By Max R. Weller
I’ve never told this story before to anyone, except a mental health counselor. It may have some value for others who are facing clinical depression, a mental illness poorly understood by the general public. Not wanting to wallow in misery, I offer this abridged version of my second experience with suicidal ideation (defined here as making a plan to end one’s life AND obtaining the means necessary to do so).
I’ve already written about my time in an Ozarks evangelical cult, which is the “prison aftercare” program I was released to when paroled from Missouri DOC in December of 2003. (See the Page above).
That didn’t work out, and I found my way to Springfield, MO in February of 2004. I spent a couple of nights in a motel near the Greyhound station on the north side of town, then I walked several miles to the Salvation Army Harbor House for men, located near downtown. This is also a program which accepts parolees, so long as they aren’t either sex offenders or arsonists. I was in luck when I arrived, because there was a vacancy. My parole officer back in Cuba, MO transferred my case to the Springfield, MO office — after admonishing me only slightly for making the move to a new city without his approval. He knew what I’d been through in the Ozarks cult.
There were about 30 men in this new (for me) program, also evangelical in teaching but not on the lunatic fringe like Rick Mathes’ cult. I got along well with the other guys and with the staff, too. Except for the head cheese, who was a Salvation Army Envoy, all of the staff members had been through at least 6 months in Harbor House as clients before being offered a paid position. One was not permitted to leave the premises for the first 30 days after being accepted into the program, other than to attend church services with other clients at the main Salvation Army facility in Springfield on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, or to visit the public library a couple of blocks away (with supervision). I made it through this period of “probation” without a hitch. Of course, it was a sober-only program and the Breathalyzer was employed, until staff was satisfied that you could be trusted in that regard.
Everyone had an assigned chore daily, and the clients were the ones who did all of the work to keep the place clean. One client had the skills necessary to be a general maintenance man, so that’s what he did. I was humbled to be given the morning job of cleaning the staff shower/toilet, and I didn’t mind it at all; I did such a good job compared to my predecessors, that staff kept me on in that capacity rather than letting me swap chores after a period of time as other clients did. Each of us also took turns helping serve the lunch offered by Harbor House to any poor and homeless people who showed up at noon, usually thirty or more.
My new parole officer was Alison Sayer. Her name is burned into my memory, because she came straight from Hell — but more on that in a bit.
As soon as I could, I went out into the community to find a volunteer position as a GED tutor, which was the job I held in Missouri DOC for top pay of $30/month. Ozarks Technical Community College was running a GED program at several locations, including the Missouri Hotel, which was a homeless shelter for women and families on Commercial St. — Springfield, MO’s version of Skid Row. They were happy to have me come on board, and I started immediately before even going through the tutor training offered by OTC. The GED Program Director at OTC was a very kind lady, who seemed fascinated by my status as a convicted felon, but never held it against me. I was at the Missouri Hotel every Monday through Friday, in the mornings from 8 until 10AM or later. I enjoyed working with the GED students there just as much as I had in prison, maybe more because they were attractive young ladies.
Part of the Harbor House routine was Bible study, naturally. I wasn’t too impressed by anyone teaching the classes, because Envoy Jim Snell had no seminary training and none of the other staff had any education beyond high school. (In fact, the right-hand man to Envoy Snell was a high school dropout and former meth addict from St. Louis, who had never gotten around to getting his GED). I thought it wise to smile and nod my head a lot, rather than ask probing questions. One plus on the religious side was the monthly visits we received from a “praise and worship” band from the Assembly of God, which had a congregation of well over 1,000 members and was in the process of establishing a second church site. I met a remarkable young woman I still remember fondly, Jamie, who was a singer in the group (along with her fraternal twin sister).
As months passed, and I became a senior client, I was given some supervisory duties over newer program participants. I was a “chore checker” and it was my resposibility to make certain that various tasks were done correctly and on time. For a brief period, we had a “Council” of senior clients including me, which was sort of an advisory panel in matters of discipline. I’ve always regretted my role in that; during the 7 months I stayed at Harbor House there were probably 70 men booted out of the program, in most cases because of personality conflicts with the Envoy’s right-hand man, who was a real jerk.
