Ban-the-Box Update (2019)

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If my research is right, I wrote my first ban-the-box article back on December 18, 2016. I did not invent the idea of banning the box, but the article is available.

Banning the box has to do with job applications, that is, there is a question on the application that asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” and there is a box to check if the answer is yes. Those who were convicted must check the box, otherwise they would be lying on the application – another reason they would be denied the job. So, either way, yes or no, a justice-involved individual cannot win, and they must turn to crime to support themselves and their families. Hence the laws that deny employers the opportunity to put the question on their employment applications are necessary. I was fortunate that I was not convicted of a crime. It was because of my illness.

A friend of mine from the Baltimore area sent me a May 29, 2019 article from The Washington Post by Justin Wm Moyer titled “DC employers pay nearly $500,000 under ‘ban the box’ law since 2014.” Our legislators are getting serious. They are beginning to learn that if a justice-involved person cannot get a job they must – again – turn to crime to support themselves and their families. From the article:

“The District government has filed more than 1,100 administrative charges against employers who continue to ask about criminal histories on job applications despite a 2014 law that banned the practice. Those charges have netted the city more than $500,000 in fines for failing to ‘ban the box,’ according to a report by the DC Office of Human Rights… More than 90 percent of the administrative charges against employers were related to criminal background questions that appeared on job applications, the report said, while less than 5 percent involved questions an employer asked during an interview.”

Our city officials are beginning to see the implications:

“Brian Ferguson, director of the city’s Office of Returning Citizen Affairs, said questions about criminal records were ‘ubiquitous’ on job applications before the law, often stopping those returning from prison from ‘getting a foot in the door’ with possible employers.

“Today, it’s a much different landscape, much more favorable to returning citizens… They can show their value.”

Trying to Get Ahead with Schizophrenia is Not Easy

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“Aw, you want us to feel sorry for you after what you done?” 

“But it was an illness. The brain gets sick!” There is medical evidence for this.

I must live with the guilt of taking a life – 40 years this far and more to come. But the jury gave me my freedom, my life, so I must do my best. I want my book to be a success. I want people to understand and take action.

It’s hard. Family doesn’t always support the person who has mental illness. I was fortunate for the most part, but I saw it myself in the hospital that patients were abandoned by family and friends. Some guys never got visits. I, myself, was abandoned by my “friends” and adult mentors. I learned to live alone and be comfortable with it. I found in my dating years that the ones who were most unforgiving were those who had mental illness in their families. In general, others, the court among them, see you as a behavioral problem, as one who is mentally retarded, or a felon. Those who don’t have any understanding of the illness are afraid you will come sneaking through their bedroom window to kill them on some dark and stormy night.

There is other discrimination against those with mental illness. I can’t seem to get a good-paying job despite the credentials I have. Of course, that may be complicated further by age discrimination.

Talking about being mentally retarded – or intellectually challenged – I was always at the top of my class throughout my school years. I earned an Eagle Award in Boy Scouts. I graduated second in my high school class by less than a point. In engineering school, I graduated “with honor” or cum laude. Today I have a master’s degree in engineering and am a Professional Engineer licensed by the State of NJ. (Yes, they know about it). At the job, my team at Con Edison won a Team Award for completing an important $4 million project on time and on budget. We were all chosen for our superior performances on previous projects. I ran the project. I belong to Mensa and qualify for an organization called “Triple Nine Society” which is a high-IQ organization like Mensa but has a higher entrance requirement. I wrote a book called In the Matter of Edwin Potter: Mental Illness and Criminal Justice Reform. For a time there, I was homeless, and, just last year, I won the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award from Marquis Who’s Who.

As it was said in Jersey Boys, “If you want to get a hit record, it’s like the stations of the cross. You have to get past the record companies, the Program Directors, the DJs, and, if you’re lucky, you get to the people.” The same is true for those like me who want to make something of themselves. You have to get to the people.

A Suggestion to End Mass Shooting

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Something should be done about mass shooters. Everyone says so. But the recommendations seem to be to take the guns away from the NRA. Apparently, this is not going to go anywhere, so more people will die as schoolkids did again in Colorado just a few days ago and again today as I write this. Something must give.

