I am wearily–yes, wearily–posting links to two recent pieces by the peerless mental-healthcare blogger Pete Earley. Below them I’m linking to an archive within the blog you are reading now.
Their common denominator: they are about young brain-damaged men enduring Hell-on-earth lives on the streets of America as those who love them–mothers, sisters–trudge on through the years, and decades, trying vainly to awaken the conscience of the–the what? The whom? The withered, laughably misnamed “mental health” systems in their states that are restricted by outdated boneheaded rules and by the soul-deadened payrollers who run them. By the distracted politicians who appoint those payrollers and promptly forget them. By the oblivious electorate that will never form a constituency to keep the politicians on the case.
I am typing these words in a near-incoherent state. I am consumed with boiling anger that makes me want to scream; black despair; bottomless pity for Rebecca Distel Reinig, the mother of Joseph; for Joseph’s father, and for Joseph, rest his soul. I feel such contempt for the pigsty that is our mental healthcare system and for the hospital and the healthcare factotums who carried out this coldblooded deceitful near-execution. (A sack lunch they gave him before dumping him in the rain. A SACK LUNCH).
I feel trepidation on behalf of certain friends who will read this and feel stricken because they have also felt the sting of American barbarism—institutional and private—as regards mental illness. The Rippee family. The West family. Find them in my blog archives if you don’t know who I am talking about.
Yet I derive hope from the handful of heroes in this country who do not let their own exhaustion and despair halt their crusade: the author and advocate Dede Moon Ranahan, who originally posted Rebecca Reinig’s nightmarish account of her son’s fate. Others.
I know that many, if not most of you, being human, come upon my mental-illness blog posts and read past them. Not this one. Please. Don’t skip this one. Read it, Every word. And learn something about the hellscape that awaits just on the other side of the membrane.
From Rebecca Distel Reinig:
“It’s with a heavy heart and a sadness that I did not know existed in a human soul that I would like to share with you the passing of my son Joseph. He was found Wednesday in some bushes in Oceanside, CA. Alone in the rain. Still wearing the hospital gown that he was had on when he was dropped off by staff from the behavior health hospital on Monday afternoon. His death is a tragedy and could have heen prevented if the doctors and social worker had truly listened to me when I begged them to not release him to the streets. I told them he was gonna die. Keep reading…I will explain the trajedy of his death. His cause of death is under investigation by the San Diego Coronor. An autopsy will be performed within the next few days.He just turned 30.
For those of you who do not know my son’s story, it’s not that much different than thousands of families out there. Joseph lived in transient camps in San Diego County with severe mental illness. We wanted him to live with us. In fact we took early retirements to move him and us away from San Diego 350 miles north to a small town in the foot of the Eastern Sierra mountain range, where I was raised, and where as kids our we would take our children. We thought taking him to the mountains where he loved hiking and fishing, that giving him a stress free life in the mountains and loving him up would “cure” him. His delusions had him convinced that living up here with us was endangering our lives. He was convinced that if he did not leave ” they” would bomb our house, kill us and put him in a cold dark room ( not unlike the padded cell in jail where he would spend days at a time in, naked in a straight jacket).
He lasted living with us for only several months, and thinking he was saving our lives, he went back to the streets of San Diego CA. That was 3 years ago. Since that time his life had been a revolving door of mental hospitals, medical hospitals and jail. He has been hospitalized in behavior health hospitals 9 times this last year. Sometimes against his will, often times he would admit himself. Often times I would drive the 5 hour trip to pick him up, get a motel and would try to convince him to come home. He always refused. Stating our house would be bombed if he did.I’m also angry…that’s not even a strong enough word. Joe admitted himself last week to Aurora Behavior Health Hospital. That was his go to place. He liked the staff and doctors and they seemed to care about him. It was there 2 months ago that the psychiatrist determined he was unable to care for himself and referred him to the County conservitor office so his dad and I could gain control of his medical needs and help him obtain the long term help he needed. The conservitor investigator denied the claim because he did not meet the criteria of gravely disabled. In California the bar is set very high to meet the criteria of gravely disabled. I have yet to know of anyone being successful with that endeavor in california. Accept Britney Spears. Her conservitorship is a slap in the face to those of us whose loved ones truly need help.