I took the initiative to seek psychotherapy at a local private clinic and teaching institution, and my two counselors there were Ph.D. candidates and attractive ladies. Sessions were only $7 on their sliding scale, and I earned a few bucks doing day labor on Saturday mornings to pay for it. One great thing about Harbor House was their day labor program, offered to any homeless men and women who showed up Monday-Friday mornings and reserved for clients on Saturday mornings. Folks in Springfield who needed odd jobs done would come to us for laborers. I recall making about $7/hour on the jobs I went out on, so it worked out perfectly for me.
Unfortunately for me, my parole officer wasn’t satisfied with anything I’d done on my own initiative. She had it in her puny little brain that I required inpatient treatment for alcoholism — something which several evaluations in Missouri DOC indicated was NOT necessary in my case — and finally she settled on making me go to outpatient alcohol rehab classes, where I was surrounded by drunks and counseled by drunks who could focus on nothing in life except alcohol. I still consider this approach a recipe for failure. At least the [rhymes with “witch”] gave me a waiver of fees for these worthless drunk classes.
Parole Officer Alison Sayer also demanded that I attend AA meetings, in addition to alcohol rehab classes. I patiently explained to her that one night each week at Harbor House was set aside for Alcoholics Victorious fellowship; AV is modeled on what Alcoholics Anonymous was in its beginning. AA has become so secularized down through the decades that if Bill W. came back from the hereafter, he probably would have great difficulty recognizing it as the organization he created. She insisted on AA, and criticized both AV and Harbor House as “uncertified” and unfit to deal with substance abuse issues. I replied that I had no such issues, according to several evaluations done by counselors in the Missouri DOC. In fact, I hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol since September of 2002. She was a pigheaded fool, but she literally had the power to send me back to prison for refusing her “condition” of my parole. I submitted a written complaint to her supervisor at the Springfield, MO parole office; we had a three-way meeting, and he totally backed her up. I replied that if this was their choice, I’d go directly to the Springfield News-Leader with my story, which involved parole authorities badmouthing the Salvation Army and its efforts to help paroled men at Harbor House. I ended up going to one AA meeting, where the cigarette smoke was so thick it made me sick for two days afterwards, and then I more or less dared Ms. Sayer to revoke my parole on her specious grounds. I was confident that the state parole authorities would see it my way, and I’d be back out of prison within weeks. She let her AA demand slide. This whole needless conflict took a big toll on my morale.
At this time in my life, I was listening to all those who advised me to apply for every conceivable government benefit to which I might be entitled, and I did so. I got about $150/month in food stamps; each month, I anonymously donated 100 pounds of ground beef to Harbor House, so we’d never again be served spaghetti w/meatless marinara sauce or meatless chili w/beans and more beans. A lot of the beef also went into lunches served to the homeless. I also bought a few big 5-quart pails of ice cream for everyone to enjoy. (I got a real kick out of being the Mystery Donor to Harbor House). I received Medicaid; this paid for my prescription of allopurinol to stave off the gout, and it also paid for the surgery to remove varicose veins from my left leg. This operation had no long-term positive outcome for me, so I never bothered to schedule the same procedure for my right leg. I applied for SSI disability and was turned down initially, as typically occurs. I never got around to retaining an attorney who specializes in these matters, and have gotten along to this day without such benefits. I submitted a FAFSA, and obtained a Pell Grant to become a full-time student at Ozarks Technical Community College beginning in August.
I loved the college classroom experience, and I was gratified to find that I still had a functioning brain after being out of school almost 30 years. I sat in the front of all of my classes, and the instructors were very happy with my attentiveness — I made straight As during the brief time I was able to attend OTC.
Unfortunately, Envoy Snell and his right-hand man began to sour on me as a client at Harbor House. I thought I was doing rather well, going out into the community as I had and setting a good example for others. Perhaps I wasn’t quite servile enough to suit them, but I always went about my business quietly. Part of their “religious” counsel was that government benefits should be avoided and the government in general is not to be trusted. And despite Envoy Snell (who had once been a prison chaplain) repeatedly lambasting the Missouri DOC and parole officers in general, he had failed to stick up for me with Parole Officer Sayer, and he failed to stick up for Harbor House, too. I confess that this also hurt my morale.
