Part 1: Mom and GuardianApril 12, 2014
Story by Martha Rasche
Photos by Dave Weatherwax
Paul Burrows was 14 years old when a doctor in the mental health unit at an Evansville hospital offered his mother a choice: a box of tissues or commitment papers.
She took the box of tissues.
Paul already had been in the mental health system for three years. Unless Lynda Burrows signed the papers and never saw her son again, she remembers the doctor telling her, she would face a life of legal trouble and mental illness with him as well as threats on her life. The doctor told her that the police and courts wouldn’t care and predicted that eventually Paul would kill her.
If she took the box of tissues, the doctor wanted her to know that is all the support she would have in dealing with her son for the rest of her life.
In January of this year, three weeks shy of Paul’s 36th birthday, mother and son sat in a hallway in the Dubois County Courthouse. Paul had just been found competent to stand trial on felony charges of receiving stolen property, and his mother, who has been his legal guardian since he turned 18, had addressed the court.
“I am very, very, very exhausted for all this,” the Jasper resident, 66, told the superior court judge, specifically referencing the work she was doing to assure proper legal representation for Paul, who has a documented history of mental illness dating to 1990 and a history of legal troubles equally as long.
She just as well could have been talking about how worn down she felt after decades of seeking mental and legal help for her son, changing homes and jobs dozens of times and, on many days, fearing for her own life.
In the hallway, her son said to her, “Mom, you’re fighting for a lost cause.”
Jan. 29, 1991. Paul is 12.
From a probation officer’s report in Knox County Juvenile Court regarding a case of theft:
In the matter of Paul Burrows, a child alleged to be a delinquent child
… Said child has committed a delinquent act pursuant to Indiana Code S31-6-4-1(a) in that he:
(x) committed an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult
Lynda Burrows has three children. As a child, Paul wasn’t the one most in need.
When he was born in February 1978, the family lived in Kalamazoo, Mich. An older sister had Reye’s syndrome and seizures and once spent more than a month in a coma. An older brother had leukemia. The siblings spent a lot of time in the hospital, if not as patients as visitors.
“I was fighting for his life,” Lynda says, referencing her older son. “I was fighting for hers. You’ve got to stop and think what Paul was going through.”
Before Paul was a teenager, the family had moved from Michigan to southern Indiana, landing in Vincennes where Lynda enrolled in mortuary school. Lynda and the children’s father divorced and dad moved away. Money and mom became scarce as Lynda went to school and worked a part-time job. Paul joined a gang; getting him out of it eventually helped prompt a family move.
March 12, 1992. Paul is 14.
From a doctor’s notes from a psychiatric hospitalization at Welborn Baptist Hospital in Evansville:
When I asked Paul why he thought he was here to see me he stated, (1) “My temper. I start cussing and yelling at people and don’t really know why I do this. I’m sometimes so out of control I smash things.” When I asked him what he smashed he indicated many chairs and other objects. He denied any physical aggressiveness toward people. (2) Depression. He states that he at times feels really down and mother contributed the fact that he once tried to kill himself by hanging a number of months ago in sixth grade, having failed fourth and sixth grades.
As Paul’s aggression grew, he turned it on his family members as well as himself. For a while, Lynda and the other children took turns staying awake at night to ensure everyone’s safety. Whenever Lynda called a mental health center for help, the conversation always went the same way:
“Is anyone injured?” Lynda was asked.
“Then call the police.”
When Paul did get mental health treatment, he was sent home again within 72 hours, before a stay longer than an emergency detention would be required. The cycle repeated. And intensified.
Lynda began sleeping with a phone at her side, ready to call 911 at a moment’s notice.
She thinks often of that Evansville doctor who recommended Paul be permanently committed to an institution.
“But you know, as a mother, this is my son … and I thought I could handle him. I never dreamed he was gonna be in gangs. I never dreamed he’d be that suicidal. I never dreamed that he would ever become so mentally ill that he’d become so violent. And, the last final part is, stupid me believed there was support. And there is no support. There is no support. They put them in the mental health (unit at the local hospital), they send them home.”
