Chapter 2 in a series on mental illness.
[Note: this article includes excerpts of Tony Allard's writing about his own mental illness.]
Today, in court, Tony was deemed competent to stand trial. So, even though he was delusional when he took a woman’s purse, threw it to the ground and walked off without out taking anything or harming anyone, next Tuesday, August 23, 2009, he goes on trial on a charge of felony robbery. He faces a sentence of up to 17 years in prison, since he has one strike on his record for a prior conviction of stalking. In short, although what my brother and society needs, is for him to be treated for a mental illness, he may end up serving time in prison.
Tony, who was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic twenty three years ago, refused to agree that he was mentally ill for the first twenty of those years. In recent years he was able to gain explicit “insight” (as it is called) into his condition. Yet, when he goes off his medications, he seems to lapse into a state of delusion and resents me for using those words to describe his condition. And I can’t say that I blame him. Although he has a condition that makes him different than “normal” people, it also causes him to be more bluntly honest about the world and what he sees as wrong in the world than most normal people ever dare to be. I have learned much from his blunt honesty in those periods.
When Tony is on his meds, he seems as normal as you and I. Many of his friends think he is one of the most brilliant people they know. They find his presence enjoyable. He is insightful, writes and speaks articulately and insightfully, and is fun to be around. He is a good video editor and has produced very creative works. He has worked in Hollywood as a machinist for our brother Eric, who does special effects. Yet Eric will no longer hire him in recent years since Tony becomes paranoid and does not fit in at the work place.
Because Tony goes off his meds, his condition prevents him from fitting into society or maintaining a steady job in spite of his ardent desire to be normal and have a job and be part of what normal people do. It is a contradiction. His condition is not “normal” and his behavior becomes obnoxious. He comes to believe he is well and goes off his medications. Yet his desire to be normal is prevented by his going off his medication.
He has never hurt anyone physically but he is six foot four, weighs 230 pounds, and goes into raging tirades so can be very intimidating. He has targeted many individuals, including some very well known personalities (including Blase Bonpane, Michael Miner, Susan Block, and Steven Spielberg’s mother) and numerous other people, including me, our 91 year old mother’s care givers, and some of his friends. He has delusions about people that he expresses in writing or in phone calls to the point that people take out restraining order against him. In one case, he made so many harassing phone calls to a certain personality’s office that they filed charges of stalking which resulted in a felony conviction. Tony ended up spending nearly two years at Atascadero State Mental Hospital. That hospital stay helped him. Upon leaving the hospital he was very stable, very rational, and appeared to many as if he had been “cured”. Were you to meet him you would think he was a totally normal highly intelligent person and quite likable. His release was some three years ago.
Unfortunately, his “cure” was short lived. Twice since his release he went off his meds and ended up being kicked out of his living place. First time from a one bedroom apartment where he was living on his own in Korea town, then the next time from an apartment where his roommates ended up having to lock him out to retain their own sanity. It was after this most recent eviction that he became homeless and committed the alleged crime for which he will go on trial next week.
I have been attending the pre-trial hearings. In a way, I, his brother, have become his case manager. I will report here on the trial when it happens next week. In the meantime, I had wanted to provide a letter to the judge in the trial, Teri Schwartz. However, I learned from the public defender, Jose Colon, that the judge will not accept information from sources outside the context of the trail, i.e. not from either the public defender or the district attorney. The purpose of my letter is to present the point of view that Tony had a mental illness and that the charge of robbery and a subsequent incarceration is not a good substitute for the medical treatment he requires. Since it was not possible to provide the letter to the court at this time, I am choosing to publish it here in a public forum. I will let it speak for itself.
Re: Case GA07600501
Honorable Teri Schwartz
Pasadena Superior Court
Dear Judge Schwartz:
I am the brother of George Anthony Allard, Tony to his friends, who has a mental illness yet is in your court on a charge of felony robbery for an act that any normal person would not describe as robbery. While delusional, he snatched an old ladies purse, threw it to the ground and walked away. For this act he is facing up to 17 years in prison.
