Putting a Face on Schizophrenia

I find myself obsessed with watching YouTube videos produced by Jacob Bowman on his well-received channel, “ I have Schizophrenia.”  Jacob Bowman has quite a following. One commentator praised Jacob for his charisma, calling him the” Schizophrenic James Dean.” This viewer finds him so cool he could listen to Jacob for hours, even if was he talking about something as boring as paint drying.  I, for one, agree because Jacob is extremely cool in an almost retro way, even when describing “schizophrenia on a bad day,” or hygiene—relating, of course, to the subject of mental illness –or how he believes that no one, whether schizophrenic or not, should ever give up hope. I am grateful Jacob does not talk about paint drying, although I’m sure he would make it fascinating. Rather, he connects with people who have mental illness and to the people who love and care for them. His insight into his own illness helps me to understand what the hell is going on.

Understandably, Jacob Bowman manages to win the hearts and minds of many who search their way to his channel—some have mental illness themselves. Not only is he beautiful to behold even “on a bad day,” but he’s honest.  He also smokes like an anti-hero from the 50’s, loves Stephen Hawking, which makes him charmingly intellectual, and knows exactly when to inject expletives into  his presentation. His large YouTube following is from my point of view, entirely well-deserved. He helps to educate through his honesty and he helps to de-stigmatize mental health disorders through bravery and unabashed transparency.

“There’s a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life… We who struggle with these disorders can lead full, happy, productive lives, if we have the right resources.”
– Elyn R. Saks

Now, why would I be a subscriber to his channel and one who offers frequent likes on his videos? I do not have a mental health diagnosis and consider myself simply a garden variety neurotic with my share of issues and dysfunctions. I find listening to Jacob helpful because my adult son has been living with me for eight months and he has taken up residence on the living room couch. I have had to up my Wi-Fi gigabytes to the speed bump level because the streaming goes on 24/7 and I am not exaggerating. The television is on day and night as a distraction to the constant unwelcome commentary in his head. I’ve come to except that he will not make use of his bedroom for the time being and I’ve come to except that he may not bathe for a week or more at a time and that he does not like to talk. He has been diagnosed. Now, I have to go places I have never gone before, like in Star Trek, and be willing to venture into outer space for understanding.

“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. . . If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness.”
Philip K. Dick

My support group has been amazing—my God, these people actually get it when I complain, “He is still on the couch.”  Or, “He refuses to take a shower.”  They understand when I complain that I am sick of people saying, “I don’t like to label people,” or “Medication is bad for you. What about herbs?  What about diet?” As a society, we need education on mental illness before rushing to judgments or offering advice. There are no easy answers, or perhaps, answers at all.

Thank you, Jacob Bowman, for being real, for putting a face on schizophrenia, for being out of the closet, for your bravery, and for telling us all to NEVER GIVE UP HOPE.


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Lost in the City of Angels


It is easy to be lost in place, and he is. Well at least, I console myself, he isn’t lost in Jesus Land. He isn’t wearing a tin-foil hat. He isn’t sitting up all night in some fast food restaurant like McDonald’s trying to avoid the streets, waiting for the time when he can return to the camper after its resident goes to work. He might have been able to rest during the day, to sleep while the voices say, no one loves you, you are worthless. He lives with me now, so he does not have to go hungry.

Our refrigerator is well-stocked. The freezer is filled with Amy’s frozen lasagna, macaroni and cheese with broccoli, enchiladas with beans and rice, and all manner of organic meals. He won’t be stealing sandwiches out of grocery stores. He will not have cops pushing and bullying him for staring at cars. He will not be beaten up by law enforcement for hanging out in airports. Police will not be dislocating his shoulder while pulling him over on a side-walk. It is common for police to treat the homeless and the mentally ill as criminals. When someone is both, it is a double whammy– cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

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Letting Go

A blast of prose from my past…going through my files.

I woke up this morning thinking about what my dead cat looked like when I discovered her lying on my bathroom floor three years ago. My female calico of 14 years, with long hair and eyes that looked like they had been lined in kohl, was stretched out ridged as an ironing board, with her blue eyes open, staring blankly. At the time, what struck me was she was now dead. To put it dramatically, I was looking at the face of death. There was no light in her eyes, no movement, no energy, no dance, no play, no expression. Wow – it made me think, death is pretty lifeless, not much going on. Shocking, in fact. Perhaps taking life for granted, and the adage, “Life is a bitch and then we die,” is a bit too cynical. Perhaps, that look my dog gives me when he has not seen me for a few hours, is actually precious and tied to a force more powerful than gravity. Maybe the force is love.

