No easy answers

Joining other mental health advocates in discussing stigma

Joining other mental health advocates in discussing stigma

In the wake of yet another senseless crime — this one, which struck close to home in Saco — there is a renewed debate about what to do with people who suffer from a mental illness.

Earlier this month, Connor MacCalister allegedly slit the throat of an unsuspecting grandmother, Wendy Boudreau, in a Shaw’s supermarket.

According to a story about the incident in the Portland Press Herald, “[h]orrific crimes like this, committed by individuals with profound mental illness, are rare in Maine, yet each time they occur, the same question arises: How could someone like that be out on the street, in a position to commit such a brutal crime?”

Though I consider myself a self-appointed advocate of mentally ill people, I struggle with the question because it hits home for me.

As mentioned several times throughout this blog, I suffer from a mental illness, with a range of diagnoses.

As of this writing, there are more than 67 reader comments on the Portland Press Herald story. Those comments run the gamut of reactions. Some say we need better access to outpatient mental health services. Others say mental illness is nothing more than a ploy to escape responsibility for a crime. Still others say, patients should be forced to take their medications, while others say we should go back in time and warehouse individuals with mental illness in institutions like AMHI (The Augusta Mental Health Institute).

Admittedly, it’s pretty damn hard to argue for the civil liberties of the mentally ill, especially in the wake of a horrific murder. Where are the advocates for Wendy Boudreau’s civil rights?

Ms. Boudreau’s only mistake was to go to a supermarket to buy ice cream. She had done nothing wrong other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Stigma on a slippery slope

On the other hand, we tread a slippery slope when we generalize mental illness.

For example, how exactly do we define a “profound” mental illness, as the Press Herald story did? How do we know in advance that a mentally ill person is going to commit such a heinous crime?

In fact, violent acts committed by people with serious mental illness comprise an exceptionally small proportion of the overall violent crime rate in the U.S.

Mentally ill persons are far more likely to be the victims of violence, not its perpetrators, according to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

In its March 2011 article, “Budgets Balanced at Expense of Mentally Ill,” the NASW newsletter also mentions a new report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that documents a nationwide decline in behavioral health care spending as a share of all health care spending, from 9.3 percent in 1986 to just 7.3 percent, or $135 billion out of $1.85 trillion, in 2005.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in five Americans suffers from some sort of mental illness. Of course, the statistics include depression, anxiety and treatable bipolar disorders. Put me in that category.

But what do we do with people who suffer from more extreme cases of these symptoms and other issues including paranoid-schizophrenia.

There have been times when I have been in that category, too.

Should the government force me to take medications? Should I be confined to the Riverview Psychiatric Institute?

Every day, I get up, take a shower, get dressed and go to work. Just like you.

I pay my taxes, enjoy the company of my friends and take care of my home and pets. Just like you.

I have been married to the love of my life for nearly 13 years. I successfully raised two stepsons. I give back and volunteer in my community. How do I do all that if I have a moderating mental illness?

First, I take a wide range of medications every day. Two, I see a therapist every two weeks; and third — perhaps most importantly — I have a support network of caring family members and friends, not to mention safe and stable housing.

These things are unfortunately out of reach for many people with a mental illness.

A broken system

I have relatively good and comprehensive health insurance, but even so it took me weeks to get connected to a psychiatrist after my last hospitalization, some two years ago. There is a profound lack of psychiatric beds in the state of Maine.

There are budget constraints to consider. Many mentally ill people — especially those with more profound illnesses — do not have access to premium health insurance. They live on the edge, relying on the minimum benefits of Medicaid (Maine Care). Still other insurance plans offer minimal coverage for mental health services, both for outpatient and inpatient care. For example many plans will pay for only 12 sessions of outpatient therapy (capped).

Supposedly, after three months, you are cured and ready to hit the streets.

Mental health providers do not choose their occupation to “get rich,” as suggested in the reader comments of the Press Herald Story. Social workers salaries are among the lowest of college-educated professionals. A manager of a fast-food restaurant typically makes more than a social worker.

Social workers do not choose their occupation as a way to get rich quick off the back of taxpayers.

