Breaking Icons

My second human sculpture, Dr John Jumoke, holds a prescription pad that reads,

Rx: Art, Poetry, and Music.20121223-000808.jpg

I think that is a pretty good first line defense for much of what ails the human condition. That and a good dose of empathic understanding from people who eschew employing violence, sarcasm and undermining skepticism in their efforts to help others. Too often people who are diagnosed, as I was, and still am, with “schizophrenia” are rushed into treatment that degrades and humiliates, even as it inflicts terrible effects, not to mention side effects…all without curing the so-called illness. I am not convinced that a person with “schizophrenia,” given the simple luxury of TIME, and a safe place with really good, caring, kind and intelligent people who know how to help without hurting her or him, would not heal better and more effectively than with any of all the so-called miracle anti-psychotic drugs our billion dollar medico-pharma industry has foisted on us. And I say this even though I still feel that Zyprexa was a “miracle drug” for me, once upon a time, (though also the miracle drug from hell…) and that it gave me a life I had never known before. I say this even though I take Abilify and Geodon and do more art and writing than I ever have…I say this even though I am better now than I have been in decades. I think the drugs are only fixing problems that the system largely caused. And had I had the chance, way back when, I wish I had had the chance to fight back without them…

If I could do anything to fix the mental health system, in Connecticut or this country or the world, one small thing, it would be to end ALL use of seclusion and restraints, period. Violence begets violence, in all cases. In ALL cases. In fact, get this, I would change the prison system as well, so that punishment qua punishment would be a thing of the past. Punishment is only a form of revenge and it does nothing to change a person or make them better. It only makes society feel better the way a bully feels better when he or she smacks a victim upside the head for smiling lopsidedly. I mean this. Sure, people can do very bad things. Yes. And certain people may be so damaged that they are too dangerous  to safely release into “normal” society. (I maintain that this is largely because of how we, as a society, treated them, either at large or in prison.) But prisons and penitentiaries, especially in America, should be seen as an abomination on God’s green earth.

They say a society is judged by how it treats its dead? Well, I think we are judged by how we treat our prisoners, and if so, we will be judged poorly indeed for we treat our prisoners like hated animals…Not like cats and dogs that is for certain, nor even like horses…No, because we generally treat cats, dogs and horses well. Rather, we treat prisoners like vermin, like roaches…and then we blame them when they behave like the vermin they have become!

Have I gotten off the subject? Well, some mental institutions are largely prisons to their populations of involuntary or coerced patients, and most patients, involuntary or not, are cowed into doing as they are told for fear of the consequences. So to a degree the prison metaphor is valid. But if you have been restrained and secluded, brutally, and for hours upon hours, for many days, as I have been, the notion that you are a prisoner becomes more reasonable. That said, I will advance yet another idea: that bad behavior should be treated, not punished. Yes, I mean that. We should treat the person guilty of repeated criminal offenses as if he or she has a treatable behavioral disorder, and not punish them.

I know this will earn me some outrage. But think about it. What good does it do to punish a person repeatedly? Does it do anyone any good to torture that person with “the hole” or with repeated cell extractions and mace in the face? Clearly it doesn’t rehabilitate them or teach them the ways of kindness. It only makes them worse, and in our system an in-prison offense can add years to what started as a short sentence. So we create hardened criminals inside our prisons. I ask again, what good did it do?

But if instead we took that person, guilty of an offense and treated them as if they needed help — help learning how to behave better — and all that might entail, perhaps we might end up not only with someone ready to leave the institution at the end of the shorter stay, but someone ready to stay out afterwards! It only makes sense to treat everyone, including prisoners, with kindness and understanding and education, and if you don’t believe this, you should for one reason only: it would cost less money. (Of course, the owners of the private prisons don’t want you to know this, because they MAKE money on all the prisoners who keep coming back or who never get out, in fact there is a whole industry based on keeping as many people in prison, their private prisons, as possible…)

But I don’t believe in prisons either. I think the institution is a nightmare. You put bad people together with one another and what do you get but people learning how to behave worse together! It is a truly ridiculous idea. Analogous to the hospital, which is currently the worst and most dangerous place to go when you get ill (because that is where the most dangerous infections are and are often out of control). In the “old days” prisons were merely waiting stations. Penalties were sure and swift, and brutal. But no one waited for decades in a crowded prison with society pretending that it was humane. Now, we pretend it is..I dunno. Do we pretend anything, or just not care?

