Michelle Ryan

The Price of Mental Health & Privacy
by Michelle Ryan
If the subject of bipolar disorder had never entered the picture, I wouldn’t have enough interest in the saga of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. to write this. However, he opened that door when he decided to go public with this disorder as a defense. I will refer to him hereafter as JJJ for brevity’s sake.
Despite winning both the primary and general elections, disappointment prevailed. JJJ’s actions to help Ford Heights’ residents with their flooding and water issues was especially impressive. Even after all the allegations surfaced, Ford Heights’ folks would not bash him.
From the time JJJ went MIA in June, 2012, until the saga subsided, it came across like his camp was making things up as they went along. It was very poorly handled. We heard way too much personal information about his health. Just because someone is a public figure doesn’t mean that the public has a right to know someone’s health issues.
The right to privacy could have been JJJ’s saving grace. Instead of everyone else speaking for him and giving guesstimates for a return to Congress, the situation could have quickly been defused. JJJ is a good public speaker with lots of support, and the public is not surprised by unscrupulous behavior by their elected officials.
Imagine this scenario “Breaking News…Just released from the Jackson Camp, JJJ is expected to release a statement at about noon…” The media can hardly wait with their cameras, microphones, and tape recorders….
The moment comes as JJJ feels like he’s walking in slow motion as he approaches his audience. With a visibly clenching jaw, he thanks everyone for coming, especially his constituents. He announces that he’s had some serious health issues. There is an ongoing investigation so he is not at liberty of commenting on that. He’s sorry that’s all he can say, but he knows that we respect his right to privacy during this difficult time, and thanks everyone for coming. Then he walks away. The media hurls out questions, but he keeps walking.
The media would have had little to dissect, and it could have re-directed the issue to the right of privacy regarding one’s health. The public needed JJJ to toss them a bone. But that’s not what happened. This is wherein the problem lies.
The timing of the admission of bipolar disorder is questionable. JJJ spent about $750,000 he shouldn’t have. Uncontrollable spending just happens to be on the list of symptoms for bipolar disorder. If you know the list of symptoms to agree with, you can get a diagnosis even if Mayo Clinic conducts the questions. Everyone that I asked thinks JJJ was just using the disorder to get a lighter sentence.
This would be a far worse betrayal to me than stealing $750,000 because you cannot put a price on mental health. 2 ½ years is not much time in prison compared to our lifespan. People with mental illness can be trapped in the prison of their minds and may see suicide as their only escape. I know of two people like this.
First, there is someone I’ll call ‘Sam’. I once asked him how he was, and he said he just got out of a mental hospital. I knew he was a bipolar manic depressive. He lived alone in an apartment subsidized by the government. He was unemployed, on a fixed income of disability insurance, and was haunted by his mother’s suicide which occurred when he was a kid. When life got unbearable he’d check himself into a psychiatric ward until medication stabilized him.
The other person I met with bipolar disorder was Chicago radio talk-show host Jay Marvin. His mercurial personality angered many. He was fired a lot in his career which moved him throughout the country. He was very candid about his situation and spoke about all the different medications he’d been on and how many doctors he had seen.
Jay Marvin spoke about everything, but some of his best shows were like suicide hotlines. There would always be a severely depressed caller that he’d spend a long time with and get them help. He later moved to Colorado and made headlines when someone suicidal called his show. Marvin kept the guy on the line while his producer called authorities to rescue the man at a restaurant.
A few years ago, Jay Marvin underwent back surgery, and was unable to return to his radio show. In both physical and mental pain, he attempted suicide with a drug overdose, but survived. He writes a blog, but continues to struggle with everyday life.
When we get an inside glimpse of someone whose every day life is shadowed with depression, the patient needs support. Mental health advocates need someone like JJJ who has political clout to legislate on their behalf.
Mental health facilities were among the first areas to suffer budget cuts in Illinois. Meanwhile, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been revamping the jail system to accommodate about one-third of inmates who end up in jail because of mental health
issues and have nowhere else to go.
As I think of the many ‘Sam’s and Jay Marvin’s’ out there, I’ll be waiting to see JJJ’s next chapter in life after prison.

