Thursday, March 16, 2017

He Will Haunt My Memory - 3rd and Final Part

For those of you who have been following along, this is the 3rd and Final Part of my jury duty story...at least I hope it will be the final part as I do tend to be a titch wordy!

Part One HERE and Part Two HERE, so go read and get caught up or refresh your memory of the details! Here we go...

I was surprised that Mr. Chriss intended to take the stand but had secretly hoped that he would do so. There is nothing better than hearing the story straight from the horses mouth right?

Mr. Chriss took the stand and his attorney had opportunity to question him first. He asked him the standard questions, name, age, where he resided and then he asked him if he thought that he had Schizophrenia. Mr. Chriss adamantly and loudly said he did not! At this point I was a little apprehensive because the court reporter was sitting right in front of him. If he had wanted to he could have reached right over the microphone in front of him and put her into a choke hold. I was not the only one that was wary of Mr. Chriss because the guard that was sent to accompany him, arose from his seat to stand beside and within reach of Mr. Chriss.

Attorney Kendall asked him only a few questions. He asked about his job. Mr. Chriss said that he was a janitor and that he was allowed to do his job at his convenience. He said that he only had a mop and a bucket and a few cleaning supplies but that it was enough for him to get his job done and most of the time he did it at night when everyone was asleep so he didn't have to deal with "those people". He was asked that he meant by "those people". He said the other patients were "low functioning people".

He was asked about his education and he said that he didn't have much of an education. When he was a kid it wasn't a law that you had to go to school and your parents wouldn't get in trouble if you didn't go, so most of the time he didn't, and his mother couldn't make him go. He said when he did go it was because he was bored and even then he had to go to the "retard class". My heart broke listening to him, imagining him as a child.

He said that when he was done with school, he got several jobs but he didn't much like working, so he bummed around and somehow found out that the government would give him money for free if he pretended to have a mental illness. So he applied for disability and that is where everything went wrong because they truly believed he did have a mental illness, but he was just pretending. This is where he turned to his right to face the jury and he put his hands out imploring us to understand. He said, "If you could get money for free from the government, wouldn't you do the same thing?"

He claimed that he never got any money but by then he was in the system and then he was sent to Coalinga, but that it was all a big mistake. His attorney asked him why he didn't attend the therapy sessions, he said it was because they were not court ordered and if the court felt he needed them, why wasn't he ordered to go? He was asked why he refused to take part in the social activities at Coalinga and he said that again they were not court ordered and he WAS NOT A CHILD! He did not need to take part in coloring with crayons and playing kids games, he was a grown man! Again, his demeanor when replying was very aggressive, making us all uncomfortable.

He was asked why he refused medical treatment and medications at Coalinga and he said he was not gay and he wasn't going to let some man put his fingers up his ass! When he was asked why he did not let dental treatment be done on him he said it was because "they are all against me and just want to yank out all my teeth"! He refused to follow the rules that required them to have their vitals checked daily. He said he didn't need to do that because it was again...not court ordered.

I must say that I was very surprised by the questioning of Attorney Kendall. It felt to me that he was making Attorney Caves job very easy as he was making us all feel that Mr. Chriss truly did have a mental disorder. Mr. Chriss was very aggressive and angry and you could see that following rules was against his nature. 

Then it was Attorney Caves turn to question him. He touched on many of the same questions that Mr. Chriss had already answered and it was obvious that Mr. Chriss felt that Attorney Caves was the enemy. He was abrupt in his responses and many times would roll his eyes to imply "I've already answered that question stupid!"

Caves asked him about his son and his statement that he had a son that could be two places at once. Mr. Chriss said that yes, his son could be two places at once. "Can you explain that?" said Caves. Mr. Chriss held up both arms at his side and then brought his right hand to his heart and said "my son will always be in my heart" and he raised his right hand to the sky and said "and my son will always be in Heaven". Again...my heart broke. 

Attorney Caves said, "I'm so sorry that you lost your son, how did he die?" Mr. Chriss yelled out "Who said that he died? My son is not dead!" "But you just told us that your son is in Heaven? How can he be in Heaven if he is not dead?" said Caves. Mr. Chriss yelled out loudly, "I don't know where my son is, I don't know if he's dead, he probably is because I haven't seen him in years so I think he's dead, but I don't want to talk about this anymore!"

Caves then asked him about the rest of his family and why he had said they would be better off if he was not released. He said he didn't know why he said that, but that he didn't have any family anymore anyway and he didn't know where any of them were but they probably would be better off if he never saw them again.

Caves asked him about his religion and his implying that he is God. Mr. Chriss said "How do you know I'm not God? How do I know I'm not God? How do I know you're not God? My religion is taken partly from the Bible and partly from things God tells me and it's not of this world and I doubt you or any of the people here would understand my religion, it is above your comprehension." 

Caves asked him about the chanting in his room and he yelled loudly "it is not chanting, don't call it that, I don't like that!" Caves said "If it's not chanting what is it?" "Praying, it is praying!", said Mr. Chriss. Caves asked him about his beating himself up and Mr. Chriss said that was part of his religion and he had to do those things and that yes, sometimes it left bruises on his body but he wasn't gay, he was a man and strong and it didn't hurt for long.

He was asked about a recent altercation with another patient. He said that patient went by his room and spit on his window and he simply came out to ask why he had done that and it turned into a fight and yes a nurse got hurt but it was not done intentionally. He had not meant for the nurse to get hurt. So Caves asked him if he meant for the other patient to get hurt and he said no but you can't spit on a man's window and not expect to get hurt, he was asking for it.

