I recently came across a blog that’s really affected me strongly — Real Estate Savant …. Justice for Marcus, a Brain Injured Young Man With Aphasia. — which talks about the experiences of a young man named Marcus who sustained a brain injury when younger, and is now in prison serving time for a crime he was not responsible for. I highly recommend reading it, as it shows the extremes to which life can go, when you have a brain injury… and others take advantage of you.
It makes my blood boil, when I think about it. So, to keep cool and not get thrown off for my entire day, I have to admit I’m trying to not think about it too much. Or at least try to think about it from a larger view.
People are people, and people who think they are weak, or who are lazy, or who are just plain bad, tend to take advantage of others — and when someone who is particularly vulnerable (like with TBI) comes along, then it’s payday!
And that’s wrong in so many ways. Yet when I think about it, this happens in countless other ways with people who are not brain-injured. Advertisers and marketers take advantage of our personal vulnerabilities. Whole multi-billion dollar industries thrive, thanks to people worrying that they are too fat, too thin, too scrawny, too bald, too hairy, too… whatever. If I could invent a product that would convince people they’ve solved one of the core things about themselves that makes them feel like a reject and a loser, that makes them believe they are not worthy to be loved, I’d be rich as Bill Gates. I can’t say that I’d be as happy as I am now… but then again, maybe I would 😉
Anyway, Marcus’es story just brings home to me how important it is for those of us with brain injuries to care for ourselves as best we can — and to seek out support from others who can help us. It’s also pretty clear to me that when it comes to dealing with the criminal justice system, knowledge and understanding of TBI (and a host of other cognitive/behavioral and mental conditions) is sorely lacking. And people get put in jail for all sorts of things – some of which they did not do, but couldn’t adequately defend themselves.
If we rely on the lawyers to save us… well, God help us. Some people close to me went through many years of hell because the high-priced lawyer they hired to solve a terrible family problem with the law, changed their tune from Yes, absolutely, I can keep your child from being convicted to No, your child is going to do time, after all.
It’s just crazy. Lawyers will tell you whatever they need to say to get the work and their fees, apparently. But the way the law works, it’s all too easy for them to use that as an excuse for poor performance. (Can you tell I’m not a fan of lawyers — especially brain injury lawyers?)
So, what do we do? How can we protect ourselves? It’s a hard one, and I don’t know the answer to it. The one thing I do know, is that when it comes to professionals and authorities, the very human people in those very difficult positions are all too often some of the most vulnerable people in the room. And if they are not comfortable with their vulnerability, they can and will and do make decisions and take actions and effect changes which can ruin the lives of others.
As far as I’m concerned, anyone who with the power of a lawyer, a judge, a doctor, a therapist, a prison guard, a nurse, an accountant, an insurance company executive/account manager, who might encounter someone with a brain injury should absolutely be required to have a working knowledge of the effects that brain injury can have on an individual. They should not be allowed to graduate, get licensed, or keep their professional status, unless they can exhibit at least a rudimentary familiarity with the effects of brain injury on cognition, behavior, actions — the whole person — and be capable of understanding what more highly trained brain injury experts may tell them at trial, at continuing education seminars, and in their respective literature.
Of course, before we get there, we have to have a commonly agreed upon understanding of the effects of brain injury on cognition, behavior, actions — the whole person — but we’re a ways off from having that. And before we get there, we have to have a broader social understanding of what brain injury can and does do to an individual.
And I think we’re a ways away from being there.
Still and all, I do believe that the attention that’s being paid to sports concussions (both professional sports and youth sports), as well as traumatic brain injuries leading to Emergency Department visits, will prove helpful. People are becoming more and more aware, and that’s good. We also need to extend the awareness of the problems with concussion and brain injury past the acute stage of They’re hurt – oh my God and get to Now that they’re hurt what do we do… and then on to We know they were hurt, so what does that mean for how they think, behave, make choices?… and then on to They’ve done/said/chosen this… how can we help them do/say/choose differently next time?
Like I said, we’re probably a ways away from going down that road as a whole society. We still love to punish, regardless of “guilt”, and there’s nothing like a stiff sentence to make a wronged party feel at least party vindicated. But on an individual level, I think we can do some of this — we just have to slow down enough, start paying attention enough, and be level-headed enough to see past the initial shock of “abnormality” that can come from TBI-affected thoughts, words, and deeds, and get smarter about how to respond.
I’m not sure what will help Marcus. I’m not sure what could be done to clear his name and/or get him out of prison. But I do know that he’s sure as hell not the only one this happens to, and I do know that he’s not alone. He probably feels like he is, he probably looks like he is, but as long as someone is in his corner, thinking about him and rooting for him and even praying for him, that’s at least something. Of course, that’s cold comfort when you’re behind bars, but that’s about the best I have to offer for right now.
Well, the day is waiting. Time to get moving. And time to be grateful for what I’ve got. ‘Cause I know for sure it could all go away all too easily — and all too quickly.