FAILURES OF OUR MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEMS IN BLACK AMERICA
Our mental health system is flawed. Dollan Cumming's story is like so many others out there. It is one that should never have happened and could have been prevented if we only had functioning mental health system and responders.
On November 10, 2018, Dollan experienced a severe mental health crisis. It started with him running downstairs to his mom, crying, and not being able to breathe. She kept asking him what was wrong, but he couldn't form the words to tell her what was happening, how it felt inside. Instead, he grabbed a kitchen knife and started cutting himself over and over again.
His grandmother heard the commotion and came into the room to see all the blood on the floor. His grandma grabbed on to his arm to try to stop the bleeding as his mom called 911. Dollan held on to his grandmother's arm in turn, shaking. "Hold on to me, hold on to my hand, hold onto my hand, it's going to be okay." She told him. "The ambulance is coming."
But with the ambulance came the police.
Dollan’s mom went outside. The police called inside to him, "Come outside with your hands up! Put your hands behind your back." He went outside with his hands up, shaking. They put him in handcuffs. Dollan remembers telling the cop, "Look, you all can just kill me right now. I promise that CNN won't do a report on you guys. Shoot me, please, just shoot me."
The policeman changed his tone suddenly, realizing he was suicidal at that point. He said, "Hey, man, what's wrong? What's wrong? We're going to get you some help." The policeman put him in the police car and went inside to talk to his grandma and mom, then came back out. "We're going to transport you to the hospital." They moved him to the ambulance, still handcuffed. At the hospital, several more officers escorted him inside. Nurses met Dollan and the officers and they all went into a back room where one of the officers handcuffed him to the bed. He was handcuffed to the bed for about 6 minutes until a nurse came back in and told the officer to uncuff him. "Hey, you have to unhook him. He has to change into his hospital clothes."
The officer says to the nurse, "I'm sorry! I'll unhook him." They unhandcuffed him.
They give him his privacy to get dressed.
The nurse came back in, but no police do; they've all disappeared. As the male nurse bandaged him up, he asked, "Is there a police hold on me?"
"No," the nurse answered, "why would you think that?"
"Can you please call them to be sure?" Dollan asked.
The nurse called the police department. "Is there a police hold on Mr. Dollan Cummings?"
"No," they said, "we just transported him to the hospital to make sure he was okay."
The nurse told Dollan that, and he felt the anxiety from that leave his body.
"But you do need to call the mental health facility across town," he handed Dollan the phone, "call them and ask them if they have a bed available."
He called them and they did have one bed available. But they told him adamantly, "You have to take a cab here!"
"I don't have any money," he told them.
"Oh," they responded, "then you can have someone bring you."
He had smashed his phone earlier at home during his mental health crisis, so he didn't have any way of contacting his mom or grandma.
The hospital released him.
With another failure of the mental health system, the hospital released him. He had to walk home from the hospital. After his breakdown he didn't receive any treatment at all, they just realized me.
He started walking down the Constitutional Trail, a trail that leads right by his house. It was bitterly cold. He only wore the red pajama pants, a white t-shirt, a black thin coat, and some black sandals. On his feet he wore hospital socks. The socks he wore to the hospital he wore as gloves to keep his hands warm. He wore his jacket up around his head to block the cold and wind.
He got back home and waited for about an hour. His mom came back home and asked, "Dollan, why are you here?"
"They released me. I just walked home." He answered
"You just walked home?" she asked him. She was just livid at this point. "Come inside. We're going to get you some help."
He went to sleep that night.
The next morning his mom came into his room early and said, "Let's go to the place and get you some help. Take a shower and get dressed."
While he was in the shower, the city government called his mom. After he got dressed and put on his hoodie, his mom came into his room, crying uncontrollably. She told him that the police were coming back to take him to jail because they saw him holding his grandma's arm.
The police were already downstairs. The officer said, "I'm sorry, Dollan. My boss says that I have to take you to jail." Dollan put his hands up and said, "I understand. You're just doing your job officer." But inside he felt numb.
He puts on the handcuffs and says, "It's kind of like a handshake." But he hears and feels the cuffs go on. Dollan is nervous because he’s never been to jail, this was his first time.
His mom and grandma were upset. His mom said to the officer, "You're just retraumatizing him. Why are you back? To arrest him, there's no prior warrant and he needs to get the mental health treatment that he needs."