Let’s try this suggestion. This is my idea from a hard lesson learned. I had a schizophrenic breakdown resulting in the death of my wife back in the summer of 1979. My parents – my mother especially – saw there was something wrong with me, but they did not know where to go to get help or report the matter until it was too late. So, this is what I have to say: People can see when something is going wrong. If they see that someone is experiencing psychosis by collecting guns and saying that he is going to kill people, they should be able to report that with the result that he should be taken off the streets for a 30-day observation and evaluation.

 This is not a gun issue. The news reports following the shooting always indicate that the shooter has mental illness. Why, oh, why couldn’t we get him the help that he needed?

I was emailing a member of the Court just recently about this, and his remark was, “You are on point, but until this country is ready to seriously address the issue of mental health and provide the necessary resources to do so, things will not change.” 

Write to your legislator.

 

Pell Grants to be Reintroduced for Prisoners

Pell Grants to be Reintroduced for Prisoners

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Things are starting to happen quickly now on the vanguard of criminal justice reform, namely, educational opportunities for inmates. On April 20, 2019, National Public Radio reported “Congress Considers Making College More Accessible to People in Prison” by restoring Pell Grants to them. “Inmates are among the least-educated people in America. That’s despite research that shows education is one of the most effective ways to keep people from coming back to prison.” This will be done through the REAL Act (Restoring Education And Learning). The legislation was introduced by US Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill).

From Schatz’s April 9, 2019 website, “The REAL Act would restore a program we know already works and give people a real chance to rebuild their lives.”

Justice-involved people lost access to Pell Grant assistance in 1994 during the President Bill Clinton era when the policy was to “get tough on crime.” As one involved with the law at that time because of my illness, I remember those days. We now have over 2 million people in prison who have no hope and no future. President Obama’s Education Department announced an experiment in 2015 called Second Chance Pell. This current legislation is meant to rectify the problem with the statistic being (from Schatz) “that people who participate in correctional education while in prison were 43% less likely to recidivate… [S]tudies have shown that each dollar spent on secondary education programs for prisoners reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years after an individual is released.”

In late 2018 (when he wrote to me and told me he was going to do it) President Trump signed a criminal justice reform bill called the First Step Act.

This is good. Let’s hope to see the results we want.

Mentoring the Justice-Involved

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Back in the late 1990s I began to write about criminal justice reform and what I thought would work based upon my own experiences. In May 1998 I wrote an article for IMprint – a Mensa newsletter – titled “How Do We Get to Peace?” I slogged it alone, but it is starting to work. Let me tell you this part of the story.

I had visited Northern State Prison in Newark, NJ with the Paterson Chamber of Commerce in 1997 as part of a training program. We walked among the inmates, and in that May 1998 article I wrote, “It is our belief that life as an incarcerated individual is a dead-end street…” Is it? I listed some items that I thought would help to change the situation, and two of the most important were education and mentoring. It has taken 21 years, but people are beginning to catch on. Read on.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice held two symposiums on the topic of mentoring justice-involved youth, one back in October of 2017 and a follow-up in April of 2018. (I wrote about both in IMprint – March 2018 and August 2018.) What they found in conjunction with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services in Washington, DC is that education is unparalleled in helping justice-involved youth succeed in society, and mentoring works best when the mentors are people who have gone through the system and hard times themselves and now want to share their experiences with the youths to keep them out of trouble. What they did not mention at the time is the need for a change in the laws that discriminate against or prevent a formerly justice-involved individual from getting a job.

Founder and CEO of Schizophrenia And Related Disorders Alliance of America, Linda Stalters, says the same is said to be true by those with serious brain illness who have been caught in the criminal justice system. Attending Schizophrenic Alliance support group meetings “while incarcerated was their most important help.”

John Jay College sent me a newsletter this past April 2019 called “The Lens: News and Views from PRI” with an article regarding a program at a maximum-security prison facility known as “The Rock” in Connecticut. It included video clips from 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes Overtime and aired March 31, 2019 where they found these things are true. Here is the link:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/german-style-true-program-at-cheshire-correctional-institution-emphasizes-rehab-for-inmates-60-minutes/

SARDAA and Reclassification of Schizophrenia

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Back in October 1999, I wrote an article for IMprint – a Mensa newsletter – titled “The Crime Solution” where I gave specific suggestions and insights to how crime can be reduced including a mention of mental illness. Those suggestions are being studied today.