Attorney Caves finally said that he was finished and Attorney Kendall had a chance to again question Mr. Chriss and try to explain away some of the damage done by Attorney Caves questions. Unfortunately he didn't seem to try too hard. The only thing he touched on was Mr. Chriss' son and whether or not he loved his son and wanted to see him. He said yes, he loved his son and would like to see him. He touched on Mr. Chriss' job and how well he did it and did he think that when he got out of Coalinga he would be able to get a job somewhere as a janitor. Mr. Chriss said that he had done many jobs in his life and he was sure that he would be able to find something. He was asked if he had any friends or family that would be willing to help him if he was released, he said he had no one. It was almost as though his very own attorney was either not very good at his job or didn't believe that Mr. Chriss should be released.

Finally the case was given to the jurors and we were led to the back of the courtroom to a small room with a conference table, bathrooms and a coffee pot. We sat around the table, uncomfortable with each other and decided first we needed to choose a Jury Foreperson. So we did that and then we decided to just take an initial vote to see how much work we had to do. So the Foreperson read the first question:

1. Did the respondent have a Severe Mental Disorder? - This was unanimous. We all felt that he did indeed have a severe mental disorder, everyone raised their hand

2. Is the Mental Disorder in remission or able to be kept in remission with further treatment? - Every hand again went up in agreement that he did indeed need further treatment.

3. Is the individual a danger to the general public? - We expected it to be unanimous again, but this time there were two young men that did not put their hands up.

The Foreperson suggested that we go around the table and each person state why they felt the individual was a danger to the general public. We all had basically the same answer. The fact that he obviously did have a mental disorder and he refused to accept that and receive the help he needed. If he would not receive treatment then he was a danger, not only to the public but also to himself. 

In Coalinga he was strictly monitored and watched. He had a place to live, food to eat, and a job that provided him enough of a monthly salary that he could purchase the items he needed for his daily life. What would happen to him on the streets? Would he eventually get angry again and perhaps hurt someone that spit on him or yelled at him for chanting?

Finally it was the turn of the two young men to explain why they did not feel he was a danger to the general public. The first one said that after listening to the rest of us he realized that we were correct so he changed his vote.

The other young man said that he felt that Mr. Chriss was a danger to the general public, but he could not in his heart send him back to Coalinga, wasn't there someplace else? Couldn't we talk to the judge and perhaps have him sent to a better hospital or to a nursing home where he could still receive his treatments and medications? 

I wanted to hug this young man because he had such a good heart, but I had to tell him that unfortunately in a jury situation such as this the judge had instructed us to go based on the facts and testimony given and answer only those three questions. We could not go back with our own advice on what to do with Mr. Chriss. He said he understood this, but that he still thought we needed to do something.

Then the Foreperson asked him if he would feel safe leaving this building tonight and running into Mr. Chriss in the parking lot. He said of course he would! He then asked him if he would feel safe if any of the other jurors, especially the women were to run into him in the parking lot. He again said he would. So he asked him if he would feel safe if the person in the parking lot running into Mr. Chriss was his mother? His sister? His girlfriend? He couldn't answer for a bit and then finally said, "No, I would not feel safe, I don't think he should be put out into society, I just feel sorry for him, but he is where he needs to be."

So we took the vote again on all three questions and this time the vote was unanimous. Mr. Chriss would not be leaving out the same door that we jurors were going to leave out of. He would be heading back to the bus with his guard, back to Lerdo Jail where they were holding him during the trial and then eventually back to Coalinga State Mental Hospital.

We walked back into the courtroom and the verdict was read by the court clerk. I watched Mr. Chriss to see how he would react and he didn't. He didn't flinch, he didn't cry, his eyes didn't flash with anger, he again just sat there, doing that sucking thing with his mouth, his head bowed down looking at the table. He didn't even look up when the judge dismissed the jury or while we quietly filed out.

That night when I went to bed I had a hard time falling asleep. Not because I felt guilty or because I felt I had made a mistake. No...the reason I had a hard time sleeping is because I imagined Mr. Chriss laying in a bunk at Lerdo Jail, not truly understanding what had happened or how he could have avoided it and it angered me. It angered me that human beings suffer with mental illnesses. It angered me that the best we can do is lock them up or medicate them. 

I know that Mr. Chriss is someone that I won't soon forget. I do wish the best for him. I hope that he realizes that he has a problem and that he seeks help for it. I hope that he's safe in Coalinga and that while it may not be the ideal place that any of us would want to be, I hope that he can find moments of happiness and peace. He will haunt my memory.

Alicia



2 comments:

  1. Kudos to you , Alicia, for your very interesting and well-written 3-part post!
    As for the verdict, I think it was the right one - one that would ultimately enable Mr. Chris to go back to his job as a janitor at the Coalinga Hospital, following adequate treatment and medication.

    We don't have here, in our trials, the american concept of jury and jurors. I believe I wouldn't have been able to be in your shoes as a juror. Too heavy a duty for me!

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    Replies
    1. It is difficult to sit on a jury. The young man with the good heart definitely found it to be difficult. It was hard to send him back to that place but I feel honestly in my heart that if he went back with the right attitude of seeking and allowing himself to be helped that he could eventually be ready to return to society.

      And while a mental hospital is not the ideal place to live your life at least he has decent medical and mental care, food and a place to sleep. Here in the Bakersfield area the homeless population has exploded and you see homeless people sleeping out in the middle of open fields, in the dirt. Mr. Chriss could have ended up like that. Between Coalinga or being homeless I believe Mr. Chriss would have requested his freedom, but either way, locked up or homeless, neither are the right answer.

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