Oct 3, 2018 in Art

The New Asylum is a FRONTLINE film of 2004. It explores deep into Ohio Prison System and mental complications that ensued soon after the inmates were released from the prison. The Released is the next chapter in the story and is told by Karen O’Connor and Miri Navasky, Frontline filmmakers. It gives an admittedly disturbing account of the lives of mentally ill prisoners who have been released back to the society (Bellafante). It is a disturbing story about how inmates, who are mentally unstable, struggle with freedom after many long years of imprisonment. Thousands of prisoners are released to various communities across the country making the issue of their struggle to be free, more pressing.

More than half of these offenders who leave prison are mentally ill. Usually when these offenders leave prison, they are given a bus ticket, 75 dollars in cash and enough medication to last them for two weeks. According to studies, close to two thirds of the offenders who are mentally ill are rearrested within 18 months. Most of these offenders are usually poor and isolated from their friends and families. Medications could also be a major problem to the offenders; two weeks is a very small proportion of a life time of a desolated individual. The government should be more committed to rehabilitating the ex-offenders.

Before Viewing the Videos

Prior to watching these videos, I expected the inmates to be grateful for securing their long awaited freedom. I anticipated radical and vigorous changes in the communities where the inmates came from soon after their return. A people driven by their past lives determined to help other people faced with same challenges and struggles that they once faced. Prisons were set up initially for the sole reason of correcting behaviors. I expected them to be role models to their friends who could be trapped in a life of crime.  This would bring about change to a society full of criminals through examples set by former criminals whose lives have been transformed. The stigmatization associated with many correctional facilities to decrease as the society would be sure restore dignity and respect they once bestowed in these individuals.

During Viewing the Videos

The storyline of the movie is both captivating and moving. Jerry looks and talks like someone who is mentally upright but the kinds of things he does is another story. He has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He admits to cutting and hurting himself. He says he has swallowed many harmful things like razor blades, toothbrush, pencils and other sharp objects. I really felt sorry for him as he recounted the story of how he swallowed a cassette walkman radio. He admits that he is his own worst enemy and for me this is a sad state of mind for anyone to be in. I felt hope for Jerry as he was released from prison. I was glad to hear him say that the odds for him going back to prison were zero but I was disappointed to hear that he was arrested again 3 months later for robbing a pharmacy after he stopped taking his medication (The Released).     

The story of Michael Grissett was another disturbing one. He was jailed for 21 years for murder and has also been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He admits to hearing voices in his head and believes the devil is inside him. Michael says "they say 'Mr. Michael Grissett we know you're the father of God' and he responds "Get the F*** outta here, you wasn’t born with nothin’ to eat no money, so die." Even though I felt sorry for this man, I was glad when he was accepted into a re-entry program in Cleveland which was supposed to help such individuals transform back to the community (The Released).

Keith Williams was another paranoid schizophrenic who had been arrested more than 10 times since 2004. I pitied him but as I watched him explain when he was going to take his medications I realized that he was not sure of when to take them. I strongly believe that he wasn’t ready to be released back to the community. Lyn Moore, another paranoid schizophrenic, has been in and out of prison several times. He has been arrested for throwing bricks and bottles at another woman’s house in the hunt for “Osama bin Laden”. In the video I see Lynn being maxed out of prison that is being released without any parole. I feel that it is a big mistake because according to Nixon-Hughes, former Chief of Mental Health at Ohio Department of Corrections, a person who maxes out are pretty much on their own even though medical services are limited (The Released).

Bennie Anthony is schizophrenic. What saddens me about him is that, according to his doctor, .William Bryan Stokes is an inmate who after being released stopped taking his medication and was rearrested a month later. It’s sad for Stokes who is diagnosed as schizoaffective but as I watched this video I saw there was hope for him since he knew and admitted that he had a problem. He says “I have psychotic episodes sometimes when am not taking medication. I can be a real jerk… a real jerk.” I was glad when he was admitted to a residential facility in Ohio (The Released).

After Viewing the Videos

Before watching the videos, I expected the released inmates to be transformed into better people but my expectations have not been met since the released ex-offenders were rearrested months after being released. Freedom to the former prisoners did not necessarily mean that the inmates had changed. I was disappointed by this fact because it seemed that years the inmates had spent behind bars did not help them reform. I was moved by the facts highlighted throughout the whole videos as I tried to conventionalize hard reality about our judicial system. The lingering question is what the government is doing to help prisoners that are subjects of the poor systems and are suffering with mental ails (Bureau of Justice Statistics). Shennoy, in her article states categorically that although the problem is urgent, government is doing nothing to better the situation, medication is still scarce after GAMC elimination. Wickelgren of Minneapolis Police Department admits that transition from GAMC to medical assistance will be clumsy (Shenoy). This is bad because there might be an increase in crime from ex-offenders who rely on medication to live in harmony with the people around them.

Conclusion

Most of the ex-offenders who are re-arrested are either not on parole or have stopped taking their medications. In order to reduce the number of re-arrests, released ex-offenders who have been arrested more than twice should be put on parole for some time instead of being maxed out. The government should also try to make medications for the mentally ill more available by increasing mobile outreach units. There should be programs set up to help the ex-offenders get jobs. Ex-offenders with no jobs are more likely to commit crimes (Shenoy). In conclusion, The Released is a good film which helps educate the general public concerning ex-offenders with a mental illness. It should be the responsibility of all members of the society to help rehabilitated and re-absorb the ex-offenders back into the community. If the ex-convicts are shown love and appreciation by their friends and family members, their recovery period can be shortened tremendously.

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