Between the parole officer from Hell on one side and the wimpish leadership at Harbor House on the other, sniping at each other with me caught in the middle, I felt very alone. Foolishly, I had discontinued psychotherapy because it seemed that all I was talking about was my disgust with Ms. Sayer, and no new ground was being covered. I could and should have talked about Harbor House, too.
Things really began to fall apart for me during September of 2004. I saw the prison culture come into Harbor House, and be embraced by one in a position of authority; two new clients were youngsters who had just been paroled from Missouri DOC, and they immediately struck up a friendship with the right-hand man to Envoy Snell. Together with another client and parolee who had been there about as long as me, the four began playing cards prison-style for hours at a time: the losers of the card game had to “duckwalk” around the patio area and quack like a duck while doing so. Seems harmless enough on the surface, but their conversations were full of the typical prison inmate bullshit about everything wrong in their lives being the fault of somebody else. I confronted the two youngsters one morning in the dining room, away from everyone else at Harbor House. In so many words, I told them that prison bullshit had no place in the program and they should have left it behind when they were released on parole. One of ’em simply ignored me, but the other went and complained to staff about what I’d said to them. I was called into the right-hand man’s office, where I was asked to clarify what I meant, and I repeated it in the presence of the youngster involved. The matter was dropped at that point, but nothing changed in their behavior.
Soon after, there was an opening for a paid position on staff — and I was in line for it by seniority in the program. The job, which was part-time and paid only $6/hour, went to someone with lesser seniority who happened to have a Commercial Driver’s License that enabled him to drive the Harbor House van. I accepted the reasoning, but still found it a little bit off: he might just as well have driven the van without being on staff. Then, in another few days, my assignment as “chore checker” was changed to vacuuming the carpet in the TV room; the new chore checker was the youngster I’d admonished about his poor attitude, and who had tattled on me to the right-hand man.
Then, there came the day that September when the Apostle Jason arrived at Harbor House, much to the delight of Envoy Snell and his right-hand man. Jason had previously been in the program, and had left to accept a job as a computer programmer in North Carolina (if memory serves). We’d all been hearing for months about what a shining example Jason had been. Then, it was revealed that he had served time in Missouri DOC for three counts of Vehicular Homicide. Yes, indeed, the shining example had gotten likkered up one night and crawled behind the wheel of his car — then proceeded to plow into another out on the highway, killing that car’s three innocent occupants. Jason suffered only minor injuries in the accident. When I met him the first time, I made it a point to look straight into his eyes and try to determine whether or not he felt any remorse; what I saw was an arrogant phony with a tell-tale smirk. He knew what I thought about him, although I didn’t verbalize it, and he never again would make eye contact with me. Anyway, Jason began to take over a lead role in Bible study as well as playing the guitar and singing at every worship service. He got a computer programming job in the Springfield, MO area and rented a house; right-hand man moved in with him. At one point, Envoy Snell remarked during an Alcoholics Victorious meeting that we all needed to be wary because Satan was inside Harbor House ready to wreak havoc. I bit my tongue so hard it almost drew blood; I wanted to say, “You’re absolutely right about that, Envoy, and it’s your pet Jason who is the devil here!” It was very discouraging to see grown men played by this shameless con artist. Jason missed his career calling, and should have been an investment banker.
On the parole front, my case was transferred to a different parole officer at the same office. Momentarily, I was overjoyed to be free from Ms. Sayer. Then I met the new guy: he insisted that I should continue my “community service” as a GED tutor. I told him it was NOT community service, but strictly volunteer work on my own initiative. He didn’t believe me, and consulted my case file. Of course, when there was no such community service directive from either a court or the parole board to be found, he dropped the matter without offering any apology.
At my alcohol rehab classes, where anonymity of participants was on a par with the Ten Commandments, there was one asshole who said that he was teaching his 3-year-old son to drink beer. I bit my tongue again, and this time it did draw blood. After the class, I told the former drunk who got a paycheck for teaching this nonsense that I couldn’t care less about respecting that child abuser’s anonymity; I was going directly to Springfield PD the next morning. And I did, too, even though I didn’t know the miscreant’s last name. Former-drunk-teacher-of-nonsense called my new parole officer to complain. New parole officer simply mentioned, when I saw him the next week, that he was making a note of my disrupting the alcohol rehab class and putting it into my case file.