Art Journal Page

Collage by Kartika

I contemplated what it would be like to be faced with death each day, forced to face the absence of light in the faces of the bombed or butchered. If I lived in Palestine or Iraq or somewhere one cannot escape the faces of the dead, where the dead are not taken away in the middle of night and sanitized by undertakers, placed in $5,000 velvet-lined coffins, and placed in immaculately manicured cemeteries, then grieved over by the well-dressed and well-fed still living, would I become desensitized? Or, would that spark that animates trees and waves and wild horses become even more precious? Would the miracle of seeing your grandmother live to be 100 seem even more miraculous?

But, I live in a world where I don’t see many dead people, and so, seeing Cinnamon my cat, stretched out, was a shock. I didn’t understand my tears. After all, she was old and had been ill for a very short while, and her death was merciful and natural, but I still cried looking into the face of death and felt the loss of her. And then it took me over – that we are all made of more than our miraculous flesh and bone. We are animated by that abstract something we call life, that mysterious energy that puts light into faces, and makes our eyes shine with love and hate, and makes our bodies climb mountains, and makes fish jump in the water, and the flowers bloom. And, it hit me like a gentle yet forceful wind that without life, the moon would not shine and the sun would lose its heat, and the planets would collapse, and the wind would cease, and the tides would no longer hypnotize lovers, and the stars would lose their mystery.

Perhaps I should let go of being pissed at life for its brutal blows and heartbreaks, at least for long enough to consider the possibility that our pain is part of the mysterious spirit we call life, and cannot be removed from that to which it is intimately connected.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen


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The Facts: What’s Broken in Our Juvenile Justice System and How to Fix It

Kids in the system

An excellent visual analysis of what is wrong with our juvenile justice system and how to make it right from Youth Transition Funders Group.


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You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners

Excellent work and a very informative piece of writing!

Mephitic's BS Ramblings

“You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners”.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

The last executions in the UK took place in 1964, with capital punishment for murder being abolished in 1969 (1973 in NI)  subsequently it was abolished in all circumstances in 1998. Since 2004 the UK has been prohibited from restoring capital punishment as long as it is party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Despite this, recent opinion polls suggest that the majority of the British population remain in favour of capital punishment.

In stark contrast, the death penalty in a majority of US states is flourishing, as of January 1st 2012 there were 3189 people on death row.  Matthew B. Robinson, PhD Professor of Government & Justice Studies of the Appalachian State University offers an explanation as to why:

  • History & Culture: The US has a long history & culture of violence…

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Open Letter: Assault in Solitary Confinement

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Source: Open Letter: Assault in Solitary Confinement

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Open Letter: Assault in Solitary Confinement

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
Nelson Mandela

December 31, 2015

Dear Readers,

I would have liked to follow up on the last letter I wrote, but something happened last night, or rather, early this morning that has prompted me to write this letter to you. I want to disclose in this letter something I’ve seen many times over. What I am about to describe will give you a glimpse of what inmates throughout the United States must endure on a daily basis.

At around 5:00 a.m. this morning, an inmate from General Population was brought and placed into an empty cell two doors from mine. The correctional officers who escorted this young man to the Segregation building in which I am housed, are as follows: the two highest ranking officials—a Lieutenant and Shift Supervisor, a Sergeant, and three low ranking officers.

The inmate, whose name I will withhold, was handcuffed with his hands behind his back. He was place in that cell by these officers, ranking officials included, and assaulted without remorse. The officers are the same officers who are there to ensure our safety, not to jeopardize it. As I stood at my cell door feeling angry, helpless, vulnerable, and a little frightened for the safety of my peer and myself, I couldn’t help but kick my cell door while at the same time, yelling “GET OFF THAT MAN!” over and over again.

The assault of my peer seemed to go on forever as the seconds ticked by. The assault lasted for about two minutes, but they were the longest two minutes of my day. As the assault concluded, all five correctional officers approached my cell door and the Sergeant asked me, “Do you want some too, Bitch?” As he began to produce a pair of hand cuffs from his back pocket. “You know that shit was wrong Man!” I could not help but respond. A small slot on my cell door which opens to give inmates their trays and also to handcuff inmates before opening the cell door was then opened. I was ordered to stick my hands out. “Stick your hands out inmate!” As the anger got the best of me, as well as knowing what to expect, I responded “…I ain’t doing shit! If you want to smash on me too, you gonna have to come in like that!”

Before a decision could be made, the lieutenant spoke up to say it was time for a shift change. My slot was closed again and before the sergeant walked away from my door he told me, “I’ll be back. Count on it, bitch.” The shift change saved me from also being assaulted.

