The Sheriff and the Chief of Police, just Wow!
I’m not sure how to best tie together the importance of part 2 in the Dollar Bill story without background context. For the last few years ClarksdaleNews has been working on a number of projects, all have one common thought and goal: Clarksdale progress, for all of us, not just some. Thoughts and strategies about all of it come basically from personal experience, accomplishments elsewhere and from noted Australian economist and urban planner John Henshall.
(pt. 1 of this story here)
John is a devoted Clarksdale advocate, and he has done much to try to foster progress here. In 2008 he provided an economic report on the revitalization of Clarkdsale; it was updated significantly in 2013, it became a thesis in the last few years through continued work, and is now about to be published in book form. At least one Australian University brings students and instructors to Clarksdale bi-annually, and countless, if not thousands of Australians visit Clarksdale in some part due to John’s work.
When broken down into it’s essence, John’s report “Downtown Clarksdale” An Action Plan for Economic Revitalization” talks about two basic Clarksdale needs: (1) to add affordable attractions into the downtown mix, and promote them rigorously, and (2) a unified local government is most important to help potential local and out-of-town people invest in, or start a new business in Clarksdale. It is government unity that is a part of the this story on Michael Hunter.
I have talked about John’s report to a point where some may well have fatigue hearing about it (ok, sick and tired!). I have also seen positive steps forward from both the City and the County from time to time. But not enough, not nearly enough! Old ways, old thinking (this is not how we do things down here), old turf boundaries and entrenched egos (They did this! They did that!) are hard habits to break. Unbeknown to many of us, though, significant steps toward that unity have been happening right under our eyes.
In some part, but not all of it, this important progress is now entering Clarksdale’s lexicon because of two officials effectively working together over time to find a better solution for us, and for William Michael Hunter. The unity horse, if we only let it run, is out of the barn.
Part 2: Finding a Solution for all of us
Part 1 of the story has that the Sheriff and Chief of Police have been working together for some time. “Did you know about this,” I asked Coahoma County Supervisor Paul Pearson, he replied “I heard something back that they were doing things together; I told the Sheriff that I thought it was wonderful.” Did you ask them to start? “They just started on their own. We haven’t seen our two law enforcement departments working like this since the mid ’70’s”, Paul said most pleased.
It was the first time I had been in Sheriff Charles Jones office. Prior conversations and interaction with him has been friendly, with solid impression. “It was the same thing over and over again with Dollar Bill,” is how he started, “it was really frustrating.” The Sheriff was addressing the difficulties of what to do with mental health patients in general, and how law enforcement can be limited by the courts. He was not about him placing blame on the problem. In fact he allowed that heretofore much of nothing has been done other than placing blame, and that was systemic to the problem to begin with. I deducted that what the Sheriff was talking about was the need to find something different, a new solution, and then Charles Jones exactly said it, “I wanted to find something, anything different that might work.”
We then talked about the a key to finding a solution was that the county jail can not hold mental patients. It is not qualified to do so, which is a rule, not an opinion. “What more can we do, other than point fingers,” he asked rhetorically, “we just had to find a way.” That way became the Sheriff going to Region 1 Mental Health Center. Somehow a way to hold Michael long enough to get him stabilized had to be found. A discussion with our mental health professionals developed into a plan (this is what happens when blame is out of the picture, it’s also part and parcel of how the 12-step program works too: good things happen if one is willing).
By now Police Chief Sandra Williams was part of the plan (more with her below), and the plan had a few key steps: (1) Clarksdale Police arrest Bill again (his WROX blitzkrieg took care of that alone), (2) Sheriff Jones keeps him locked up for longer than usual, and to do that, (3) Mental Health services provides the same care they always do, but in this case they treat at the County jail. The only difference being is “where”, not how, and this allowed Michael to stabilize from being back on his meds again.
(4) The next part of the plan was to try to get Michael back in Fairland again, and this took the combined efforts, and agreement with both of our officials, and Fairland itself. A means was found to get him back into the best possible treatment we can find again, and the hope from there would be a commitment to assisted living somewhere. One thing that was also key to this agreement was Commissioner Willie Turner Jr. He knows Michael, Michael likes and responds to him, and regular visits by Turner to Fairland to see Michael was appealing to Fairland. Without all of this, Michael could not qualify to get back in that treatment facility.
In closing with the Sheriff, he wanted to give most of the credit for all of this to Police Chief Sandra Williams. He reiterated her part in this plan, “Could not have been done without her,” he said. He went on to say what a pleasure she is to work with; that it’s productive; she always gets done what she says she will do and that they are doing even more things together now.
