Challenging myself



I was pleased to find that the fitbit I ordered through go365 arrived today. I put it together and got myself outside. I walked about 33 minutes which topped off an active day. Our office had a fitbit craze a couple of years ago. We are a big food agency. Most of our events are centered around food. Like this week, the office was very cold on Monday so the management made it up to us by ordering submarine sandwiches and and sodas for Tuesday. They also celebrated a birthday. We have been paying money to go to the Ymca which is often hard to reach and more expensive than places like Planet Fitness. I saw that the fitbit had a setting where I could challenge myself so I will do that this weekend. I have had a tendency to do almost nothing during the weekend but this time I am going to put in the work.


Helping Milwaukee County Make Decisions

A few years ago the Republican controlled state legislature passed a law taking decision-making authority for mental health away from the elected county supervisors and replaced them with a group of volunteers from the community. The board includes mental health consumers, attorneys, advocates and mental health professionals. There are a lot of big decisions to be made regarding Milwaukee County mental health. The county is moving away from the model of maintaining a large mental health facility which they have been downsizing over the years by closing wards and shifting the people who lived there to community based facilities. Case management, which helps people live in the community, has already been contracted out to various agencies. These agencies help engage with consumers and connect them to services with the aim of reducing their dependence on in patient treatment, which is expensive and often very traumatic.

However, there are no guarantees in this system. We all know people in community programs who died but we can try to reduce the number of preventable deaths. We can ensure that case management provides necessary services. We can increase the number of affordable housing units. We can offer physical and mental health in a coordinated fashion and make certain that people are getting regular check ups. We can have clinics where we would want to be treated. These are very easy steps we can take in our own agencies

But what we do to guide the process of system wide reform? One way is by joining the mental health board. Imagine my surprise when a former co-worker asked me to apply to join the board, which is appointed by the county executive. I will be tossing my hat into the ring tonight to see if I can add my experience to this group. I am excited, interested and curious all at the same time. I will post some more as the process goes along.


How to make black lives matter at a white church?

smiling black girl


I have been noticing that some white churches post signs and organize events that proclaim Black Lives Matter. Today I was at the First Unitarian Society in Milwaukee for the first time in several months and a couple I had seen during my last visit was there. It so happened that the husband is an expert on gang interventions I had heard about many years ago. His wife, who seems to be one of those people who creates a niche for herself wherever she goes, is one of a group within the Unitarian Universalists who are of a social justice ministry. In the church, she is doing Black Lives Matter events and it just so happened that today they had organized a silent witness.


I joined in representing formerly young gifted and black individuals. Most of the responses from passers by were positive. In addition, today’s donations were being shared with an organization that works with inner city youths. This is part of being allies. But how does this sound to you as a reader? How are mostly white organizations and churches witnessing? Do black lives matter to you or are you irritated by the expression? Do you yell back All Lives Matter twice as loudly? Who is it you are attempting to drown out?

Although my job is not specifically to fight racial oppression, African-Americans and other people of color with mental illness are at extremely high risk when they encounter the police. With our help, perhaps they will live longer, more productive lives. Their lives will matter, too.



What more is there to say?

black woman with blue eyes



This has been one of those horrible weeks where one looks out into the city and sees chaos. I am not going to repeat everything here because if you have been awake you have seen the murders of two black men and the equally horrendous murders of police yesterday. It seems that we are making the same move over and over. A black person encounters the police for seemingly innocuous reasons: routine traffic stop, for example, and the police officer becomes unusually aggressive. When the black person attempts to respond he or she is either pulled out of their vehicle or shot while still in the car. The person may also be tackled, pepper sprayed and shot dead. The family becomes angry and asks for justice for their loved one. There is an investigation, very rarely a trial and even there there is no conviction for the taking of black lives on the street.

The president is often part of this scenario as white racists claim that having a black president has divided the country. One former congressman even threatened to kill President Obama and then deleted it. This most recent tragedy was twisted by the fact a one or more snipers in Dallas took advantage of a peaceful protest to begin opening fire, killing and wounding.

So, those are the facts. The NRA and the politicians they own will saw, how dare anyone try to limit unfettered access to deadly weapons, high powered magazines and everything that goes with it. One possible answer came during the press conference held by the Dallas chief of police and the mayor who mentioned that their police department is trained to de-escalate conflict. That was part of the sadness that they must be feeling. They want to be able to protect citizen’s rights. That sounds like a reasonable and sound approach to take.