Permanent institutionalization is no longer an option.
Doug Hayworth is the unit outpatient coordinator for Southern Hills Counseling Center, the community mental health center that has its central office in Jasper and that serves Dubois, Crawford, Orange, Perry and Spencer counties. The state’s Community Mental Health Center system has 25 such centers.
When Hayworth started working for Southern Hills some 35 years ago, there were about 1,000 beds at the state psychiatric hospital for adults in Evansville. Today, there are only 132.
Only 10 beds at state hospitals have been allotted for the five counties of the Southern Hills service area. Southern Hills is “responsible for getting somebody out of the state hospital before somebody else can get in,” Hayworth said, though “borrowing” beds from other centers is possible. As of April 1, Southern Hills was borrowing four beds allotted to Hamilton Center in Terre Haute.
Funding also has decreased. Each of the past four years, for example, funding at each of the state’s community mental health centers has been cut 8 percent.
The state’s public mental health system provides services to only 15 percent of Hoosier adults who live with serious mental illnesses, according to the Indiana organization of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, known as NAMI. More people are treated for serious mental illnesses in Indiana correctional facilities, NAMI says, than in state hospitals.
A 2010 study by the National Sheriffs’ Association found that across the country more than three times as many mentally ill people are in prisons and jails as in hospitals.
Feb. 28 1996. Paul is 18.
From a letter from a clinical psychologist in Evansville to Paul’s attorney:
I find the patient to be psychologically unstable and not capable of taking care of himself or his needs. His judgment and reasoning are severely impaired. As a result, he gets himself into situations that are damaging to him and his mother. The patient is unable to learn from past experiences.
Meyer Street. Wabash Avenue. Seminary Street. The family lived at all of these places in Vincennes, plus more. They had at least seven homes in Evansville, four in Tell City, back to Vincennes.
Huntingburg, Jasper. At least one in New Albany, three in Terre Haute.
Lynda estimates she has moved at least 40 times. Based on the home addresses listed on Paul’s rap sheet, her estimate seems accurate.
Lynda might have had nearly as many jobs to augment Paul’s Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Income. Both Lynda and Paul are covered by Medicaid and Medicare, and Lynda began receiving Social Security when she turned 65.
“You go from job to job because they don’t want to work with you. You’ve got a son that’s got to be in psychiatry, therapy. If he goes off the deep end, well, you can’t leave him home. Who’s going to watch him? Who’s going to take care of Paul?”
She considers herself fortunate to be in her third year of working for minimum wage part time at Kmart, where management has been empathetic and allows her to carry her cellphone during work hours so she is available to Paul.
The family was evicted sometimes. Sometimes the moves were to give Paul a fresh start after criminal activity put him on police radar.”©“I have no disrespect for the police. We do need them. But now that Paul’s been found here and labeled, we move all the time, just to keep him away from the police. Because if anything goes wrong in a particular area, that’s the first thing they do is call, ”˜OK, where was Paul?’”
This past February, the police came calling at least twice, once looking for someone who had broken into the mailboxes at the apartments where Lynda and Paul live.
Sometimes, in anticipation of finding police at her door, Lynda documents Paul’s day-to-day activities in a journal.
Make no mistake. She knows the kinds of things Paul does. What she doesn’t know is how to stop him without putting herself in harm’s way. She has been his victim on numerous occasions.
She has had thousands of dollars stolen from her checking account, more than once. When Lynda calls credit companies to report the fraud, she doesn’t tell them the money was stolen by her son.
“You learn not to,” she says. “You can’t trust society, ’cuz all they’re going to do is put the guy in jail.
And that’s not going to help any.”
At a time when having a computer could help her learn about advocacy organizations, Lynda got rid of her computer so Paul couldn’t hack into her bank account. Most recently she took away Paul’s cellphone so he couldn’t make any unauthorized transactions with it.
Sometimes, her measures work. More often than not, Paul finds another way to do what he wants.
And then he lies about it.
“Paul lies. Paul’s a chronic liar. I can’t change Paul on that. He will always be a liar and I know that.