Psychotropic medications are some of the most expensive on the market. Patient records are confidential, and sharing them between providers is a complex, burdensome task.

So what do we do? How do we fix a broken system?

Is it a matter of more money? Do we round up everyone we think might have a mental illness and lock them away? Do we criminally charge people for crimes they may commit in the future?

I do not know the answers to those questions. I do not know if Wendy Boudreau would still be alive today if we had better community-based mental health services. I do not know if her murder was preventable.

But I do know that Wendy Boudreau’s death was utterly senseless, and she did not deserve what happened to her on that hot August day in a supermarket.

 

 

 

#Black Lives Matter

Seattle Times photo

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: Seattle Times photo

I had a little bit of an epiphany yesterday during an especially long drive home.

To prevent road boredom, I was a listening to talk radio, and a news segment about the Black Lives Matter movement caught my attention.

Before we proceed, a bit of disclosure: I am a white, middle-aged man.

Up until yesterday, I generally had a reflexive, knee-jerk reaction to the synergy building in the Black Lives Matter campaign: I would generally mutter: “All lives matter,” and while I still believe that is intellectually true, what is so wrong with acknowledging that Black Lives do, in fact, matter?

I began wondering, can’t we say Black Lives Matter without assuming that it is an automatic dismissal of other lives, races or ethnic backgrounds?

Why can’t we simply acknowledge that Black Lives Matter without feeling defensive and the impulsive need to correct those who deliver that message?

Like most white people, I want to believe that racism in the United States is a topic best left for the history books. I generally ignore it, or once in a while give it a passing nod as a present day and legitimate problem. I wrote about my own battles with racism previously.

But how can we ignore the rising tensions in black communities without actually sticking our heads in the sand?

I know and expect that I am going to get push-back for this blog post, but before you respond I would ask you to consider the following analogy.

Close your eyes and imagine that you and I are close friends. I have just been through a painful ordeal, one in which justice and fairness evaded me.

I say to you, “My Life Matters.”

Do you feel compelled to say, “Well, my life matters, too. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

Or could you say, “Yeah, your life matters. I’m sorry you are going through a difficult time.”

I really think it’s okay to acknowledge someone’s pain, sorrow or grief without lecturing them about what a politically correct response should be.

It is 2015, why is not okay for some people to hear the phrase that Black Lives Matter?

Why does that make so many people uncomfortable? No one is saying that white lives do not matter or that Hispanic lives do not matter.

A growing number of people in America are standing up, acknowledging reality and asserting that Black Lives Matter.

And they do.

#BlackLivesMatter

 

 

The Island of Misfit Toys

Me and Alan Casavant in 2011

Me and Alan Casavant in 2011

It’s not even Labor Day. Sweet Jesus take me now.

Already the political machinations are beginning in Biddeford, a city that treats their biennial municipal elections like the Super Bowl.

It’s not like this in the neighboring city of Saco, but on the south side of the river — local politics is a blood sport that rivals rugby or a Stanley Cup playoff game.

I should not complain. For years, I have been a season-ticket holder to these gladiator games. From time to time, I have even wandered onto the field, working as defensive coordinator for various candidates.

In 2008, for example, I was hired professionally to help defeat a referendum that would have closed the airport. The result? 86 percent of voters went our way.

Three years later, someone called me and asked if I could head up Alan Casavant’s effort to oust former mayor Joanne Twomey from office. I agreed to help, and we won that campaign with 68 percent of the vote. Not too shabby, especially since we were taking on a two-term incumbent.

Two years later, in 2013, Casavant once again asked for my help in his campaign. We won. By big numbers. Again.

I am a political junkie and a professional communications consultant. It’s fantastic when your hobby and your occupation collide. I was hired in 2012 by Casella Waste Systems to help ensure a successful city council vote that would ensure the MERC trash incinerator was no longer a part of the city’s skyline. The result? The Biddeford City Council voted 8-1 to purchase the MERC property and begin a new curbside recycling program.

