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John's Story: Post-1960s, Parents Struggle to Hospitalize Mentally Ill Children

As he entered high school he began sneaking out of the house. Our control over him was slipping. His therapist told us to call the police on him if he became violent or ran away. We threatened him with that, but -- unfortunately -- didn't do it. Instead we lived on eggshells, blaming our other children for "winding him up" instead of taking action against John. He was sick, you see, and wasn't completely in control of himself. With his mental issues had come developmental delays. Despite the body of a teenager, he had the mind of a child. He needed understanding, we told ourselves.

The night before my grandmother's funeral, he sneaked out of the house. I called the police. He was nearly 18.

They cuffed and stuffed him in his own living room and took him to the department. I was given the option of having him declared a child in need of care and entered into the foster care system, or taking him home. My wife was out of town, and I didn't want her to come home to an empty house. So instead of doing what we'd been told to do, and agreed to do, I chewed his ass for a little while and took him home.

I blame myself for what happened next. John became increasingly hard to control, particularly after he turned 18. He ran away repeatedly. He was smoking, drinking, and running with the sorts of people you don't want your children to even know. We're pretty sure he was doing drugs.

He'd move in with friends for a while. The second time he did this and found himself living in a pop-up camper in the middle of a brutal winter, he wanted to come home. We said: "Only if you go into the hospital and get some help." He agreed.

He was there fewer than three days.

A doctor who had never seen him before and had never worked his case diagnosed him as having "impulse control disorder" -- not the diagnosis every doctor he'd seen since he was five had given him. Moreover, the doctor told him -- based on what John had said -- that I had ADHD, not John, and that his mother had obsessive-compulsive disorder, despite never having seen either of us.

A few months later, John was cursing his mother and informing her we would live by his rules. She kicked him out. Over the last couple of years he's returned home a few times, only to leave either of his own accord or because we've had to ask him to leave.

The last time he came home, we talked him into going back into therapy. You see he'd gotten his now ex-girlfriend pregnant, and she was not fit to raise a child. He wanted his son. But he was seeing things and hearing things again.

He was rediagnosed, by one of the same doctors who treated him as a boy. He's got schizoaffective disorder -- and it will likely kill him someday.

John does not have his son. He disappeared again. We have an idea of where he's living and what he's doing, but the child is in foster care. My wife and I are trying to get custody.

John -- like Aaron Alexis -- was failed by the system. My son needs long-term hospitalization. He's unlikely to ever get it.

Ever since John F. Kennedy proposed a new program in which the federal government would fund community mental health centers to replace state mental hospitals, it has become more and more difficult to obtain the long-term care people like my son need. As a result, the severely ill flood the nation's emergency rooms -- and our prisons.

Nearly two-thirds of inmates have some form of mental illness.