Part 2: Facing Limited OptionsApril 14, 2014
Story by Martha Rasche
Photos by Dave Weatherwax
By the time Paul Burrows turned 19, he had been in the mental health system for eight years and had had his first run-ins with the law.
The youngest of Lynda Burrows’ three children, he had a history of suicide attempts and violence. He was particularly violent toward his mother, who had become his legal guardian soon after his 18th birthday.
Despite Paul’s physical and emotional abuse of Lynda, she does not believe the mentally ill should be in jail. But cuts in mental health funding over the years severely limit other placement options.
Oct. 1, 1997. Paul is 19.
From a caseworker’s progress notes at Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center in Evansville:
Mrs. Burrows came in as an emergency. Paul angry and violent last night. (He) struck his mother on upper left (neck) and left swelling and a silver-dollar-size bruise. The night before he drove the car with her in it, went through a red light; she bumped her head on the windshield and he lambasted her with curse words and threats to hurt her.
Oct. 22, 1997.
From a psychiatrist’s medical notes at Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center:
He has been in jail over the weekend, having (I think) stolen a purse. Mother maintains that he has memory lapses and doesn’t remember doing these things and is, therefore, not responsible for them.
She is hoping she will be able to find a psychiatrist who will find the problem that causes these memory lapses and does not think jail is in any way, shape or form appropriate for her son.
Again and again Lynda returned to mental health professionals.
“It’s not because you want to be right,” she says. “It’s because you want the right answer.”
“Paul can have a severe blowout and be very threatening, the whole nine yards. Give him a half-hour to an hour to 24 hours later, he can walk in and be as normal as you and I. So when they see him, nine out of 10, they don’t see the real Paul. ... I also knew that there was something wrong with Paul, no matter what (the early evaluations) said.”
Lynda, 66, has learned that “mental illness” is shifty. It is not a specific thing. Not like heart disease is heart disease and leukemia is leukemia.
As long as no two professionals gave the same answer, Lynda didn’t give up on getting a diagnosis, on being able to put a name to what Paul was going through.
“If they came down the road and said there is nothing wrong, I could accept it. But every time I went to a therapist, psychiatrist, I got another opinion.”
Paul, 36, adds: “You just want somebody to believe you so bad, about how your life is and how it happens and what happens in your life.”
Nov. 18, 1999. Paul is 21.
From medical notes from Southwestern Indiana Mental Health Center, asked to assess Paul’s capacity to stand trial for a charge of Class C felony intimidation, which allegedly occurred on Aug. 11, 1999:
… A 911 call had been made by (a neighbor) after she heard shouting coming from the residence nextdoor. It was reported that (the neighbor) heard the defendant threatening his mother, Lynda Kay Burrows, stating that he was going to kill her. It was subsequently also reported by (the neighbor) that, upon exiting the residence, the defendant also threatened to kill her.
The police reports indicate that the defendant became irritated during a discussion with his mother over household chores. He then used a hammer to destroy a car radio in his bedroom. The hammer was then used to inflict damage on the interior door to his bedroom. He subsequently allegedly turned to his mother and stated that he was going to kill her. His mother then reported that she ran out of the front door of the house while she was being chased by the defendant with the hammer.
… The defendant’s mother told (the police officer) that she thought the defendant was going to kill her and that she lives in fear of him.
After a neighbor got the police involved during a ruckus at the Burrows home in Evansville in 1999, Paul was hospitalized and then jailed. But in a matter of weeks he was back home with Lynda.
“What kind of step is that?” she asks. “The man almost killed me. He went to the mental health. They didn’t know where to put him so, well, they’ll put him back with the guardian. And he was court-ordered back to me again.”
In Indiana, someone suffering a mental health crisis — someone who is acutely psychotic, is suicidal or homicidal, or has a major drug or alcohol problem — may be involuntarily hospitalized for no more than 72 hours. Such an emergency detention requires someone — it’s often a family member — to apply for it in writing, a place willing to take the individual, a doctor to sign off on it and a judge to issue the commitment order.
