Several years ago he took up the habit of shop-lifting. On one occasion it was a crate of bananas, another it was cigarettes (and he doesn't smoke). In the last incident it was a garbage pail and a shrimp ring. (value $51) and it happened to be on the anniversary of his father's death and a day after one of his four sons married and was headed out of country. He was very nervous about his son and new daughter-in-law leaving American soil. Also understand this behavior and the shop-lifting only began after the accumulation of a life-time of tragic events.
This veteran is my senior by two ranks and 13 years of age. He is a man I have always admired. Even now as a civilian he is always dress right dress along with the buzz cut to go with it. Today as we ate hotdogs, I learned things about my friend I had never known and I was overwhelmed. As I listened, it was very easy to understand that behind the smiles and the constant encouragement of others, that I have always known, there was a man that felt as if he was always dying. I was also overwhelmed by what he is going through now in the judicial system. Due to this last incident he is facing the prospects of going to jail. He knows that he did what he did, but only because others have told him. He has no memory of many of his experiences; particularly the ways in which he has saved lives.
Some would argue that he must have known he was breaking the law. I would disagree. Some would say, he slipped up and got caught. Again, I would disagree. He went to the lake and went to sleep for 24 hours. He only realized what he had done, when a family member called and told him the police were at his house with a warrant to arrest him for shop lifting. He immediately went home and turned himself in to authorities. Was it wrong what he did? YES, and he knows that. Is it right that he should go to jail, (this was his third offense for shop-lifting over a 20 year period), well I guess we will have to leave that to a jury of his peers. He is prepared for whatever the consequences of his actions will be.
In light of the current murder indictment against a Dekalb County police officer in the death of an unarmed, naked veteran I am compelled to enter into this discussion about my friend with his permission of course. It is not my intention to make excuses for his actions, but to simply raise awareness and perhaps discussion as we seek to understand. Here is man who faithfully served his country. In addition to the trauma that often comes from being a soldier; at the age of 10 he was only five feet away when he witnessed his father's murder; a father by the way who was abusive in a very dysfunctional family environment. He has been through the trauma of caring for his dying wife, and shortly after her death experienced the suicide of his oldest son and another son who was shot and almost died. For several years he has lived with feelings of guilt that his son's suicide was his fault; because he took his life on the very day his dad had told him to leave. Time does not permit to share the rest of his story.
I did ask if he was having thoughts of suicide and he said yes, but he doesn't have a plan. He said, "I just wish my son was back. I keep thinking this is only a bad dream." Imagine living everyday of your life believing that you are in a bad dream. What does that do to the mind?
Not long ago I was visiting with a friend that seems to be having lapses in memory. One day he got out of his truck, failed to put it in park, and walked in the house unaware the truck was rolling down the hill toward the street. I can't help but believe that in the same way my friend who is now facing jail time was unaware of what he was doing.
Certainly something needs to be done. I just don't believe it is jail time. When my forth son rear-ended a lady not long ago, we paid dearly. After our insurance paid the full amount of our coverage the insurance company dropped us. The first quote I received for replacement insurance was $16,000 a year. My son knows that rear ending other cars is wrong, but he came over the hill in a big truck and it was unavoidable. He couldn't stop the truck from hitting the other car. He did get a ticket, but he didn't go to jail. Has he learned to be more cautious? I hope so, but that doesn't mean he won't ever be in accidents again.
With PTSD one never knows what is on the other side of the hill. Things happen that we didn't intend to happen and we pay the consequences for it. I just question that jail-time is the proper use of the veterans time or the courts. What do we hope to accomplish? Are we trying to teach the man a lesson? What lesson? The one good thing that came out of my son's accident was that in going to the emergency room it was discovered that he had Brundle Branch Block, a condition when the wiring of the heart is not functioning as it should and it causes the heart to leak. How ironic that we fail to understand that with PTSD the wiring in the brain is not functioning properly.
I know that my dear friends in law enforcement are just as perplexed by the questions as I am. They also know that I am not advocating a hug a thug protocol in dealing with criminals. But is a man a criminal because he has mental disorders? Like me, they know that our jails are full of people that don't need to be there and that we need more appropriate resources to deal with the issues of mental illness. When law enforcement shows up at the scene of a man having a heart attack in the park they are there to help. They know what to do -someone's heart is not functioning properly, but they often feel helpless to help those whose minds are not functioning properly. It leaves us all scratching our heads wondering what are we to do? It's one reason that I am involved with law enforcement as a member of the Georgia Crisis Incident Team (CIT) and in the teaching of mental health first aid and suicide intervention. Many in law enforcement are now taking CIT training, because they want to find a better way. Now if we can only get the funding and the courts to join us in the effort we may just make a difference.
Personally, I put the full weight of this problem on the lack of funding for those who need help, especially with regards to veterans. We cut benefits for veterans and fill the jails instead. Someone appears to be slipping on bananas here, and its not the veteran or law enforcement who are mandated by law to follow standard procedures. Once again I am reminded that reveille is sounding across our land for the sake of so many that are hurting. I invite you to join me as a battle buddy in a fight to save heroes.