I rewrote the article and renamed it “Reducing Recidivism” and included it as chapter 104 in my book In the Matter of Edwin Potter: Mental Illness and Criminal Justice Reform. In it I wrote, in part, “As for the one with mental illness, there can be no real progress until his illness is addressed.” In this regard, Schizophrenia And Related Disorders Alliance of America is taking action. (As a note, I was asked to write a blog for them.) SARDAA was founded about a decade ago. I received an email this past March 2019 from the Founder and CEO, Linda Stalters, which states, in part:

Your urgent financial support is needed to support SARDAA’s efforts to reclassify schizophrenia as a neurological brain illness and re-galvanize the HIPAA "compassionate communication exception".

Why does this matter?

  • There is scientific consensus that the illness is a brain-based, highly heritable illness.

  • There is also overwhelming evidence that schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder.

  • Whether patients receive timely, appropriate treatment has great consequences. After the first episode of schizophrenia, not taking any regular antipsychotic medication is associated with a 12-fold increase in the relative risk of all-cause death and a 37-fold increase in death by suicide.

Reclassification has the best potential to dramatically reduce stigma in the illness and re-invigorate our orientation towards timely and appropriate treatments as well as making incarceration, homelessness and death unacceptable outcomes for schizophrenia…

With your support we can continue our work with other organizations, agencies, medical professionals, diagnosed individuals and families to change the way people are treated medically and socially.

Presently, people with schizophrenia are seen as behavioral problems or felons by the courts. This then carries over to the public who see them the same way. SARDAA wrote letters to see schizophrenia reclassified. These are to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC). From the letter to the CDC:

If schizophrenia having a neurological basis is such an obvious given for clinicians and scientists – people that are ‘in the know’ – why does this question remain in the general public? The answer is likely to be a complex mix of factors that includes a lack of proper education of the public and historical inertia in the systems of care that cater to the schizophrenia population (e.g. psychiatry vs. neurology), as well as how this care is paid for (e.g. structure of reimbursement codes by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).

From the letter to the ISMICC:

Patients with psychosis are frequently exposed to negative stereotypes, stigma and social exclusion associated with their diagnosis. Unfortunately, patients and their families often engage in self-stigmatization, blaming themselves for the disorder and wondering what they could have done differently to prevent the illness. Understanding schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses as neurological disorders would help the community at large in viewing these illnesses as they do other medical illnesses such as cancer or diabetes.

In her book Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness, journalist Alisa Roth states on the jacket:

In America, having a mental illness has become a crime. One in four fatal police shootings involves a person with mental illness. The country’s three largest providers of mental health care are not hospital, but jails. [LA County jail, Cook County jail, and Rikers Island – DG] As many as half the people in US jails and prisons have a psychiatric disorder.

Again, from the letter to ISMICC:

We have general prevalence estimates indicating that 1.2% of all Americans – roughly 3.2 million people – have schizophrenia from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Beyond that broad approximation, we just do not know much more about this patient population. In particular, if we turn to public mental health agencies, who provide the vast majority of publicly financed inpatient hospital and community-based services for people living with schizophrenia, the lack of basic data is striking. For example, baseline demographic data on gender, average age of onset, race, religious affiliation, ethnic background and income are often completely absent. That lack of information often extends to the realm of service delivery. State mental health agencies often struggle to identify the specific type of care provided, the penetration rate for mental health and related support services in a given geographic area, the intensity of service delivery for each patient with schizophrenia and, most importantly, verifiable clinical outcomes. An amendment to the National Neurological Diseases Surveillance System could begin to help answer these baseline questions.

For more information see www.sardaa.org. Read and sign-on to the letters requesting that schizophrenia be reclassified.

Mapping the Educational Landscape in NYS Prisons

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Back in October 1999 I published an article in Imprint – a Mensa newsletter – that stated in part that education is one of the key factors in reducing recidivism. (The article is now part of chapter 104 in my book In the Matter of Edwin Potter: Mental Illness and Criminal Justice Reform.) There is currently a report titled “Mapping the Landscape of Higher Education in New York State Prisons” referenced in the March 2019 newsletter from the Prisoner Re-entry Institute (PRI) of John Jay College of Criminal Justice supporting what I wrote. From the newsletter:

“The efficacy of college-in-prison programs in reducing recidivism is well documented; a study by the Rand Corporation showed that those who participated in correctional education programs had a 43% lower rate of recidivating than those who did not. Mapping the Landscape explores other benefits of college-in-prison programs, such as improving incarcerated students’ relationships with their families and increasing safety in facilities for both students and correctional staff.”