If the patient hasn’t stabilized by the end of the three days and a longer hospitalization is deemed necessary, a second detention order from a judge is required.
The average stay in the behavioral health unit at Memorial Hospital in Jasper is about three days, according to Doug Hayworth, the unit outpatient coordinator for Southern Hills Counseling Center. Southern Hills is one of 25 agencies in the state’s Community Mental Health Center system. Some people stay at the local hospital for less than a day, Hayworth said, and rarely does a stay exceed three weeks.
Dec. 16, 2003. Paul is 25.
From a letter to Lynda from her attorney:
When we spoke the other day, you asked me what would happen in Paul’s guardianship if you resigned as guardian. If you resign as Paul’s guardian, his guardianship would not be terminated.
Unless you or Paul could show that the original grounds for establishing the guardianship (i.e. Paul’s incapacity) are no longer present, the guardianship will continue. Therefore, even if you resign as guardian, the court will require that another guardian be appointed in your place.
In spring 2013, nearly a decade after Lynda first queried her attorney about resigning her guardianship, Lynda continued to consider alternatives for Paul’s care.
“I’m 65 and I can’t do this anymore. Who’s going to take care of Paul?” the Jasper woman lamented when she approached the local newspaper, ready to make her story public.
She was ready for her neighbors, co-workers and everyone else to know about her ugly life — what goes on behind the self-described “clown face” she generally wears in public —in hopes that helping to raise awareness might help secure Paul’s future and effect change in the mental health and legal systems.
Paul was in jail in Perry County on drug charges and also faced charges in Dubois County. For the first time in a long time, Lynda couldn’t afford to pay a private attorney. A graduate of Kalamazoo Valley College in Michigan and funeral school and a former University of Southern Indiana student, she used student loans in the past to help pay for legal counsel.
Last June, Paul’s appointed attorney in Perry County told Lynda he needed as much paperwork as he could get to document Paul’s mental illness. She began immediately to make calls to the Evansville, Vincennes, Terre Haute, Tell City and Jasper facilities where he had been treated and requested copies of his files. Then she spent several days driving to those communities to pick up the documents.
“I don’t rest. I can’t. I’m always thinking in the middle of the night, ”˜What did I miss?’” she said on the drive to Paras Harshawat M.D. Comprehensive Mental Health Services in Terre Haute.
From Terre Haute she headed south. As she arrived in Vincennes, her cellphone rang. It was Paul, calling from jail, where he wasn’t getting his normal medication and had suffered a mental breakdown the day before. He had been talking about suicide a lot lately and was calling her several times a day.
A similar scene had played out repeatedly during the preceding few weeks. More than once the phone calls ended with Lynda apologizing to Paul for “failing” him.
Lynda pulled into a parking lot to take the call.
She listened for a few seconds before speaking: “Hang in there. Don’t you dare give up on me. Promise me?”
She continues to believe that jail is not the right place for the mentally ill.
But where is the right place?
Lynda is convinced that Paul, like so many of the mentally ill who make headlines after causing others harm, easily could become society’s problem rather than just hers.
“If I don’t get help for my son and I end up dying, you will become his victim because he can’t help himself,” she says.
And, she pointed out, Paul is far from the only mentally ill inmate not getting the help he needs during incarceration and then being released to uncertainty.
“Paul’s not the only Paul out there,” she says.
“I’m not just talking about my son. There are other sons and daughters out there that are walking the street. They don’t have anywhere to go because society don’t want to deal with it. They don’t want to pay that extra money out for medication. They don’t want to pay for Medicaid and Medicare, because (the mentally ill) are not productive.”
“I almost feel like they don’t have a voice. If we don’t speak for them, who’s going to speak for them?”
Feb. 23, 2004. Paul is 26.