Three years later, a private developer is undertaking a $50 million redevelopment of a property that abuts the former incinerator’s parcel. That investment would never have happened if MERC were still there.

In addition to those campaigns, I worked professionally on the Oxford Casino campaign. The result? Oxford became the first casino in Maine, despite many failed attempts by others in previous years.

Last year, I worked to help preserve Maine’s traditional bear hunting practices. We won.

But when you work on campaigns, you don’t always win.

In 2008, I was subcontracted by the Hillary Clinton campaign in an effort to sway Maine’s super delegates. By then, Senator Barack Obama had too much momentum heading into the nomination.

But there was an upside to working on the Clinton campaign. I got to be part of a conference call with Harold M. Ickes, a legend in campaign circles. There I was sitting on a bench swing in my backyard, listening to Ickes talk about strategy. It was a memorable moment and a highlight of my career.

me and cas 1

Alan Casavant helps me celebrate my 50th birthday last year

With that bit of disclosure out of the way, allow me to finally get to the point of this blog post.

Alan Casavant and I are friends. Friends.

The Karl Rove of Biddeford?

Apparently, some people in Biddeford have delusions of grandeur. They think a run for the mayor’s seat is the equivalent of running for president.

Over the last few days, there has been much speculation that Alan Casavant is little more than my puppet; that I am somehow the man behind the curtain, keeping the residents of Oz in line.

These people are generally rabidly opposed to Casavant winning a third term. Somehow, they think that linking me to Casavant will further ensure his defeat in November.

Some of these malcontents from the Island of Misfit Toys think that when Alan Casavant farts it’s because Randy Seaver ate beans.

On social media, they keep a steady drumbeat, raising questions about Casavant’s recent press releases about a serious and troubling problem in the city.

“This has all the hallmarks of Randy Seaver’s political spin,” wrote Ryan Gavin on Casavant’s Facebook page, when the mayor announced that he had written a letter to the United States Attorney General.

Joshua Bodwell complained to the mayor that it seemed as if it is actually me who is writing Casavant’s press releases.

What Joanne Twomey thinks of me

What Joanne Twomey thinks of me

And Brian Keely has routinely blogged that I am essentially Casavant’s attack dog. Christ, even Joanne Twomey described me as “the devil.”

Note: If Joanne Twomey ever calls you the devil, you know you’re doing something right.

So let’s set the record straight. I am not helping Alan Casavant with his campaign. I am also not writing his press releases or shooting his videos. With the exception of suggesting which tie he should wear, I am not providing him any strategic advice.

Alan Casavant has close to 4,000 friends on Facebook, any one of them may or may not be giving him advice. How to hell do you get 4,000 Facebook friends? Must be a popular guy.

It’s easy to understand why the malcontents and some others from the Island of Misfit Toys would think that I am helping Casavant. I have helped him before, but I am not helping him now.

Why?

1.) I am far too busy at work to devote any time to the tedium of Biddeford’s political struggles. Today my clients stretch from the Bangor area all the way to Sierra Vista, Arizona.

2.) Casavant can’t afford to pay my billable rate, so my primary focus must remain on clients who pay me.

3.) I have some fairly serious health concerns that render me pretty much useless after 8:30 p.m. (more about that in a moment)

4.) I am enjoying a new-found and civil relationship with Matt Lauzon, the man at the center of troubling sex abuse allegations in Biddeford. Both Matt and I have gone through a lot in the last few months and it was simply too stressful to think about getting back into Biddeford’s political theater as anything other than a spectator.

I will most likely vote for Casavant in November. I will let him put a sign on my lawn. I will cheer him on from the sidelines, but I cannot afford (financially, physically or mentally) to be any more involved in his campaign. That is the God’s honest truth.

A true story

In closing, I’d like to tell you a quick story about Alan Casavant.

This story, I think, sums up Alan’s character, integrity and his loyalty to his friends.

Sometimes, just before bedtime, I become confused and disoriented. It usually means I need to take my medications and get to bed. But on this particular cold October night I wandered from my home. Laura was fast asleep. She did not know that I had wandered off.