Do we care at all that we warehouse so many millions in dead-end lives that only get worse by the day, and then deprive them the more if they manage to leave prison eventually and not return? Oh, we have three strikes laws to put a person in prison for life, but no one gives a damn that there are three strikes against any person who actually earns his or her way OUT of prison. Nowhere to live, no job, no money, and no safety net whatsoever. (Unless you happen to be a former governor of Connecticut, and then you have it made in the shade.)

Enough for now.

8 thoughts on “Breaking Icons”

  1. Hi Pam,
    I will write the number down and call. My email is dogkisses 2 at g mail dot com and I will give you my number that way. I am only a few minutes from Durham.

    Pam, I think I’ve had one of the worst weeks of my life. Aside from my desktop crashing, which I amazingly accidentally fixed yesterday, well, life has been so hard. My son is not too well, and today he missed an appointment with the psych doc. I don’t trust them very much Pam, and I can’t say it was an accident that he missed. I think subconsciously it happened. I’ve been really, really upset. Crying a lot and just really lost as to what to do.

    I am still traumatized from how my son was treated by psychiatry (local ones who are affiliated with the clinic where he was supposed to go today). I’m sure they would not understand! Well, I can’t say more here, so I look forward to meeting you. I sure hope we get to.

    I couldn’t do much from my little computer, but am online now, and have transferred my passwords in case this one fails again.

    As to Lyme’s and RMSF, I don’t think I ever got cured. Honestly, I am never sure if fibromyalgia is what I have either. The Immunologists told me after RMSF, that I had “Post Infectious Disease Syndrome.” They said it might last 3-9 months, or that I might be ‘sickly’ for the rest of my life. They also said they couldn’t see me again, because too many people, “have brain lesions and more serious matters than I have.” One month after they told me this, I saw a fibromyalgia expert, who of course, gave me that diagnosis and said the tick diseases had nothing to do with my health. I was one totally different person before Pam. I was strong. Now, they simply will not talk to me about tick disease. Only fibro. My doc says he doesn’t even believe in CFS! Sigh…

    Forgive me for writing so much here. I’ll wait to talk to you. I have several appointments this week, but none that last too long. One is in Durham.

    I HOPE it works out too! Thanks so much for communicating, and also for understanding about my lapse in communications.

    Take care, and I’ll SEE you soon! 🙂


  2. Hi Michelle, no you didn’t lose your reply. It is right here, below this one. Never fear. I found it. As soon as your battery is charged, do get back in touch. My temporary phone number is 860-713 eight zero five two. You can call me and I will give you my home number. Or we can talk once I am in Durham and make plans then. I cannot believe it, you are actually in Durham too? Unbelievable. My bro and his wife work during the mornings of Thurs and Fri, I think so if we could meet Thursday late morning, it would be great. On the weekend we go to the lake, wherever that is, so I think we might need to make it during in the week in case my brother’s lake house is too far away to meet..I’m really looking forward to this.

    Btw, what makes you so certain you are cured of Lyme or of RMSF????? I was told my Lyme disease was incurable, after 4 positive PCR tests. And I never had a postive ELISA the entire time…It is SO political, dagnabit! but so important to get proper treatment. I think you might not have a proper diagnosis even, whatever you have. And the fact that you have had TWO tick-borne illnesses before this suggests that something is indeed still going on. But don’t listen to me, who am I? right?

