Jerri, in her right-mindedness, is thinking about making some life improvements. She would like to move into a better neighborhood where dealers don’t make door-to-door sales calls. Also, Housing for New Hope recently terminated the housing agreements for a number of tenets in her apartment building and while she makes an effort to follow the rules, she is tired of worrying that she will be the next one to go. So Jerri recently applied for another subsidized housing community in the north part of town.

The application asked if she had ever been charged with a felony. Unfortunately, Jerri had to respond yes. Twenty years ago, when she was 29 and a practicing addict, she broke into our parent’s house and stole a TV. Mom reported it and Jerri was charged with larceny. She was put on probation and required to do community service. Jerri considered lying on the application but to her credit, she decided it was best to tell the truth (which, BTW, is google-accessible for anyone industrious enough to check). She hoped that the two decades of felony-free living since would weigh in her favor.

Apparently, it did not. Her housing application was denied.

Jerri is also considering applying for a part-time job. She can barely make ends meet on her disability check and in order to save money for a scooter, she is eating at the shelter and ear-marking her grocery money for the purchase. The problem with getting a job, however, is it puts her disability payment in jeopardy. I haven’t researched the rules (and if you know them, please share), but I’m told her disability check will be reduced by the amount of money she makes and when her income reaches a certain amount she will lose disability altogether. Which means she will also lose Medicaid. We could live with that if we knew she was going to a) remain stable and b) be able to hold down a job and c) make enough money to afford Medicare.

I’m not sure she can even get a job. There’s the issue of the felony for one thing. Every job application includes a question on criminal record. She has no recent job experience and she also needs to work on her personal appearance. Whether we like it or not, others judge us on our appearance and particularly when assessing us for a job. For years Jerri has been too overwhelmed with symptoms to care about personal hygiene and this has taken a toll on her teeth, hair, and nails.

I read a fascinating memoir over the weekend, Signs of Life and the following observation by the author, Natalie Taylor, really resounded:

I never realized that certain people really are stuck. And they are not stuck because they don’t work hard or because they don’t want to get out of where they are. They’re stuck because certain forces in the world won’t let them out.

I think a lot of people with brain disorders, Jerri included, are stuck even after they recover. Many of them have police records because of things they did when not in their right mind. They can’t explain the gaps in their job history because that requires touching on the taboo mental illness topic. They’ve lost touch with the norms of basic etiquette and personal hygiene. And in the US, they are reliant on social systems that don’t support easing out of disability and back into the workforce.

Is there any hope for them? Really interested in your point of view. Am I missing something?


13 Comments on “Stuck”

  1. diana says:

    Perhaps you can revisit the subsidized housing considering the nature of her felony.

    Also, considering the time that has transpired and that she’s clean now…perhaps she can check with a pro bono attorney about purging the record.

    Doesn’t Medicaid cover Dental? That would be key. Dental health affects our physical health, so impact is inside and out. Then some other basic cosmetic changes would boost Jerri’s resolve and confidence–beauty schools would offer cut rate hair cuts and nail care. Thrift shops might have programs offering clothing to job applicants.

    The CrossFit center I go to offers free bootcamp for recovering addicts/alcoholics. It’s a service that was worked out with certain agencies in the community. Exercise does the mind good.

    She sounds like she’s taking ownership…..I’m sure she likes that which puts a smile on her face.

    We all have challenges, Jerri’s are just different and she’s lucky to have you and you her.

    • Thanks for the great suggestions, Diana. I have been considering how to address the subsidized housing application denial. I’m going to talk with Jerri’s social worker and see if Telecare can follow-up. I’m not sure how involved they were with the application. Depending on how that goes, I may have a conversation with the housing administrators.

      Medicaid does cover some dental and Jerri just had a tooth pulled and has another appointment on Monday. She may need some partials and not sure what’s allowed through Medicaid. Jerri says you have to have 4 teeth pulled before Medicaid will pay for a partial. That and a good cleaning will enhance her smile. The fact that Jerri cared enough to make an appointment on her shows how well she is doing!

