Locking up the mentally ill

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  April 3, 2014

The Corrections Department and then-Governor John Baldacci’s office washed their hands of responsibility. In so many words, the governor’s office said Woodbury had made bad choices.

Donald Beauchene, a thoughtful forensic patient at Riverview, worries that the prison IMHU “will strengthen in the public the perception of the mentally ill as criminals.” But the public may have already regained that nineteenth-century perception. Few are protesting the criminalization of the mentally ill.

“At his core there’s a decent person trying to cope with this mental illness,” said Joe Steinberger, Michael’s former lawyer, adding: “Mike James needs what the world is least likely to give him: love. Without that he will not survive. The state is not a very good deliverer of that commodity.”

Love may be too much to ask from the state — from the public, from us. But is it too much to ask for humane, even generous care? Maybe that would be enough to save Michael, enough to protect us from him, and enough to give us back some humanity.

Lance Tapley can be reached atlance.tapley@gmail.com.

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