Anyway..Last week Joey admitted himself because he was feeling suicidal and was psychotic. He would always call to tell me keep was trying to get help. He wanted help so badly. Last Friday the social worker called and assured me that he would not he released to the streets, she was trying to get him reestabluxhed with a care management team and get him long term housing. I stressed that he could not be released to the streets. She assured me he would not. Monday morning she called and said he was heing released and Gould I pick him up? I asked what happened to the management team and housing. She explained no one would accept him because over the weekend he had been violent with staff. I instantly asked her why would she ask me to pick him up if he had been violent? I begged her to have him out on s 5150 hold to buy me some time to figure it what to do. She was heading to a meeting about him and would talk to the doctors. I was clear when I stated to her that under no circumstances should he be released to the streets. I said he is gonna die of we cannot get him the help he deserves . She assured me they would not and would get back to me. She did not. I called the hospital to talk with Joey monday night, he was not there. Still no call from the social worker. Tuesday morning I called her. she explained that her ” team” had given him a ride to Ocesnside and dropped him off at a CVS pharmacy with his prescriptions and a sack lunch. I was in shock, hung up and waited for his call. He always called. His body was reported to the sheriff’s office Tuesday night but because of bad weather they could not locate him with drones. The homeless lady who reported him took them to his body Wed. morning. He was still wearing his hospital gown and still had a baggy of white powder clutched in his hand. He was steps from the homeless camp. the coronor explained that it appeared he got some bad dope laced with fentanyl. Although suicide and foul play have not been ruled out. What kind of crazy fuck places meth with fentanyl? Its deadly and kills almost instantly.I’m so angry and devastated I want the system to pay for failing him. I want accountability. I m so angry its consumed me. I dont want to he consumed. Yesterday in.my grief i called a wrongful death attorney and babbled like an idiot. I told them i needed an attorney with balls enough to take on the “system” and make the “system” accountable for my son’s death and the needless deaths of all the other josephs out there. I want justice, awareness , accountability and the laws changed that binds the hands of families trying toget help to save their loved ones lives . iI dont want his death to have been in vain. The attorney politely said they will get back to me. I doubt it.Meanwhile we sit here trying to figure out where we will come up with the money to bring our son home and have s memorial for him. Death is such a money making business and for a fee if $250 we can buy 30 minutes if time to see our sons dead body and tell him goodbye . …that is if he is in viewable condition. if not, for an additional 800 they will make him viewable.”
. . . again. And now the real work of his loved ones, the work of keeping him alive on the Vacaville streets through the Covid-thick winter, commences. Again. Because no city or county or stage agency cares. Still.
Mark Rippee of Vacaville, California, has entered what may be the final struggle for his catastrophic life. His survival prospects are not good.
Most readers of this blog know about Mark’s grotesque misfortunes that span thirty-three years. And about the shocking indifference to them among the social services and the members of the Solano County Board of Supervisors. To refresh your memory, click on this blog link to read my previous posts.
Mark was released from a Vacaville hospital on October 26. He had spent two hundred fifty-eight days there, the longest respite of his tortured life since June 1987, when a motorcycle crash left him blinded, his body shattered, parts of his brain exposed, and his mind vulnerable to the schizophrenia that soon struck him. He’d been hospitalized after being struck by a car for a second time while wandering sightlessly around the town.
No agency in the city, the county, or the state of California cares about Mark Rippee. The attached links detail how his sisters Linda Privatte and Catherine Hanson, both women in their 60s with major illnesses themselves, have tried in vain to obtain conservatorship over him and to find a secure place for him to live. The care agencies and political bodies enfold themselves in narrow interpretations of law and policy. The sisters believe that in fact some laws meant to protect people such as Mark have been violated, with no one inclined to enforce them.
The family has been helped, materially and spiritually, by a growing army of concerned friends and Vacaville citizens. The sisters have posted a call for blankets, food, medium-sized long-johns and lined sweatpants, beanies, deodorant, lotion, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, a coat, gloves, socks. And water. Always water.