Decree of invalidity of marriage in Henderson Circuit Court:
The court, having reviewed the record, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, finds as follows:
1. The petitioner, Paul Burrows, was under the guardianship of his mother, Lynda Burrows, in December 2003 and was incapable of consenting to the marriage at the time of its solemnization. … It is adjudged, decreed and ordered that:
a. The marriage of the parties was invalid at the time of its solemnization;
b. The marriage of the parties is declared invalid and to be of no force or effect.
March 2004 - Paul is in Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
July 20, 2005. Paul is 27.
From a Southern Hills Counseling Center staff psychiatrist report:
Mr. Burrows has been in psychiatric care off and on since he was 11 years old. He has been hospitalized three times and has been given the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder and antisocial personality disorder. … He went to school up to sixth grade and was in special education classes. He dropped out when he was a sixth-grade student. He has been in legal trouble all his life and has been involved in gangs. … He currently lives with a 19-year-old girlfriend and has a 2-day-old baby boy. He has been unemployed for a long time. He has had several jobs but he could not keep any job for more than a few weeks. The longest job he has kept was for six months. He has been in jail several times but is currently free of any legal problems.
Diagnosis Axis I: 1. Bipolar disorder, not otherwise specified
2. Polysubstance dependence in early partial remission
3. Rule out substance-induced psychotic disorder
Axis II: Antisocial personality disorder and borderline intellectual functioning
Paul had two children with his first wife and continues to pay child support for them but doesn’t see them. After his first marriage was declared invalid, Lynda signed off on his second marriage in 2009 to a woman with whom he now has four children.
“A few years ago when I let them get married, I thought that was the best thing for them. ... He needed to give those kids a name, a father, a mother. Maybe they can’t give much but I was always going to be there to help them out.”
Paul and his wife and children shared a house, and Lynda stopped in several times a week to be sure things were going OK.
“I at least could get on with my life somewhat, but I still had to be on alert,” she says.
That lasted only a few months until Paul was rearrested, jailed and eventually released to his guardian.
Then Lynda had Paul’s whole family move in with her for a year. Their lifestyles conflicted and that didn’t last either.
Since then, Paul has lived with Lynda while his wife and children live in Tell City. His wife filed for divorce last month.
“I’ve tried many, many times to get Paul on his own. It never works. He falls. He falls every time. I’m not saying he’s not a man, but he’s unstable. I have tried it so many times, I’m losing the effort of this to keep it up.”
Other parts in the series:
Part 1: Lynda Burrows is mother and guardian to her 36-year-old son. The two have moved from city to city and doctor to doctor because of his mental illnesses and brushes with the law. Their story raises the question: How do we treat the mentally ill? It’s an issue often in the news these days. Click here to read Part 1.
Part 3: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glossary of Terms
Antisocial Personality Disorder
A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others and an inability or unwillingness to conform to what are considered the norms of society.
Also known as a pro bono attorney or public defender, this lawyer is appointed by the court to represent a defendant when the defendant has no resources to hire a private attorney.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
A disorder in which a person is unable to control behavior because of difficulty in processing neural stimuli, accompanied by an extremely high level of motor activity.
Principal disorders that need attention.
Personality and developmental disorders.
A mood disorder sometimes called manic-depressive illness or manic-depression that characteristically involves cycles of depression and elation. Sometimes the mood switches from high to low and back again are dramatic and rapid, but more often they are gradual and slow, and intervals of normal mood may occur between the high (manic) and low (depressive) phases of the condition. The symptoms of both the depressive and manic cycles may be severe and often lead to impaired functioning. Bipolar II is diagnosed if the person has experienced at least one episode of major depression and at least one episode of hypomania (a milder form of mania). Bipolar I, on the other hand, is diagnosed if the individual has at least one manic episode but does not require a history of major depression.
Dependence on multiple drugs.
In the general sense, said of a mental illness that markedly interferes with a person’s capacity to meet life’s everyday demands. In a specific sense, it refers to a thought disorder in which reality testing is grossly impaired.
Some definitions come from MedicineNet.com.