 The full report includes an executive summary.

Being A Better Person

It is Lent 2019 as I write this, and I want to take part. The emphasis is to improve our relationship with God, to be a better person. But as someone with schizophrenia, I know that many others in that category with me are suicidal and have a very difficult time being a better person. We need to forgive ourselves, and that is the crux of the matter: We can’t. We live with the belief that we are among the worst, most unforgiveable people on the planet, and the reality is that only medication can resolve this. And the TV news doesn’t help.

Attempts at suicide are common among people with this illness. I saw this firsthand during my years at the hospital, and I tried it myself. Sadly, some succeed. I knew a man who carried through with it. I called him Frank Kirkland in my book. He was a drug addict with so much potential to do good. I still weep for him at times now 40 years later.

I can’t blame the Church for putting this weight on my shoulders. Its people are human, too, with their own failings and limitations, and we go through this walk together. But generally, they withdraw. As the young prosecutor asked during the “Just Prosecution” simulation exercise, “If the Church won’t help you, who will?” In the March 2019 issue of US Catholic there is an interview with Chicago deacon Tom Lambert. The online headline to the article is “Catholics must do more to accompany people with mental illness, says this deacon. Parishioners don’t have to be psychiatrists to support Catholics with mental illness.”

 There is hope in this season.

NYCHA Permanent Exclusion Policy Update

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is the largest public housing authority in the United States with nearly 180,000 units housing nearly 400,000 low-income individuals and families in 334 developments throughout the city.

You may remember my last article on NYCHA from back in October of 2018. In that I reported on NYCHA’s permanent exclusion policy that would not let anyone with the slightest involvement with the law live in their public housing. This destroys families and prevents justice-involved individuals from establishing a base to get themselves on their feet. From the February 2019 PRI website: “This policy has resulted in thousands of people who cannot live with, or even visit, their families who live in public housing, with harsh effects on the young and old alike. Youth under the age of 18 can be excluded from public housing even if their families – who are legally responsible for them – are still living in NYCHA, and even if they have nowhere else to go. Many elderly residents have also been forced to exclude family members who act as their caretakers, leaving them without the vital assistance they need to manage the tasks of daily living.” This includes the mentally ill.

Jarrett Murphy, editor of CityLimits.org newsletter, reported these things back on April 19, 2017. He also told us of an investigation done by New York City’s Dept. of Investigation (DOI) that criticized NYCHA’s “leniency” in evicting justice-involved individuals. “DOI recommended NYCHA prosecute these cases more aggressively, request evictions in more cases and consider letting armed law-enforcement officers – rather than NYCHA staff – inspect apartments for banned people.”

“NYCHA has an obligation to protect residents of its buildings,” DOI commissioner Mark Peters said in a statement that accompanied the report. The Daily News piled on with him against NYCHA.

From the CityLimits.org newsletter: “But advocates see a different reality, one in which NYCHA’s reluctance to evict families caught up in the criminal justice system is a lot more sensible than creating hundreds of new clients for the homeless shelter system.” Advocacy groups urged NYCHA and the City Council to reject the “misguided and irresponsible approach to safety” espoused by DOI.

Fast forward. There was a panel on this matter titled “Locked Out” held February 6, 2019. From the PRI February 2019 newsletter: “The panel explored the legal aspects of the policy, the broader context of policing in NYCHA, and the perspectives of the NYCHA residents.”

More to come.

View From The Top

These articles that I write should give you some insight to what is going on in criminal justice reform, but there are some behind the scenes actions as well. Some of it I may have had a part in, for example, in May 2013 I sent my recidivism article to NJ Gov. Chris Christie. I heard nothing, so in May 2014 I sent it again. Later in that year Martin’s Place opened in Jersey City, NJ to much fanfare to help justice-involved individuals make the transition from prison to the community. Former NJ Governor Jim McGreevey was appointed as Executive Director, and he made some real efforts to advocate for these justice-involved individuals. My wife and I met him at a rest stop on the NJ Turnpike during the summer of 2017 while we were on our way to a friend’s home in Maryland. I had also sent him a copy of my book, In the Matter of Edwin Potter, and he recognized me straight away – coming around the car to shake my hand 5 or 6 times. We had a brief conversation, then we went our separate ways. In January 2019 he lost his job as Executive Director at Martin’s Place. (The Star Ledger, January 8, 2019) It was said to have been political.

