Thursday, April 30, 2009

A definition of insanity

The other night, I was watching a report on Frontline about what happens when mentally ill prisoners are released back into society. What happens, essentially, is that, unless they are really, really lucky and get into a special shelter program for homeless people with chronic mental illness, they eventually commit another crime and end up back in prison.
Which is probably for the best.
Mouth, the disability rights mag that I read, will surely scream bloody murder, but I am just about ready to say that these people should be forced, as they are when in prison, to take their meds.
Because they do just fine when they take their meds. It is when they forget or refuse to take their drugs, as is all too common, that they get paranoid, hear the demonic voices in their heads telling them to do stuff and start committing crimes.
It is probably not nearly this simple, and I am not big on drugs, but this seems a bit like me going out without my letter board or refusing to use my motorized wheelchair. Just a bit. It’s asking for a hard time, if not trouble.
This is a catch-22 and an old argument going back about 40 years. I don’t think anyone argues that it was a bad idea to close the big mental institutions in the 1960's and 1970's, in favor of having and treating the mentally ill out in the community. But nobody says it’s good that very few or no community programs - or the monies for them - were provided.
What this means is that, as I was shocked to read recently, Los Angeles County, where I live and one of the nation’s biggest and most populous, has 100 beds for the mentally ill homeless. What it means is that, as a social worker said on the Frontline program, these people are left to advocate for themselves when they’re out of prison. What a joke - when it takes everything I have to fight for what I need!
Also seen on the program was a good shelter for the mentally ill, one of the few. Not only is it not able to force residents to take their meds, if a resident is caught with alcohol on his/her breath, s/he is kicked out for 30 days. Isn’t this when shelter and support is most needed?
One person profiled in the report ended up back in prison for 10 years. Crazily enough, I couldn’t help but think that this is for the better. At least there, for a good long time, he’ll get the help he so desperately needs.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Victims of society all

I recently read an article about a guy being tried in Colorado for killing a MTF trans. The trial is a big deal, not only because it is not far from where Matthew Shepard was beaten and left to die but also because it is one of the first times someone has been charged with a hate crime for killing a transgender person.
Much progress has been made in the area of rights and justice for glbt folks, partly due to what happened to Shepard. Then again, some people, including the defense attorney, are at least implying that the trans woman more or less asked for it and contributed to her demise.
Here we go again. It is our fault. It is our problem. We get called "fag," get beat up, killed, because we are out and queer and not staying nicely in the closet.
Likewise, when a few steps stop me from going into a shop or restaurant, it’s my problem. I have to bring my own ramp - or raise a stink and be a big pain in the ass. And the smart guy rotting away in a nursing home instead of living and being productive in his own place, not to mention saving thousands of taxpayers’ dollars? Oh, well, that’s just a sad, little story, and maybe some donations will help.
Meanwhile, what do I, as a non-violent Quaker who believes there is "that of God in everyone" (and as a spoiled brat American), do when I see video taken recently in the Taliban-controlled Swat Valleys in Pakistan of women being buried to their necks and stoned with just the right sized rocks provided by the government and of boys, accused of "engaging in homosexual behavior," being flogged?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Getting on the bus - not!

The other day, I missed the bus - again.
There must be some sort of rule. Call it Pixley’s Law: If I’m at the bus stop on time, the bus is late. If I’m late, even a few seconds late, the bus is always right on time. Always!
It gets stranger. I once applied for a para-transit program. This is one of those deals where a wheelchair-accessible private taxi picks you up and takes you anywhere in the county - and this is a big county - for like a dollar. They denied me, saying I’m and too independent, not disabled enough - because I take the bus.
And stranger still. I was once waiting at a bus stop in Los Angeles - yes, I have balls! When the bus pulled up and the driver saw that I wanted on, she literally began jumping up and down in her seat in frustration and despair. It was a scene right out of my play, Jury by Trial - after I had written it.
So much for "Welcome Aboard!"

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Disabling Society

I saw an article in the Los Angeles Times a week or two ago about a group of high school alumni who discovered that a fellow graduate from over twenty years ago was not dead, like they had thought he was (they had even memorialized him at their 20-year reunion). Patrick Chawki, who had been a popular baseball player at Grant High School in Los Angeles, "lay paralyzed and nearly forgotten in a Canoga Park nursing home."
He may as well be dead.
For the last nine years, "Chawki has suffered from a rare disorder that renders him fully cognitive but unable to move or speak. Because he cannot talk or write, he was unable to tell his family how to reach his friends."
Why not? Why hadn’t anyone found a way for Chawki to communicate? And why was he in a nursing home?
There are all kinds of ways and all sorts of gadgets out there to enable someone like Chawki to express his wants and needs. Laurie Green, the Grant High alum who learned that Chawki was alive and in the nursing home, found a simple one - an alphabet poster and thumb up for yes, thumb down for no. Why hadn’t anybody come up with this before?
And in a photograph accompanying the article, Chawki is up in a wheelchair looking as alive as I am and like he can, with help, live in his own place, like I do.
This is classic. This is a perfect example of how our society makes the disabled more disabled, of how everything is set up for the able-bodied and how things that make life for the disabled have to be fought for or are granted as a big favor, usually out of pity or guilt. This makes it easy to see why we hear all those stories of disabled people, usually stuck wallowing in nursing homes, want to die. Why bother living when living is made so hard? (Saying that Chawki "suffered" from his disability and having a second picture of Chawki playing baseball, as the article does, feeds right into this better-dead-than-disabled notion.)
Green and her fellow alumni are raising money to pay for therapy that - surprise, surprise - Medicare and Medi-Cal won’t pay for. They also hope to get Chawki out of the nursing home. When Green told him of this ultimate goal, "his thumb shot straight up." I bet!