houston’s craziest

This Houston Press article is making me angry. It describes a program in which severely mentally ill people who commit crimes repeatedly are assigned caseworkers to help them get back on their feet. Instead of putting mentally ill criminals in jail or the psych ward over and over again, they’re given some personal attention and aid that is tailored to their specific situation. It’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen in terms of reducing crimes committed by the mentally ill–treat them like people with potentially-manageable diseases instead of just more bodies to incarcerate, and you’re well on your way to lowering your crime statistics while also not being an asshole.

BUT! Did you notice the title of the article? “Houston’s Craziest.” So much for treating these individuals like people! The Houston Press (in accordance with HPD, who released an actual list of 30 crazies to watch out for), in choosing that offensive, disrespectful, eyeball-grabbing title, has undermined the content of the article itself. In choosing that title, they’re letting their readers know that despite the existence of a well-run program to keep severely mentally ill people off the streets and out of jail, they should still be known as “Houston’s Craziest.” In publishing that list, the Houston Press and HPD are letting everyone know that, despite every living person’s desire for respect and dignity, it’s still okay to point and laugh at the exploits of “crazy people.”

And I know, they didn’t publish everyone’s names. And maybe some of the people on the list could in fact be described as crazy. But it doesn’t matter. The public existence of that list undermines the efforts so many people have taken to change the terrible stigma associated with all levels of mental illness.

I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to my depression, for the following reasons:

  1. It’s not terribly severe.
  2. I grew up the daughter of well-off, suburban, highly educated people. I had parents who knew when something was wrong, knew where to take me for treatment, could support me financially when I needed it, and were able to provide me with medical insurance until I was 25.
  3. Because of #2, my depression and anxiety were caught relatively early and have therefore almost never gone untreated.
  4. Because of #2, I’ve been able to get an education myself, acquire job skills and social skills, find employment and a place to live, and support myself financially.
  5. Because of #4, I’ve acquired a savings account, health insurance of my own, and a support network of local friends to help me when I need it.

As I said, I’ve been very fortunate. But take away one or two of those things (ESPECIALLY #s 2 and 3) and any of those people on the list of Houston’s Craziest could be me. Well, not the men, because depression doesn’t change your gender. Hey-ohh! But make no mistake: I’m here with my laptop on the patio of the apartment my boyfriend and I rent, with my nice shoes and my clean teeth and my belly all full, writing complete sentences on the website I pay to host, because of the way I was born.

This isn’t about fate, because I don’t believe in it, and I don’t think I’m special. What it’s about is the fact that the “crazy” guy on the street could have the same exact illness as the girl in the cubicle next to you; the only difference is that she’s had it better in life than him.  It’s important that we keep the guy on the street from committing crimes and harming others, of course, but it’s also important that once we’ve done that we treat him like a human being, and not like a person on a list of undesirables.

This ties in nicely with my thoughts on Dave Cullen’s Columbine, but the cold front’s about to come in, so I’m going to go inside, sit on the couch with my dog, and knit while watching an episode of “Firefly.” Later I’m going to take my meds and get in bed with a book. That sound you hear is me trying not to take it for granted.

6 thoughts on “houston’s craziest

  1. Lovely, as always. Nice to have you writing longform again. :)

    And just to fill in a bit, you also have NON-local buddies out here to help you when you need it, or just to annoy the crap out of you every now and then for old times’ sake.

  2. I agree and disagree with you – the program is great and I wish we had one here – it may have prevented the murder of a police officer this week (his funeral is tomorrow). I also agree that they do need to be seen as people with a disease and not just “crazy.” However, in some cases, they don’t want help and end up off their meds hurting people – is it possible that the list published were these people? The police officer is not the only well-known case here in Ottawa – a girl I worked with briefly was murdered by her next door neighbour in a well-to-do neighbourhood. A local sportscaster was murdered 20 years ago by a psychotic man (he never went to jail, only the psych ward and was released – and is NOT healthy – he’s been known to utter threats again). So, as someone who has been affected by these horrible acts, but who is also suffering from depression/anxiety, I just wanted to share my opinion (I don’t hide anything from friends/family – they know and most suffer from depression and or aniexty of some sort too). I think that ongoing treatment is the key and that they need to want to be healthy.

  3. Jacquie, you’re right. For the people in question to be helped, they do indeed have to want the help in the first place. That’s what makes some forms of mental illness so incredibly difficult to treat.

    That’s what makes the Houston program such a good idea. In the cases where people go off their meds or stop wanting treatment, a caseworker assigned to them would ideally be able to identify the situation and intervene before something terrible happens.

    Additionally, anyone who is released from a psychiatric center after committing a crime should most certainly be monitored for awhile to make sure they’re ready for the outside world.

    I’m making these sound like easy answers, and I know they’re not. If I had a lot of easy answers, I’d keep them all to myself for as long as possible, and then dole them out as needed FOR A SMALL FEE. :)

  4. On Columbine….

    Cullen , who first reported on the story for the online magazine Salon, acknowledges in the book’s source notes that thoughts he attributes to Klebold and Harris are conjecture gleaned from the record the pair left behind.

    Jeff Kass takes a more straightforward approach in “Columbine: A True Crime Story,” working backward from the events of the fateful day.
    The Denver Post

    Mr. Cullen insists that the killers enjoyed “far more friends than the average adolescent,” with Harris in particular being a regular Casanova who “on the ultimate high school scorecard . . . outscored much of the football team.” The author’s footnotes do not reveal how he knows this; when I asked him about it while preparing this review, Mr. Cullen said he did not necessarily mean to imply that Harris was sexually active. But what else would such words mean?

    “Eric and Dylan never had any girlfriends,” the more sober Mr. Kass writes, and were “probably virgins upon death.”
    Wall Street Journal

  5. hey alison,

    long time no speak…but i always read your site. thanks for writing this. all of us folks who battle depression sometimes can’t put it into words – but the way you present this is spot-on. hope you are well


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