‘Insanity is a sane person’s response to an insane world.’ R. D. Laing
James was what my unprofessional self would call crazy as a loon. He was the only black resident in a group home for paranoid schizophrenics. He had grown up on the west side of Louisville in government housing. No one knew exactly which event had pushed James over the edge but everyone knew he had long since lost sight of the edge.
James would often tell the staff that the white man and his institutions were out to get him because he was black. He told the white staff it was nothing we could help; it was in our blood and we couldn’t control it. When he became upset he would walk around the house wide-eyed with his pupils dancing form one side to the other with his chest stuck out like a rooster and he would preach in a deep sonorous voice. The unnerving thing about his preaching was it would have moments of brilliant teachings of MLK and Malcolm X in the midst of his general ravings. “MLK says we cannot wait,” he would start” because justice for all must come before we can say there is any justice.” He would continue with thoughts of Malcolm X,” The white man says we should not resort to violence but I tell you if the white man uses violence to keep us subdued in an unjust world. We would be promoters of injustice if we did not respond with the strong hand to quelch their violence be it through non-violence or even through violence.” Then his voice would trail off as he spoke how the white man was trying to read his thoughts but they could not be read by humans. And he would become stranger and stranger.
James the staff was told was very risky and we were to keep a close eye on him. He had a history of violence. He always seemed to us like a volcano ready to explode. Yet we were told the group here needed a black to fill the law of racial quotas. Thus James had entered our doors.
At the first, James was not happy with all white residents but he took solace in the one black staff member. Jackson was a middle-aged black man who had grown up in the projects. Jackson was a scrapper who had managed to survive outside of the projects though sometimes this meant working three jobs. He looked at his co-workers and employers as people who were to be hustled. He always had a smile that looked forced on his face. Jackson and James would talk often about life when they were alone but if someone entered the room they would become quiet.
After a while James’ story slowly unraveled in his long discourses. He had grown up in the projects. At the age of eight he had been offered his first doobie. At 13 he had been in his first knife fight that had left a gash in his ear. He had been arrested at the age of sixteen for selling drugs. The selling of the drugs deeply disturbed him. He went to a Baptist church every Sunday to hear the gospel story. But he wanted only a few of the things that he was constantly being pounded with from the airwaves of TVs and radios and the ads in magazines. He was sent to a juvenile detention center where he had a hit a security guard for calling him nigger. At eighteen he was released and he joined the Marines to prove his manhood and to get ahead in life. But the projects were not good preparation for the military life. He was constantly talking back to the drill instructor. He resented the condescending attitudes of the sergeant. He refused to be molded into a proud Marine. The Marines decided he was not one of the few.
He dreaded returning home. His grandmother who had raised him would be there. She was the one who always took him to the Baptist church every Sunday. She was the one who had doctored his ear after his knife fight. She was the one who had preached to him on the evils of selling drugs. “You’re just bringing your own people down,” he remembered her telling him. She was the only one who visited him at the juvenile detention center. He had a reverence for her.
When he returned home to his grandmother’s house with the news of his discharge. She had looked James in the eye and said,” James you will never be anybody.” She was eighty. It wasn’t in him to sell drugs anymore and the military had not worked out. He worked at a few odd jobs at McDonalds and other places. He couldn’t keep a job or an apartment. He was soon on the streets. Until one day the police had found him furiously beating an elderly woman screaming, “I am somebody.” He had been in the hospital for nineteen months. They had warily released him to our place.
Slowly he began to adjust to the group home. He had a good relationship with Jackson. Jackson constantly told him how important it was to show white people that black people are equals. James was trying to be the model black mental health resident.
To everyone’s surprise he began a relationship with one of the white residents. We were later to find the connection the two had. The white resident always had money; James had no money. He would take James to the store and buy him a coke and some chips in return James would go to the nearby projects and get drugs for the white resident.
At his trial James had told the judge “he was not obligated to the white man’s law. He was above their law. In fact the judge was talking to Jesus X and he had best be careful. The judge asked him if he was serious about his claims to be Jesus. James quoted “LK22:70 you are right in saying I am.” The frustrated judge had ordered James to receive psychiatric treatment.
James would still have his bouts of preaching. Jackson would ask James not to preach so much. “He was scaring the white folks,” Jackson would warn him. Although he made it clear he understood where James was coming from.
James in three months’ time was slowly rehabilitating. He had even gone to vocational school for a week. He was attending group therapy where he was learning how to relate appropriately with others.
It was late on a Friday afternoon that Jackson received the call. The frantic voice on the other side was from the Center where James received group therapy. Apparently another client had exploded at the meeting shouting expletives at James for taking his seat. He had sarcastically told James to take a seat in the back of the bus (room), James had been hit by a chair over the head. Panicking James ran furiously out of the building and was seen running back to the house with blood streaming down his face. He was running to Jackson.
Jackson had immediately left the house in the hopes of meeting him and calming him down. Two blocks down the road he saw flashing blue lights and an ambulance. Two staunch white police officers were heaving James in the back of the squad car. Jackson slowed down as he came closer. On the ground with a paramedic was an elderly woman who had obviously been hit several times. James had slammed into her while he was running back to the house. Jackson was scared. The police officer suddenly stood in Jackson’s face. “Do you know him?” Jackson nodded and explained who he was. The officer berated him for letting an animal like that on the street. He told Jackson he should have never been let out of his cage. Jackson slowly retreated. He wanted no part of this. The officer stared after him in disgust. He glanced at the squad car. James sat leaning back to escape the angry stares of the gathered crowd. Jackson saw Jame’s face caked with blood. Jackson watched his lips moving he was muttering, “I am somebody.”