Whatever people want to think of me, if they want to think I’m deranged or insane, I don’t really personally care. They’ve never walked in my shoes. They’ve never had to be fired from so many jobs or kicked out or moved on because of Paul and dealing with him.”
But for Lynda, unlike the legal system, it always comes back to Paul’s mental illness. And who this tattooed, gaunt man is when he isn’t fighting shadows and voices and having horrific recurrent nightmares about the gruesome deaths of his children. The nightmares are so real that he wakes up with the taste of blood in his mouth.
“He’s a great guy. I want you to understand. He’s got a heart of gold. I want that clear. When Paul is in his norm, he’d take his shirt off his back for you.”
April 29, 1996.
From a report from Paul’s guardian ad litem:
In my opinion Paul Burrows appears to be totally incapable and/or unwilling to make responsible personal and financial decisions. His history shows a pattern of irresponsible, erratic and self-destructive behavior, including repeated suicide threats and attempts, stealing from the cash register in a short-lived job, gang activity and a recent incident in which he and a minor girl “ran away” to Jasper for a week.
… In my opinion guardianship is necessary for Paul Burrows at this time because he is clearly unprepared, unable and unwilling to look after himself.
June 25, 1996.
Vanderburgh Superior Court Probate Division:
After being duly advised in the premises and having had a hearing the court orders as follows:
1. The person Lynda Burrows, petitioner, be appointed as guardian over the person and estate of Paul Burrows, an incompetent minor.
Lynda has been her son’s legal guardian since the year he turned 18.
Paul doesn’t particularly like that role for her. Lynda likes it even less.
“I have had a lonely road. I can’t date. I can’t be with anybody, because you don’t know what Paul is going to do. How I have lived through it, it’s only my faith. I have a very strong faith in the Lord. I believe there’s been angels in this home. You do not get the support from psychiatrists and therapists; all they do is say call the police. And then they end up putting him in jail, he gets a record.”
Lynda finds herself in a constant Catch-22. She is as careful as she can be not to disrupt Paul’s life.
She does it for her own survival.
She assures that Paul doesn’t have to ask for anything and she doesn’t request his help in keeping up their apartment. More often than not, she is the one to walk his pug-beagle mix, Harley, in addition to her own Shih Tzu, Poochie.
When Paul was in jail early last year, Lynda mentioned to him on the phone that she had moved all of his winter clothing into a plastic tub for storage. He yelled at her for touching his stuff and he cursed at her.
When he wanted a new cellphone he broke the windshield of Lynda’s car. He hit her. He threatened to kill her.
She compares the violent Paul to a monster, and then imitates him saying, “I am going to kill you, bitch.” Her whole face distorts. The threat raises goose bumps.
After a violent episode it might take an hour or even a few days for Paul to return to normal. And when he does, he doesn’t remember what happened.
Afterward, he often goes into what Lynda calls “Mommy mode.”
“He will just say, ”˜Mommy, I love you.’ And he’s very serious about it. Or he’ll come off a day or so and he’ll say, ”˜Are you OK, Mom?’
“I say, ”˜I’m fine.’
“”˜What did I do this time?’
“He don’t remember.”
Paul is pretty much a loner. He spends most of his time in his bedroom watching TV or listening to music. That’s what he was doing on an early December afternoon while a cold rain fell and Lynda spoke with a visitor in the living room. Each time Paul shuffled out from the darkness to get something from the fridge, Lynda asked if he was OK and mentioned when dinner would be ready.
Dinner — which he would eat by himself in his bedroom.
“Right now all he does is just lay in his bed and smoke and watches TV and lives in his own world.
And I know not to cross it. ... If you cross his path and maybe just say just one little word, your life is in danger. I’ve been thrown against this wall. I’ve been thrown on the floor.”
Her daily goal is, simply, to keep the violence down. Except for the occasional verbal abuse, life has been relatively peaceful lately.
“What you learn to do is you do the whole house as if he’s not there. You don’t touch his domain, but you clean everything. You make sure the trash is out. You can’t ask him to do anything. You can’t ask him to sweep, clean, do anything. Because if you do, the monster’s going to come out. So why put yourself through that hell? You might as well just do everything and forget it.”
