NOT BY A LONG SHOT
And I do believe this for everyone. But I am confining this reflection to those of us with mental illnesses and addictions. Not because our suffering is any worse or more important than other vulnerable members of society who face discrimination, ostracism, neglect, and abuse. But because I am can write with the authority of 51 years of lived experience with a severe mental illness (SMI).
There are approximately 380,000 of us incarcerated. Versus 38,000 in the remaining institutions that treat mental illnesses. The wealthiest society in the world chooses to lock us up in nightmarish hell-holes (where we suffer immensely and get sicker) rather than providing us compassionate care and treatment. Imagine if everytime someone got cancer we locked them up and let them suffer and waste away.
There are approximately 140,000 of us amongst the homeless population. Begging, sleeping on grates, eating out of dumpsters, hungry, at the mercy of the elements, and deteriorating mentally and physically a little more each day. Another abomination when one looks around and sees the obscene wealth and extravagant ways in which it is wasted in our self-proclaimed “Christian” nation.
While my personal story never included prison or homelessness, I was on the verge of both on a number of occasions, saved only by mercy, privilege, and grit. Jesus would be proud!
Since I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 2, I have had numerous clinical depressive episodes, multiple hypo-manic episodes, and one manic episode in which I was very close to a psychotic break. Dual addictions are part of my story as well. My story is harrowing -fraught with many trials and tribulations.
But the point here isn’t to elaborate upon those. It’s to show that the mentally ill people and addicts “living” in cages or in prisons aren’t there because of their own shortcomings or moral failings. We as a society have failed them. And a society that facilitates immiseration for “the least of these” is cruel beyond measure.
The only reasons I am not homeless or in prison today are that while my family of origin was toxic, I grew up middle class and privileged. AND because I was both taught and born with an innate capacity to face and work through difficulties.
The reason I got therapy when I was dirt poor was because I fought for it. The reason I got hospitalized three times was because I fought for it. The reason I got public assistance years ago was because I fought for it. The reason I stayed under-employed at shitty jobs when I was barely functioning in society was because I fought for it. I got Vocational Rehabilitation because I fought for it. I got a career because I fought for it.
Until I was blessed to discover one day at a time spiritual fitness and stability in 2010, I was constantly battling. Only within the last several years have I been blessed enough to have a life where I don’t have to tenaciously attack every problem or obstacle just to tread water.
Not everyone with a mental illness or an addiction has the head-start I had with my education and practical knowledge of how to function in society. And not all of us were blessed with nearly unwavering persistence. Both of which kept me off the streets and out of prison.
So are we as a society affording everyone the right to live their best life?
Not by a long shot.
IMAGE CREDIT: MYKA MCKINNEY