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Ready or not, here they come

(Acroterion / via WikiCommons)

John J. Lennon is serving a sentence for murder at New York’s Sing Sing prison. And while he awaits his possible release 11 years from now, he’s been writing articles, most recently for Esquire, about the mentally ill prisoners he’s come to know.

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One of them is Andrew Goldstein.

“This guy is like oozing schizophrenia,” Lennon explained to me over the phone.

Despite his history of violence, New York’s mental health system kept sending Goldstein back onto the streets, until one afternoon, 20 years ago he pushed a young woman at random from a Manhattan subway platform as the train arrived.

Now his sentence is about up, and Mr. Lennon is on the unit prepping Goldstein for release.

“Society wanted punishment. Well, that’s what you got. He’ll be getting out in September. Hopefully he’ll be OK.

“I think the larger point is that this man has been tormented for 20 years. He shuffles in his cell with burnt fingertips because he smokes cigarettes down to his thumbnail. He has holes in his sneakers that are issued by the state and he’s filthy. That’s who’s going to be shuffling out of the prison in a couple months.”

Right now in this country, there are 400,000 prison inmates with a psychiatric diagnosis.

John J. Lennon’s message as he spoke to me on the phone from Sing Sing, as someone who’s been locked up with people like Goldstein for 16 years, is simple: Get serious about mental health treatment because prison is not a cure. And ready or not, here they come.

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