I sent US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) a copy of my recidivism article back in August of 2015 and the book in December 2016. I never heard from him, but in December of 2018 he submitted a significant bill to the US Senate for criminal justice reform. (The Star Ledger, Dec. 20, 2018) Did he read the book? I also never heard from current NJ Governor Phil Murphy after I sent him the book in January 2018, but I did hear from NY Governor Andrew Cuomo after I sent him a copy of the recidivism article back in 2014!

There are several other elected NJ officials who I sent my book to, but there is one who is much maligned, and one would never expect a response from: President Donald Trump. In March 2017 I sent him a copy of my book along with a letter, and I did not hear from him for the longest time. Then I was surprised to receive a letter from him dated Nov. 6, 2018 expressing his intent and commitment “to [help] former inmates become productive, law-abiding members of society.” I thanked him and in January 2019 reminded him that there was no mention of the mentally ill who are incarcerated. I’ve been told by people who deal with the mentally ill that my book provides them with hope. I am hoping for a positive response from the President.

If It Can Be Done Wrong

“My job description was written at the signing of the Magna Carta… If I walked into a courtroom tomorrow and you asked me to prosecute a case, my job would be to investigate that crime, produce that evidence to a finder of fact to determine guilt or innocence. Nothing has changed since then. And unlike medicine, which changed with times and culture and advances in understanding about people in our communities, the criminal justice system functions the exact same way that it was invented.”

            --Adam Foss, Founder and President of Prosecutor Impact

 

(Today’s article relies heavily on Alisa Roth’s book Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness.)

 

In 1751, Benjamin Franklin asked the Pennsylvania Assembly for some money to set up the first hospital in America with a separate ward for treating mental illness. Prior to that the latter were “treated” at the House of Correction and “that House was by no Means fitted for such Purposes.” (pg. 77) Conditions were grim. Patients lived in cold, smelly basement cells and were often put in hand irons, leg locks, and straitjackets. People would come to ogle them and were charged four pence for the hassle. Arguments ensued over the centuries up to this day whether the mentally ill should be treated as felons. See LA County Jail, Cook County Jail, and Riker’s Island.

 

“Over the course of our [American] history, punishment by incarceration has been our standard response to crime. But by the 1970s, as jails and prisons were beginning to grow dramatically, we had largely given up on the idea that incarceration should be rehabilitative. Lost with the notion of rehabilitation have been things like education programs, which made it possible. Instead, we have been left with an almost single-minded focus on punishment and retribution.” (pg. 93)

 

I’ve been in horrible places by today’s standards. This is not how people should be treated.

Finding Jobs After Life in Prison

One of the major issues in criminal justice reform – if not THE major issue – is prisoner re-entry, that is, the entry of the justice-involved individual back into society as a contributing citizen. It sounds like a joke right now because we have been trained to believe in the revolving door. Cam Ward, a Senator from Alabama (R-Alabaster), sees it differently. He is sponsoring a bill that would remove more than 700 sections of code from the Alabama constitution that restricts jobs that people can get after being released from prison.

 

“The whole idea when someone gets out of prison- we want them to get a job,” Ward said. “We want them to pay taxes. We want them to be productive citizens and not a public safety risk.”

 

Basically, it addresses the question: How can a person freed from prison become a contributing member of society if the law bars him from getting a job? Currently, a justice-involved individual is discouraged from getting the training he needs to get a job – even reading and writing.

 

Said Fredrick Sherill who was released from prison this past September after 15 years for armed robbery as a teenager, “It’s hard when you being released from prison after doing a lot of time and you’re trying to do the right thing in society and being a law abiding citizen and there’s constant road blocks.”

 

As you read my articles, there has been a lot of talk, but there have also been real-life situations that prove the point. It is important that we go on to the next step which is to implement new laws that will help the person coming out of prison. It will take a few years to see significant results, but this is where it starts.

Underrepresented Voices

Since July of 2018 I have been looking for a literary agent. I have been told that this is a difficult task, and I find it to be true. Sometimes, though, I find an agent who is looking for “underrepresented voices.” What is that? Mistakenly, I think it applies to me, but who talks about people with schizophrenia?

