Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I was overwhelmed with understanding

One of the most gratifying and encouraging aspects of our collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness has been the opportunity to reach new audiences and to touch people who were not previously acquainted with our message. Audience members who attended our panel presentation at NAMI's convention earlier this month have written to tell us that they were in favor of the death penalty when they arrived at the session and had changed their minds by the time they left.

One of those audience members was Mark Anderson, whose son had been formally diagnosed with bipolar disorder just weeks before he took his own life. Mark has given us permission to quote from his email to us, and we share it as, among other things, an example of how powerfully people can be affected by stories like those of panelists Bill Babbitt, Joe Bruce, Carla Jacobs, and Amanda and Nick WIlcox.

From Mark Anderson's email:

I struggled with the presentation at the convention because of my own personal experience with the loss of my son 7 ½ years ago. I know all too well how it feels to lose a child. I get angry when I hear of a vicious murder of someone’s child and I wished for a like fate for the one who committed the murder. I saw the struggle with ongoing and numerous appeals, often followed up with protests by family and friends against an execution, as far more compassion for the criminal than the victim ever received.

When I heard of the pain felt by the families of the criminal who caused a death I was suddenly overwhelmed with understanding that such a loss is painful, in fact just as painful, if not even more complicated, for the families who love that person. Wow, I cried real tears and felt such compassion for them, not to mention shame for the way I’d felt previously. Even though I’d never fully taken the time to think how much, or even consider, that the criminal is loved by their family…just as much as I loved (love) my son.

I still feel concern that a murderer never ever again be a danger to others; however I now must admit that I was wrong for supporting the death penalty. Execution is not the only way to protect the public, in fact it creates ever more harm to a very bad situation.

Adding the element of mental illness to this equation makes it ever more complicated. Somehow we must find a way to provide services to those who live with mental illness early enough that they never become so disabled by the illness that they cause harm to anyone, even themselves. That the standard is to only provide help when they cross the line of being a danger to themselves or others BEFORE they qualify for help is so outlandish and wrong! We must shift from a crisis mode to a prevention mode for the delivery of services to the most vulnerable of our society.

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