It is not time for war, as the New York Post screamed. It is time for comfort, sorrow and solutions. Black lives matter is not about murder. It’s about freedom and dignity. We want the police to treat us the way you would want to be treated.

The horror

I am reading a long article in Mother Jones magazine by Shane Bauer an investigative journalist who took a $9 per hour job as a corrections officer in a prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America. Bauer details under-staffing motivated by profit, neglect of inmates, neglecting inmates mental and physical health and conditions that would shock any caring person. Bauer looks into the company’s history arising from the swamp like a primordial beast. The opportunity for profit created by mass incarceration needs to be eliminated permanently.

I remember how republican lawmakers howled when President Obama began allowing prisoners access to federal Pell grants to help further their education.The idea was elegant in its simplicity: educated prisoners will be more likely to obtain jobs, and benefit society. There are other proposals aimed at eliminating some of the draconian 3 strikes and your out laws that helped fill prisons. But one of the first places to look for reform is by shuttering the private prison industry and driving it out of business. We cannot continue to abuse our fellow citizens this way.

I urge people to read the article by Bauer and other stories and join groups like the ACLU that are helping to defend prisoners.

Housing as a right


We need to look at the problems of inequality, evictions and the crushing of low wage workers as crises of opportunity. We could continue along our current path with low wages, difficult to obtain mental health treatment, pitiful SSI benefits and exploitation by payday lenders, storage facilities and unscrupulous landlords. Or we could try fixing the system. The book Evicted suggests expanding the housing voucher program while at th same time prevent landlords from overcharging people the way they currently do.

Bernie Sanders and many low wage workers have raised the demand for a $15 per hour minimum wage. As I was driving downtown on our horrible main street, I wished that repaving our roads could be expanded to create more jobs. I wished that lead pipes could be removed the same way Madison, Wisconsin did it. That would create jobs.

I wish that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would begin stricter regulation of unfair lending practices. I wish that corporate wealth could be reined in and excess profits could be used for the common good. I wish for a lot of things that I am being told aren’t realistic. And that in the immediate future what will probably happen is the military get all the money it wants and spend most of it trying to fight terrorism. But the real face of terrorism is the crushing of our spirits by poverty, evictions and exploitation. We need a political revolution.


yin and yang



We’re looking for few good people

The Recovery Advisory Committee of Milwaukee is looking for a few good people. This committee is guiding the implementation of the Comprehensive Community Services in Milwaukee County. This is Medicaid benefit that offers assistance to people who are seeking recovery from mental health and substance abuse problems. Its purpose is to cover the life span. In order to hold counties accountable the state of Wisconsin developed guidelines for community input. The largest portion of the committee is to be people who identify as having a lived experience with mental health and or substance abuse.

When we started out, we were meeting that guideline. But some people have fallen away. That is why we need to reach out and bring in more people. If you are interested in severing on this committee you can respond to this blog entry on Facebook, twitter, wordpress or wherever you are reading me. For more information, go to the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division website and look for C0mprehensive Community Services. We know you’re out there. Come, give us a hand or two.

A smarter approach to regulating marijuana

On NPR today I heard two stories that point to smarter ways of looking at the regulation of marijuana through capitalism. In the first, Uruguay, a small South American county, realized that there was a contradiction in its laws. While  the country had de-criminalized marijuana use, obtaining the drug had been a crime. This forced buyers to obtain it through illegal means, which fed the coffers of organized crime. Now, Uruguay has a new law that will create a state monopoly that allows the government to regulate and collect taxes much like alcohol is taxed. The law faces opposition from people using things like the tired old “marijuana is a gateway drug” myth. For years, this idea has been promoted without a shred of evidence to promote it. What we do know is the incredible cost of the war on drugs in South America and the United States. Thousands of people have been killed, hundreds have been imprisoned and yet marijuana grows more popular with laws to legalize medical and recreational use of the drug.

The second marijuana related story follows from the legal marijuana industry in the United States. Justin Hartfield has a new business that invests in marijuana related companies. It’s old fashioned capitalism. The one elephant in the room that could wreck this business model is federal marijuana law enforcement. And there are many vested interests including the prison guards who like things just the way things are, with laws that reduce a judge’s flexibility in dealing with people who  are convicted  of a crime and too many non-violent drug offenders in prison. Potentially there are billions of dollars at stake in taking an approach of regulating and taxing marijuana and abandoning our expensive and unsuccessful current strategies. Let Hartfield help grow the pot industry and create jobs in a whole new area while letting thousands of people become productive citizens.