To simply read this sad list is to recoil at the scale of difference between Mark Rippee’s plight and the stony disdain—the contempt—of the agencies and the political structure designed to help him.
The charity now arriving is a godsend, and a tribute to the humanity of Vacaville’s private citizens. Yet it is not enough to assure this broken man’s survival. Mark, now 57, remains vulnerable to winter’s ravages, to further collisions with cars and trucks, and—most threateningly—to his environment’s rising Coronavirus rate. Solano County has entered tier 2, the “red” tier, which signals a “substantial” level of infection.
No one tells Mark’s story with more passion and clarity than Linda and Catherine, who have told it to deaf ears for three decades. Their stories and updated reports are linked below.
Today is a dark day. Mark was discharged from the Acute Care hospital after 258 days of healing from his injuries after being struck by a car for the second time in the last year. He was taken by the facility’s van back to the streets of Vacaville. He left with only a cane, duffle bag, boots, and 2 sets of clothes. They gave him 1-2 months worth of medications but would not confirm what they were. I don’t know how he will know what he is taking or when it is time. He has been on increased Anti-psychotic meds recently and I do not know if he will be on the streets. His new Social Worker is with Solano APS and is the same one who did the “Snapshot Assessment” of Mark and declared him “Not Conservable.” He was planning to meet Mark on the streets of Vacaville to “Receive” him back to town. When we called the facility this morning to check on when he was to be released and how… he was already gone. The nurse claimed, “Oh he is not going back to the streets, but is going to the Vacaville county building!” I started explaining that he is going back to the streets! That is where he has lived on the streets for years! I have 2 people trying to help with getting him a new ID. The facility could not confirm if he even had a blanket. He was supposed to get a flu shot before leaving – he didn’t. We have already put together many things he will need, but with a bad leg and a shoulder that doesn’t work, it will be even more difficult to carry much. He is supposed to still be using a walker – but chose a cane. He will have difficulty social distancing and not touching everything he comes in contact with. They said they gave him a few masks. His discharge was scheduled for 11 am this morning. I tried calling all morning and couldn’t reach him or the Social Worker. It turns out they released him earlier than 11 am, so he was already gone before I could even talk to him. I did not even go to bed last night thinking that tonight Mark will be sleeping on the streets. CJ has been up for two nights bracing herself for his release. His drastic improvement over the last 8 months was not enough proof for the county to comprehend that housing, treatment, and care was exactly what was needed in his case. I am back to taking it day by day to keep him alive. How long before another traffic accident or injury? We know it won’t be long… and we will go back to jumping every time the phone rings.I just received verification from one of our members that he arrived at the Carroll Building in Vacaville and the APS Social Worker was not there! He is now alone and darkness comes.
I almost wrote, “the mentally ill people of America lost a hero on Sunday,” but that would not have been nearly adequate to contain this giant’s significance to our country.
Dj Jaffe, who succumbed to leukemia and other cancers at age 65 after stoically battling them for fifteen years, was a human beacon of hope and guidance and enlightenment to those who suffered from chronic brain diseases (“chronic” meaning genetically inherited and incurable). And to their caretaking relatives, mostly mothers, in practice; to their often overmatched doctors and therapists; to uninformed policymakers and corrections officers.
Dj was among the three most influential advocates for the mentally ill in the brief history of that calling, along with the author and blogger Pete Earley and the pioneering statesman of advocacy, E. Fuller Torrey, author of many books and the founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center. The TAC website is the largest, most diverse compendium of m.i. information online.
Dj Jaffe was a skinny force of nature the likes of which the cautious mental healthcare world had never seen, and not everyone liked him. He walked away from an obscure career in advertising after the sister of his wife, Rose, was stricken with mental illness thirty years ago. Razor-sharp and pugnacious when he had to be, he transformed himself into an expert on the nosology, neuroscience, politics and policy issues surrounding the disease. Wearing his unrepentant bluejeans, ponytail, and oversize glasses (and a wrinkled suit when he had to), Dj mastered libraries of information, then cycloned through public hearings, press interviews, and panel discussions, rising to challenge the dignitaries who did not know what they were talking about—or didn’t care. He delighted in getting thrown out of hearings. Opponents were infuriated by his refusal to back down from a stance or a demand. Truth to tell, he was not always right.
