Diary of a Mad Man

Exploring the rights and wrongs of independent life for the mentally ill

The No. 1 definition for the word "mad" according to Webster's is "mentally disturbed; deranged," and David Clark has been that. Bipolar and sometimes prone to the mood swings that medication doesn't always contain, Clark has been mad.

Today, though, he is working on the second definition of mad, as in "greatly provoked or irritated; enraged." Enraged, yes, he's fully enraged.

Clark's mad because he says he and the other people who live in Section 8-11 housing in Baytown are being treated differently because they are mentally ill. Treated like rebellious teens or, even worse, like babies. His complaints:

David Clark says he's not being treated like a grown-up at Pecan Village Apartments.
Daniel Kramer
David Clark says he's not being treated like a grown-up at Pecan Village Apartments.

They're being walked in on by the complex manager.

They're being told to get off their porches by eight o'clock at night and to go back inside their individual units.

They have a beautiful community room, but it is locked shut most of the time.

As one resident, who did not want her name used, put it: "At first I thought it was okay, but it seems more like a lockdown. There are so many rules, and the rules are changing all the time. It's more like living in a psych ward."

Clark got mad and called the nonprofit Advocacy Inc., which advocates for the legal rights of people with disabilities in Texas. Two weeks later, a mobile crisis van from the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County was sent out to check on him. He calls it retaliation. Others say they are concerned about his behavior; they think Clark is manic and needs help.

He says that's just a convenient excuse. Yes, it's true he stopped taking his medication. He says his doctor told him he doesn't need it. And yes, he agrees he's more aggressive. He doesn't necessarily see that as bad.

"Yes, this is probably more like I would have been if I had not had a mental illness. Those drugs they give you blunt everything. Mental patients generally don't stand up for themselves," Clark says. Besides, he says, he's been battling for mental health rights for years, long before he stopped taking pills.

Clark signed a release form opening up his medical records to the Houston Press. But psychiatrist Ted Krell's office can't find them; their file clerk quit and everything is a jumble. They can confirm that Clark had three visits, but not what was said.

David Clark may or may not be mad in all senses of the word, but he is not stupid. His Parkinson's may be debilitating, but he gets around where he needs to go. He may be increasingly aggravating, strident and shrill.

But that doesn't make him wrong -- at least not about everything.

The Pecan Village apartment complex out on Cedar Bayou Road looks like the kind of dream housing that mental health advocates wish would only multiply. Built with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds, it is designed for independent living for the mentally ill.

It is not an institution; there are no bars on the doors or windows, no sign-out sheets, no group medication. It is designed to provide a backstop for people sufficiently grounded to live on their own, presumably overseen by people who understand the needs of the mentally ill.

Pecan Village is safe, clean and well tended. Well, except for the one apartment with the bashed-in brick front, thanks to one resident's jumping the curb with her car and ramming it some months back. But basically, it is a nice complex not too far from a branch of Methodist Hospital.

Clark thought it was going to be perfect. He'd lived in a similar unit in Tomball a few years back, but had to leave when problems -- among them, a flare-up of his Parkinson's -- sent him to a nursing home. He was able to regain his health and was released from the nursing home after several months. He couldn't get back into Tomball Pines. If they built ten more places like Tomball Pines, they would fill up immediately.

Clark was offered a chance to get into the Baytown complex. There was an MHMRA day program nearby; stores were handy. Life would be manageable and good.

Sam Hom, an MHMRA employee, oversees the property and, in fact, was the person who approved Clark's coming in. MHMRA filed the initial application with HUD for the complex and appointed the board to manage it. It is not an owner of the complex, but contracts with Pecan Village to provide management services, namely Hom.

Hom is not full time; he usually drops by twice a week. The apartment set aside for a full-time manager is vacant, something MHMRA hopes to get changed someday.

To compensate for a lack of face time, Hom writes authoritative memos.

When some residents were too loud at night, Hom issued new rules that had everyone inside their apartments no later than eight.

Some residents weren't cleaning up after themselves in the community room, and items started going missing. Hom wrote a memo. It had no effect. Hom says he had to protect the investment.

So he changed the locks. Residents can still use the laundry room and get to the vending machine, but they have to ask Hom or either of two residents entrusted with the keys to let them inside the main room with its TVs. The community room became a museum piece.

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