October 10, 2008

A Plea for Help #1

Kind Sangha Members [both Buddhist and Homeless]:

Sorry for the desperate title of this post, but I find myself in an absurd nightmare and I would welcome any ideas or guidance.

In a nutshell, as many of you may know, in April my mother died; my sister was her usual oppressive self and transformed what, in my opinion, should of been humble funeral-and-burial plans into something expensive and disrespectful and more about her than our mother; then, my sister stole the inheritance; and I broke windows at my sister's home.

All this has introduced me to the Homeless World in Sacramento, which I find fascinating. Somehow, everything here [in Homeless World] seems just like it had to be, yet it is a startling surprise because there are such a great many splendid, yet flawed and troubled, people among the homeless. I feel like Jodie Foster in the movie Contact when she made contact and said "I would never have believed it was so beautiful." Still, it is all a carnival of misery.

Too, I have been introduced to the galloping madness of the justice system and welfare system and mental-health system and strange arenas of ordinary ineptitude and, on too-rare occassions, strange arenas of extraordinary generosity.

A lot has been weird. The central problem I have now is that I am being forced to see mental-health professionals to determine if I have the marbles in my head necessary for me to act properly in court.

This is occurring, not because I have acted improperly in court. By my "public defender"'s admission, it is at least partly because I've made claim that she is doing a lousy job acting as my attorney. I am appauled by my attorney and had petitioned the court to dismiss her, as is my 6th Amendment right.

Slow forward momentum in the courts regarding the glass-breaking thing was suspended for a month while I saw two highly credentialed mental-health doctors.

Turns out that one of the two wrote a report concluding I was right as rain: "The defendant does not present any psychotic symptoms." She did write, however, that there was "a degree of immaturity" and that I displayed "hints of narcissism."

The other doctor came to a radically different conclusion in his report. His much longer report, which is filled with errors and misquotes, says that I have a "major mood disorder" "characterized by multiple symptoms of depression and hypomanic, poor impulse control, impaired judgment, and possibly psychotic symptoms." Also, I have a personality disorder, according to this doctor. He suggests a multitude of antipsychotic medications with the possiblity that in place of one I be subjected to electoconvulsive therapy.

Of course, this is all SCARY AS HELL. As Woody Allen joked in Annie Hall, I think it was, "my brain is my second favorite organ" -- so I'd rather not have some whacky doctors in there thinking they have the right to scramble the little gray cells.

One strange element of this is that if I had had to guess, I would have said that the woman doctor I saw wasn't impressed with me and that the man I saw subsequently better understood my head, heart and situation. Boy, did I have that backwards. Also, be informed, during both evaluations I was the same person: Me, as I know him.

The result of this disparity is that my case has been dunned with another continuation -- for another month -- while a third doctor has been charged with "breaking the tie," to use the words of my public defender. These evaluations are feeling like sets in a tennis match, with my head being used as the ball. First to win two sets, wins the match.

I want to break out of this madness. No, not any madness in my head -- where there isn't any -- but the madness of this politicized justice and mental-health system. Everything seems wildly arbitrary: the plea-bargaining process; the mental evaluations; my rights regarding any of this, et al.

Any ideas out there? I'd like to be evaluated by a Buddhist doctor, and I think that that's fair, considering the selection process is pretty much rigged against me. [Perhaps a Buddhist doctor's conclusions cannot be entered into the record such that they 'mean' anything; but I would like for that 'something different' thing to happen, anyway.]


The Truth Will Out said...


Your situation is clearly one that must be greatly disarming.

You seem to be riding this particular horse with a good heart, a clear head and a "hold your head up high attitude". I am impressed with your fortitude.

Now to the advice.

1. I would certainly not leave your fate in the hands of yet another shrink who, unbeknowst to you, may well have connections with the one who filed what seems to have been a highly mistaken report.

2. I would recommend you go and see a Psychiatrist privately and describe your difficulties and situation and ask for an independent report.

If you have no money you might find, through local charities and advocate organisations, someone who is prepared to do this for you pro bono (without fees).

3. I would also recommend you to go and see your local Buddhist doctor and ask them for the same and also not to pay fees. They should not be expecting you to given your status.

4. When it comes to court I would think carefully about friends, relatives, schoolteachers, employers, colleagues - anyone you know - who is a "respectable" member of society, likes you and is aware of some of your family situation and have them appear in court to testify on your behalf also. If other family members shared your feelings about the funeral in particular have them there too.

5. Do all you can to get new legal representation. Go to homeless support centres, telephone relevant recommended lawyers, find drop in legal advice sessions - anything - try and find a lawyer you connect with and have trust in to fight the case for you and not to screw the case for you. Again you are looking for someone to act on your behalf pro bono, make this clear from the start and explain that the court appointed lawyer appears to be acting not with your best interests in mind.

Your sister clearly has narcissistic problems as you have described her and as this is usually a factor of upbringing and environment it would not be surprising if you also carried some of this Karma.