It was impossible for me not to be ANGRY, but as powerless over my circumstances as I was there was no place for that anger to be directed, except inwardly. I began to loathe myself, and wanted to be free of all of the crap going on in my life.
There was a lot of conflict within Harbor House during that September of 2004, and even a couple of staff members left. I’d guess that they shared a few of my concerns, at least. And not all of the clients who were booted out of the program went away peacefully — consider the case of the Man of the Hairy Cross (MHC), a guy I still think about sometimes. I’d heard that this guy, who seemed a little bit odd to the rest of us, had shaved off a lot of his overgrown chest hair, to leave a cross from collarbone to navel and nipple to nipple. I didn’t see it for myself, until the night during dinner when he was called into right-hand man’s office, and told to pack up his stuff and leave the facility immediately. We could all see into the office from the dining room. MHC ripped off his T-shirt, then came storming out of the office. It was an impressive sight! Right-hand man followed him out of the office and MHC turned on him. “I love Jesus, and I’ll kill any m***** f***** who doesn’t!” There had been previous occasions when a few of us had stepped up to help keep a situation like this from getting out of hand, escorting a miscreant off premises, but this was already beyond that stage. MHC was spoiling for a fight with right-hand man, who was considerably smaller, but the latter was determined to win the argument over what constituted an appropriate expression of one’s love for Jesus. I rather liked the hairy cross, although the guy displaying it was a violent psycho. Gradually, a few clients moved between the two would-be combatants, and MHC went down the hallway from the dining room, past the dorm and showers, and finally past the sanctuary on his way out the front door — which locked behind him, Harbor House being a secure facility. A couple of hours later, I went into right-hand man’s office and I shut the door behind me, so nobody could overhear us. I asked him, “You do the intake interviews of almost everyone who comes into Harbor House; did you know that this guy was a nut?” He said that he knew that MHC had come from a psychiatric facility, but not that he was violent. I added, “Well, that nut is violent, and he might have stabbed somebody in the dorm while we were all asleep!” Right-hand man said that he wouldn’t have accepted MHC into the program, if he’d thought that was a possibility. I realized I was wasting my breath, and that all I was going to hear was more bullshit from someone unqualified to be in that important position of authority. I left the office in disgust.
A few days after this episode, which rapidly gained legendary status, video surveillance cameras were installed at Harbor House. One was outside looking at the sidewalk where homeless people gathered to wait for lunch, another was in the dining room, another looking down the hallway described above, and the last was in the TV room. There was a 4-way monitor installed in right-hand man’s office, so he could observe what all four cameras picked up. The next Sunday, a peculiar thing happened: after the service that morning, I had gone outside for some fresh air, and then returned to the sanctuary to study in the small room at the back, where I had a computer and printer for homework from my classes at OTC. I happened to look toward the front of the sanctuary, and the collection plate overflowing with $$$ was still there. I sensed a setup. Right away, I went to right-hand man’s office and told him that staff had forgotten to take the offering back to the office to be accounted for properly. I asked if he wanted me to retrieve it and bring it to him, and I watched his face closely as he replied. He said that would be fine, and I did so. Was it a setup? Did the fool actually think I was going to pocket all or part of the cash, then be caught on camera leaving the sanctuary? Or was I becoming paranoid? To this day, I’m unsure about it.
I think there was only one acquaintance of mine who was perceptive enough to realize I was in turmoil emotionally, since I display little outwardly. Herbert was a fellow client in the program, kind of a goodhearted soul from the rural Ozarks and without any guile whatsoever. He’d offered to wait at the hospital during my surgery back in July, the only person to do so, but I explained that I’d be going home in the evening after surgery in the morning, and one of the staff would be picking me up (and only one staff member had offered to do so, one who left in September). He and I were alone on the patio one afternoon shortly before I left Harbor House, and I told him that I believed I was about to be tossed out of the program. Herbert said, “They’re crazy if they do! We all look up to you.” I still recall his kind words to me at that point.
I had fleeting thoughts of walking a couple of blocks down the street and stepping in front of a train, but that wasn’t anything I’d inflict on the locomotive engineer. I expected to end my own life, and soon, but first I wanted to see the Rocky Mountains. I’d never been farther west than the family farm in Kansas, but the Rockies had always been a dream of mine. As a convicted felon, I couldn’t walk into a retail firearms store and purchase a weapon, background checks being as thorough as they are these days. I decided to keep it as clean and simple as I could: diphenhydramine (available over the counter) and cheap booze. Enough of each in combination would cause respiratory arrest during unconsciousness. I approached this suicide plan in a matter-of-fact way, no whining or crying for me; it was a profound feeling of relief to have the issue settled in my mind.
