We visited the high-max unit this afternoon where many of the inmates struggle with mental illness – most commonly psychotic disorders such schizophrenia.
The National Institute of Health describes Psychosis as follows:
What is Psychosis?
The word psychosis is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality. When someone becomes ill in this way it is called a psychotic episode. During a period of psychosis, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not. Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear). Other symptoms include incoherent or nonsense speech, and behavior that is inappropriate for the situation. A person in a psychotic episode may also experience depression, anxiety, sleep problems, social withdrawal, lack of motivation, and difficulty functioning overall.
Sometimes the men are so lost in their alternate realities they don’t even recognize when we’ve come – instead staring blankly into the distance. A few will engage briefly in conversation but then continue their profanity-laden monologues of paranoia and conspiracies. Sometimes a man will smear feces all over the walls of his cell. The stench can be overpowering.
I met with one man today who currently believed himself to be Jesus Christ. I’ve met him other times when he is lucid. During those lucid times I’ve found him to be pleasant and intelligent.
This is a challenging unit for the correctional officers (COs) because they are never sure what they are going to encounter. Just because a man was calm and compliant the last time he was moved or checked on doesn’t mean he will be calm or in his right mind the next time. This population has a history of violence towards others and towards themselves.
Because of those risks it took ten years of negotiations with the jail administration to finally get permission to visit this unit every other week. Some might wonder why we bother. There are even days when I wonder.
The philosophy of the worlds says to invest our resources where we see a return on our investment. If we aren’t seeing the return then it is time to move on and invest our resources elsewhere.
The economy of God’s kingdom is different.
Luke 6:32-36 (NIV)
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
As I visit these men I need to acknowledge them as created in the image of God. I need to see them with the eyes of love and compassion as Christ sees them.
Romans 5:6,8 (NIV)
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
When we were mentally ill and living in a jail cell with feces-covered walls, Christ died for us.