Down and Possibly Out of Durham

Having Jerri in my life has opened my eyes to a whole world of evil that I’d previously been able to pretend didn’t exist. Two weeks ago today, Stan and I took Jerri to buy a scooter. She’d found one for $750. We told her if she saved up half, we’d match it. For two months, she ate at the nearby shelter to save the $200 she normally spends on food for the scooter. She was so proud of herself for saving that money. “I’ve never saved up for anything in my whole life,” she told me. I was proud of her too. I was worried about the ultimate fate of the scooter, worried that she would tire of bringing it into her apartment after riding or that she’d get lazy and forget to put the lock on the tires when she left it in a parking lot and someone would steal it. But we talked about those things and she agreed she had to be vigilant. Ultimately, there are lessons in life that all of us have to experience for ourselves.

What I’d never even considered is that while she was stopped at an intersection waiting for cars to pass, someone would come up behind her, knock her off the scooter, and take it out from under her. That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday afternoon.

I drove over after the robbery to check on Jerri and talk with the police. One of her neighbors had given her a Klononpin to calm her down but Jerri has weird reactions to benzodiazepines and she came off as totally wasted. Its really frustrating to me that Jerri’s first reaction to anything difficult in life is to self-medicate.

While we waited for the police, Jerri said (slurry but no less sincere), “This is a terrible place to live. How can I ever better myself here? I can’t get a job without transportation. I can’t have transportation if anyone can just knock me off a scooter and take it. What am I supposed to do now, Terri? It was really hard saving up that money. I went without food for it. I don’t know if I can do it again. And he was so mean, Terri. He was so mean the way he took it from me and the things he said. How can people be so mean?”

It’s a honest question. I feel a little shell-shocked over the whole incident myself, like an incendiary device has just exploded in my face. I can not understand the pure evil that invades a person’s soul and justifies yanking a scooter out from under a tiny, skinny, white woman with mental illness who is obviously quite poor herself. It fills me with such rage that people can be so mean, so self-centered, so evil, that WE can be so unloving to each other. In my head, I’ve downplayed how dangerous a neighborhood Jerri lives in. I’ve driven around there in my Lexis, by myself, at twilight. I’ve told myself that these people are poor, that doesn’t mean they are evil. But there is a certain desperation that breeds in extreme poverty. One that discounts even the life of other human beings. One that says, I’m going to get mine by whatever means and the end will justify it. I’m reminded how far we have fallen from the world God originally intended.

Later in the week, I had the privilege of sitting next to a distinguished, older gentlemen on a flight back from Albany. He is 68, divorced, and an architect for a prestigious firm that is rebuilding downtown Durham. I was surprised by his age. He is dark-skinned and if I’d had to guess, I would have estimated 55. When I commented on this, he confided that he was quite frankly surprised to still be alive. Both of his parents died young; his father was in his thirties and his mother in her fifties. He saw everyday as a gift. His firm designed the Durham Bulls Park. He lives in a condominium downtown and loves what is happening in Durham. He has lived here since 1971. As we talked about the revitalization of downtown, I mentioned that there are still some areas that are quite dangerous like Liberty Street where my sister lives. His eyes widened and he said, “I have two grown children and I’ve always told them there are some places you never need to go. You just don’t. And Liberty Street is one of them.”

I called Catherina, Jerri’s case worker, and told her what happened. “We need to find Jerri a place to live in a safer neighborhood. She’s too vulnerable here. She’s too easy a target.”

“Well you know she’s on the waiting list for Stuart Heights. That’s actually the best place for her. The other places where she qualifies have had a lot of shootings. I don’t think we want to move her to a place where there are shootings.”

Duh. You think?

“I’ll check with one of my coworkers about other options. She really specializes in housing. Maybe there are some new options I don’t know about.”

In talking to Jerri about it, she raised Caramore as a possibility. The Caramore Community was an option I’d identified not long after Jerri moved to Durham. Its a structured program for people with mental illness which prepares them and transitions them back into the community. As part of the program, you work 30 hours a week, first for Caramore and then eventually you transition to a job in the community with an employer like Lowes, Target, or Whole Foods. When I first investigated Caramore, Jerri was not sold on the option. She was not sure she was physically able to work 30 hours a week. And she wasn’t that stable on her medications. But now the timing seems right. She is mentally and physically healthier than I’ve seen her in years. She has an interest in working. She’s concerned about losing her disability but Caramore has financial advisors that work with members to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Caramore is located in Carrboro about a half hour from Durham. Joining the program would get Jerri out her neighborhood as she would be living on the Caramore campus. Telecare has been an absolute lifesaver from the perspective of getting Jerri stable and keeping her from homelessness. But they seem to be not so great at transitioning their clients to independence. Caramore excels at that and is a logical next step in Jerri’s recovery. Caramore would become her mental health provider from a Medicaid perspective and since Medicaid won’t cover both, we’d have to leave Telecare behind.

So this week, instead of succumbing to depression and wrapping herself up into a tight cocoon of despair like she did when her laptop was stolen, Jerri called and asked me for the phone number for Caramore. She spoke with the Admissions Director and then called me back.

“Would you like a birthday present, Terri?”

“Sure, whatcha got for me?”

“An appointment at Caramore on your birthday at 10 am. Can you take me?”

Absolutely.