  2. Terri, I’m sorry to hear that Jerri’s application was denied. Is there any kind of appeal process? I bet a local Social Security practitioner, or even someone at the local SSA office would talk to you about Jerri’s options as the recipient of benefits (not sure if it’s SSI or SSD).

    Change is slow and hard, even for those of us with jobs and good counselors. I’m encouraged by Jerri even making goals. She does have something huge in her favor: you. She hasn’t been forgotten like many people battling mental health disorders and living on the fringe of society. She does have someone to advocate for her and encourage her. Look at how far she’s already come. I can’t believe I’ve never told you about my paralegal friend, Lorie, who lives here in NC, and recovered from rock bottom, including homelessness and addiction. She now has a job, a husband, and a home they bought together. Here’s a link to her story:

    • Lynne, Lorie’s story is INCREDIBLE and very inspirational. I’d like to feature the link in an upcoming blog and since the article was written in 2009, share an update – perhaps interview-style. Do you think Lorie would be willing to do an email interview with me? Let’s discuss offline. You can email me at

  3. Rose says:

    Hi; been following your blog for awhile. It’s good. I was once the “Trophy Daughter” and am now the messed up “Scapegoat” which is quite ironic; at least from my perspective. I was an overachiever, made everyone so proud, and now have PTSD… while my sister has bi-polar disorder controlled with medication, and is a practicing therapist with a family. Our roles are now reversed, although she was never a Scapegoat.

    I am now also fully disabled drawing VA disability as well as SSD, and can no longer work due to my disabilities (which also include chronic migraine pain along with the PTSD).

    From what I’ve read thus far and my understanding of your sister’s situation, you are correct. If she is able to find a job, her disability will be garnished by a certain amount, if not stopped completely, especially if she is able to hold the job for any length of time. She is most definitely between a rock and a hard place.

    This is one issue which angers me, and has since I became disabled. Society, as well as the programs that assist the disabled, expect, and many times, demand, that we do what we can to recover as much as possible (and in the case of those who have previously been convicted, rehabilitated, to include finding employment), and yet the “rules” are written in such a manner which preclude us from doing so without tossing us back into poverty or homelessness (which I pulled myself out of just recently).

    It’s a crying shame and this alone says much about how society views those who can no longer fully contribute for whatever reason, regardless of why.

    My best to you and your sister.

    • Wow, Rose, you hit the nail on the head. I couldn’t have said it better. Can you point me to any online information so I can get a better understanding of SSD and how working affects payment?

      I’m so sorry you are going through a very rough time. Please don’t let society get to you. You are contributing and you ARE a person of infinite worth. Thanks so much for following the blog and for your comments.

      • Rose says:

        This page has information on what happens when one works while receiving SSDI benefits. The best info is under the second tab. A lot has to do with how much Jerri makes. It is possible she can still receive benefits after the trial period of nine months if she earns no more than 1010.00 a month. But anymore than that, and all benefits will end. So, say she finds a minimum wage job she is able to keep. For nine months, she’ll be fine. After that, however, it may prove difficult to live on a minimum wage job once all benefits are stopped, because that also means her Medicare will end. For a disabled individual, this is not a good thing. Especially if something happens which causes her to lose the job after benefits are stopped, because she’ll have to re-apply to restart them… and that takes time. The whole process starts again.

        She may be able to work part time, but she’ll have to continue reporting all earnings to SSA. There may be penalties if she doesn’t report on time and regularly.

        Thank you for your kind words, Terri. I’m fortunate to have an incredibly good therapist assisting me, and I’m gradually making some friends with whom I am in contact with on occasion. Things are finally improving after a very long and difficult period.

        Jerri is so fortunate to have you in her life. I’ve been in her shoes and it’s difficult without anyone, especially family, to help.

        Please feel free to contact me anytime. I’ve been on both sides of the equation and am very empathetic to your situation… and Jerri’s. If I can help with information, or just to talk, let me know.

