A Two Front War

by Dale S. Recinella
Mar/Apr 2003

Based on the State's own statistics, at least one out of ev­ery nine Florida state prisoners suffers from medically di­agnosed severe mental illness. That means about 8,000 severely mentally ill state prisoners in Florida. This prob­lem spans the country.

[ According to] the United States Department of Justice . . . 16 percent of all inmates in state and federal jails and prisons have schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness (bipolar disorder), ma­jor depression, or another severe mental illness... on any given day, there are roughly 283,000 per­sons with severe mental illnesses incarcerated in federal and state jails and prisons.

This didn't happen overnight. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, our country was swept by an enlightened view that the mentally ill should be dispatched from mental hospi­tals and sent home to their communities. There they would be supported by community mental health centers funded by the money saved from downsizing mental hospitals. The easiest part of the plan was completed. The numbers of mental hospital beds were drastically reduced. The men­tally ill were dumped back into their home communities. That is about as far as we progressed.

By the time we should have been funding the commu­nity mental health centers, the Arab Oil Embargo and its legacy had pushed the prime rate into the stratosphere. The economy was on life support. Iran had seized our embassy. The USSR was invad­ing Afghanistan. And the cold war was cranking in­credibly close to becoming hot. Money was tight. The deinstitu­tionalized men­tally ill poured into our city cen­ters, surviving day-to-day on the streets and in the alleys of the most vio­lent neighborhoods in the country. Instead of appropriat­ing more money for community mental health, we let the communities and the mental hospitals fight over an im­possibly small pot of available funds. That is still our situ­ation to this day.

Florida State Prison has become a beachhead in Florida's struggle to treat the sickest of our incarcerated mentally ill. Over 1,000 solitary confinement cells there now house people whom probably would have been in mental hospitals thirty years ago. Counseling rooms have been installed in the wings. Psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric techs comb through the halls in street clothes, a shocking invasion of color where just a year ago one saw only a sea of brown uniforms against beige floors and walls.

And yet, as Christians who believe in the healing power of the resurrected Christ and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we know that there is another side to this battle­a spiritual side-which must be fought on two fronts.

The first front exists at the door of each cell, the point of entry into the war for God's dominion over each man's heart and mind. Inner healing, healing of memories, gen­erational healing, even deliverance are all prayed at the door. Joy Lamb's book, Sword of the Spirit: Word Of God, is a powerful leave-behind for those special men who choose to join the battle for themselves. Cell after cell, I slide the book through the space under the door and into the eager hand inside.

"Pray those prayers," I speak loudly through the side crack of the door, shouting over the roar of the huge venti­lator fans. "Things will change."

We are all integral to this battle. The support of our intercessory prayers without ceasing is pivotal to pushing back the darkness that attempts to devour these men in the isolation and despair of their 9' by 6' world.

The other front in this battle is the door to each of our own hearts. Is it true that God's money is better spent on us than on the care of his children who are sick? Why is there always more money for punishment but so little for treatment? Did not our Lord and Savior say, "What you refused to do for the least of your brothers, you refused to do for Me. Go off to eternal punishment."? Our lack of treatment for the mentally ill reveals the dark depths in our hearts of stone, hea11s that have refused surrender to God's dominion. We must pray for ourselves: for conver­sion, for deeper faith, and for hearts of flesh.

Francis MacNutt Dale S. Recinella is the Director of Special Projects for CHM. Mar/Apr 2003 Issue