With rare exceptions, nobody is telling the stories of those with schizophrenia. The latter are seen as criminals. There are roughly 200,000 - 400,000 people with severe neuropsychiatric brain illnesses who are in our jails and prisons. What is more is that in many cases these mentally ill are not receiving proper medical treatment. When they get out, insurance companies do not cover them, so they relapse from lack of treatment, and they go back to prison – not even a hospital. Having schizophrenia is not socially acceptable as are having autism or depression, and, hence, no resolve is made to address the issue of treatment. Here in New York City there is much talk about autism and depression, but when ads talk about having hallucinations or delusions they are attributed to Parkinson’s disease. People turn away when the talk turns to schizophrenia and think only of mass shooters and how they should be dealt with severely by the law. To overcome my own issues with the law and schizophrenia, I had to write my own book. An ad campaign to educate the public might be in order.

I support SARDAA in its efforts to reclassify schizophrenia as a brain illness – which it is – and not the behavioral problem that the courts would like us to believe. Reclassifying it would allow more money for medical research. What if a person has heart disease or diabetes? Would we put them in jail for it? 

So, again I ask: Who is telling the stories of those with schizophrenia, those underrepresented voices?

Just Prosecution in Youth Justice Reform

“Prosecutors have a real moment at this time to step up and make a big change, to really lead in this effort, to be really innovative and forthright in their intentions, to reduce mass incarceration, to address racial disparity in the system, to look for alternatives to oppressive sanctions. We missed so many things, and now is the moment.”

--Meg Reiss, Chief of Social Justice, Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office

Do you know that the person with the most power in the courtroom is not the judge? More likely it is the Prosecutor. It is she who decides to plea bargain and what those terms will be or whether charges will be brought or not and what penalty will be asked for if the Defendant is convicted by the jury.

In November 2018 at John Jay College there was a symposium given by the Pinkerton Foundation: Just Prosecution: Redefining the Role of the 21st Century Prosecutor in Youth Justice Reform. Before we started the afternoon discussions, there was a re-entry simulation (re-entry into the community) in the morning. Real-life Prosecutors were put in the position of someone released from prison, and it was their job to meet all of their court obligations as well as find a job, find a place to live, buy food, pay their debts, and so on. If they did not meet their court obligations, they would be – warm my heart – put back in jail. These prosecutors had a first-hand experience that was a real eye-opener by their own admission. Quite a few ended up back in jail – including me, the only mentally ill person in the room who got a break occasionally – and few reached the services set up to help them. Some turned to crime to meet their obligations. And, as a result, all of them saw how hard it is for a justice-involved individual to walk the straight and narrow. Hopefully they will take this experience into the future as they work with real inmates in the courtroom.

Child Visitation

Today, October 24, 2018 as I write this, I attended a symposium at John Jay College of Criminal Justice organized by NYCIP and the Prisoner Re-entry Institute. The topic was “Inside and Outside the Visiting Room” regarding child visitation in prison as well as its effects. It was a very emotional conference resulting from stories from both parents who had been incarcerated as well as those who had been children visiting their incarcerated parents.

There are 2 million children in the US who have an incarcerated parent. The US leads the world in this. As a note, 80% of women incarcerated in NY State are single mothers. This is a growing number. How can we do better?

These people are hurting. One panelist spoke of her experiences as a child visiting her father in prison for so many years. She said, “Leaving is the part that hurts the most.” She was always afraid as she grew older that she would get a call from the prison telling her that her father, who had health problems, had died. One day she got that call. She broke down here.

Another man had spent decades in prison. During that time, he had visitation with his son who asked him constantly, “Daddy, when are you coming home?” “Soon.” His reason for being in prison for so long was because he had killed a man, and never wanted to say that to his son, but he did eventually. The good news was that his son still loved him.

I remember going through these issues with my own children even though I had mental illness. There is a lot of stigma in having a parent who is incarcerated, but it doesn’t always turn out the right way. In my experience with my own children, my daughter hates me now. I have a letter from her from 2013 stating that she resents (her word) that I have mental illness. What am I supposed to do now? Put everything back? It doesn’t happen that way. Will she love me again as she once did if I make my crime go away? I cannot shed my past any more than a man can shed his skin. The judge made it worse. I was sending Hallmark cards once per month to my son and daughter for many years as we were not seeing each other. In my request for dismissal of my case this past year, the judge sent a detective just a few months ago to interview them and decided, based upon the report, that I should no longer have any communication with my son or daughter (and their families as a result) who are now adults in their 30s and 40s, completely capable of making their own decisions. The doctor disagreed with the decision, citing his own experiences in similar matters that these things sometimes work out.