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8 Comments on “Down and Possibly Out of Durham”

  1. Marsha Coleman says:

    Hi Terri –
    I look forward to your posts and was saddened to see this one and yet again also saddened to know that many of us who support mentally ill family go through similar experiences. With my sister, last year ironically on my birthday, her home was robbed and her medication stolen. She had to do so much (and pay a lot) to replace her medication and only weeks before her roomate was jumped on her way into their house because the neighborhoods that accept group housing are not always the best. I am also saddened because it sounds like the people were African American and just like when we hear story after story on the news as an African American I don’t want to see these things going on from my people. There is a larger issue of lack of self-esteem that goes on for some in our community and unfortunately the latest news story with the group of girls attacking a woman just this week is more of the same. There are so many fixes that need to happen to allow for more tolerance and understanding in our community and more tolerance and understanding from those outside our community. There are so many of us who are not like this but one too many who have low self worth so they would hurt someone else to get what they want. Anyway, I’m glad that there are lessons learned and new opportunities for Jerri. I will pray that this program works for her and Happy Birthday!!!

    • Hi Marsha,

      I’m sad but not surprised to hear your sister and her roommate have also been victims of crime. I don’t know what is wrong with people sometimes. Stealing is bad enough but stealing from people with mental illness or cognitive disabilities is just reprehensible. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that many people with mental illness are repeat victims. They are such easy prey. It just makes me sick. And angry.

      Part of the problem, I agree, is the location of housing. When Jerri was in a group home, it was in a poor neighborhood but relatively safe, near Central University. Her next door neighbor was a delightful elderly African-American lady who treated her like a daughter. The man across the street was renovating his house and paid her to help him clean it up. He was honest and kind to her. Now she lives on the fringe of downtown. All of the housing is subsidized and there is a lot of drug trafficking. Her apartments are for people with mental illness and the rest of the neighborhood knows that.

      Jerri did not get a good look at her assailant. He was darker skinned and could have been African-American or Hispanic. I understand somewhat how you feel about the negative news you see about African-Americans as I have been appalled on more than one occasion by news stories about my white so-called-Christian brethren. I sincerely appreciate your perspective and your heart for your community. Crime is not an issue of race or even socioeconomic status. It is a spiritual illness.

      Jerri’s interview does not guarantee her a spot at Caramore and she may decide after talking to them that she’s not ready for the required commitment. She expressed concern today that she might not be able to work 30 hours a week. She’s also concerned that people there won’t like her or provide the level of positive reinforcement she needs. Please pray that she doesn’t allow the negative voices in her head to drown out the positive ones. Pray that she will find the courage to try something that will likely be hard and scary. And thanks for your willingness to pray at all.

  2. Keri (from friends and family class) says:

    Terri, I confess that I haven’t been at all as faithful a reader of your blog as I perhaps should have been but I just wanted to tell you how encouraged I am reading this particular post. The progress of both where you are and where Jerri seems to be since our class is unbelievable. You seem more encouraged and it seems like she has made incredible strides toward taking responsibility for herself in the ways she is able and toward independence that I know both you and she long for her to have. And per the beginning of your post, I too believe evil is very real and have seen its effects in loved ones of mine, but I personally praise God that Jerri responded the way she did to that devastating theft of the scooter she had worked so hard for; that, to me, is a true sign of hope. Glad to hear things are going well – and happy early birthday. šŸ™‚

    • Keri – it’s good to hear from you. I’m really encouraged by Jerri’s reaction to the theft. When her laptop was stolen about a year ago, she was despondent. She crawled in bed, stopped taking her medications, and stopped paying her bills. She’s still trying to dig her way out of that financial hole. This time she’s still very upset but she’s trying to stay focused on the future and things she can do to positively impact her life. That’s a giant step forward. I hope all is well with your family. Life with family who have mental illness can be a roller coaster ride. Up one day and down the next. I hope you are also experiencing some Up time.

  3. cathyalford says:

    I was interrupted halfway through reading this post and couldnt wait to get back to it. When I read about the incident, my angry me said, “now, how can any good come from that.”, ( thinking of the scripture reminding us to remember theres a deeper positive outcome in situations when we serve God) I couldnt see how Jerri could get past that event – oh what a test it was!!! WOW, i am so so so proud of her!! If appropriate, would you tell her that for me? She made my day. I am also so proud of you, my friend. You are a good sister and you amaze me. Enjoy your burthday!!!
    Much love and bug hugs,

    Cathy

    • Cathy Columbus!! How good to hear from you. Yep, another whirlwind roller coaster of a week. But its all worth it, if it inspires Jerri to take this giant step forward. Please pray for her this week and next. The meeting is on the 9th. Love you, girlfriend.

  4. (Not That) Joan says:

    Oh, Terri. That would be the best present ever. My journey through the bipolar minefield is only beginning (bipolar daughter, early twenties, first major episode two years ago) and I have no idea where we are headed. Bless you for persevering, and how wonderful that Jerri is willing and able to progress in her life.

    • Hi Joan, Jerri’s journey has been a particularly difficult one primarily, I think, because our family abandoned her when she was 16, labeling her a drug addict and turning a blind eye to the mental illness aspect. Of course that was 3 decades ago and there is a greater recognition of mental illness now. The journey is hard, I won’t lie to you, but your daughter will have a much greater chance of recovery and a meaningful life if she knows you are with her no matter what. Never underestimate the power of a mother’s love in a daughter’s life.


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