One morning at the end of September, I gathered up all of the cash I had from various sources, about $600. I gave away a really nice London Fog coat to a fellow client who needed one, and I gave my briefcase (a present to me from a GED student, who had paid $5 for it at a garage sale) to another client who had mentioned he wanted one. My school books I left behind, likewise my clock radio. I packed my few extra clothes into my backpack and I walked out the door at Harbor House for the last time. Nobody had any clue that I was leaving there for good. I reversed the course I’d followed when arriving in Springfield, MO the previous February, heading to the Greyhound station. I bought a one-way ticket to Logan, UT — which would take me through Denver, then across Wyoming, and finally on into northern Utah.
It was a long bus ride from Springfield, MO to Kansas City, MO where I transferred to the Denver-bound Greyhound. As soon as the bus crossed the state line from Missouri into Kansas that evening, I was joyful for the first time in weeks. Yes, I was throwing away my chance at resuming a normal life; but I never really had a chance at either the Ozarks cult or Harbor House. It was all an illusion and I was glad to be rid of it! I didn’t sleep very much as we crossed Kansas in the dark. Shortly after crossing the Colorado state line my ears started to pop, so I knew for certain I was finally headed toward the Rockies’ higher elevations. We arrived in Denver around dawn, as I recall. There was a lengthy layover, and I ate a microwaved bacon & egg biscuit from the Greyhound station’s food vendor. Worst excuse for bacon I’d ever tasted and it was rubbery, too. When I transferred to the Utah-bound bus and we pulled out of Denver the sun was fully up, and I caught my first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains along the western horizon. I was in awe! Nothing in my imagination had prepared me for the beauty of this scene.
Our path was northbound along I-25 through Fort Collins, and I thought this was a beautiful little town. We continued on into Wyoming and turned west onto I-80; I recall an endless expanse of high plains with pronghorn antelope and sagebrush, and some giant wind turbines for variety. Since I was only napping and not sleeping for an extended period on this journey by bus, I spent a lot of time yawning even though I loved viewing the Wyoming countryside.
I hadn’t seen anything yet . . . As we left Wyoming to enter Utah, we began to lose altitude heading into the Great Basin. This was right at the time of year when Fall colors were exploding everywhere one looked; the deep gold of aspens, the bright red of Utah maples, the more subdued blue/green hues of conifers — all set against a backdrop of what must be nature’s most colorful rock formations. Certainly put the Missouri Ozarks to shame by comparison, sort of like a plain hillbilly girl standing next to Maria Sharapova. Sometimes still, I can close my eyes and envision what I viewed from my window seat on that leg of my trip.
We arrived in Salt Lake City after dark, but the Greyhound station is close by Temple Square, which is well-lit as it should be for the pleasure of onlookers. Very impressive! I made one last transfer to the bus northbound for Logan, UT. When I arrived at the outskirts of Logan where the bus station is situated, I took a free city bus into town and checked into a motel room for some much-needed slumber. I really had no definite plans for the next day as I drifted off to sleep all alone, minus the snoring and farting of about 30 other men back at Harbor House.
The next morning I took full advantage of the fare-free buses of the Cache Valley Transit District, and I rode all over the area; it’s still the most beautiful countryside I’ve seen anywhere. After another couple of nights in a motel, and days spent enjoying the scenery, I decided to head to Salt Lake City and see more of that area. I started walking in the morning, along the highway southbound from Logan (U.S. 89, if memory serves) and had gone about 15 miles when I got a ride into Brigham City. I wasn’t hitchhiking per se. A kind young man just stopped and picked me up. From Brigham City I continued walking all the way to Ogden, UT. I probably walked over 30 miles in the course of the day, and I was not an athlete at age 48. I passed small farms and orchards, had a good view of Great Salt Lake at some points, but the most remarkable thing to my eye were the colorful rock formations on my lefthand side (that being generally eastward). The Wasatch Range, I would proclaim if I weren’t an agnostic, must have been painted by God’s Hands with particular care. I’ll confess that my butt was dragging when I reached Ogden; just past the train museum there is an emergency overnight shelter for homeless men, where I stayed. It was the first one I’d ever been in, and thank goodness it was sober only — the snoring was loud enough without amplification by inebriation. They served a meager breakfast very early the next morning, and I paid the small fare at the nearby Utah Transit Authority station to finish my journey to Salt Lake City.