Lynda has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of her living environment. In May of last year she passed out while walking the dogs and was hospitalized with high blood pressure. Her doctor said she came close to having a stroke.
During the most violent of incidents, she has called the police to her aid — but if they ask her if they should take Paul to jail, she always says no: “Jail is not the answer for the mentally ill.”
But the police operate under rules of public safety and protection, and when a criminal act is involved, Lynda cannot control whether they take Paul away. His going to jail early last year ignited a struggle within her.
“I don’t like seeing him sit in jail. But at least I can sleep and at least I can watch TV and at least I can do what I want and I don’t have to worry that he’s hiding behind some closet door and ready to kill me again.”
At the same time, she laid out Paul’s shirt, pants, shoes, cap and towel on his bed, hoping to smooth the transition upon his return.
“She had everything ready for me — she had clothes, everything — so I wouldn’t flip out when I came home,” Paul acknowledged later. “She had it precise for me and that made me feel good so it wouldn’t be overwhelming on me.”
In crowds, Paul becomes agitated and begins to pace. Even one on one, he generally doesn’t look the other person in the eye because it causes him to lose his concentration. Still, on occasion he and Lynda have pleasant outings; they enjoy flea markets and Chinese dinners together.
“There’s some good times with Paul,” she says. “But you’ve got to catch it when he’s ready to go.”
As Lynda speaks, a dog-eared Bible rests in the nearby recliner.
“My Bible, my spiritual time, is the only thing that keeps me from insanity,” says Lynda, who was raised in the Church of God but as a child often escaped her abusive home by going to a neighborhood convent. She eventually converted to Catholicism and still feels close to the Blessed Virgin Mary and finds solace in praying the rosary.
“When Paul becomes violent, I say, ”˜OK, Lord, where are you?’ I just feel like the angels are there.
They have to be or I’d be dead today.”
Lynda has lived with Paul’s violence and suicide attempts for more than two decades, and she has long had a passage picked out for his funeral: Psalm 88.
That psalm ends with these lines:
I have been weak and dying since I was young.
I suffer from your terrors, and I am helpless.
You have been angry with me,
and your terrors have destroyed me.
They surround me daily like a flood;
they are all around me.
You have taken away my loved ones and friends.
Darkness is my only friend.
Other parts in the series:
Part two: Lynda has learned that mental illness is shifty. Paul can have a blow-up one day and be as normal as everyone else the next. Click here to read Part 2.
Part three: Three times as many mentally ill people are in prisons and jails as in hospitals. And that’s Lynda’s greatest fear, that Paul will land in jail. Click here to read Part 3.
Contact Martha Rasche at email@example.com.
How Dubois County law enforcement handles mentally ill
Story by Jonathan Streetman
Paul Burrows has had multiple run-ins with the law. His rap sheet is a mile long and, as a consequence, Paul does not have a high opinion of law enforcement.
His mother and legal guardian, Lynda, has moved to different cities and nearly 40 homes over the years to keep Paul out of trouble. Once she thinks the police have found out about Paul’s mental illness, she moves them so he won’t be targeted for every crime.
But local law enforcement agencies say their primary goal is getting an individual with mental illness the help he needs.
The Herald sat down with Sheriff Donny Lampert to find out how mentally ill inmates in Dubois County are treated and jailed. We also asked Lampert what he hopes to see in the future regarding treatment of the mentally ill.
Question: How does your department handle calls involving people with mental illness?
Answer: “We try to give the family different options and tell them the resources out there and different places they can get help. Usually the (deputies) will pass it on to each other, so the next time someone goes out they’re aware of it.”
“The biggest thing is to get (the family) the resources that’s going to help them. We also offer to the family, ”˜If you need us, give us a call.’”
“We’ve had families call in here before and ask, ”˜What do you advise?’ I’ve got a list (of resources) where families have called in and I’ve told them, ”˜Hey, these are the ones I know of.’ I get a lot of resources from jail inmates, asking what they’ve tried and where they’ve been.”