    We will talk soon, I hope, I really HOPE SO!



  3. Wow! I think I lost my reply Pam. Well, I will come back to this thread today. Am excited that we might meet! My battery is low on this computer. My desktop is down.

    Talk soon okay!
    Very truly,


  4. Dear Pam,

    Hello again. I hope this note finds you well. I’m not sure if this reply is in the right location, but that’s okay as long as you see it 🙂

    My apologies for not getting back to you earlier. I had an extremely challenging week. I’ll spare you the details or reasons here, and will instead send you an email as soon as I can. My desktop is down and I’m using my small netbook. I can say that the main reasons for my delayed response is also the reason I need to explore this idea we are discussing. Sigh… Such hard times doing so much, and truly everything alone these days. Both my son and I are without much support as I write. This has to change very soon for us.

    Thanks for your response, again, and your enthusiasm is hopeful to me. Also, I do live near Durham! We could meet and I hope we get to! I will send you my phone number too. I can’t believe we might be having coffee or lunch or anything, very soon!

    Lately, things just go wrong and I feel bad a lot. Some of it is because of physical illness and/or pain. Having pain makes me vulnerable to emotional ups and downs, even if there wasn’t stress in my life.

    My battery is low and I’m going to go ahead and send this reply before I lose it. I promise to get back with you (via email and/or phone) in hopes that we can arrange a time to meet 🙂

    I must send this now, but am truly looking forward to our further communications!

    I hope your day is good. I promised my son to go swimming. He needs to swim like most folks need food. He hasn’t in a long time, and it is so helpful to him, so that’s my big goal today. Hoping my evening starts early and I will have time to write you again tonight.

    Very truly,

    PS Doctors in NC are weird about Lyme’s disease. I had it, and then RMSF two yhears later. We can talk more, but they all say the tests are no good and I believe they call it fibromyalgia when it is more like CFS/Post Infectious Disease, We’ll talk soon 🙂


  5. Hi Michelle,

    I hope you had a a little warmer day todayIt rained here for the fifth or sixth time all week but it has been warmer here than usual (all week in the 70s and once last week in the 80s). A long week indeed, and I am in sore need of a walk and a look at the wildflowers and gardens of the Northeast. By the way, I notice that you seem to be located in North Carolina. Are you? I will actually be visiting my brother in Durham from June 12-17thI dunno where he lives in the summer — we will or might spend the weekend at his lakeside cottage — but if you are anywhere near Durham, maybe we could in fact meet sooner than expected!

    Let me know. You can always email me privately at pamwagg at cox dot net. Or call me at the number below and leave a message. (It is a skype phone number so I will answer it if I am online and able to but will always get the message via my email).

    Yours, excitedly,


    *******PS have you been checked for ALL tick borne illnesses? I am convinced that CFS is NOT an illness but symptoms that point to an unidentified infectious disease that no one wants to figure out because it hits women more than menEven my Lyme doctor agrees that it likely is not “just” chronic fatigue” coming out of nowhere. Extreme fatigue was one of the most notable symptom I had when they discovered I had tertiary Lyme disease. THe fatigue arose because I was developing demyelination of my leg nerves. THe thing is, I never had a positive ELISA screening test for Lyme Disease, NEVER. In fact I only had a positive Western Blot, AFTER i started antibiotic treatment, not before. Finally we got a blood and urine positive PCR (polymerase chain reaction test, a test for the DNA of lyme bacteria) but this was only after I had been on antibiotics for several monthsJust wanted to tell you this, because I am sure you have been tested and told you do not have Lyme or any of the other tick-borne illnesses, but that could easily be HOGWASH! They just do not understand Lyme disease. Read Cure Unknown, I think the title is, a large book all about Lyme disease. It will scare you, but also tell you a lot you were never told about a disease that could possibly be causing your problems, though I KNOW you have been told it could not(I never had a bulls eye rash either. I was bitten by a tick, that I remember, but I knew nothing about Lyme disease. I knew nothing!)