Which model of peer support specialist do you prefer and does it matter?


I worked for many years as a peer support specialist for low wages and rarely received performance evaluations or raises. I passed the certification test in February 2012 and accepted a new job as a full time peer support specialist. I received my performance evaluation this week and my third raise in thirteen months. This now means I am earning more than $5 per hour than I was before this job. Plus I have the kind of benefits that used to be reserved for clinicians. Am I in a dream?

I can earn this amount of money and respect because peer support is a billable service. And I am very productive, assisting a lot of consumers with our agency. We are engaging people in ways that had never been possible before, which contributes to our success. With the agency’s encouragement and support, I have attended as many training sessions as possible. This includes many that I believe will be very valuable in my practice.

Currently I am awaiting word of my application for graduate school and this weekend I will be studying the Neuroscience of Addiction in a program organized specifically for peer support specialists. There are many jobs available for certified peer specialists, who are often highly trained, experienced and able to handle many different types of tasks.

Another model of peer support is the one I escaped, where is was assumed that we relied upon SSI or SSDI for our income and could only work part time. Health care comes from Medicaid or Medicare. The tasks are also relatively limited. I have seen people who worked in this model become very frustrated want to do more. No one who relied on disability benefits could work in my type of position more than a few hours per week out of fear they would lose their disability benefits.

It depends on your level of stability and coping skills. I wanted an agency with upward mobility from which I could retire. this brings us to Model #3 which is represented by people who do not trust the mental health system. They believe that their best role it to be a volunteer under the radar and outside the mental health system.They may identify themselves as anarchists, people who inherently distrust government. I always hoped that we would develop the right kind of government and it would be replenished by people’s movements from below. Since I didn’t find that kind of society I began to vote for Democrats instead.

These models will become increasingly important as we implement community based mental health. I see people sliding between all three and being enriched by the experience. Where do you see yourself in this?


Yesterday I finally accessed my HealthEvets website. I had originally signed up for the site several years. I don’t know why I did it. I was probably fairly new in my career as a peer support specialist and was living in rather poor conditions. I had a lot of concerns about being able to access my care team at the VA. It’s one thing to be living in vets housing and you just have to go downstairs to the nursing office to make an appointment. It’s quite another to be off in the community taking care of things and needing to figure out things on my own.

So a lot of things I was doing did not quite fit together. I must have heard about the HealthEvets at an appointment and decided why not? This could be a lifeline. Flash forward to the Obama administration which seems to be making more efforts to promote accessing your health records over the internet. This includes lab tests, immunizations and self reported health data. Curiously, mental health information is not yet available. This may seem a little contradictory given what I said yesterday in my post about the greater emphasis on preventing suicide among vets and active duty personnel.

My latest experience with the HealthEvets  program was last week when I went to the VA for a flu shot and a TB skin test required for work. There was a guy near the front door (one of our favorite sayings at work is “shut the front door” which we use instead of cursing) who had a beard that reminded me of the guys on the old cough drop packages. I figured that he doesn’t eat spaghetti or if he does, it was a major production. He also had a prosthetic left hand probably a result of his military experience. As I was passing by him thinking about going back to work, he called out and asked whether I had signed up for HealthEvets. I told him that I had not. So he asked me to come over and it would take just a few minutes to complete the application.

I was more interested in the oatmeal cookies on the table that looked so enticing. The process was fairly quick, as he had promised and he was efficient with his typing. That is, until we came to a glitch. It seemed that I had already signed up for HealthEvets because he was able to find my name. Unfortunately I was unable to  recall my answers to the secret questions that I had entered years ago. He gave me the name and contact information for the program coordinator to help me figure out what had gone wrong and sent me on my way.This week I decided to try registering again. This may be typical male behavior. If something doesn’t work the first or second time, we try it again. And again the system said I was already registered. I called the national HealthEvets program and the local office to figure out what I had been doing wrong. They helped me find the answers I had given when I signed up for the program and get access to my records.

By Friday afternoon I had a full report at my fingertips. I also sent an email message to my care team and got a response. I printed out a health card that carry in my wallet and it gives me an added level of protection. I need to find the information about my blood type and add it to the card. This will be handy in case I am unable to speak. I am happy and hoping that the glitch in the system as far as not having access to mental health data will be fixed. After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.