He was right often enough. Boring in on our slipshod structure of criminal justice for the insane, he was instrumental in pushing the act known as Kendra’s Law, which allows courts to order treatment for certain mentally ill and perhaps dangerous patients even if they resist it. He worked with the Pennsylvania Republican congressman Tim Murphy to achieve the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. He demanded, and largely achieved, a long-delayed recognition that “chronic mental illness”—genetically inherited and incurable brain afflictions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder—differs on a quantum level from such lesser complaints as depression, alienation, alcoholism, and drug abuse.
In 2017 Pete Earley distilled the reasons why this distinction is essential:
“The problem, according to Jaffe, is that the focus, money and attention in our nation is focused on helping nearly everyone but those ten million [with chronic m.i.] and the result is at least 140,000 SMI Americans being homeless, 392,037 in jails and prisons, 755,360 on probation or parole and at least 95,000 who need hospitalization unable to find a bed.”
His politics were less doctrinaire than fluid, tuned to the needs of the dispossessed who consumed his passions. He founded the nonpartisan Mental Illness Policy Organization. As an adjunct fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, Dj spoke at a White House summit on mental illness in December 2019. His countless articles and appearances across the media spectrum testify that he was a zealot not for ideology, but for enlightenment and hope.
“Since 1998, when we first started making plans for what became the Treatment Advocacy Center, Dj has been the single most effective advocate I have worked with and a close personal friend. His dedication to improving the treatment of people with serious mental illness, based on his experience with his sister-in-law, has been extraordinary. The amount of time and energy he has invested in this mission, first at TAC and then at Mental Illness Policy Org, is legendary. Even as he knew he was dying, DJ said nothing and continued his advocacy efforts.”
On a personal note:
It took me a while to get comfortable with the idea of meeting Dj Jaffe. His reputation as a controversial know-it-all firebrand put me off. But when we did meet, the rapport was instant. We discovered that we could make one another laugh. (I nearly lost it in a hotel coffee house in New York when my friend got embroiled in an argument with the waiter. This was no ordinary waiter-customer spat: the waiter was yelling at Dj!) Over several breakfasts, dinners and drinks in New York, Washington, and in the Powers home in Vermont, and in many lively emails, we kept up a bantering style that could segue seamlessly into explorations of our passions and ideas.
His just-beneath-the-surface humor proved the key to Dj: The firebrand was a necessary tactic, not a character flaw. In fact, Dj Jaffe was an extraordinarily loving man, as his career shift after his sister-in-law’s illness demonstrates. He enjoyed a longstanding marriage to his wife Rose, a lovely, laughing woman whom he adored. When Rose died two years ago, his friends expected that Dj would be devastated with grief. He may have been, but he was back to his advocacy work in a day or two. He never mentioned his feelings.
He met a woman named Paula about a year and a half ago, via a dating app. She was the one who reached out to him, friends say. Dj probably knew at the time that he was dying. Paula and Dj were married on Friday in his hospital room. Paula wore white pajamas and stomped on a Styrofoam cup. By all accounts, the marriage was a happy one. Because that’s the kind of guy Dj Jaffe was.
This fine piece by Jocelyn Wiener appears in the February 26 edition of CalMatters, a probing independent journal based in Sacramento, California. Yet the horrific saga of Mark Rippee, the symbol of mental healthcare decadence in America, a bit of human wreckage stranded on the streets of Vacaville for 13 years, remains mostly hidden in plain sight.
Secrecy, official neglect, pain, petty violence and thievery have been the daily portion for Mark Rippee during his ghastly, 13-year ordeal of homelessness on the streets of Vacaville, California.
Thanks to the heroic determination of his sisters Catherine Henson and Linda Rippee, a groundswell of activism is at last forming in his defense. Please, no matter what state you live in, sign and return this petition below to help bring a measure of humanity to this terribly violated man!
