6. Competent to Stand Trial?

Chapter 6 in a series on mental illness.

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The process of obtaining a conservatorship for my brother has been suspended. The reason, according to William Ortega of the office of the California State Public Guardian, is that my brother is on a hold to determine his competency to stand trial on charges of felony vandalism in a matter unrelated to his original incarceration on a misdemeanor.

While delusional and psychotic, my brother allegedly keyed the car of an old acquaintance and is now facing a second strike felony on those charges. The judge in the case found reason to doubt that Tony is competent to stand trial. So Tony was moved to a hospital where he is required to take anti-psychotic medication while he is “restored to competency to stand trial”. No matter that he committed the act of keying the car while delusional. He just has to be sufficiently stable after taking medication so that he can shuffled back into court and make a decision about his case and be put on trial.

The actual process of “restoring” him can take up to three years of incarceration in the hospital/jail.

In other words, the conservatorship process, which those close to my brother believe to be one last hope for my brother to be required to receive treatment and become stable, is being thwarted by the very criminal justice system that initiated it. The conservatorship process was initiated by the doctors at LA County jail while he was awaiting his hearings. Now that is all to naught. This is bonkers.

Knowing my brother, even after being restored to “competency” he will be in total denial of his mental illness. He will not accept a plea bargain whereby he agrees to a treatment program. He really wants to be normal and not mentally ill so he believes he isn’t and, if the past is any indication, will plead not guilty and prefer to go to prison for a second strike violation. Once in prison, the system will see that he is not stable and will continue to require medication. As before, he will end up in a psychiatric ward of the prison or in a mental hospital/prison, but this time for years as he serves his second strike violation for having been delusional and removing some paint from the side of a car.

This is not to justify vandalism. And, when delusional, my brother can become threatening to both strangers and friends who, ironically, like him and enjoy his company when he is stable. Although he has never harmed anyone, he sometimes makes threats and is a big guy and can be scary. It is his insanity telling him that people are out to get him and his delusions working on his mind, causing him to react in a way that almost makes sense except he is not rational. So the insanity affects everyone. It affects him first and foremost. It affects those he comes in contact with, both friends and strangers. After many years, he continues to relapse. Which is why the disease should be treated by a mandated treatment program. But we have almost no mechanism in U.S. society to require treatment. It falls on the criminal justice system to handle a large percentage of our mentally ill. That is not the kind of society we should accept. Change is needed.

My hope, as reported in http://oceanpark.com/blog/2010/03/mentally-ill-brother-thrown-back-on-the-street/#latest-update , was that his doctors at Los Angeles Twin Towers Correctional Facility would succeed in the effort they started to create a conservatorship. The conservatorship would have been instituted by the State of California and would have provided a mechanism to make legal decisions in Tony’s place about his living situation and his money. He would not have liked it, but it seems to be the only method available to the state other than direct imprisonment to require Tony to take medication and remain stable and functional in society. Now that one hope for progress is being delayed and thwarted by a different court in the bureaucracy while Tony is “brought back to competency to stand trial”.

[Note: Elsewhere see video interview with my brother on September 1, 2009.]

[Note: Elsewhere see excerpt's of my brother's writing about his own mental illness .]

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21 Responses to 6. Competent to Stand Trial?

  1. JenH says:

    NAMI publishes a booklet A Guide to Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System . Its pretty good, about maneuvering through the criminal justice system.

    Also see: Representation for the Mentally Ill

    … My son also has legal problems: 8 charges of marijuana paraphernalia. [He is facing real jail time] while sick over nuisance charges. As a mother I can tell you that while I wouldn’t want my mentally ill child to burden my other children (doesn’t apply to me, son is an only child), it is a beautiful tribute to your mom and brother to be taking the time to do the advocating you are doing for him. It truly is speaking for the confused and the voiceless.

  2. Lydia says:

    My only comment is that I am just one more person in the same boat as you. I have a mentally ill adult son who has been able to fly under the radar. He has very similar behavioral manifestations as your brother, although with more violent outbursts. I have decided that we are living in an age whereby the kind of decent, humane help these individuals need is just going to be denied period. Unless you have a compliant, wealthy and medically insured mentally ill individual, you need to stop expecting that help is on the way. Of course, most mentally ill folks, with delusions and hallucinations aren’t wealthy, don’t work so have no insurance and for the most part lack the insight into their medical condition. The way they are treated it is no wonder that they also lack trust in the system to ever help them.