Tony was first diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia in 1985. Since you are the presiding judge in his case on a felony charge of robbery, I write to bring to your attention facts and history that should bear upon the case and for which I am in the best position to provide relevant details, since I have been acting as his de facto case manager in recent years.
Whatever the letter of the law, the interest of justice is surely served by bringing facts and positions to light that would otherwise remain unknown. I have been witness to legal proceedings involving my brother for many years. So, although I am aware, as a lay person, that a system of prosecution and defense exists to convey information to the court, I feel compelled to provide information and a point of view often not adequately considered in trials where mental illness is, or should be, a predominant factor.
My brother Tony faces a second strike felony conviction of robbery. Yet at the time of the alleged crime he was delusional. Tony had gone off his meds four months prior to the alleged robbery, resulting in a number of 5150s and a 5250 stay at Harbor UCLA Psychiatric ward. I had been discussing Tony’s condition in detail with social worker Matt Wells and Dr. Walker of Harbor UCLA and exploring the idea of placing Tony under a state controlled conservatorship. The preliminary steps toward a conservatorship were starting to fall into place. Then, on February 13, 2009, Judge Melissa Widdifield of the Los Angeles Mental Health Court found “for” Tony and denied a request by the psychiatrists and social workers at Harbor UCLA to keep him for further observation. Tony was, ipso facto, released, i.e. put back out on the street. He was quite delusional at the time. He had told me a few days before that he was, indeed, an agent working for the FBI. Upon his release to “freedom”, he immediately proceeded to Hollywood Park race track where he gambled away whatever money he had and remained homeless. The alleged robbery in Glendale occurred nine days later, on February 22.
There are times when Tony is taking his meds and is highly functional. There are times where he is just recently back on them or a new medicine and is able to “present well”, which was the case before the Mental Health Court and very possibly before your court. And there are times where he is off his meds and is completely delusional. When in a functional state, he has written about his own condition and history.
The following excerpts from my brother Tony Allard’s writings are illuminating…
I thought that I was world famous, and that everybody in the hospital, doctors, nurses, and patients alike, were all talking about me all of the time. This was and is not unusual for me, at that time, and even to some extent to this day, for when I am or have been at work or at play on the outside, I have and have had similar delusions. Everybody, wherever I go, is or was preoccupied with me. Glorious me. Oh the delusion. It is hard for me to even think about those days anymore, when the delusions where as concrete as a freeway overpass, but now that I have been stabilized on meds for several years it is not the same. However, the delusions are never that far from my consciousness. Even to this day, whether I’m on the bus or in a restaurant, in a crowded theater or in traffic driving on the street, I often have delusions that people nearby are talking about me in a tangential way. I don’t think I’ll ever really get beyond it, it’s so deeply ingrained in my consciousness, but I can hope, and I can and must and do just ignore those thoughts. What else can I do, after all, because I cannot just stop my thinking processes. I have a constant inner dialogue, like everybody else, only mine is skewed with some elements of fantasy that make it scary sometimes to just be me. Because intermingled with those delusions that people are talking about me, I sometimes also think that they are saying that I will be killed by so and so, an old friend of mine or someone else, or that I will end up committing suicide. These thoughts are not my own and they are not somebody else’s. I don’t know where they are from, but I do know that the medication that I am on now, Risperdal, make such thoughts much less prevalent in my thinking. But they are always there. I guess it’s probably like someone who has been raped or has been through a war zone and has Post Traumatic Stress syndrome. I don’t know, but I don’t like it, and I only know that I have to live with it for now, and hope that some day these thoughts just fade away and stop coming back. But after more than 20 years, I doubt that they will ever go away completely. It is probably a lot like an insomniac who, despite his best efforts and the best medications, every night must face the same dilemma of going to sleep. Only in my case, it’s not sleep that won’t come, it’s just simple peace of mind.
