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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Enemy at the Gates

The tragic story of Jacob Neitzel and his personal nightmare trying to escape the maze that is the California Mental Health and Penal System.

… He came to the place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven…Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it." And he was afraid, and said, "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." - Book of Genesis (28:10-19)

Jacob Neitzel's story is the horrifying real-life account of events, of just about everything that can go wrong, and then went wrong, when the parent of a child suffering from mental illness, loses their child to California's deteriorating and corrupt Mental Health system, and ultimately ends up trying to rescue that child from the equally corrupt California Penal system.

This is a story of truth against power. As with any such story, power has the ability and desire to stifle truth, so in the interest of protecting truth, we must leave out specifics, for surely we will hang. That, and these kinds of details are best left for the lawyers to sort out anyway.

In 1972 Jacob Neitzel was born to Catherine Neitzel Powers and David Neitzel. Throughout his childhood, Jacob was considered "slow", that usual kid you saw in the special-ed class, the one with the distant stare, looking uncomfortably at you as you look away uncomfortably, from the window of that uncomfortably short school bus at a traffic light. Before he was 18, Jacob began to hear voices, and showing all the telltale symptoms, and later was finally and fully diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia.

Not such a big deal at the end of the 20th century. At first he was treated effectively by various treatment centers in Marin County, treatment consisting primarily of the by now usual prescribed medication, primarily Haldol.

When he turned 18, Jacob left home, and like most kids in America living with a debilitating condition that was under the control of his "meds", began his life as a young adult in American society. Just one more disabled American, with a handicap. At various times he lived with his grandfather, his mother, and his friends, as he made his way in the world.

And even with this most daunting challenge of her lifetime, one that would best the very best of us, Catherine would have gladly lived this life, with pleasure, content, happy, even grateful for the honor to occasionally care for her only son, as he made his way. But this is just the beginning of a story.

The story really begins in June of 1995, during a period when Jacob was living on his own, with some unwise friends, who like most unwise friends, unwisely introduced him to recreational drugs, specifically cocaine. The effect that a highly effective stimulant has on someone who is already taking medication for paranoia can be even more addictive and intoxicating. Jacob was very soon hooked and in trouble.

Upon hearing about Jacob's addiction and drug abuse, and worse, that he had stopped taking his medications, Catherine ultimately decided to arrange to commit Jacob to a drug treatment center. So she called a local rehab center to arrange for her son to be placed in treatment, and then went to meet Jacob to tell him.

Jacob thinking he was meeting Mom just to say Hi, and if he was lucky he'd borrow another $20 from her, upon hearing what she wanted him to do, and commit him to drug treatment, became very angry, and as a result of the cocaine in his system, and not having taken his medication for several days, lost control, became irate and overly agitated, and that is when he picked up a rock and began to hit her on the head. The cut ultimately required 9 stitches.

Neighbors hearing Catherine cry out when Jacob struck her, and realizing the situation, naturally called the Police, and Jacob was quickly arrested for assaulting his mother. An understandable if unfortunate domestic disturbance by a family in crisis. At best.

The other conditions that somewhat explain Jacob's mental state in the academic moment in a person with Paranoid Schizophrenia, and a more than plausible reason for his outburst and sudden loss of temper and ultimately his control, was that a short time before meeting with his Mom, Jacob's father had passed away quite suddenly, due to a rapid and aggressive onset of liver cancer. That sadness aside, for someone like Jacob, on the edge, but add to it, Jacob's grandfather had also passed away as well, from colon cancer.

It is important, if not obvious to understand that losing his grandfather was especially hard for Jacob. Jacob had been very close to him, and had lived at his home during various times over the years. Being a US Army psychiatrist, Jacob's grandfather especially, understood Jacob and his condition better than anyone in the family.

At the hearing to decide what to do with Jacob and his attack on Catherine, the initial prosecutor and judge hearing all of the facts, recommended a reasonable 2-year sentence at Atascadero State Mental Hospital. Appropriate, and even necessary, given Jacob's condition.

But then, just before the sentence could be passed, the prosecutor became ill and was replaced by a new prosecutor, one with ambition, and an eagerness to boost his conviction record, regardless of whether the cases merited that or not.

This prosecutor wanted a more prestigious Attempted Murder conviction under his belt, and stopped at nothing, including threats, coercion, and lying, to get it. Using a subpoena and ignoring her police statement in which she had denied that she ever felt that Jacob was trying to kill her in the attack, the new prosecutor even went so far as to use his fiancée, who was a Victim's Advocate at the time, to coerce and convince Catherine, that if she agreed to testify that her son had in fact tried to kill her, the best treatment and facilities in the State would be made available to him.

Trusting the power and authority of a prosecutor, and not knowing that the Victim's Advocate was his fiancée, with the very life of her son in the balance, Catherine unknowingly and unwisely, made a very big mistake, and a deal with the devil-prosecutor, and agreed to testify as recommended, against her son.

Thus began Jacob's 6-year sentence to not the Atascadero State Mental Hospital, or better, or best, or as needed, or even as the initial prosecutor and judge had promised, but to the very gates of San Quentin no less! 

To put this in proper perspective, San Quentin is considered to be one of the most dangerous prisons in the country. The subject of numerous stark films and horrific folklore. The very cliche and industry standard of what Prison means. Sending a young man with a lifelong mental condition, un-medicated, in a state of panic, and fear, having just lost most of his family, confused, and upset and full of regret at how he could have lashed out so violently at his own mother, should make anyone reading this, stop. Short of breath.