  3. Tom says:

    Thank you for writing this series. I stumbled on it today while searching the internet for better ways to organize the data accumulated ‘helping’ a mentally ill brother. I walk a similar path as you do. My brother is about as old as yours and has been ill since ~1978. In the last several years I have taken up the supporting role from other siblings, rescuing impounded vehicle & possessions left in police custody, providing case history to mental health workers, trying to help him find a place to stay, calling 911 when he threatens suicide, and providing monetary support…, always asking myself, “Just how much help should I, or can I provide?”

    I particularly liked the well written letter to the Pasadena Superior Court that describes the illness using the Invasion of the Body Snatchers analogy, and that during manic episodes, it is the body snatcher that has control. I will be thinking of that next time I get a call from him where he’s not doing so well, and my understanding & patience is running low.

  4. Chris says:

    Now that I have read the whole thing. I wish your brother, his friends and family all the best and absolutely hope that one day your brother will get better and realize what kind of loving people surround him.

    All the best to you , continue being that strong. I have respect for that.

  5. blue says:

    please stay strong for your brother…without you, hope is lost and he will most certainly fall…don’t let that happen. stand in front of anyone who will listen and tell them your brother’s story. go to washington if you have to. i don’t live in the US, and i live in a country with socialized medicine/medical care but your story is not yours alone. so many, armed with nothing to fight the paperwork, the illness, the state….

    please take care of yourself and your family and friends, but do not ever close the chapter on your brother…this is a book, whose ending doesn’t have to be now. this might be a long chapter, and one which is difficult – but this chapter will end. and when this one does, hopefully the next one will be filled with more happiness and more peace.

    your brother does want to be well. and he needs you to act as his angel – for now – until he can find the peace of mind he so deserves.

    my heart and prayers are for you and for Tony.

  6. ak2190 says:

    I just want to say that I really admire you for all that you are doing to help your brother and to show people what devastation mental illness causes. I feel so much compassion for your brother. I am an RN working at a Mental Health Institute and every day I wish there was some way to bring peace of mind to all the individuals out there suffering from this illness. I can only imagine how hard it must be to struggle every day against something no one else has to deal with. It makes me so angry that the system is so broken that patients fall through the cracks all the time. I wish you and your brother the very best! Don’t give up on being there for him!

  7. When delusional my brother damaged some property so he is incarcerated. So there is no struggle for me now. He is off the street and has a roof over his head, albeit one provided by the court and prison system rather than treatment by the medical system.

    Were things as simple for others with mental illness.

    As the shooting of Gabriell Giffords in Tuscon shows, a mentally disturbed person who is left to fall between the cracks can end up going totally insane and in some cases harm other people. Futhermore, the afflicted person also suffers from the mental illness since their thinking becomes tortured by obsessions, fears, and delusions. They are left untreated. They suffer. And sometimes society suffers.

    In the case of Jared Loughner, his mental illness was evident to many yet that mental illness was given the right to rule his mind and degenerate. An article in the Washington Post, January 9, 2011, by David A. Fahrenthold, Sari Horwitz and Amy Gardner illustrates this point. According to that article, Loughner was attending classes at Tucson’s Pima Community College. School administrators ignored warnings of his fellow students and his teachers that his behavior was threatening. According the article, the administrators were reported to have said, “He hasn’t taken any action to hurt anyone. He hasn’t provoked anybody. He hasn’t brought any weapons to class…. We’ll just wait until he takes that next step.”.

    But what can a school do? Should school administrators reject a student just because he manifests quirky behavior or some fellow student makes a complaint? To answer that question, we needto realize the the issue is much larger than what happens in schools. Consider the case of the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007 . Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people, had been diagnosed with mental illness long before enrolling at Virginia Tech. Yet, due to federal privacy laws, Virginia Tech was not informed of Seung-Hui Cho’s diagnosis at the time he enrolled!

    On a daily basis, in Los Angeles, police officers do not detain or transport mentally ill people to a hosptial even when they have been reported to be making threats unless they are deemed “a danger to themselves or others or severely disabled”. The bar for arresting disturbed people or for placing them in treatment is very high. Often, after being reported to police, a mentally ill person who was harassing someone will simply be taken to some other part of town and dropped off. Or taken to an emergency room where they will be given some pills then turned loose.

    It goes from bad to absurd. Some scientologists have been known to try to convince mentally ill people to not take antipsychotic medicine.

    In my opinion, when a mentally ill person has gotten to the the point they are delusional and making threats, there needs to be a fair judicial process, with due process, that requires the afflicted person to take medication, involuntarily if necessary. That may sound harsh. But, in fact, it is more humane than letting the mental illness dominate the life of the afflicted person and people the afflicted person comes in contact with on a daily basis.