These things matter. That is why there are organizations fighting the good fight, to advocate for a different criminal justice system – a healing system.

Addressing Homelessness in NJ

On August 22, 2018 I made a trip to Haddonfield, NJ to learn about the Interfaith Homeless Outreach Council (IHOC) program for homeless men in Camden County. It was presented by WNET in their program “Chasing the Dream” which concentrates on poverty and opportunity. They look for reasons why these things happen and answers to them. IHOC concentrates on quality over quantity.

With that said, there are over one million people experiencing homelessness in the US. These people suffer from drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution, and physical and sexual abuse.

This is a 28-week program lasting from October to May for 12 selected men. Participants are chosen from the streets of Camden, and they are lodged in participating congregations which provide them with meals and a warm, secure place to sleep. The program provides addiction recovery counseling, life skills training, resume writing, mock interviews, computer skills training, transportation, and regular attendance at AA meetings. But the statistics on success are very low. My comment is: Don’t give up on these guys in their hour of need.

As one of the graduates of the program said, “Nobody gets out of homelessness by themselves.”

Bail Reform

I was invited to tour the Bergen County, NJ jail with Patrick Hughes, Director of Psychology, back in May of 2017. Julia Orlando, the Director of Housing, Health, and Human Services, had read my book and wanted all of us to meet for lunch.

One of the topics that came up was bail reform. Bail reform is good for the most part. Few want to be in jail although there are exceptions. Their families don’t want them to be there, either, and depend upon them for financial support. There was a problem, though, that Pat brought up. There was a plan to educate the prisoners while incarcerated, things like reading and speaking English – something that I’ve been advocating. But now that prisoners are being released in a matter of days as a result of reform, that plan had to be dropped. The result is that they are back in jail more often for the same things.

More recently, another negative aspect of bail reform arose. Pat says the issue is that bail reform has reduced the ability of the jail to enroll inmates in the drug rehabilitation center on site which is a 30 day period to produce a drug-free inmate upon release.

Clearly, what we should do in this situation is to keep the prisoners in jail until they have finished their programs. It is a hard choice, I know, but it may be the best one.

Do any of you have other suggestions?

David E. Geiger Presented with the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award by Marquis Who’s Who

Mr. Geiger has been endorsed by Marquis Who’s Who as a leader in the engineering industry

CLIFTON, NJ, June 21, 2018, Marquis Who’s Who, the world’s premier publisher of biographical profiles, is proud to present David E. Geiger with the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. An accomplished listee, Mr. Geiger celebrates many years’ experience in his professional network, and has been noted for achievements, leadership qualities, and the credentials and successes he has accrued in his field. As in all Marquis Who’s Who biographical volumes, individuals profiled are selected on the basis of current reference value. Factors such as position, noteworthy accomplishments, visibility, and prominence in a field are all taken into account during the selection process.

A registered professional engineer in the state of New Jersey, Mr. Geiger recently began working for AFG Group, Inc., in New York City just last year. Bringing with him more than 40 years of experience, he formerly worked for such organizations as Merrimac Industries in New Jersey, Con Edison in New York where he spent two decades and was awarded a Con Edison Team Award in 2013 for his project engineering work, and PSEG in New Jersey. Certified in business administration through Heriot-Watt University in Scotland since 2002, he also holds a Bachelor of Science with honor and Master of Science in electrical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ.

The awarded author of numerous articles, including “Change Happens: What Direction for NNJM” in 1995 and “In the Joyful Noise” in 2007, Mr. Geiger recently authored his autobiography “In the Matter of Edwin Potter: Mental Illness and Criminal Justice Reform” in 2016. The latter book is Mr. Geiger’s personal account of how the criminal justice and mental illness systems can often render people into second class citizens with limited access to careers, education and opportunities. Diagnosed with schizophrenia but in full remission since 2001, as part of his recovery he also wrote an article called “Reducing Recidivism,” which addresses these issues and is included with the book. An interested party at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, he also attends conferences as part of his effort to reduce such recidivism.