My brother, James Mark Rippee, who is blind, brain-damaged from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), physically disabled, and has Schizophrenia and Anosognosia. (Lack of Insight to his own serious mental illness.) He has been homeless for 13 years living on the streets of Solano County in California.
I previously authored a petition two years ago in support of AB 1971 in California – legislation that was pulled by the authors after I garnered 82,000 signatures through my petition which was hosted by Care2, due to “poison pill” amendments forced into the Bill to change the definition of “Gravely Disabled” to include “lack of capacity and medical need” as a criteria for involuntary treatment and placement or LPS Conservatorship.
I had made my brother the face of that bill. After continuing our efforts to get him help, services, treatment or placement and failing with our County of Solano in California who have been negligent in their duty to start an LPS Conservatorship Investigation and process, and denial of participation with Laura’s Law, and even denial of Mental Health Services!
We continued to speak at Solano County Board of Supervisors’ meetings and inform all County officials, Health & Human Services, Social Services including Adult Protective Services that he was in danger – in particular to being struck by a vehicle or causing an accident because he literally has no eyes.
In September of 2019, he once again fell into traffic and was struck by a car. Because he has anosognosia and is not of sound mind, when EMTs were called to the scene – he denied needing help and was left on the sidewalk -injured, in pain and crying.
Eventually, he was found by our family two weeks later with life-threatening injuries sustained in that accident. He had emergency brain surgery and was in the hospital for 3 weeks. Although clearly delusional the psychiatrists there refused to declare him with diminished capacity which would have resulted in a 51/50 hold. Even though they would not place a hold on him for his own protection – they did continue to inject him throughout his stay with antipsychotic medications.
Upon their decision to release him and after much protest and contact from the community and mental health advocates from across the nation – accusing them of “patient-dumping” – they decided to transfer him to a Senior Board & Care home (he is not yet a senior) for 30 days under the guise of a “Safe-Discharge Plan.”
Because the Board & Care home was ill-equipped to deal with a person with serious mental illness and his delusional behavior even though Kaiser continued prescribing him antipsychotic medications — they opened the front door and let a blind, severely and gravely disabled man walk away from the facility in an unfamiliar city. Our family lost contact with him as he fled from his delusions to another city for a month.
Through many attempts to get the County to take appropriate action for him and our family – the County of Solano has continued to fail– at this point clearly negligently and with intent to discriminate.
On February 12, 2020, James Mark Rippee was again struck by a vehicle – this time so critically injured that it will take months for him to recover – if he does. He is in Critical Condition with a Fractured Skull & Brain Bleed, Facial Lacerations & Bruises covering his body, Lung Contusions, a severely Dislocated Shoulder, a Shattered Elbow, Removal of the Metal Rod running the entire length of his leg which had been holding his leg together for 34 years and was bent in the accident, a shattered Tibia, and more. It is expected that many more surgeries will be needed and months in the hospital.
At the time of this writing, the hospital is once again denying that he has diminished capacity and has taken no action to allow family members any rights to know about the details of his condition (HIPAA) and even though my brother is incoherent and sedated – they will not allow family members who love him and know what is best for him to make any medical decisions and are ignoring their duty to declare him with diminished capacity in the face of their previous records on him from 4 months ago.
While we hold the County of Solano and many officials, departments and agencies responsible for not preventing this second tragedy that we told them would happen – We also demand that the State of California and in particular – Governor, Gavin Newsom – whom we have previously attempted to contact – PAY ATTENTION TO THIS SITUATION and ACT accordingly!
Our family has contacted many, many politicians at the County, State, and Federal levels for several years! We have testified at the California State Capitol for several proposed legislation regarding Grave Disability, Conservatorship, and pleaded with all to help our family.
We DEMAND attention from Governor Gavin Newsom, who claims to hold in such regard the need to help the Seriously Mentally Ill and the Homeless! NOW!
The voices of the growing grass-roots movement to reform mental healthcare are at last rallying to demand justice for perhaps the most dispossessed victim in America.