To make things worse, Jacob's medical paperwork, which would have at least kept Jacob safely in the psychiatric ward of San Quentin, never made it with him to the prison, thus placing Jacob in the midst of the general population of the most violent criminals and deviants.

Jacob was almost immediately and precisely beaten, repeatedly raped, and forced to perform oral sex on the prisoners one after the other for days on end, with no help from the prison guards, some of whom even received bribes for pimping Jacob to other prisoners, who could (and would) pay.

When on one occasion, Jacob tried to defend himself, the guards considered that to be a violent act and Jacob was summarily shipped off to Pelican Bay. Incidentally, when you behave badly at the worst prison in the country, they send you to Pelican Bay, so you can really learn your lesson.

The rest of Jacob's sentence was spent the same, beatings, rape, day in and especially at night, and when he was administered any medication at all, it was experimental medication, and the treatment of his condition varied, testing bizarre theories and unproven techniques on a new guinea pig. Whenever Jacob tried to defend himself, he was always deemed at fault, and always placed in solitary confinement for extended periods, the longest being 524 days in a row. That is almost 2 years in solitary confinement.

When Jacob was eventually paroled in 2001, he was dumped unceremoniously outside now Soledad Prison gates, in the same flip flops and the prison one-piece jumpsuit that he had been issued upon his arrival, with $190 in his pocket.

The terms of his parole however, prohibited him from having any contact with Catherine, and so less than 48 hours after being paroled Jacob, unable to comprehend what parole even meant, was picked up for violating the very terms of his parole, landing him back in prison for another six months.

And so it continued, each time, being released and each time, ill-equipped and unable to process what living normally was anymore, Jacob was sent back to jail. Over and over again. To the same horror and hell reception.

The reason this happens, is that according to the system, a California parole officer actually gets bonus points for committing prisoners back to jail, and since they get more points for felonies over misdemeanors, the slightest violation by a parolee, is incentivized to be trumped up as a felony, which lands the parolee right back in jail again, and again, and again. You can see how this institutionalized corruption might work to keep career criminals of the street, but get caught into this whirlpool as an innocent and it quickly becomes Hades.

In 2004, Jacob fearing for his life after being re-incarcerated in the Marin County jail, during one of these trumped up felonies, decided he had simply had enough, and rather than spend one more sleepless night in terror, did what oddly enough, any sane person in his place would have done, and jumped from the second tier balcony in the prison ward, landing on his head, sustaining a sweetly massive head injury.

Jacob had attempted suicide many times before while in prison, however each time he had been saved by the guards and had been unsuccessful at ending his torment. This time too, he was saved, by the attending physician at the Marin County jail, however because of the severity of the injury to his skull and brain, he spent 8 months in the hospital, 9 days in a coma, 30 days in the intensive care unit.

Jacob had now lost the ability to walk, talk, or eat, and his mental condition had worsened from the surgery to repair the damage from his head injury, removing one third of his brain. Although Jacob had lost and lost and lost during his young but tortuously long life, he had now at least, at last, finally gained one priceless victory. Utter numbness.

Throughout his recovery, in full defiance of the court order forbidding her from seeing him, Catherine sat now patiently by his side and slowly and with the dedication and determination and optimistic fortitude that only a mother can summon and muster for her son, began their long process of reunification. Her own customized "rehab" program, if you will.

After he was finally released from Prison, and placed into a proper health facility, Catherine and Jacob continued fighting the Marin County Health system. Which audaciously and arrogantly dared without shame to cowardly fight them off and back, by refusing to release Jacob into the safer hands of Catherine. When they did provide any healthcare at all, it was often in the wrong dosages and combinations, with errors that were carefully screened and caught by a wary Catherine, and almost always too little, and of course too late.

Tactics of delaying and refusing to provide the necessary medications and care, caused Jacob's condition to worsen, and the very gates of heaven that were supposed to provide treatment to Jacob had become yet another twisted sentence, yet more false imprisonment.

This can only be defined as an almost patent and institutionalized denial of Jacob's human and civil rights by a process, an entire system stacked against the individual, a person that their very charter is defined to serve.

No one within the system wanted to acknowledge their case, or accept their version of the story, and in almost every example, the internal paperwork proving their case had been misplaced or lost entirely. Because if anyone in the system even came close to acknowledging even the slightest part of this humanitarian disaster, they would of course have had to inherit all of the responsibility for righting the many wrongs that had been done to Jacob since 1995.

In January of this year 2012, after a version of this story was presented to the other side. Catherine and Jacob were finally granted the release they had been seeking. They have now since relocated to another state, and are beginning the long hard road, not to recovery, but just to a life free of terror.

But none of this really matters. What's done is done, Jacob is at the end of this chapter of his life, confined to his wheelchair, missing a third of his brain, and most of his mind, unable to control what fate remains for him, just as he is unable to control his bladder.

Forget courtesy or common decency. For Jacob to be in his mother's care, so that he can live the rest of his life with the merest safety and security. To simply be granted the gift to place his head down to sleep one night, deep and in peace for once, a gift you and I take for granted without the slightest thought. This thing that you and I don't think about once, or ever in our lives.


In 2001 in a supermarket parking lot, the former fiancée, the "victim's advocate", of the prosecutor who mis-tried Jacob's case as attempted murder, happened to see Catherine, and ran up to her in tears, and began apologizing to her, exclaiming that she had not stopped thinking about Catherine and Jacob all these years, and spoke about how wrong it was, and how she had blamed herself all these years for what had been done to them.

"Men's wretchedness in soothe I so deplore,
Not even I would plague the sorry creatures more."
-Mephistopheles, Faust

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