Mr. Geiger is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers – Smart Cities, the Communications Society, the Power and Energy Society – and a long-standing member of American Mensa since 1989 where he was Local Secretary in 2009, and he has been an Eagle Scout for 50 years. Maintaining a strong interest in both music and art, Mr. Geiger continues to study at The School of Visual Arts in New York City where he showcased his work in spring 2014. Notably, some of his work can be seen in his most recent book.

Married to his wife Marni Nachman with two children and one step-child, Mr. Geiger enjoys hiking in his down time and writing to pen pals. The recipient of a Mensa Individual Recognition Award in 1995, he has also been showcased in every edition of Who’s Who in America since 2005, as well as several more editions of Who’s Who in Science and Engineering and Who’s Who in the World. For more information, please visit www.davidegeiger.com.

In recognition of outstanding contributions to his profession and the Marquis Who’s Who community, David E. Geiger has been featured on the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement website. Please visit www.ltachievers.com for more information about this honor.

About Marquis Who’s Who®:

Since 1899, when A. N. Marquis printed the First Edition of Who’s Who in America®, Marquis Who’s Who® has chronicled the lives of the most accomplished individuals and innovators from every significant field of endeavor, including politics, business, medicine, law, education, art, religion and entertainment. Today, Who’s Who in America® remains an essential biographical source for thousands of researchers, journalists, librarians and executive search firms around the world. Marquis® publications may be visited at the official Marquis Who’s Who® website at www.marquiswhoswho.com.

Re-classifying Schizophrenia

In the June 2018 newsletter from SARDAA there is this:

“SARDAA is working to change the paradigm of how we treat people living with neuro-psychiatric brain illnesses.  Our white paper has been submitted to the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC) and we have advocates in high places on the committee to present and support our efforts to reclassify schizophrenia spectrum disorders.  We have also submitted a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding changes to the ICD-11.

“What difference does it make to reclassify?  If you or your loved one has become involved with the criminal justice system due to behavior stemming from neurological brain symptoms you likely realize that the legal system regards schizophrenia as a psychological disorder and  disregards the fact that schizophrenia is a neurological brain illness that requires TREATMENT not incarceration.  Incarceration delays treatment, increases stress, and isolation magnifies psychosis, all leading to further decompensation and acute illness.  That is only one reason, there are many others: comprehensive evaluation and appropriate treatment, increased access to hospital beds, treatment instead of incarceration, true parity, increased research, social change as clinicians, patients and family receive respect and dignity and with appropriate treatment individuals will have the opportunity for fruitful lives.

“Please, be sure to contact your representatives in Washington, D.C.  The Hearing Voices of Support Psychosis: Changing Perceptions Through Art & Science experiential exhibit will be there for them to experience on June 27, 28 and 29, 2018 in The Rayburn Office Building Foyer.  Help us change their perception of psychosis, the people affected and the value of research and treatment. This is an unprecedented opportunity, help us reach as many decision makers as possible.  Participants can take as much time as they can spare, even 5 minutes will be effective.  But they will stay longer to visit all of the cones and take time to talk with diagnosed individuals, family members and clinicians.  The Neurological Legislative Briefing is on June 28 at Noon in Rayburn 2103 and requires a RSVP: sardaabriefing@gmail.com. “

For more information, write to info@sardaa.org.

Credible Messengers – PART 2

I advocated mentoring for those coming out of prison ‘way back in May 1998. In October 2017 there was a conference at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC where research results were presented showing that credible messengers/mentors keep at-risk youth from a life of crime. This is important because it means the beginning of the breaking of the cycle of crime.

Just recently – April 2018 – there was Part 2 of Credible Messengers which gives us the ideas of how this is done. And, simply, it is done by building trust, building relationships rather than enforcing the great divide that exists between, say, the parole officer or the probation officer and the report.

Success is measured by the desire of the young people to go forward and become mentors themselves. It is not measured in the number of program attendees. Mentors give hope and show participants in the program how to change because they were once in their shoes. The mentors “show up” for the youth they are trying to help.

And there are some really difficult issues that are part of the problems: poverty, drugs, joblessness, crime, lack of services. These are just people doing what they can with what they have, and the young people are stepping up to the plate and bringing about success. “Instead of focusing on parole officers, or probation officers, or prisons, we can build communities,” said Saj Rahman, Director, Institute for Transformative Mentoring.

How can we support this movement? Hire credible messengers/ mentors. Yes. Pay them. Otherwise they have to turn to crime to support themselves.