I became increasingly confused, and I found myself near some woods and on the verge of tears. I was lost and frightened. Fortunately, I had my cell phone. I managed to punch the contacts list and hit the first number. It was Alan Casavant’s cell phone, but I did not know it.

He was already in bed. I told him I was lost and confused. He got up, got dressed, jumped in his car and went looking for me. I was only a 1/4 mile from my home, and he found me rather quickly near the intersection of May and South streets.

He brought me home and came inside to make sure Laura knew what was happening.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call friendship.

In a few weeks, Laura and I are planning to join Alan and his wife, Patti, for dinner in Portland. If I give him any advice, it will be written on a napkin and passed under the table.

Biddeford deserves better

DowntownBiddefordAs most readers of this blog know, the city of Biddeford has been undergoing some turmoil during the last few months. This turmoil was triggered when Matt Lauzon, a former Biddeford resident, brought forth allegations of sexual abuse against a former Biddeford police officer.

In the weeks that followed, more allegations were leveled against the same officer and against another former officer.

The demand for justice was swift and far-reaching.

While every resident of Biddeford wants justice, there are mixed feelings about how best to achieve that justice.

As I said in an earlier blog post, Mr. Lauzon and I had some fundamentally different ideas about how best to pursue justice. Things got quickly out of hand, and social media was set ablaze with vitriol.

I am proud to announce that Mr. Lauzon has recognized this behavior needs to stop immediately.

Earlier today, he posted a personal letter to me, and I responded in kind. That exchange can be found below, and I think it speaks highly of him to offer an olive branch to end a bitter dispute that dragged my wife’s name and her professional reputation through the mud.

As I admitted earlier, I lost my temper when engaging with Mr. Lauzon. I am not proud of that fact, but I was beyond frustrated.

In the end, it is far more likely than not that Mr. Lauzon was the victim of a horrific, unspeakable crime. There is absolutely no question that he and the others who were abused deserve nothing less than the full weight of justice.

I am proud of Mr. Lauzon for changing his tack, and I plan to follow his example and abide by the truce we established. Because the great city of Biddeford deserves nothing less, and the pursuit of justice cannot afford the distraction.

Mr. Lauzon’s open letter to me (Posted on the I Love Biddeford Facebook page)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/879463142148199/

August 11, 2015

Dear Randy,

I recognize you’ve asked me not to contact you but I feel I need to if this City’s future is going to be as bright as we both hope. In short, I see you continue to post about me and admittedly I’ve continued to post about both you and Laura. I don’t believe we will ever be friends, but I do believe that we both have the capability to stop speaking negatively about the other in the best interest of the City. I’m in no way saying this situation is your fault, we both have contributed to it. I think you can appreciate my battle with PTSD and I truly admire the way you’ve overcome your mental health issues. I believe we both are easily triggered and I personally would love to stop the cycle of triggering each other.

What I propose is the following two options:

1. We agree mutually that we will stop this ongoing behavior and hopefully set a tone that inspires others to do the same.

2. We put all the facts on the table so there’s no room for misinformation in either direction. My goal would be that any debate we’d end up having in the future would be rooted entirely in facts.

I hope this letter is well received. I care deeply about Biddeford and I do think we have the ability to set a good tone moving ahead. We don’t need to be friends, but we can end the cycle we’re in that ultimately is benefitting no one.

Respectfully,

Matt

https://www.facebook.com/groups/879463142148199/permalink/902994366461743/

My response posted on the same page

Matt: I truly appreciate your letter. I know you are going through a lot, and I share your hope and desire that justice can be served. I like Option 1. I believe it is the most expedient and best way to move forward. I admittedly have lost my temper when my wife and family have been repeatedly attacked, (not just by you, but by a minority of those who support your pursuit of justice.) So long as my wife is left out of further discussions by you, I have no reason to reply. I think anyone would want to rigorously defend their spouse; and both Laura and I hope that you get the justice you so rightly deserve and that the name-calling (on both sides) can immediately end. You have our best wishes, just as much as we both expressed to you earlier this year. I agree wholeheartedly with you that Biddeford is a great community and deserves nothing less than our personal best. Best of luck to you and yours.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/879463142148199/permalink/902994366461743/?comment_id=903066593121187&offset=0&total_comments=12&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R5%22%7D

When love comes to town

Daniel Parenteau

Daniel Parenteau

And, they’re off!