The Dark Side of the Hoodie
by Michelle Ryan
Since our last deadline, George Zimmerman’s verdict has caused a gamut of emotions that have been from one extreme to the other. I was stunned when the verdict was announced. I sat there in disbelief. I thought Zimmerman’s fate was sealed because he was already tried and convicted in the media.
I can understand the anger, the travesty of justice, the desire to somehow make the verdict go the other way. I experienced the same feelings with the Not Guilty verdict of OJ Simpson which resulted in my disdain over our so-called justice system.
Both of these cases were racially and emotionally charged while the jury had to decide ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ the facts that were allowable to them. We’re not supposed to judge on emotions, but on the evidence presented.
President Obama stated that a jury has spoken and we must respect our legal system. He also said we needed to do some soul searching as he relayed some personal stories of how he was racially profiled. I appreciated his comments, and that he had the class and good sense not to show up at the podium wearing a hoodie.
A crucial statement that Obama made was about how he could have been mistaken as Trayvon Martin many years ago. Trayvon’s age mattered in how he was stereotyped as well as his actions that fateful night. We know that Trayvon knew he was being followed because he told a friend on his cell phone. A more mature person would use the phone to call 911 and get the hell out of there. But 17-year-olds don’t think like that. They think they are invincible.
Both Zimmerman and Trayvon were in the age span of ‘The Testosterone Zone’. This is the range of males between 13-30. Testosterone is blamed for aggression, but hopefully once the age of 30 is reached, a level of maturity sets in that results in more sensible decisions. Neither knew if the other had a gun.
While race was construed as a factor in this case, the hoodie was more crucial. It was disturbing when pictures of a younger Trayvon depicted him as a nice-looking kid and then the same kid is transformed into looking like [or stereotyped] a thug by wearing a hoodie.
The hoodie picture reminded me of the ‘Wanted’ poster of the Unabomber. When the Unabomber was finally captured, he looked nothing like his ‘Wanted’ poster because the hoodie and sunglasses did such a good job of concealing his identity.
Speaking of bombers, the Boston Marathon tragedy gives an opposite example. The older brother was wearing a cap which hid his face. The younger brother had the cap on backwards revealing that he was a young white male with dark wavy hair and a long nose. His stupidity was our saving grace in ending their mission. Good thing he wasn’t wearing a hoodie.
The hoodie itself is a neutral piece of clothing. However, there is no question that it can be misused. You cannot distinguish race from the back or side. Imagine a business owner that gets robbed giving a description to the police of someone wearing a hoodie. Wow, that really narrows it down.
My police scanner picks up much of surrounding Chicago. Numerous calls are reported stating “suspects were wearing hoodies…”. I wonder how the police can identify a hoodied criminal with other young people in hoodies just hanging out. I also wonder if hoodies contribute to mistaken identity in gang shootings.
After what happened to Trayvon, will it occur to anyone that perhaps a certain age group might want to hang up their hoodie? (Note that I am not referring to children, females, or older adults.) It’s a stereotype, but do we want to set up young males for potential trouble?
Have you seen the back-to-school commercials with kids dancing and jumping around wearing colorful clothes? Kids in certain neighborhoods have to wear white tops and black pants to avoid being gang-accused. It’s not fair, but that’s how it is. Adults make these decisions to protect kids because we are old enough to know better.
The situation between Zimmerman and Trayvon was a perfect storm. People involved in neighborhood watches are more aware of crime and what suspects look like in their community. With the string of recent burglaries, I wonder if Trayvon’s father and his fiancée were aware.
Despite all of the speculation, the crux of the case came down to whether Zimmerman felt that his life was in danger. This is where the media erred. They sensationalized the case instead of showing equal balance.
We saw innocent pictures of Trayvon and the hoodied one. We only saw Zimmerman in a crew-cut and a block-head cut. Where were the released police photos that showed Zimmerman’s swollen nose with blood all over as well as the evidence showing the back of his head that was pounded against the pavement?
That evidence may have helped us see how the verdict was decided. The recent traffic warning Zimmerman got was all over the news. No wonder he drives fast. He can’t stay in one place for too long. Frankly, I don’t think George Zimmerman will ever really be a free man in the United States of America.