Even though assaults like this are the norm for inmates, I cannot help but ask,” Are these the repercussions we as inmates deserve for the crimes we have committed? Even after harsh sentences? Is this humane? Would people on the outside believe this treatment is justified? Will it help rehabilitate those who are incarcerated to be treated this way? Acts of violence like this occur throughout the system on a daily basis and we have no help to stop such injustices. I am committed to help raise public awareness on violence against the incarnated.

“To know and yet not to do, is in fact not to know.” – Wang Yang Ming

To me, this means that if humans know of any type of injustice done to another human, community, or even to the environment, and we do nothing, it is as if we did not know it in the first place. In other words, without action, there is no knowing. With that said, I would encourage anyone, whether or not they know someone who is incarcerated, to visit the following web site: www.justice.gov/gov/crt/about/spl, case number: 168-74-0. On behalf of inmates everywhere, I ask that the public not turn a blind eye to the reality of violence against the incarcerated.

More to come…Sincerely, Gilbert V.

More from Gilbert:

Open Letter from an Inmate

About Circle of Love:

Circle of Love Inside – Writing to Prisoners

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Open Letter from an Inmate

I would like to share with you this letter written by my Pen-pal, Gilbert V. who is incarcerated. I have connected with Gilbert through Circle of Love Inside, an organization established by Sri Mata Amritananandamayi Devi, or Amma, who is affectionately know as the hugging saint. Writing to inmates is an important facet of Amma’s outreach and humanitarian activities. Amma is a worldwide humanitarian and the recipient of numerous awards including the Gandhi-King Award for non-violence in 2002, presented to her by Jane Goodall, in recognition of her lifelong work in furthering the principles of non-violence.

Circle of Love Inside

Collage Card by KartiArt

Open Letter from an Inmate

My name is Gilbert V. I’m twenty-seven years old and I’m incarcerated at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. I have been an inmate for seven years, the last two of which I’ve spent in a cell that is 6” by 4” for twenty-three hours a day. I now spend twenty-two hours of the six days a week in a cell. I was born in prison and from an early age have been on a path that has led me to where I am today.

Most inmates wonder if those who are not in prison, or who do not have family members who are incarcerated, think of us as fully human. Do we have souls? Should we be locked up and forgotten? We have justifiably been labeled “criminals” by society because we have broken laws and committed crimes. And yet, because we are also human beings, do you believe we can be worth more than our worst crimes? Can we be rehabilitated or should we simple be punished? Do we have the capacity to love, to forgive, and to contribute our gifts to society at some point in time? Can we dare hope society will allow us the chance to be recognized as more than our worst actions, more than the mistakes we have made?

Are we different from all of you on the “outside?” How am I like you, you may wonder? I am a father. I am a son. I am a brother. I am a friend. I am a human being, who like all human beings, has made terrible mistakes in life. My mistakes have had devastating effects on others. I recognize I must pay for my crimes. I understand I have hurt my family and the families of others. I have come to feel true remorse for my crimes. And, I am learning each day to take responsibility for my actions. This is my story.

I will be honest. I was not always conscious of those around me and did not care how my actions affected others. But, since I’ve been incarcerated, I have grown. I have hope I will continue to grow into the person I want to be. I see the world from a different perspective. The realization of how my actions have been selfish, reckless, and wrong, has struck me like a freight train. I have come to the point where I want to change. I can finally admit I need help. I understand that I want to accept help. In fact, I know that I need help to change. Like you, I have dreams and goals. I want to share my life’s experiences with the youth from my community in hopes that I can help young people avoid the mistakes I have made–the mistakes that have led me to this place.

I will share more about myself soon. I welcome your comments.

A prose poem by Gilbert V.

I Know

You act careless and tough, when in reality you just want to be loved. I know because I’ve been there. You blame everything and everyone because nothing is fair. You hold it all in and just follow the herd. But, in reality, you just want to be heard. I know, because I’ve done that too. They call you cool, happy, and strong, but it’s not true. No one knows how you’ve really felt. How can they if you’ve never asked for help? Yes, I’ve been there too. No, you’re right—I am not you. But I know because I’ve been in the same prison full of hurt and fear because no one will listen. I used to think the same way until I received a letter from far away. The letter was filled with love and compassion. It held no judgment for any past action. Many months have passed and I’ve made a friend who I feel is heaven sent. Friendship has saved me from stormy weather. I now have hope that one day I will break free from my cage. So there’s hope for us. I know because I’m there.

