head had been pulled in different directions at the same time.  This woman yearned to scream, but she was unable to utter a single sound.  And then came the blackbirds singing in the dark black night.  There was no escape.  She chose to die.