And the Band Played On
by Michelle Ryan
February 9 started out like any other Saturday. It was an early start and by mid-afternoon I attempted a catnap. It wasn’t going to happen because of all this banging coming from down the block. It was going on for about an hour. It really started picking up, like a definite march. I then realized a march would mean a funeral next door. Sound will sometimes echo off the houses nearby. I looked out the upstairs window and saw lots of people crossing the cemetery grounds, and cars everywhere.
I headed downstairs and looked out my back door. The herd of Japanese Sika deer were frantic from all the noise. They kept running. A car was stopped outside my house looking, and other neighbors were peering a block away outside the fence. It looked like lots of younger people all the way across the grounds by 127th street. People were directing traffic inside the cemetery. Limousine after limousine, and the Chicago police came in. A chill slowly spread through me as I realized what this could be.
I knew that Hadiya Pendleton was being buried that day, but what were the chances that this could be it? There was a long steady stream of marchers draped in black with white long vests and pilgrim-like hats. A guy stopped in a car and was taking pictures with his cell phone. It was a humbling and captivating scene.
I tuned in to channel 7 at 5:00 since they are supposed to be “Chicago’s Number One News”. Hadiya’s funeral was the top story, but they only stated the funeral was delayed because of an arrest and that Hadiya was buried in a suburban cemetery, which tells us nothing. I switched to beloved channel 2 and they had footage of the arrest of the man who scuffled because he couldn’t find a parking spot which delayed the funeral. Then they announced that she was buried in Cedar Park Cemetery.
The gravedigger didn’t finish until after dark and there were lights on his back hoe as he drove it back to the garage. The image sent another chill through me as I remembered Burr Oak Cemetery when people heard back hoes at night. Witnessing the funeral was the first time I felt any emotion toward this killing. Previously, I was slightly put off with all the publicity this story was getting considering how many innocent young people get gunned down on the streets of Chicago.
Were other parents upset because no reward was offered for their child being killed? Or were they happy that lots of noise was being made about this? Even President Obama was involved given that Hadiya had just performed as a majorette at his inauguration just a week before she was killed. Obama was recently quoted that “Last year, there were 443 murders with a firearm on the streets of Chicago. 65 victims were under 19, the equivalent of a Sandy Hook massacre every four months.” Obama admits this is not just a gun issue, but about the communities we’re building, and the family we’re raised in.
Both of these incidents have sparked the heated debate of gun control. Gun violence in Chicago and the Sandy Hook tragedy are separate issues and we need to keep things in perspective and look at the motives behind the gun abuse. Frankly, the state of Illinois (thanks to Chicago) comes across as an idiot with the gun laws we already have in place.
We’re an embarrassment to the other 49 states with more lenient laws. I don’t think there will ever be peace in Chicago anymore than in parts of the Middle-East. I’m also confident that there will be another mass killing of innocents from a disturbed individual. The Sandy Hook killer set a high bar.
Perhaps we can remember Hadiya Pendleton’s smiling face as a majorette leading the way with a marching band and all the other victims behind her as we are left behind with the aftermath, and trying to figure out how to prevent such messes on this earth.

Outside Annoyances

by Michelle Ryan
Have you ever had the experience of standing on a ladder outside when a friendly neighbor driving by, feels the need to acknowledge you and suddenly blasts the horn? It’s generally not a good idea to distract people on ladders unless of course you’re trying to cause a fall.
Things such as this remind us of other things that people do that may leave us wondering. For example, when someone is working outside and passers-by stop and chat without realizing that you are trying to get work done. Some gardeners have expressed that they feel like they’re captive in their own yard. There is a saying, “We can’t be taken advantage of without our permission.”
Suggestions offered for the chatterer who keeps talking while you’re gardening, keep gardening and glance at them every so often but don’t keep adding to the conversation. You can also announce that it’s time to move onto another area. I’ve had to enforce a chat-limit with some people. It’s good to talk with people, but it should not be allowed to interfere with your plans.
The same principle can apply to other types of work outside. Whether you are painting, landscaping, cleaning, etc., you can always send a message by carrying on with the work implying that you have to get this done.
Another infamous issue that many have involves garbage outside. In Cal-Park, we used to have the Cook County Sheriff’s police escorting a busload of  offenders cleaning up the streets on foot. It reminded me of the days of the chain-gangs except none of these offenders had chains, there were no officers on horseback with a shotgun and I’m not aware of anyone trying to make a break for it. Instead of chains, they wore florescent vests and walked in a group with one vehicle in front and the sheriff’s bus in back. It was like a slow parade and I would hide inside the house when I saw the convoy coming.
Our public works dept. can be seen throughout the village cleaning things up from the curbs which is nice. With all of this modern talk of “going green and carbon footprints”, it’s appalling that people are such slobs. Why can’t we be responsible for our own garbage? If people want to slop up their own houses that’s their business as long as it’s indoors. If property outside is sloppy, does it mean the inside is just as bad?
One of the things I’ve seen which doesn’t make sense is when people are diligent about washing their car, but their property is a pigsty. The car gets washed at least twice a week with longing caresses. Then it gets driven around for all to see. Unbeknownst to those who see the car, if they even notice that it’s clean, the driver is merely displaying a phony image. A clean car doesn’t mean anything if there’s garbage left all over the property.
With all the animal visitors I get in my yard, they never make a mess with my garbage can. When people are having these issues, it’s not the animals, it’s the people. The classic sign is when you see a big block or rock on top of their can. Also, raccoons do not make holes in the can. Squirrels do.
If people would take a few precautions, it would eliminate this problem. For example, fast food garbage which is garbage in itself, should be wrapped in another bag that is properly closed to eliminate odors. If you have space in your refrigerator, keep used meat products such as the container it came in, sealed until the night before the pick-up and then put it in the can. Otherwise, wash it out and properly contain it before placing it in the can.
Garbage left unattended can quickly spread to others like a common cold. Responsible people then have to clean up after the lazy slobs. You would think by cleaning things up, it might set an example for others but it can also backfire because you’re almost enabling the slobs.
I’ve reached breaking points before and have even given up. However, when I’ve read or heard of others with the same issue, it motivated me to carry onward with my head held high knowing that one of my purposes in life is to lead by example. I know that I made a difference in my space and upon my death, there will be more trash on the street. Perhaps someone will follow the example set, otherwise we will have to rely on community service people or the public works department.