        Best, Rose

  4. Marsha Coleman says:

    Hi! I continue to follow you all the time and there are so many similarities in what we face. My sister is in a program that I’ve found really works called the Clubhouse or the formal name is “The International Center for Clubhouse Development”… Here’s the website My sister has been attending this program for about three years since she came out of a jail stay due to something she did while in her manic state… She’s also currently on probation. Among the many amazing things that this program does is to help people identify part time jobs. The organizations who work with providing jobs for the members are aware of some of the challenges and also the laws in how much they can make, their backgrounds, etc. Although my sister has yet to get a job (she’s waiting to hear about a part-time position as I write this) everyday she works on something in the clubhouse. This gives her many things…something to talk about with us…what did you work on today? The people in the clubhouse work on the business of taking care of each other…They work in the kitchen to provide the meals which people purchase for $2. They work on the “shop” where people can buy donated items. Today I’m wearing some shoes for that my sister gave me for mother’s day that she bought at the shop,. They work on a newsletter, answer phones etc. Most importatntly they have friends and activities that don’t revolve around family. This is important because many friendships can die after the behavior exhibited in the not sane days. Anyway, this is one program that works…that gets it right…that gives them back some of the respect that society so easily takes away.

    • Hi Marsha, good to hear from you. Thanks for sharing the link. We also have an ICCD clubhouse where we live called Threshold. Thanks so much for reminding me about that program. Jerri has expressed a lot of interest in Threshold in the past because she might have the opportunity to work in their office on grant proposals, something she did in the past for a non-profit. We have not pursued it because changes to Medicaid resulted in coverage of only one program – so Medicaid will either cover Telecare (her mental health assertive care treatment team) or Threshold but not both. Given her instability, Jerri has really needed the help of Telecare to handle housing and other social supports. Telecare also manages her bills and provides transportation to doctor visits. Through Telecare, she has a social worker and a psychiatrist. Are you in the states? How does your sister receive psychiatric care – the clubhouse doesn’t offer this, does it? I know Threshold provides some of these services Telecare does but not sure which ones. Maybe now that Jerri is more stable, Threshold might be the better program for her. I’ll talk to her about it and maybe schedule an appointment with Threshold to explore further. THANK YOU for the suggestion.

      • Marsha Coleman says:

        Hi – I believe she gets coverage for her pyschiatric care through medicare. She’s in the clubhouse and in a volunteer for america housing program. However, some of these kicked in after she was incarcerated. Sadly, we didn’t know about these two programs prior to the incident that got her imprisoned. I’m wondering if she gets coverage because of this? I’ll ask her and let you know. One really good story I have about the clubhouse is that I was scheduled for a meeting at the same time and hotel where my sister’s clubhouse conference was being held. In fact, my room was on the courtyard where the dinner dance was held. After my meeting I joined my sister, her friends and the workers from the clubhouse for several dances….the one I remember most is “We are Family” by Sister Sledge. It was a really good moment for us that I never could have imagined when we were at some pretty low low moments!!! Keep me posted on Jerri and the Threshold program.
        Take care!

  5. Laura Lewis says:

    You’ve definitely struck something here. Society encourages individuals to seek help for addictions, depression, mental disorders, PTSD, and more. Then when you are possibly “healed,” disclosure become the problem. There’s prejudice where people said there would be none: in seeking a job, in seeking medical insurance or life insurance. It is a double-standard. Those who are sane enough to see it won’t seek help so there won’t be any repercussions, to their own detriment.

    • Rose says:

      Very true, Laura. Sadly, very true.

    • I’m also disturbed about the criminal record aspect. I don’t think a crime committed 20 years ago should be held against you for the rest of your life when there has been nothing else added to your record since that time. I have another family member who also used very poor judgement during a time of deep depression and was charged with a misdemeanor. She lost her job, her professional license, and her home because of it. This is a woman with a master’s degree who now works as a waitress and is also stuck. If you knew her like I do you would agree with me that she is not a criminal. In her right mind, she would never have made the decision she did. However, she will suffer the consequences for the rest of her life. I understand why employers don’t want to hire someone with any criminal record – there are plenty of other candidates out there without records. It just saddens me that our society is so unforgiving, It makes me want to do something to change it, but what?

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