In a town in America, here in the Twenty-first century, a man has been left to die. A maimed and blind and deeply mentally ill man.
He has been left to die in this town for thirteen years. Right out in public, on the city streets, where everybody can see him. And beat him and rob him when they feel like it. And nobody with any statutory power over his predicament seems to give a damn.
A technical clarification: this man is not on the streets of Vacaville as I write these words. He is in critical condition in a hospital, bandaged and splinted and broken after being struck by a car at a traffic intersection at dusk on February 12. (It is the second time this man has been hit.)
His injuries include a fractured skull and bleeding from the brain, facial lacerations, lung contusions, a dislocated shoulder, a shattered elbow, a decimated leg, and bruises that blanket his body.
But it’s a safe bet that after the surgeons have him all fixed up—it could take months—he will be ushered back out onto the streets, where the cars he can’t see and the thugs whom he cannot fend off will help him resume his accustomed existence.
The man has a name: (James) Mark Rippee. The city has a name: Vacaville, California. The situation has a name: depraved indifference to the survival of a human being.
I just made that name up. Actually, I borrowed it from legal parlance. Its definition: “Conduct which is so reckless, wanton and deficient and lacking in regard for the lives of others as to warrant the same culpability as the individual who actually commits a crime.”
Here is the crime that Mark Rippee has committed: the crime of existing while crippled, blind, and insane. Are there any questions?
I’m sure there are lots of questions. I have lots of questions myself. Or I used to. I have written so often about Mark Rippee since I became aware of his plight that the words I write about him seem to turn to dust. I have written blog posts about him here and here and here. I have written speeches to mental-health reform groups in which I summarize his story. I have written directly to media outlets, to lawmakers, and to civic leaders in Vacaville and elsewhere. And the streets still claim Mark Rippee.
The bare-bones story—as it were—is that Mark Rippee was involved in a terrible motorcycle crash in June 1987, at age 24, that left him nearly dead, with bits of his brain scattered near the site, his eyes and his right leg destroyed. You can read the details in my links.
Somehow he survived. But over the years, his traumatic brain injury (TBI) has morphed into schizophrenic-like thoughts and behavior. His power to reason vanished. His mother and his twin sisters Linda Privatte and Catherine J. Rippee-Hanson tended him in the family household for eighteen years, until his deformed brain turned him into a raging menace. He left the household and has made his way on the streets, where his sisters—both of whom have developed serious illnesses of their own—bring him food, clothing, canes. Vandals keep stealing all of it, and often also the money given him for food and other needs.
Why doesn’t somebody rescue Mark Rippee? Why doesn’t some agency . . . why doesn’t . . .
Those are very good questions, and I’m glad you asked them. But the answers are buried within the folds of incoherence that comprise so much of the American mental healthcare system. Or systems. Or “systems.”
Mark Rippee is a victim of a perfect storm of gothic bureaucracy. The pertinent bureaucrats at Solano County and California state levels have exhibited no discernible interest in finding any way to counter the bureaucratic snafus with a humane solution that would get this man into supervised care and treatment.
One might even say that they are hiding behind a “humane solution” that actually exists. This solution would begin with a declaration from a psychiatrist that Mark Rippee’s accident left his brain with “diminished capacity.” This ruling would permit Mark’s family to place him in an appropriate facility and/or to establish a conservatorship that would give them discretion over his affairs, including psychiatric care.
No dice: hospital psychiatrists have consistently, and weirdly, denied that Mark Rippee has “diminished capacity.”
And the reasoning behind this confounding denial? Well, it’s none of your business what the reasoning is. The hospital is protecting Mark Rippee’s rights, you see. Protecting them by way of the cartoonish Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA was designed to ensure a patient’s “privacy.” “Privacy” that prohibits even family members from learning the medical procedures and condition of a patient. There’s an irony there, in case you missed it.
Catherine and Linda have fought tooth and claw, over parts of three decades, to tear through the self-serving laws and policies that keep Mark in a near-feral state. Two years ago, Catherine plunged into work on a petition in support of a California bill known as AB 1971. AB 1971 would have expanded the existing definition of “gravely disabled” to include medical treatment for a patient if the lack of treatment “may result in substantial physical harm or death.” It would have secured treatment for Mark Rippee. Catherine collected 82,000 signatures in favor of the petition.