The 2015 municipal election season in Biddeford has started with a bang, according to this story from the Portland Press Herald.

As someone who has worked professionally on local, statewide and federal campaigns over the last several years, I find all of this somewhat fascinating.

I have been covering Biddeford’s political landscape for nearly two decades, both as former newspaper editor and now as a blogger. I have witnessed more political maneuvering on this side of the Saco River than you can imagine.

But this year’s races are a bit different. There is a groundswell of opinion that says Biddeford needs a clean sweep, from the mayor’s seat all the way down to ward clerks and wardens.

So, because I am a political junkie and a Biddeford native, you can expect me to be keeping a close eye on the developments of these races between now and Election Day.

Today, we start with the race for the mayor’s seat, where two-term incumbent Alan Casavant is facing potential challenges from at least three candidates, including Daniel Parenteau, a self-employed consultant.

As I pointed out previously, this is not Parenteau’s first bid for political office.

Two years ago, Parenteau was one of six candidates for the city’s two at-large city council seats.

He finished in last place with 805 votes, despite support he received from Casavant.

To kick off his campaign, Parenteau has followed Casavant’s lead by creating a Facebook page.

But Parenteau has also gone a step further, deploying a campaign tactic that we generally see reserved for larger-scale campaigns, such as Congressional races.

According to his Facebook page, Parenteau will be conducting a “working tour” of the city. He will spend a few hours every week, working for free at a locally-owned business as a way to connect with voters.

On Friday, Parenteau was stocking shelves at Ray’s Market on the western side of the city.

This, to my knowledge, is a first in Biddeford campaigns.

Parenteau, who talks a lot about being innovative and connected to every day citizens, is putting those ideas into action. His campaign is being innovative, and he is connecting to people at the grassroots level.

It’s a brilliant strategy that positions him as a “man of the people.”

In his last two campaigns, Mayor Casavant used campaign events to collect food for local food pantries. At the time, it was a well-received move that showed Casavant understood the needs of the people.

Today, Casavant’s detractors paint him as a man who is “out of touch with the community.

Speaking of Casavant, the mayor has yet to take out nomination papers, leading some to question whether he will actually seek a third term.

It’s still very early in the process, and most voters — other than the political junkies and those with an axe to grind — will not begin paying too much attention to any of the campaigns until after Labor Day….summer in Maine is just too short.

But one thing is for sure, it’s going to be an interesting political season Biddeford.

 

 

 

Bang and blame

Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood

Like most everyone else in the free world, I have finally finished the third season of House of Cards, a Netflix original series.

And like most other House of Cards fans, I have been consistently intrigued with Francis Underwood, a ruthless politician played by Kevin Spacey.

As Season Three begins to unfold, President Underwood hires a writer to help promote a new jobs program. The writer accompanies President Underwood to his childhood home of Gaffney, South Carolina. There, the president provides a tour of his hometown, including his family’s “farm,” a failed enterprise that went bankrupt because there was only a thin layer of soil covering deep bedrock.

Underwood explains the farm’s failure this way: hard work is sometimes not enough if you have nothing to work with.

From my own perspective, I have always doubled-down on the notion that success is achieved primarily by hard work. This mantra was driven into the soft-tissue of my brain since before I can remember. It is, after all, a family trait.

Don’t get me wrong.

Hard work is a virtue, but that one scene at the Underwood’s failed peach tree farm— out of 39 episodes — made me re-examine the Puritan values that course through my veins.

Even the losers, get lucky sometimes

Growing up, the game of Monopoly was one of my favorite games. I was an impulsive child, so at every opportunity I bought every property I could, resulting in depleted cash reserves and forcing me to mortgage the properties in order to pay my debts.

monopoly_originalOf course, while my properties were mortgaged they produced no revenue. Inevitably, I would go bankrupt, watching as my parents and sister finished the game without me.