However it seems you suffer it to a lesser extent than your sister and therefore if you keep a cool calm head in court and subpoena her to appear (if she is not doing so) your lawyer - forearmed with this knowledge - should make mincemeat of her adding weight to your case.

That may not seem very Buddhist yet she has sown these Karmic seeds and she will harvest the fruits. Some Karma ripens much quicker than other.

Ideally, I would suggest, you need to find a more stable living environment before the court case - even if this is temporary lodgings with a friend, in a Buddhist community or with relatives who understand your situation, if there are any.

Remember your Buddhist training in calm, equanimity, awareness and focus. Bring these to play in all your interactions with these people. Be real, be present, be aware. Pay proper attention both to other people and to your own thoughts, words and actions.

Take action and take it with a calm but steady pace, find the help you need to achieve justice.

With the Dhamma at your back and in your mind you won't be getting fried braincells nor chemical cocktails - but will regain your freedom.

In the Dhamma,


Justin said...

Hi Tom,

I've only just seen your blog and your difficult situation. I don't fully understand the chain of events that led to this but I'm really sorry to hear that this has happened.

I don't have any real knowledge of the US mental health and legal system so I don't have any advice. I suspect that getting a private psychiatric evaluation would be a good idea if at all possible.

Sorry I can't be any more help.


They call him James Ure said...


First of all metta to you. I don't think I can add anything to "The Truth will Out."

However, I can say that doctors do often push meds when they're not needed. I have seen plenty of "psychiatrists" in my day and not many of them are worth anything.

I did finally find one that knows what's going on and is very helpful to me. I can attest to the madness of the mental health industry as well as the government with trying to get on disability.

I guess my advice might sound basic and goes without saying but DON'T GIVE UP. I had to file, and file and refile again my case until I finally got my hearing.

Often these prosecutors, "doctors" and other ballyhoos expect people won't resist or keep badgering them for a fair shake.

The only other thing that I can say is to keep taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. And we are apart of that sangha brother and support you all the way.

Peace and justice be with you brother.

They call him James Ure said...

The other thing I would say is that if a compromise that seems agreeable comes your way--take it. There are no guarantees with the corrupt American law system. Wrong and right are sadly not much valued in court but rather semantics and arguing over words.

Often I've found that pushing for a perfect outcome can find you end up losing everything. Though I'm not a legal expert in ANY regard so take that with a grain of salt.

It's horrible that you are in this position and it's less than fair. I will be thinking of you often when I meditate from now on.

Buddhist_philosopher said...

Tom - my heart goes out to you, my friend.

James is right on when he says DON'T GIVE UP. This may get more difficult before it gets easier, but you will get past this.

For a therapist with knowledge of PDs and Zen, find one trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (there are listings on this site: http://behavioraltech.org). NAMI of CA may have some resources for you as well.

Getting to a specialist is very important here - they will best be able to tell you if you don't have a PD and will also be in the best position to treat you if they think you do (often w/o drugs). Non-expert shrinks, while well-meaning, can be more harm than good, as they will try to diagnose/treat conditions that are too complicated for them.

James is also wise in advising for a compromise. You are in no position to set right all the ills of the system; try to work it such that it does you the least harm so you can quickly get back on your feet. If this means submitting to a less than competent lawyer or doctor as an expedient means (upaya), then do so.

You have been a great teacher and advocate in the blog-world to myself and others, and I can see you transforming this wisdom and energy toward advocacy and help for those in the homeless world.


Anonymous said...

I am very sorry to hear your situation, it can't be something easy to deal with I'm sure.

Just a couple questions, to go back a bit: Did your mother have a will? Was there an executor or was it put into probate? Many times if the will is contested or in probate their are lawyers/administrators that are assigned to negotiate the process through.

Can you tell me who ordered the competency exam? I assume it is was the judge in the criminal trial for whatever you are being charged with once you requested the Pro Se Writ(to act as ones own attorney)? It is not uncommon for judges to request a competency exam and hearing for people who request to represent themselves.

Only thing I would suggest to you now would be to see if you can find a pro bono lawyer, possibly go to the local chapter of the ACLU, who can usually if not get you a lawyer, at least in the competency hearing, may be able to point you to other lawyers.

Tom said...

I am enormously grateful and humbled by the attention each of you have given to my problem and the thought you each invested in an effort to help me.

I will use this weekend to do as much on the computer as possible to move forward all of your great ideas.

Thank you, Matthew, for your comprehensive list of advice. Regarding items on your list:

1: I am indeed very concerned, scared even, about this next shrink, how he will be influenced and the possible arbitrariness of his conclusions regarding my mental health. My unwanted public defender selected a doctor and the judge selected a doctor and one of those two is supposed to see me. It was determined yesterday that the judge's selected doctor will see me on the 20th. I emailed my public defender writing that after my experience thus far, it will be necessary for a video or audio record of the evaluation session. My public defender made an appointment with me yesterday at 4:30, just before she was to go on vacation, but did not show up for our meeting. To my public defender's credit, she did send me substantive emails yesterday morning which lead me to believe having a record of the evaluation won't be an obstacle.