In SLC, I walked around Temple Square to get a closer look at its wonders. Then, I walked over to the SLC Public Library, which is a beautiful building. I had enough time left in the afternoon to go down to Welfare Square; I spent a couple of hours or so restocking shelves in the Bishops’ Storehouse in exchange for a generous supply of bus/light rail tokens (and a snack of fresh fruit from LDS orchards and cheese from the LDS dairy on-site).
That night, I stayed at another emergency overnight shelter for men only, which allowed only 7 nights for any homeless man as a guest. It was truly awful; you had to listen to some evangelical baloney in order to be given dinner and a bed. (Note: none of the homeless shelters in UT, to my knowledge, are run by or associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Showers were required, and a staff member actually watched you as you showered. Not a bad idea — requiring showers, that is, not watching. On one of the following nights I was there, I saw a guy who was so mentally ill he had crapped in his pants and must have been going around in that soiled state for days, judging by the odor when he undressed before showering. I think they trashed his clothing, and brought him something else to wear. Lucky for me, I’d already finished with my shower. They had to scrub down the shower stall he used with bleach afterwards, and even then I wouldn’t have wanted to use it. Again, a meager breakfast was served, but it was food in any case.
After 7 nights at this dump, one could go on over to the community shelter which was a huge facility (a converted factory, I think) and stay for up to 40 nights. The men’s dorm alone had over 200 beds, there was also a women’s dorm (not so big), and family living quarters were available. I don’t remember how many nights I stayed at this community shelter, which received taxpayer support, but the day came when I was ready to leave SLC.
What happened to my depression and my thoughts of suicide? Nothing, both remained. For the moment, however, I was granting myself a reprieve because I was enjoying new places and things. This was only temporary, I knew. Once again, I was at a Greyhound station buying a one-way ticket — this time to Los Angeles, CA.
It’s a long, long bus ride down I-15 all the way to LA, passing through Lost Wages, NV which has the filthiest bus station on earth. By contrast, Salt Lake City has the cleanest. Draw your own conclusions about what, if anything, this indicates about the comparative characters of those two cities. Being absorbed in my own thoughts and feelings, I paid almost no attention to the passing countryside. I’d guess that the Utah desert looks the same as the Nevada desert, and I wasn’t at all enamored of Southern California scenery. One palm tree is identical with all others of its species, to my eye.
In LA, I visited Skid Row since it’s conveniently located near the Greyhound station. The city had provided portable toilets for the hundreds of homeless people hanging around in the area. Guess what? Those toilets had been taken over by the drug addicts, male and female, who were prostituting themselves to pay for dope. They locked themselves inside, and when a knock came at the door they offered their services. Anyone who really had to go pee was forced to step into an alley and relieve themselves there, although I saw several alcoholics urinate directly on vacant storefronts instead. How does one deal with this sort of depravity, which is just heartbreaking? I also walked the miles down to Long Beach Harbor and saw the Queen Mary lying at anchor, and she was dwarfed by oil tankers around her. Lots of oil rigs everywhere in neighborhoods of Long Beach. I rode the light rail back to LA, through what must have been the dirt-poor neighborhood of Watts. I was amazed to see that most residents there had installed burglar bars on the windows of their humble homes; not having very much in the way of possessions, but apparently wanting to keep what little they had secure! I’d seen enough in a short time to satisfy my curiosity about LA. I had no interest in seeing either Hollywood or a real beach. I was tired, physically and otherwise.