In April 2018, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, one of several lobbies that oppose conservatorship and deny other needs of the mentally ill, signaled that it disapproved of AB 1971. The California Hospital Association also weighed in on the negative side.
AB 1971’s sponsors pulled the bill.
The sisters’ determination would be the stuff of heroic legend, if we lived in a country that valued heroic legend. In the wake of Mark Rippee’s second brush with death by an oncoming car he couldn’t see, Catherine has released a new petition. It demands intervention from California Governor Gavin Newsom to rectify this travesty of public policy. It reads in part: “While we hold the County of Solano and many officials, departments and agencies responsible for not preventing this second tragedy that we told them would happen – We also demand that the State of California and in particular – Governor Gavin Newsom – whom we have previously attempted to contact – PAY ATTENTION TO THIS SITUATION and ACT accordingly!”
Moreover, thanks to the sisters and the Internet, word of Mark’s ordeal is spreading at the grass-roots level. Activists around the country, alerted to the nightmare, have begun writing letters demanding justice for Mark.
Here are two. Their tone of indignation and urgency is echoed by many more.
From Donna Erickson of Massachusetts:
“Hello, I’m writing to voice my concern, in regard to a homeless individual named James Mark Rippee. As you probably know, he is severely disabled both mentally and physically. Being blind only further complicates his poor condition. The real tragedy here is that none of this is his fault. Severe mental illness is a disease nobody chooses. Many who are afflicted are unaware of how sick they are, because of anosognosia, which is lack of insight, a condition that is a manifestation of the illness itself. It is not his fault that he repeatedly walks into traffic.
“His brain is broken, and he cannot see. Someone in this condition should never have been put on the street. So now he is hospitalized for another accident, resulting in critical injuries, including a skull fracture, brain bleed, and broken bones. He will need many surgeries.
“His family is devastated, because they tried so hard to get him off the streets. But the laws get in the way. This poor man requires a hospital, rehab, and eventually a long-term residential facility. If he is an elopement risk, then there are locked facilities. Mark’s value as a person is no less than any of us on Earth. He has fallen through the cracks of a very broken system.
“How would you feel if this was your family member? Mental illness can strike anyone. He is not a nobody. He is a family member of caring individuals who have tried everything in their power to help. The tragic part is that this all could have been avoided, if only someone had truly cared and listened. Keeping someone on the streets in his condition is disgraceful. And it shouldn’t matter what he says. He is unable to make a rational decision, which is in his best interest, due to his illness.
“The system has failed him, because no one intervened, even though the family had begged and pleaded. I had to voice my concern, because this could have been my son. This could have been anyone’s son, and we need to start taking care of our most vulnerable citizens!”
And from the Maryland advocate Laura Pogliano:
“My friend [Catherine] Hanson and her sister Linda Rippee have been trying to help their brother Mark for 13 years; a motorcycle crash left him with no eyes, a severe brain injury, broken bones all over his body, a metal rod in his leg, and as a result of TBI, schizophrenia. He’s been on the streets for years, being victimized, robbed, beaten and neglected. They’ve been denied help for him over and over by the county they’re in, by hospitals.
“He’s been admitted to, by group homes, by every support service you can think of. He was hit by a car a few months ago and while inpatient, one sister’s medical power of attorney was revoked, and the psychiatrist sided with his delusional raging patient, that he was capable of making his own medical choices and caring for himself (blind and floridly psychotic). He was discharged to a group home and lasted about a week.
“Now, living on the streets, Mark’s been hit by a car again! Only this time, he was thrown into the air and smashed his face against the driver’s windshield. He’s in bad shape, has another brain injury, the leg with the metal rods is shattered, his shoulder is dislocated and he might lose what’s left of his teeth.
“He’s going to need months of hospitals, multiple surgeries, and extended care. And guess what? He’s in the same damned hospital that battled back against his family and discharged him to the streets.