The officer put him in the front seat of the cop car, which felt weird. He saw the chain that Dollan is wearing and he says, "Oh, you're a musician?"
"Yes," he answered, still scared to death. The officer talked to him about baseball, trying to be cool and help ease his mind.
Then the officer said, "You know you're going to be here for three days right?" He nodded.
Dollan remembers thinking to himself, "Dollan don't be weak. You can't be weak when you get to the jail cell. You can't let the other inmates see you like this."
They pull up to the garage of the police station.
The guard meets him at the gate notices Dollan has on an Eagles hat and asks him, "Are you an Eagles fan?"
He responded, "Yes."
The guard teased, "The Eagles suck!"
Dollan replied, "You’re just mad because we won the SuperBowl."
The guard was trying to break the ice and make the environment comfortable. "Well, I have to take off your hat," the guard said apologetically. The guard took off the hat, took his mug shot, and took pictures of his tattoos. He reiterated what the other officer had said, "You know you're going to be here for three days, right?"
He responded, “Yes.”
At that point, a female guard came in and said, "He has court."
This was on a Sunday. Dollan was nervous. He had never been to court. The guard took him to a bathroom in a backroom and strip-searched him. It retraumatized Dollan after all he had already been through.
The guard said, "You have to eat," and gave him a container of orange syrup because they had to get to court. It was the worst stuff Dollan had ever eaten in his life.
Dollan kept telling himself not to show weakness because as he walked to court there were so many other inmates around him. He knew if he did, the other inmates would get him later.
He sat down next to all the other inmates and one asked him, "You look like you're new here. You seem like a good person. What are you doing up in here?"
"I'm in here for assault," he answered, repeating what one of the officers said to him.
The other inmate responded, "You're going to be all right! You're going to get out."
Dollan went to court.
Because his grandmother was 68, they raised the assault charge to a felony. Back out in the hall and the inmate from before asked, "What did they tell you?"
"I got a felony," Dollan answered.
"WHAT?" the inmate couldn’t believe it.
“My life is over. I've got a felony now." Dollan remembered saying. A female guard said to him, "Honey, your life ain't over. It ain't over."
They put him in protective custody because the police told the jailers that he was a suicide risk. The guards threw him in a cell with two other guys. Thankfully, they were chill and didn't have any problems with other inmates.
He was called out again and fingerprinted. As he was being fingerprinted, his mom came into the jail cell. She seemed disgusted because she doesn't want to see her son in a jail cell just for having a mental breakdown.
They told her that he couldn't be around his grandma and mom. His mom bailed him out of jail for $400, but the police told him that he wasn't allowed to go back on his property. He had to be back in court in two weeks, so he had to stay in a hotel room by himself. With his mental health problems.
His mom found a lawyer for him.
The lawyer was surprised they had stuck him with a felony. "If you can get character letters, we can try to get this dropped back down to a misdemeanor."
During this time, his grandmother was worried about him being by himself during his mental health crisis. His mom was running back and forth from her job to home to taking care of him, going through stress herself.
He went back to court. Seeing the character letters, the judge said, "Mr. Cummings, we are going to sentence you to two years of court supervision." It was going to be probation, but with the character letters, they lessened the sentence.
Dollan Cummings is currently serving those two years of court supervision. He deals with PTSD from this whole ordeal. He tells his story not to bash the police, the city government, or anything else, but to share with the world the problem with the mental health system and its failures in Black America.
Dollan and his mom are calling for one thing: doing better with the mental health system.
We need to do better when it comes to how we handle mental health. We need to have specialized people who respond to mental health crises, not simply send police there. This shows the need for better preparation and we need to do better.
As Dollan's mom said: "A mental health crisis doesn't warrant a legal charge. What that person does need is treatment. We need a mental health triage, not having to wait 12 hours for someone to come in and ask you questions.
This is an example of how as a society we need to do better when it comes to our mental health system. We need to do this starting with law enforcement. When the police are sent to a non-violent situation involving mental health, it does nothing but traumatize or retraumatize the person experiencing the breakdown.”
Dollan's story is similar to so many stories out there. Let's stop this. It's time to call for a better mental health system and crisis responders. Let's call for actual mental health triage and treatment. Let's call for doing better.
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