o o o
I would have constant delusions while working or off of work about people “talking about me” and I would just have to ignore my ears. Sometimes, I just resorted to wearing foam ear plugs so that I couldn’t hear conversations near me second hand and suffer the fears that resulted from my psychotic misinterpretations of what people were saying. .I don’t know how common it is for bi-polar patients to have such delusions, but I had them. I was diagnosed at that point as Psychotic Disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified). That had come after years of a Paranoid Schizophrenic diagnosis, but I believe that my Psychiatrist, Thomas Carter, thought that I was too high functioning to be considered truly Schizophrenic. Whatever it was, it wasn’t fun. My social life was still somewhat active, and I would, as I’ve said, just ignore my aberrant thoughts and pretend that everything was fine. Many people, from that time of my life, have told me that I must be a very good liar, because it was never apparent to those friends and acquaintances that I was having constant delusions during that period. Of course you learn to lie when you are mentally ill, because if you don’t, you cannot function in a “normal” life.
o o o
At some point around New Years Day, 2004, I decided again to stop taking my meds. As I rationalized it, I was not drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, or taking any other drugs, and besides, as is common among mentally ill people, I was feeling fine because I was on Risperdal and consequently deluded myself into believing that I was no longer mentally ill. (If I were to say the one biggest problems, for me at least, and I know for many other if not most of the mentally ill, is coming to terms with the fact that your illness is permanent and requires lifelong treatment with psychotropic medication.) Consequently, my mental condition started to deteriorate rapidly. I started to suspect people were “talking about me” again and had several persistent delusions relating to some old acquaintances and my belief that I was a Special Agent for the FBI. My brother Dennis, who had seen me deteriorate in a similar manner several times in the past, noticed my deterioration, but I lied to him and assured him that I was still taking my meds.
The above excerpts indicate not only an ability on the part of my brother to be rational and write coherently, in sharp contrast to much of his writings and poems in a large opus of documents I have compiled (and can make available to the court), they also constitute an admission by Tony that he lies to hide his illness or being off his meds.
Tony may be “competent to stand trial”. But beware. The mental illness he is afflicted with is, to use an analogy, like a computer virus that takes over a computer. Except in this case, it is a form of consciousness that takes over a host human being’s psychology and thought processes. The behavior of the host victim may seem on the surface to be normal and rational at some standard of competency. Yet, since the virus is not my brother, it follows the standard cannot apply. There is no jurisprudence of which I am aware that applies. If that is true, that leaves the court in a bit of a bind. It is like a body snatcher in the movie “Invasion of the body snatchers”. There is no sense that the pronouns “he” or “him” or even the name “Tony” refers to my brother at the those times that the body snatcher has control. Worse, the virus acts in a way to defend its existence, duping its host victim into experiencing things that are not happening (delusions) and causing the host to claim to be sane, duping his friends, relatives, his lawyers, and the entire judicial system including you yourself, your honor, with all due respect.
I’ve seen this happen before and it is happening again. It is the pitiable state of affairs whereby the police, judicial, and prison system in California are acting in lieu of medical treatment for a medical condition and engaging in a charade following a script of rules that do not or should not apply.
What can be done to better the situation in a just manner? In my opinion, a just solution would involve imposing (not “offering”) a supervised treatment program and living situation on my brother, a kind of probation with parole, that provides him with the ability to seek employment while further imposing the condition that if he violates various conditions of his parole, such as going off his meds or committing unlawful acts, he would be subject to incarceration at a secure institution such as Atascadero State Hospital. I believe that my brother would be responsive to such a solution even if he is not capable of agreeing to such treatment voluntarily. The result would be just, practical, cost effective, and in some cases ultimately rehabilitating. I urge the court to consider this course of action if at all legally possible.
Dennis G. Allard
Santa Monica, CA
August 14, 2009
[ story continued: http://oceanpark.com/blog/2009/08/not-guilty-so-now-what/ ]