    Pamela Spiro Wagner. Artist, poet, author of DIVIDED MINDS: Twin Sisters and their Journey through Schizophrenia (St Martins Press, 2005) and WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS (CavanKerry Press, 2009). Available for readings, speaking on mental health issues and others, also art sales/donations. and Please contact for details by email or phone: 860-263-0280


  6. Dear Pam,

    Hello! I’m so happy to see your reply. I can’t respond fully at the moment, as I have a very busy day and must get ready. I truly look forward to our further communications!

    Also, I understand being scared. I have an MD who I depend on, and that is my biggest fear of moving. Otherwise, I’ve always been a ‘mover’ (a result of circumstances more than choice). I am so ready to move, but I wish I could move one more time and stay for a good long while. Long enough to grow, and watch a Perennial flower garden get bigger.

    I am happy that you like the idea of the blog and I believe we can/will find that we are not alone in our dreams, wishes and needs.

    Wishing you a good day (it is unusually cold here, but is sunny today).



  7. Dear Michelle,

    Wow, what a wonderful idea. Let’s do it. Let’s start a multi-author blog. I sent you a message a while ago which you may or may not have gotten, asking you to be a contributor to Wagblog here. But the notion of a wholly shared blog is even better. I am so sick of Halfway Houses for the mentally ill. Why should we not have Whole Way Homes? And why should they not be healing too?

    How can we get others interested in this house and blog and where? I am scared to move from New England, I admit, but I am scared to move period. I am scared to moveI am scared to do anything out of the box of my life that isBecause i have never done anything out of the box that has contained and constrained my life all of my life.

    There, I said it. I am scared. I am really scared. But the thing is, I would not be alone, not any more, and that would be the best thing. If we could get funding and find the right state in the country for this, the state with the kindest attitude and help for us, we could do it, find the big house for people to join us on this journey. Let’s do it.

    What do we have to lose but our chains?????

    At least let’s explore the options in a blog together. I think that is a great idea. I am 60 already and am not getting any younger. Are you?


    anyone out there who reads this and is interested in the blog and contributing, contact me to let me know…

    Pamela Spiro Wagner. Artist, poet, author of DIVIDED MINDS: Twin Sisters and their Journey through Schizophrenia (St Martins Press, 2005) and WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS (CavanKerry Press, 2009). Available for readings, speaking on mental health issues and others, also art sales/donations. and Please contact for details by email or skype phone: 860-263-0280


  8. Wonderful post Pam.

    I had to take breaks and write in my journal while I read this, as it brought up so much for me personally. I need to write. I want to write. I wish I could write without such personal scrutiny, but part of that is because my son’s life and privacy is such a big part of ‘my’ story in mental healthcare. I have my own stories, but they are nothing as damaging and toxic as are his, because of different diagnoses, I guess. His seems the most dangerous of all, because of the way psychiatry treats those diagnosed. Too many psychiatrists and mental healthcare professionals are so far from professional in their respect for and treatment of the person diagnosed with schizophrenia.

    Your views about punishment and the prison system do not evoke an outcry from me. I do agree with you whole heartedly.

    Your writing is straight to the point, and I really love reading your posts. Thank you so much for continuing to share your views and stories Pam.

    I hope we get to meet. I really wish we could get together some type of group to discuss a healing home. One idea is to start a multi-owner blog? I know we are not alone in our dreams and wishes for a better way to live and heal.

    I was thinking the other day about that Christian farm my son went to, which I now regret sending him, but we live and learn I guess. But, I was thinking that if the Christians can do it, then why can’t we? I know they have big bucks to start non-profits or for profits, but there are always grants and funds available. Plus, with enough heads together, I believe if we had a physical location, we could indeed support ourselves and the community we could create.

    Peace and many Blessings,
    Michelle (dogkisses).


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