But over time, I became more savvy. I was more judicious in my selection of properties. I focused on the utilities and railroads. I avoided properties that were beyond my means (Boardwalk and Park Place).

I kept no less than 50 percent cash reserves, and put houses and hotels on inexpensive properties such as Oriental and Baltic. The odds of another player landing on these properties was much higher than landing on Boardwalk. Thus, I had a nice revenue stream and owned properties on all sides of the board.

Playing Monopoly is a learning curve, but there is no mistake that winning at Monopoly is also driven by “chance” and luck.

Even at the beginning of the game, the players roll dice to determine who moves first.

One roll of the dice can provide a distinct advantage, but there are always things beyond our control: being forced into jail because of an unlucky roll of the dice, for example.

The game of Monopoly has been criticized as propaganda of greed, the worst trait of capitalism.

But it is also an exceptional learning tool that reinforces the harsh reality of life. No matter how smartly you play, there are always things you cannot control. And even at birth, it is a roll of the dice that can give you an advantage over the other players.

Sometimes hard work is not enough.

We should remember that lesson when judging the other players.

 

The Doctor is In

It’s only July, but it looks like it could be a crowded field in November with several potential candidates jousting for the mayor’s seat in Biddeford.

Mayor Alan Casavant announced in April that he would seek a third two-year term.

A few weeks before Casavant’s announcement, Perry Aberele made a statement to a Boston Globe reporter that he would be seeking the seat; and today Dr. Daniel Parenteau, PhD., announced that he will also seek to oust Casavant in November.

Parenteau told the Portland Press Herald he is running because of his concerns about the “trajectory of the city,” saying city hall politics have been stalled by sexual abuse allegations and unsettled contracts with union employees.

Daniel Parenteau

Daniel Parenteau

This is not Parenteau’s first bid for public office.

Two years ago, Parenteau was one of six candidates for the city’s two at-large city council seats. He finished in last place with 805 votes, despite support he received from Casavant.

Only a few weeks after losing his bid, Parenteau was appointed by Casavant to chair a newly-formed Efficiency Committee. (Disclosure: I was also appointed to that committee.)

The “Efficiency” Committee met only three times and never forwarded any recommendations to the city council.

Parenteau is a life-long resident of Biddeford and regularly posts on his blog: Letters to Myself.

Mayor Alan Casavant

Mayor Alan Casavant

As for Aberle, this is not the first time he has considered running for mayor. Aberle finished third in a three-way race for the seat in 2013 with 720 votes, compared to Casavant’s commanding lead of 2,377 votes and 1,043 votes for Joanne Twomey.

(According to the Biddeford City Clerk’s Office, write-in candidate Karl Reed, Jr., received four votes)

Twomey, who served two terms as the city’s mayor before being ousted by Casavant in 2011, has reportedly told her supporters that she will not seek the seat this year.

Another potential candidate is former City Councilor Roch Angers, who organized a citizens meeting earlier this month to hear concerns about sexual abuse allegations that have been leveled against two former police officers.

roch

Roch Angers

During a telephone conversation a few weeks ago, Angers skillfully dodged my question regarding rumors that he might be seeking a seat.

Although Angers, who lost his own bid for an at-large council seat in 2013, was direct in telling me that he is still upset with Casavant for supporting Parenteau in that race, he declined to say whether he would consider another bid for office. “It’s not something I want to talk about at this time,” he said.

George “Pete” Lamontagne, another former city councilor, quelled rumors that he might seek the seat, responding to friends and supporters on Facebook that he is happily retired after many years of faithful public service.

Casavant has won his past two elections with strong numbers, but he will be challenged in this cycle by several factors, including the recent budget, stalled labor contracts and the allegations of sexual abuse.

Although the mayor has no vote on the budget or the contract negotiations, voters will likely hold him responsible either way.

Regarding the sexual abuse allegations, Casavant has said the city is cooperating and complying with the Maine Attorney General’s Office as that agency continues to conduct its investigation of the allegations.

Nomination papers for mayor, city council and school committee will be available from the City Clerk’s office on August 3.