Being “Disappeared” into CPEP (Part III)

[For parts I and II, go to “Notes in Passing.”]

Let’s keep in mind that one time when I was in CPEP (Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program) they wouldn’t give me my personal address book so I could call my mother.  They said that if I really was going to call my mother then I would know her phone number.  That is none of their damn business!  State regulations stipulate that psychiatric inpatients have the unfettered right to make phone calls.  This is not supposed to be prison; this is supposed to be medical treatment.  If I want to call my astrologer and get a reading then the CPEP staff does not have the right to judge whether the phone call is acceptable to them.  A mental patient is still a citizen and has the right to order a pizza without permission from the staff.  And the fact was that I didn’t know my mother’s phone number because my parents had moved out of state and I’m no good at remembering ten-digit phone numbers.  Nevertheless, without investigating, CPEP staff made the moral judgment that I was lying and therefore denied me my rights. 

Tom was taken to CPEP two days ago and hasn’t been heard from since.  His family has no knowledge of where he is or if he’s trying to reach them and isn’t being allowed to. 

CPEP has the authority to move Tom a hundred miles away without telling anybody.  So now I’m talking to Jamie, who fronts for the PAIMI attorney (Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness) at Legal Aid of Central New York, and she is telling me that there’s nothing they can do.  You know why not?

Because the request for assistance has to come from the mentally ill person.  Tom—who thinks he is Vladimir, and has spent the last three weeks laying on the couch and not speaking—Tom, who is crazy, must initiate the phone call.  Tom, who won’t sign legal papers for Social Security because he thinks his lawyer is trying to steal from him, must choose to request a lawyer from Legal Aid.  Tom, who is missing part of a chromosome and can’t think straight, must get himself organized enough to find out there is such a thing as a PAIMI attorney.  I am livid at the irrational insensitivity of the system. 

After much conversation—and a fair amount of intimidation from me—Jamie mentions that if brother Terry files for custody of the children then the court will assign a lawyer.  I also pry from Jamie the information that Hiscock Legal Aid covers eviction problems and their phone number is 422-8191.  Also, Tom’s wife Barbara can file for HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program) at the Civic Center. 

I hang up on Jamie then get a call-back from Maureen Kissane at the Mental Hygiene Legal Service.  I am told what I already know:  that the patient has complete privacy, that he can’t be forced to talk to his relatives, that I have no right to be told where he is.  I know all this.  Lord knows I’ve spent enough time on the inside being the patient.  I fucking know!  Now could we please move on to finding this guy who is missing in the system? 

I get Maureen to agree that she will find Tom.  She has the authority to make the system reveal his whereabouts.  She cannot tell me—yes, I know, I know that.  I just want her to know.  I want somebody outside of the psychiatric system to actually tell me that they know where Tom is.  That’s the starting place.  Maureen says she will make some phone calls.  I ask her to call me back afterwards—what if she gets hit by a bus and never gets to make the phone calls?—and she says she will call me in the morning.

Then Mary Bishop, executive director of CPEP, calls me back. I do not tell her Tom’s name or reference his circumstances.  I ask her about policy.  What can and cannot be done?  We have a reasonable discussion—over the years I’ve had many conversations with many people who work at CPEP and this is the first person who’s sounded like an intelligent, informed adult with appropriate ego boundaries—and it finally comes down to this:

If a person who is irrational and babbling is picked up by the police and brought to CPEP then CPEP makes no attempt to notify the next of kin or get a legal guardian for the patient.

CPEP can hold the patient for three days and then transfer the patient across the street to St. Joseph’s Hospital or across town to Hutchings Psychiatric Center or out-of-county to Utica or Oswego without telling anybody.  This is what it has come to:  the United States government can suck a citizen into the psychiatric system and make them disappear.  And, under mental health law, it’s all legal.

Is this your government?  Did you authorize this?  Did anybody ask you if you wanted this?  Did anybody tell you they’d done it?  Don’t talk to me about places like Russia; talk to me about places like America. 

Several years ago I was engaging in political activism against the management of Loretto’s Bernardine Apartments.  The building manager called my case manager and tried to get me committed to a psychiatric facility.  It was a landlord-tenant issue and I was exercising my several rights under state and federal law (and called the office of NYS Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli, which offered to do exactly nothing) and the geriatric care system tried to solve their problem by getting me locked up in CPEP or a similar place.  What if the manager had succeeded?  What then?

I am very clear in my questioning and Mary Bishop is very clear in her answering:  if they have a babbling idiot who is clearly and completely incompetent, they do not go to court and get a legal guardian appointed.  No, instead they transfer the poor slob anywhere they want to without notifying next of kin.  A child would have a legal guardian, but not an incompetent adult.  If Tom’s brother Terry goes to court on behalf of the children then the court will appoint a legal guardian for the children, but nobody will do anything for their father, who is crazy by virtue of a deficient chromosome.

The police picked up Tom and now he has been disappeared into the psychiatric system where his wife, brother and sister have no right to find him.

Be afraid, America; be very afraid.


About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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One Response to Being “Disappeared” into CPEP (Part III)

  1. First problem is that the psychiatric system has the power to confine someone against his/her will. I think regarding getting information out to people, that there should be an intermediary who could communicate with him to ask if he wants contact information given to X, Y or Z. Or the information should be public, since it’s not a confidential health matter but an adversarial action by the state and it does amount to a disappearance as you say.

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