Lampert directs these families to Memorial Hospital and Southern Hills Counseling Center in Jasper as well as a couple of facilities outside Dubois County.
Q: Do officers in your department go through specific training? Is there a unit dedicated to handling the mentally ill?
A: “It’s mandated all officers have to go through reoccurring training” for things like autism, sudden infant death syndrome and domestic violence.
“Dubois County Sheriff’s Department is not big enough to have specific units. What I found is that sometimes when you specialize in something, you lose a little in something else. I think the officers appreciate that there’s one day they’re going to be a detective, there’s one day they’re going to be a counselor. ... They have to have a broad knowledge” to handle all types of situations.
Q: How is the arrest of a mentally ill suspect typically handled?
A: “In the case of mental health issues, we would send them to Memorial Hospital, before they’re even booked in, to be evaluated. If Memorial signs and says yes, they’re acceptable to jail, we will still continue to call and work with their attorneys, we will contact the courts and let them know what’s going on. ... Say we have someone in here on some type of psychosis taking medication, our jail commander will update the court, we’ll contact the prosecutor and say, ”˜Hey, maybe we should be looking at getting this guy in a facility.’ Within the jail, we have the jail doctor plus we have a counselor and we have a nurse, all with training in mental health issues.”
Q: Can they provide medication?
A: “Yes. Now, the jail is set up a bit different than what you might get at the hospital for the types of medications. There’s medications that people back here are on and it’s helping.”
“There’s some extremes that we’ve come across where they have to be on medication. Their brain won’t function without it. You can see their progression. A lot of times when those types of people commit crimes they are off their medication or aren’t taking medication. You can progressively see them becoming more able to concentrate and basically talk normal and communicate and explain things better.”
“It’s unfortunate that a jail has to be used in an aspect of medically treating people with mental health issues. However, that’s reality until we have a better system. But it’s amazing for us to get to see those people progress.”
(Of the 69 inmates incarcerated Thursday, 24 were prescribed some sort of medication. Just two inmates have been diagnosed with a mental illness, Assistant Jail Commander Glen Sanders said.)
Q: When an inmate appears unbalanced, is he isolated from others?
A: “It depends on what kind of issues they have. Yes, a lot of times they’re isolated in their cell. They’re back there for the medical reason that they don’t hurt themselves or hurt somebody else. In a worst-case scenario they’re in a padded cell, then they’re moved to a holding cell and then back into population. That’s always our goal to get them out of that holding cell (where) there’s no TV or no interacting. They need to have that interaction so that when they come back to society they can interact.”
Q: How can the jail help?
A: “What we can do as a jail, we can treat them within our facility but the main treatment has got to come sometimes from the outside.”
Q: Have you seen progress from 10 years ago to now?
A: “Absolutely. We are making progress. I think a lot of it goes back to the fact that it’s being talked about now and openly communicated. We’re starting to look at mental health as a medical issue. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”
Q: What is your ideal situation?
A: “The ideal situation would be to come up with a way to where we don’t have people (recurring as inmates). The ideal situation goes even before they go to jail, before they get to the mental health (facilities). It’s where people and society are educated enough so that when they see this, they know who to call and they do call. So many times it seems like people want to step away when people have mental health issues.”
“I would like to see where we as a society, as the medical career, the jails, look deeper than just substance abuse, look deeper than just the action of stealing something. The question becomes, ”˜Why isn’t that person out here working a job, going to a job and trying to strive and live the American dream? You know, what’s hindering them, what’s holding them back?’ A lot of times it comes back to those mental issues.”
Glossary of terms
Clinical Psychologist A professional concerned with diagnosing and treating diseases of the brain, emotional disturbance and behavior problems. Psychologists use only talk therapy as treatment; a psychiatrist may prescribe medication.
Guardian A person appointed by the court to manage another person’s affairs and/or that person’s property because the person is incapable of doing it himself.
Guardian Ad Litem A person appointed by the court to represent the interests of a minor or adult in a specific legal action, such as when a permanent guardian is being considered.
Post traumatic stress disorder A common anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.
Some definitions come from MedicineNet.com