“Mental health care in America. You stand a slight, very slight chance of making it, if you’re healthy enough to ask for help and participate in it. If you’re really, really sick, you’re screwed.”
In a city in America, here in the Twenty-first century, a man has been left to die. But in America, the voices of reclamation are arising to insist on his right to live.
“There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success.”
Vacaville, California, has a history of popular uprisings to confront the powerful as they violate the humanity of the dispossessed.
In 1932, organizers came to Vacaville to organize the Cannery and Agricultural Workers’ Industrial Union, which fought the starvation-wage exploitation of farm and orchard laborers by the state’s powerful growers. The CAWIU went on strike that December–one of 140 strikes, some of them violent, that occurred between 1930 and 1939. These actions caught the attention of John Steinbeck, and triggered his impulse to write The Grapes of Wrath, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and contributed to his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.
On Tuesday, October 8 (tomorrow, as I write this) one or both these institutions will render decisions that will either end Mark’s twelve years of unimaginable suffering on the small city’s streets, or cast him back into the chaos and brutality of those streets as if he were a leper from the slums of New Dehli.
Mark Rippee is 56 now; emaciated, sickly, and delusional, as he has been since the motorcycle accident in 1987 that cost him his vision, crippled him, and left bits of his brain scattered in an alfalfa field.
Winter is coming on. Mark has routinely been beaten and robbed over the years by random thugs who have taken a succession of walking sticks his sisters have provided him, as well as blankets that have been his only insulation against the cold.
His age and failing health augur against his surviving the cold months out-of-doors one more time. The ongoing, unfathomable indifference of the County board to his physical exposure, and the equally bewildering failure of Kaiser Permanente’s psychiatrists to find anything wrong with his psyche, augur against his rescue by those whose charge is the public health and safety.
The “policy” decisions on October 8 at the Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center and the Solano County Board of Supervisors, then, probably amount to a life-or-death sentence for James Mark Rippee. “Policy” explains why Mark Rippee remains homeless. The pertinent “policies” ensnarled in the maimed reasoning of brain-damage victims and in the equally maimed consciences of bureaucrats. “Policies” have constricted his sisters, Linda Privatte and C.J. Hanson, as they have struggled to gain simple shelter and medical care for their brother, whose fog of reasoning blocks him from giving necessary consent.
Mark is in the hospital because on September 14 he stumbled into traffic and was hit by a car as he wandered blindly along Monte Vista Avenue in Vacaville. The impact knocked his head against the concrete and re-opened an abcess. The pain overcame his delusional resistance to being hospitalized or treated (a common resistance, known as “anosognosia,” or lack of insight, in schizophrenia victims).
Mark Rippee’s hospital stay seems likely to end on October 8, when the Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center will release him to–well, it will release him. It is not the “policy” of the Kaiser Permanente Vacaville Medical Center to give much of a rap where patients such as Mark Rippee end up. “Policy,” you see, allows no moral dimension. It normally is accompanied, however, by a burning desire not to spend money.
And on this same day the bureaucracy known as the Solano County board of supervisors will hold yet another hearing to hear opinion on whether Mark Rippee’s sisters should, at last, be granted a conservatorship that would allow them to make decisions on his behalf. Conservancy, like hospital and psychiatric care, requires the expenditure of money. Such money is sometimes available through state and federal government. But then there is that annoying matter of consent by the patient.
One thing will be different, in Mark Rippee’s favor, on this Tuesday. Public opinion is at last beginning to coalesce in his favor. The sisters’ exhaustive efforts at rallying community support have started to pay off, in the form of rallies and an expected turnout at the supervisors’ hearing. Advocates around the country are on standby, alerted by Facebook postings. A T-shirt is available for purchase online. It bears Mark’s ravaged likeness and the declaration that he blurted out, surprising everyone, during his recuperation. It should serve as a manifesto for all his brothers and sisters on this country’s streets:
“I am NOT homeless! I have a home! My home is the United States of America!”
Mark James Rippee
On Tuesday, October 8, we will see whether the United States of America fulfills Mark Rippee’s cry of trust.