31 Stories, 31 Days: Erwin Lenowitz
By the time my son was 30, he’d had various run-ins with the police due to drug and alcohol abuse and an inability to respect authority. Once, he spent nine months in a state forensic facility in Oregon, where he refused to adhere to any treatment plan — medication, group sessions, or private sessions with a psychiatrist. They released him since he wasn’t cooperating.
After that, he came home to Carmel, California to live with us, but his behavior was intolerable. He would be very agitated and start talking to himself and screaming. We didn’t know how to deal with him and we were scared. Eventually we decided that he couldn’t stay with us anymore, so he lived out of his car.
On one occasion, my wife and I were out of town and he came back to our house. When the neighbors called the police, he got into a shouting match with the police officer who tried to calm him down. He lashed out, saying that he had a right to be there and became agitated. The police officer who responded, Chris Johnson, knew Jeremy’s mental state and recognized that he needed help.
Jeremy was working out two to three times a day at that point and only eating protein drinks. So he was extremely physically fit and tough to handle. Chris wrestled him down and was able to get Jeremy into a hospital. Later I learned that had he not gone to the hospital, Jeremy might have died within days because his electrolytes were so severely imblanced.
Chris got him into the hospital and introduced us to the Monterey County Behavioral Health Department, which runs a court-supervised program called Creating New Choices (CNC). Because he only had a misdemeanor charge, Jeremy was eligible for the program. It requires a three-year commitment: during the first six months you live in a residential treatment facility and attend group or private counseling sessions all day. Jeremy was very reluctant and at first he refused. The judge said that if he didn’t, he would have to go to prison. We spoke with Jeremy, then Chris Johnson spoke with him, finally he elected to participate.
Two years in, he’s doing exceptionally well. He understands his situation and circumstances. He knows he’s on meds for life. He tells long-time friends that he doesn’t drink anymore and won’t go out for beers with them.
About nine months ago, he registered for college classes. He didn’t tell me and his mother, he did it on his own. He was only a few credits short of a bachelor’s degree when his illness escalated. The first course he took when he returned to college was Advanced Calculus and he got an A. In his fourth year level Econometrics course, he got a B+. He’s taking additional course work for his own enjoyment during his remaining time in the CNC program.
When he successfully completes the program, all his records will be expunged.
Erwin Lenowitz is a financial executive living in Carmel, California.
This profile is part of a series that will publish 31 stories in 31 days during Mental Health Month. See how NAMI is working with others on The Stepping Up Initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails.