By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Jimmy Bailey has taken so much lithium in his life that all his teeth, except a few that wouldn't give up, have rotted away, leaving him with a broken, gummy smile.
He's been alive for 34 years and is a big man, weighing a little less than 300 pounds. When he tightens his fists and pounds them into a table like sledgehammers, it's a scary sight, even if someone doesn't know anything about all the times he's hurt other people and himself. Just a couple months ago, he slammed his head into a brick wall in a fit of rage and ripped a chunk of flesh off his forehead. "I did it because I didn't want to hurt someone else and go to jail," Bailey says.
He's diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and severe major depression and belongs to a mentally ill population in Houston that is worse than the worst, and as one worker from the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County puts it, "doesn't have any more chances to get better. They've already lost themselves once."
Bailey is also one of Houston's 30 craziest people.
That's according to the Houston Police Department, because in February of this year, the department's mental health unit put together a list of mentally ill people, the "chronic consumers," based on how many times the cops have responded to a call concerning a person — regardless if an arrest was made — and how many times a person has been hospitalized under emergency detention orders from police. The list was handed over to two caseworkers from MHMRA, who trimmed it down to 30 (see "Houston's Craziest: The 30 Worst"), kicking off a six-month pilot program called the Chronic Consumer Stabilization Initiative.
The closest thing to this program before was the Assertive Community Treatment Team, which had nothing to do with the police department and was run by the Department of State Health Services. Many of the people on the police department's list have been kicked off that program. (Certain names and places were omitted from this story when clients would not give the Houston Press consent to publish their information.)
"There's one that kept coming into contact with police," says Lieutenant Mike Lee, who runs the police department's mental health unit. "With this lady, it was nonstop: standing out naked in the middle of intersections, throwing bricks at cars, running naked through high school campuses; she's been tasered by the police, been shot with a 12-gauge shotgun and she was brought to the hospital constantly."
He continues, "Come to find out, she had been receiving services from the ACT team, but they kicked her off. They said she wasn't complying. I said she shouldn't have a choice not to comply. She's sick."
According to Lee, the chronic consumer program is the first of its kind at any police department in the country. It's also the first mental health program in the police department to receive funding from the city and not the state. The pilot program cost the City of Houston $185,153.
The caseworkers aren't bound by state guidelines regulating how the money can be used, so the workers are charged with tracking down the clients, finding out why past treatments haven't worked and coming up with something that does. One woman, for example, showed dramatic improvement after she was taken to open a bank account and to get her hair done, things she hadn't done in years. Another man just likes to go to Burger King.
"We've trained this population to run down to the hospital anytime anything goes wrong, so that's what they do instead of working through it," says Janice Maire, one of the two caseworkers assigned to the chronic consumer program. "That's wrong, and it's costing us a fortune."
The goal of the program is simple: Reduce contact between police officers and the most serious mentally ill people in the city.
"We don't like to respond to these people in crisis situations, because sometimes things go bad. It's not ideal to have someone who is extremely psychotic and out of control confronted by a person who's armed," Lee says.
Police responded once — one of many times — to Bailey after he was involved in a bloody fight with the owner of a group home where he was staying. Bailey didn't have an identification card, so he relied on the owner to cash his monthly social security check and dole out his allowance. The fight started one day after Bailey asked for money that the owner didn't have, and when punches were thrown, a staff worker cracked Bailey across the head with a baseball bat.
A lot of Bailey's problems start at group homes, and he's stayed at about 30 different places in the last decade. He slammed the owner of one place through a wooden bedroom door, and, according to Bailey, he was raped by a staff worker at another. His longest stay in jail was 72 days for making a terroristic threat, and the Department of Homeland Security won't allow him in the social security office because he's considered dangerous. He's not allowed inside the MHMRA center on Caroline Street because he punched a doctor, and he's even banned from Houston's NeuroPsychiatric Center in the old Ben Taub Hospital.