  8. Chris says:

    Dennis, is there any update on your brother? How long will he be incarcerated for? My heart goes out to you. I wish I knew how we can wrest control of our society from people so lacking in compassion or how we can fix a system that has failed so many in such desperate need. It is truly heartbreaking, but your efforts to publish your brother’s story are heroic for having made people aware of just how dire our collective circumstances become when indifference, ignorance, and incompetence are institutionalized as they have been in America.

  9. After a long period of recalcitrance where my brother stayed off his meds, he seems to be on meds now. For the first time in a year or two I am able to have a fairly normal conversation with him (by phone). He remains in a psychiatric hospital. Unfortunately, while in the hospital, he allegedly made some threatening phone calls (from the hospital!) to various old acquaintances so he now faces new charges.

    Until about a month or two ago, it was impossible to have a normal phone conversation with him. He would dominate the call, not listen, rant and rave. He totally rejected another old friend who had wanted to visit him. Etc. But over the past few weeks, something has improved. He told me he is on meds now and that they give him ones that dissolve quickly so he cannot “cheek” them. He has become very stable and I have had a couple of calm conversations with him. I have not asked him about the new charges or tried to visit him yet. I was too burned out to these past many months to follow his case closely or attempt fight the system, and he must not have been on meds or not on the right ones, as evidenced by his actions and behavior. We also have a 93 year old mother in an expensive assisted living home, most of the cost of which I cover since her social security only pays for about one fourth of the expense. I want to keep her comfortable in her final years. So that is also an issue in my life, since I don’t have much money left for other pursuits. I’m not complaining, I’m just giving some context.

    If my brother remains stable, at some point I will put some energy into following his case and visiting him again. In the mean time I have my own life to live. Thanks for writing.

  10. Matt Horns says:

    Mental illness is one of the most devastating things that can can happen to an individual and to his or her family. It’s also one of the most expensive human conditions we deal with. When mental patients refuse to take their psych meds
    the cost to society (housing, medical, dental, law enforcement, petty crimes, violence, et cet.) skyrockets to a level that we cannot afford. This is a tragedy with no good outcome. We need to accept the fact that some people are beyond our help.

  11. Matt Horns says:

    Diet has a huge effect on brain chemistry. In many cases nutrition has a bigger influence than medications. Simply eating the right food has cured many mentally ill victims.

  12. Nicole says:

    Dennis,
    I work for a political subdivision of the state of Texas. My Supervisor runs a law enforcement academy. I have been tasked to download videos for mental health issues. This is how I came across the video of your brother. I have read your whole chapters on what has happened with your brother. My heart goes out to you! If it’s ok with you, I will give my boss your url and let him give to his officers in training to let them know what it’s like for the families of mental health patients.

  13. This blog is public and if you feel that showing the history of my brother to others can help for the better, please do so.
    Thanks.

  14. joseph havermayer says:

    My heart goes out to you and your brother

  15. Lynn Halifax says:

    I found this site after watching the video interview you posted with your brother. I am a doctoral student in psychology and was researching schizophrenia. I then read all that you have written here about your travails trying to get Tony the help he needs. The system is indeed broken, as your personal history so wrenchingly illustrates. I also share many of your political and religious views (as well as your views on treating your brother’s bipolar/schizophrenia illness–why do some idiot commenters fail to see how crucial meds are? You wouldn’t deny the importance of insulin to a diabetic–duh!).

    Anyway, even though you’re preaching to the converted, I just wanted to tell you that your open and direct way of sharing your situation was very helpful to me, and I’m sure to others. I also wanted to ask for an update on your brother’s situation, since it has been a long time since you wrote about him. That may be for the best, however (obviously you’ve struggled with the question of how much you can do for him; all I can say is I support your need to draw boundaries that make sense for you). If you are taking some “time off” writing about him, I completely understand. But if at some point you think it’s time for an update, I know that I would be interested to know where your joint journey has taken you. (Please forgive my curiosity–I have dealt with both a sibling and parent with mental illness, so I’m not just completely rubbernecking). At any rate, best of luck to you in your attempts to navigate this wretched system of mental health care (or non-care, as the case may be).

  16. Thanks for your thoughts Lynn. My brother is in the California Correctional system serving time for vandalizing a car, which he did while fully delusional. I will post a more detailed update after his release, most likely next year after he spends one year at Atascadero State Hospital. He is taking his meds now and is extremely lucid. He is working on a novel which draws on his experiences in the state correctional system. I find it entertaining and compelling. I hope he completes it and publishes it when he gets out. Also, it will be up to him if he wishes to keep this set of information about his life online or not.

