Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book 22: Behind the Gates of Gomorrah

Title and Author: Behind the Gates of Gomorrah (A Year With the Criminally Insane), by Stephen Seager (Uncorrected Proof)

Illustrator: none
Publisher: Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster
Expected Publication Date: September 2014
Genre: Non-fiction
Target Audience/Age Group: Adult
Part of a Series? No
Will the Reviewer Keep It In His/Her Library? Yes
First line: Raymond Boudreaux and I sat at opposite ends of a rickety wooden table–with him nearest the door. This was a mistake.

Today my daughter had the day off from work and wanted to watch a horror movie while she drank her coffee. I handed her this book and told her to read one instead. 

The setting is a hospital for the mentally ill, specifically a ward mentally ill people who have committed sickening crimes are treated, not punished. These facilities are not prisons–the people who work there are health care professionals, not guards. The staff is in constant danger from the people they are trying to treat and the greatest punishments they can inflict are denying patients access to art classes because they are working at a hospital, not a prison. They are trained in conflict management, however. I bet that's a big help when a patient is swinging a chair at you.

The author is a psychiatrist. On his first day at work a patient attacked him, cutting him so badly he needed 10 stitches to close the wound. Since it is a hospital, patients rights supersede everything. Eyeglasses must be provided even though prisoners can, and do, easily turn the frames into shivs. Patients cannot have a room to themselves as this is isolating, even though most patients would like to have a private room.

He tells horrifying stories about horrifying people. As I read it, I kept asking myself why are Californians wasting resources on these people? How much evil must a person commit before we decide the world would be a better place without them? What is really wrong with capital punishment?

There's a lot of information in this book, like definitions: mass murder–at least four people are killed at one time in a single location; serial killers–kill at least three people at different times and in different geographic locations; spree killer–kills victims one after another during a single time span but in different locations.

The stories in this book about the patients and staff confirm my opinion that this country has royally screwed up how we handle severe mental illness. Spock is right. There are times when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Patient rights now prohibit the mandatory treatment of the mentally ill, so we have streets full of people who could function if they stayed on the proper medication. In a country where courts order medical treatment when religious parents object it seems illogical that criminally insane can avoid treatment. It's even more illogical that staff gets no protection as they work around these nuts.

The Afterword lays out the changes we need to make in our criminal justice system, and I, for one, will be sending a letter to Governor Brown supporting mandated patient treatment, prison guards or law enforcement presence in every state hospital unit and the reconfiguration of these hospitals to be like prisons, not hospitals. Society must not forget these "patients" committed vicious crimes.

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