"He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of this country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man....The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people."
- Samuel Adams
The other day someone texted me suggesting that I turn on the TV because there was something important about mental health on a show called, Straight Talk. I dropped everything and turned to Channel 8 to find my inspiring friend and colleague, Pete Earley speaking eloquently about the complex issues pertaining to people with mental illness who are in our judicial system. Unjust laws, lack of treatment resources and policies that don't work, Pete Earley has exposed it all in his groundbreaking book, Crazy. Pete is a fierce advocate for this important civil rights issue with a brand of courage and compassion that is rare to find.
I met Pete last year at the Saks Institute at USC Gould School of Law where he was the distinguished speaker on the Criminalization of Mental Illness. His riveting and disturbing talk shook me to my core. With graphic detail, Pete uncovered the realities of the treatment of people with serious mental illness who are confined to horrific, underfunded prisons. The state of affairs that we witnessed in a video from a prison in Miami was comparative to what you would see in documentation of a concentration camp. Not enough drinking water, four men in a cell sharing one cot, human contact for less than five minutes per day were just a few of the unthinkable conditions. After his talk, I was scheduled to interview Pete on video but had to take a grief break before our meeting. I was overwhelmed with emotion and shock and simply could not stop crying. In his advocacy, Pete explores the toughest territory and poignantly articulates what is hidden from view with tremendous power. He is a hero.
Here we are at the week of Independence Day. Last year at this time instead of writing about Fourth of July picnics or fireworks, I shared a piece about the authentic freedom and peace that I had witnessed practicing yoga and creating art with a group of young girls who were confined to a juvenile detention facility.
This year I dedicate my Independence Day blog to Pete Earley and Professor Elyn Saks, who, like our forefathers are leaders for a movement to search for truth and justice for the rights of every citizen. This past year, Elyn chose to prioritize the very difficult issue of the Criminalization of Mental Illness for her annual topic at the Saks Institute. At this groundbreaking symposium, we spent two days with national experts immersed in analyzing and learning about all aspects of addressing this public health and legal crisis. Thanks to the courage, dedication and compassion of Elyn Saks, we focused on the most forgotten and marginalized souls in this country.
Hail to Elyn Saks and Pete Earley, two revolutionary leaders who embody light and brilliance as bright as a night sky filled with fireworks on the Fourth of July. With hearts on fire, they are TRULY fighting for liberty and justice for all.
Please watch this video to learn more about Professor Elyn Saks' work and inspiring story