  17. L. Collette says:

    Dennis wherever you are, please update us! This is the story of our siblings. We are the ones who have read this who still care and are searching for help. Maybe Laura’s Law; (although I don’t trust too many new laws).
    How is Tony? It is 2015

  18. UPDATE: My brother Tony was released from Atascadero State Hospital on Monday July, 2015. I will update this story with a new chapter after I see how my brother is doing and with his permission. So far, so good. Tony is lucid, stable, and fun to be around. Also, he was placed in a housing situation where his meds are monitored and his expenses are very low. Tony has agreed to do another interview but has also requested that the initial video be taken off of YouTube. If we do that interview I will post it on this site.

  19. Jon says:

    Any updates? We seem to just be starting this journey with my 23 year old brother in law. Won’t take meds, doing drugs. Now on the street. Heartbreaking

  20. Tony Allard says:

    Dear Jon,

    I am Dennis Allard’s “schizophrenic” brother. In fact, I have not been diagnosed as schizophrenic, which is a “psychotic”, or “cognitive” (thought), disorder, for over 20 years. I am now classified as bipolar manic type. Bipolar disorder (read: manic/depressive illness) is a mood disorder which is controlled by “mood stabilizers” such as lithium or depakote. Psychoses are “controlled” by “old school” antipsychotics (such as haldol or moban, which, incidentally I prefer) or “new school a-typical” anti-psychotics such as zyprexa, reperidal, or abilify (all of which I have been on within the last 20 years and which have worse side effects on me personally). Why do I bring this all up? You say you “seem to be just starting this journey with your brother in law . . . meds, doing drugs . . . . Heartbreaking”

    I’ve had at least 5 different diagnoses in 30 years of so called “mental illness(es)”: paranoid schizophrenia, psychotic disorder NOS (not otherwise specified), schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder schizoaffective type, bipolar disorder with schizoaffective episodes, and bipolar disorder type I with mania. And in the course of all that “scientific” Psychiatric guesswork, I’ve been prescribed over 30 different “psych meds”. Oh how some of us among the “mentally ill” hate that term. Do you know that the primary use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, (DSM5), our modern Psychiatrist’s descriptive tool for defining mental illnesses, is to catalogue those illnesses for the purpose of insurance billing?

    Jon, you want to hear about “heartbreak”, how about gaining and loosing over 50 pounds 5 times in 15 years. I’m currently 60 lbs. overweight due to my 1,500/mg./day Depakote habit. Also I am now at the point where my hands shake so bad that I can sometimes barely get a cup of coffee to my lips at breakfast. I tend to go the other way in blaming Psychiatry for my current woes, and I appreciate my brother’s concern and efforts to help me, but I think he overestimates the objectivity of Psychiatrist’s evaluations and the efficacy of modern Psychiatry’s tools in “treating” the so called mentally ill. As far as legislating treatments such as “Laura’s Law”, I don’t know anything about it. As far as your brother-in-law, I don’t know anything about his situation either. But living on the street isn’t necessarily worse than in our mental wards or prisons for a lot of men, (and it’s mostly men that are in them). For some, it’s preferable. My feelings are ambivalent at best. I feel for you, though; mental illness is a lose-lose situation.

  21. Dennis Allard says:

    Hi Jon.

    I’ll leave my brother Tony’s reply as a kind of update, as you requested. Tony is doing very well after many years of on again/off again incarceration. He tells me he will stay on his meds this time. I enjoy his company and hope we’ll have a more normal realationship going forward not possible in the past years when he was off his meds and/or drinking.

    So that is good news from our end. My brother preferred that the interview I did with him back in 2009 be removed from YouTube. I hope he’ll change his mind and, in fact, do another interview follow up in which he comments on how he feels about that original interview and about what has transpired in his life since then and now. He is a gifted writer so I hope he will publish some of the things he’s working on. He also is a very creative video artist and I hope he will find a way to make more of the very entertaining videos he is capable of.

    All of that does not, of course, address your issue with your brother in law, as my brother Tony’s comments also fail to do. Tony engages in polemic against the psychiatric community which I, of course, take with a grain of salt. Some people are able to be helped by psychiatrists. All you can do is try to communicate with your brother in law in those moments of rationality he may have from time to time and attempt to persuade him to see a doctor and possibly take meds. I can’t think of anything else to suggest to you.

    Dennis Allard

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