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In 1984, in San Diego, I was born to two parents with mental health problems. My parents put myself and my siblings through severe neglect, sexual abuse, physical and verbal abuse. I am the oldest of six children. My dad was a Vietnam vet. At age 12 I broke away from my parents and turned myself over to Child Protective Services thinking they could help and were the only answer.
On March 4, I heard Angela Davis speak at the Beyond the Bars: Connecting the Struggles conference, which was held at Columbia University. Davis’ speech focused on the necessary abolition of the criminal justice system, specifically incarceration. As Davis spoke, I flicked through the mental photographs of Black men and women locked in cages. The story of Jamycheal Mitchell came to mind.
Santa Cruz County is seen by many as a model for enlightened jail and prison policies. But last month the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury released a report on the unusual number of deaths in the county jail in 2012 and 2013 titled “Five Deaths in Santa Cruz: An Investigation of In-Custody Deaths.” The Grand Jury found that a lack of after-hours mental health evaluations and failures to follow procedures on the part of jail staff likely contributed to the deaths.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s bid to end federal control over the state prison system’s mental health system was denied in federal court. Judge Karlton determined that “systemic failures persist in the form of inadequate suicide prevention measures, excessive administrative segregation of the mentally ill, lack of timely access to adequate care, insufficient treatment space and access to beds, and unmet staffing needs.”
A special investigation, “’My Name is 6508799’: State of the Gulf, One Year After the Oil Drilling Disaster,” recently released by the NAACP, indicates that thousands of Gulf Coast residents are still suffering mild to severe mental health problems stemming from BP oil drilling disaster last year.