– Gilbert Vasquez

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Tiny Homes destroyed by city 10 arrested

Source: Tiny Homes destroyed by city 10 arrested

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Circle of Love Inside – Writing to Prisoners

Collage Card by KartiArt

In May 2015, I began writing to an inmate through the organization Circle of Love Inside, founded by Mata Amritanandamayi, a renowned humanitarian affectionately known as Amma (Mother), or The Hugging Saint. I had heard of the program from a friend who had been writing to inmates for five years and enthusiastically endorsed it. I was looking for way to serve, and I had been concerned with the problems associated with mass incarceration in the United States for some time. Yet, I had no idea how powerful this simple form of service could be.

What is Circle of Love Inside?

Circle of Love Inside is an outreach program designed to connect volunteers with incarcerated individuals throughout the United States. Inmates request a pen-pal with whom they can establish a supportive and uplifting relationship through the simple, yet profound, act of letter writing. It is not a dating service and the boundaries are clear–the purpose is to support and to inspire. Its purpose is not to proselytize or promote a specific spiritual teaching, and inmates of all (or no) religions participate. Yet, we are encouraged to share our stories and of course, spirituality can be an important part of the letter writing conversation.

Snail-mail can be fun

Today, when writing letters is a lost art and email and texting have become the vehicle for staying in touch, being a pen-pal can become a priceless opportunity.  It came as a surprise to me that both writing and receiving snail-mail could be so rewarding. It had been years since I’d written a letter–but it brought back the excitement of waiting for a hand written letter in an envelop. Most importantly, getting to know an inmate as a human being has been an enriching and profound experience for me and for others I know. It can be a journey where both volunteers and inmates are able to bring spiritual gifts to a unique relationship with individuals who we would never have met otherwise. In many cases, prisoners do not have outside family or support. So, it’s gratifying to know that receiving our letters from the “outside” can make an enormous difference in their lives.

What have I learned?

So, what have I learned by being a prisoner’s pen-pal? I have gotten to know a human being who has been labeled by society as a “criminal.” But to me, he is a person of value with so much potential to grow. This young man, who is only 27 yrs. old, lives in a cell the size of a parking space without human contact. This is the form of torture prevalent in our prison system called “solitary confinement.” It is known for causing mental and physical harm that is irreversible.

“The United Nations agrees. Back in 2011 it issued a report claiming that long-term solitary isolation is a form of torture — a cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment prohibited by international law. The report made special reference to the United States’ use of supermax prisons as a violation. ” George Dvorsky

  • I have learned inmates should not be defined by their crimes and flaws–like the rest of us, they are humans embarked on one of the most challenging paths of existence–the human journey.
  • I have learned our playing field in society is uneven and that makes a difference in what choices we will make.
  • I have learned society needs to address the gap between the rich and the poor and stop ignoring the social issues that guarantee crime.  Some of us have been born into poverty, or become mentally ill, or have been victims of severe neglect and abuse.

Yet, I believe in redemption and in rehabilitation. I believe in healing. I believe we have a moral responsibility to treat lives as sacred. It is time we, as citizens of a country with more incarcerated individuals than any other country in the world, recognize the dark “shadow” of our society. We have to stop ignoring the the social inequality that often leads to despair and eventually to crime.

“The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — a 500% increase over the past thirty years. These trends have resulted in prison overcrowding and state governments being overwhelmed by the burden of funding a rapidly expanding penal system, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective means of achieving public safety.” sentencingproject.org

Our prisons are filled with bright and talented individuals who are capable of being rehabilitated. My pen-pal writes poetry, draws, paints, reads books, meditates and prays. My eyes are now wide open to the struggles of those whose daily existence is so harsh I could not bear it for one day.

Pope Francis, on his recent visit to the United States, called for reform when he said,

“All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty be it legal or illegal, in all of its forms, but also for the improvement of prison conditions in the respect of the human dignity of those who have been deprived of freedom,” Francis said, “I link this to the death sentence. In the Penal Code of the Vatican, the sanction of life sentence is no more. A life sentence is a death sentence which is concealed.” Pope Francis 

The Man in Front of Me

I stare at the man in front of me.

He parts his lips and asks, Why have you become my enemy?

That was never my intention, I respond.

But you’ve hurt me, your daughter, your brothers, sisters, and your mom.

I stare at the man in front of me with nothing to say.

He parts his lips again, Do you expect it to all just go away?

I cast my eyes away from the man, wanting to hide.

Look me in the eyes, or are you that full of pride?

I finally turn and begin to walk away.

I love you, I hear him say.

I slowly turn to find tears rolling down the man’s face.

I love you, but you can’t seem to to find your place.

I look at he man in the mirror and say,

I’m lost but will find my place one day.

By Gilbert

Collage Card by KartiArt


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