2, 3: I have this morning been researching various ways I can, possibly, see a psychiatrist or Buddhist doctor that I have a part in selecting, without fees. I have several leads and will pursue them Monday.

4: Here I have problems. I am for mysterious-seeming reasons an outlier of the extended family. Partly, it is because, I surmise, Carol kept me out of things. And, partly it is because of this inheritance thing involving an uncle and the way the proceeds were distributed. THAT inheritance thing is complicated, involves decades and the provisions in two separate wills. I won't go into all THAT here, but it has nothing to do with any money coming to me.

5: I can't discuss this here and now.

As for other matters following your list, Matthew, I will be attempting to get into a better living evironment and earning what money I can.

Problems for me are that cold and rainy weather is coming to Sacramento after a six-month-plus period of consistant dry and hot-to-mild weather. Thanks, Matthew for all the thought you put into your comment and your support.

Anonymous said...

Tom, I know this sounds crazy, but there is a silver lining to this. Try and work up a book to publish (keep in mind the Dharma Bums). It would be a manual on how to live a homeless life (remember that this is the true Buddhist life). Have sections in it about showers, toilets, what to avoid, etc. It will be very timely when this country collapses and we are all homeless except for the rich who caused the mess. As strange as it sounds, I think you will have very good luck in this direction. You're a dman good writer--wonderful personal style. That counts for something. It is a seed that will grow.


Tom said...

Justin Farquar: Thank you for your kind words of concern. I bow to you.

James: Thank you for your comment and emails. I will not be giving up. Comments in this thread are dear and encouraging. I am bucked up in the hope that the right experts in Sacramento can be found who will help me.

Kind Buddhist Philosopher [aka, Justin Whitaker]: I will certainly look for the specialists you advise. Great tip. As for the idea of "compromise [expedient means]," a good word from you and James.

I do know that I broke the windows and that I could have out-of-the-ordinary elements to the way I think or react to things. I need to acknowledge where I have been wrong and pay the price of correcting damage that I am at fault for.

Also, I am appauled at the enormous expense to the taxpayers of all this falderal.

Thank you, Justin, for your good advice.

Tom said...

anonymous #1:

Answers to your questions:
1) My mother had no will, rather tragically. Unhappily, in this circumstance, if a person snatches all the funds, she has an advantage.

2) My public defender asked for the competancy exam, per penal code 1369, in part because of the petition to dismiss her -- she told me. But also because she claims I am not helping her to defend me -- which is weird; I've done everything she's asked of me, and when I have made suggestions they've been deemed irrelevant.

BTW, I didn't submit a formal Faretta Motion [aka, Pro Se Writ] -- rather a letter of dismissal of the public defender, sent to the judge with copies to the public defenders' office and DA. I did what a website suggested I do, not being able to find the right 'motion' paperwork at the time.

I will look into how the ACLU might help. Great idea.

Tom said...


Nice to hear from you, wise old master.

Thank you for your kind words about my writing. AND, indeed, toilets, showers and what to avoid ARE vital issues in the Homeless World I live in.

I don't know if I have the chops for a book, but I do expect I'll get something in the local paper at some point.

There is this new feature in the Sunday Sacramento Bee, called The Conversation that I have been asked to try to write a conversation-starter article for. I'd like to do that. One of my problems here is that I have criticisms of how homeless people are dealt with in Sacramento, but I wouldn't want Loave & Fishes [the prime homeless-help facility] to suffer any loss of donations at this critical time.

Anonymous said...

I sent you an email to your gmail account.

Buddhist_philosopher said...

heya Tom. I just nominated/awarded you for your being so wonderfully you.

Good luck with this next psych doc, you will be in my thoughts and meditations.

Mumon said...

"Narcissistic" is an odd word to use in the case where, uh, it's about you, but knowing someone really close with (undiagnosed) NPD, I can give a few tips:

Calmly listen to whatever is being said; do not state opinions as facts, and neither exalt nor denigrate feelings. Feelings are feelings, from a Buddhist perspective of course they are an impermanent aggregate.
They are an object of mindfulness, but they are not exclusively so.

It amazes me how people get over these things.

Finally, I don't know how familiar you might be with koan practice, but I am continually reminded these days of "Nansen cuts the cat," which is about how we respond in the case of insane "justice" at some level.

There is a beyond all the crap and feelings and resentments, etc. etc.

Beyond this, I think others' recommendations are great.

Douglas said...

Dear Tom: Just now gettin gup to seed on your situation,. I hope you find your way through all this or the way finds you, Tom. Have you had the peace of mind to meditate and create an oasis of calm on a regular basis in the midst of the head-swirling drama and trauma? That will help, most especially if you are regular with it. The craziness of these times in your life, you may find, will be less oppressive with more space around them in your spirit/mind from meditation. With metta, Douglas (former editor of Hundred Mountain Journal)