I decided to return to Missouri. Well, why not? “A bad penny always turns up.” With almost the last of my funds, including some $$$ I received from people along this journey I won’t identify, I bought a one-way Greyhound ticket from LA to Higginsville, MO — a small town about 12 miles from my hometown of Lexington, and as close as I could get to it by bus. More desert along I-15 through Nevada and into Utah; yawn. Coming eastward on I-70 through the Colorado Rocky Mountains was thrilling, even scary at times. It seemed that I lost a visual sense of perspective about uphill and downhill, and could only be sure by the sound of the diesel motor: it was straining on an uphill climb. It was a relief to enter the nearly 2-mile long Eisenhower Tunnel passing underneath the Continental Divide. I transferred at Denver to a Kansas City, MO-bound bus and transferred again at KC for the short ride to Higginsville Junction on I-70. I don’t recall anything about what I thought or how I felt, and that is therefore omitted here. It couldn’t have been wise or good. At Higginsville, I got off the bus and started walking along Missouri Highway 13 to Lexington. I already had a plentiful supply of over-the-counter medications containing diphenhydramine, and I stopped at a liquor store in Higginsville to buy a quart of cheap vodka. That made my backpack rather heavy, so I discarded some non-essential items like food. I turned off Highway 13 and arrived in Lexington via a gravel country road I knew well; back in high school, it had been a popular party spot. The cemetery containing the adjoining gravesites of my mom and dad is nearby, and that’s the first place I visited.
After an hour or so in contemplation of my parents, my late brother, along with everyone and everything else I’d lost during the course of bitter years, I knew where I wanted to go to end my life. Across the small town of Lexington from the resting place of my mom and dad, there is the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site (Civil War-era, a minor skirmish of no strategic significance to either side despite the local yokels’ hyperbole). It sits on the Missouri River bluff on the south, and one can see out over the valley on the river’s far side to the north. When I arrived there, it was almost sundown, a gorgeous one with a bright red ball dropping over the western horizon and being perfectly reflected by the still waters of Sunshine Lake, an “oxbow” long since cut off from the river. That lake had always been my favorite place to be, and was even more appealing at this distance, so I took it as a sign. I quickly swallowed several dozen capsules, all that I had, and guzzled about a pint of the booze to wash them down; no half-measures for me.
It had been over 2 years since I’d consumed any alcohol, however. Almost immediately, I was puking violently, and the capsules of diphenhydramine came back up with the vodka. This was not what I’d expected, nor what I’d wished to happen. I sat there on the grass, hidden from view amongst the trees, for maybe an hour. I cursed God, if there is a god. I got up and walked over to the hospital’s emergency room, which is only a short distance from the battlefield. It seemed that I was above, and looking down at myself as I slowly went along. Maybe, since I even failed at suicide, I should ask for help . . .
I wound up in the psychiatric unit at a hospital in Clinton, MO. I was only there about a week, and it was antidepressant meds and group therapy. The staff offered to have one of the hospital volunteers drive me to KC when I was discharged, and help me get into a homeless shelter there, but I decided to turn myself in to Clinton PD on the warrant I knew had been issued for my Absconding From Parole Supervision. After a few days in the Henry County Jail, a true relic of the 19th Century, I was transported back to Missouri DOC, specifically to the Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center. I spent about a month there before being released on parole once again, shortly after Christmas Day, this time to the DOC-operated Kansas City Community Corrections Center a.k.a. halfway house.
My new parole officer at that facility wanted to hear all about my journey while absconding and my psychiatric treatment for clinical depression w/suicidal ideation. In her wisdom, she decided that I still wanted to harm myself, which was contrary to the opinion/evaluation of the mental health professionals at Clinton, MO — and never mind what I had to say about NOT wanting to harm myself any longer. I was taken to a “strip cell” inside administrative segregation at KCCRC, required to get naked, then placed in a room that had nothing I might use to cause injury to myself. Not even a blanket, and it was the end of December in Missouri in a poorly insulated building. I shivered constantly and couldn’t sleep at all. This treatment was something out of the Middle Ages, but suicidal feelings or attempts at suicide are regarded as disciplinary violations in the Missouri DOC (although this parole officer didn’t write me up for it), and most likely it’s the same way in other prison systems, too. After a few days of this abuse, the mental health professional at KCCRC found out what had happened to me — and she saw to it that I was immediately returned to the general population of parolees and allowed to leave the facility for several hours every day. I sought psychotherapy and antidepressant meds from Truman Medical Center’s Behavioral Health staff.
Thus ended the year 2004. One more thing: I stopped cursing God, if there is a god, and started to curse my [rhymes with “witch”] parole officer, instead.