I asked about the gulf (territorial turf really) that has always existed between the County and the City, “The bridge might have been broken before,” Charles Jones said, “but we are rebuilding that bridge.”
The Chief of Police
I hadn’t been in Chief Sandra Williams’ office before either. There has been frequency with her, and my respect for her started immediately in observing her posture. I knew it immediately, the common ground is the military; she’s a reserve officer, I’m an officer’s son. When first triggered, military means order, discipline, team work and a duty to get things done.
“I got here to Clarksdale in September, 2017,” Chief Williams started, “and I started hearing about Dollar Bill from day one.” She saw pictures of him first, before actually meeting him, and the frequent calls about Bill came from Ken Murphey as well. Bill is at it again, the merchants, business owners, tourists, Murphey too was under constant pressure, “We got to do something.”
This repeated itself constantly over time. “I asked a shift commander to go get him,” the Chief said, “but arrest him only if you have to.” Her hands, like before, we still tied as to what to do. And Bill continued running amuck, and the calls kept coming, and pressure and frustration continued to mount. At one point former Police Captain Mark Hanes was a big help. After that though, the same Catch 22 cycle continued.
Chief Williams began to privately question herself. “It was really frustrating,” she said. She wondered if this was a complete lost cause. “I can’t do anything about Bill,” she did not want to succumb to defeat, but and doubt gnawed at her (always uncomfortable for the military trained assured). This problem was here long before I was; how can I fix this if nobody else could; why has this fallen on me, these were her normal thoughts before, “God please, show me the way.”
The Chief told me about a police action involving Dollar Bill’s debit card (yes, he had one). Rumor had it that local drug dealers took it. Chasing down the rumor, her police officers had that card back in no time. But then, what to do? “I had to give it back to him, it’s against the law to keep it,” she said about this sticky wicket, explaining that the monthly relief found in Bill’s account is what allowed him to keep dancin’ with the girlfriend crack cocaine that kept destroying both him and our peace and tranquility. “He’s a human being, I kept in my head,” the Police Chief said.
Then the plan came together. “We figured it out,” she said, “at least this phase of it.” Both the Chief and Commissioner Turner visited Michael by the time he got through county jail, became stabilized and got back into Fairland. “He is under no court order, no writ to be there. Michael volunteered,” she said, “we walked out of group therapy with him. He hugged me, I couldn’t believe it.” Michael Hunter told her how much he appreciated her visit, and how much it meant to him. He proudly showed her his Fairland Ray of Light Certificate. “I pray for him,” she said.
In closing, the Chief is realistic about this. That Michael might not make it, or could very well end up in Parchman. We talked about if Parchman is the end trail, how they might deal with a mental patient (they have certainly done it before), and and interjections of hope for assisted living for Michael peppered this part of our discussion as well. “I told him I’m getting him a frame for his Fairland Certificate,” the Chief of Police said.
Region 1 Mental Health
Talk with Region 1 Mental Health is ruled by HIPPA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 that was enacted to protect a patient’s privacy of health information that is held or transferred in electronic form. We started with Michael has given his consent to talk about this, and that Fairland Treatment Center also has this in writing. We also talked about how this story does not discuss any details of Michael’s treatment from Region 1, only that he is being treated in general. It was assumed by ClarksdaleNews that Michael’s condition has been public on our streets for a very long time, that it’s certainly not private, and that his mental and substance abuse issues are, and have been, mainstream Clarksdale issues and discussions across our entire community as well.
Like the Sheriff and Police Chief, Region 1 cares about all of those they serve, which includes Michael. We talked about what might be a different approach for any patient with continuing mental health problems, and about the plan that came together through the Sheriff and Chief of Police. The Sheriff this time was the key, they said. More than before, he really wanted to find a different way they said.
ClarksdaleNews talked about how all of this applies to Michael, but more specifically I talked about what might be next for Michael. I continued on about this in terms of therapy, 12-step recovery, how hard it is to modify behavior from self destruction to a greater good. With HIPPA on their minds, I guess, Region 1 did not add to these thoughts.
Then, a breakthrough, sorta, well more than that actually. I had come in thinking there was not an assisted living space for Michael, then I found out there are assisted living places that anyone can go to,” I was excited to hear it, but some are not ideal, I also learned. So there are choices, and the key, the only key, is that Michael has to agree to one.
This I certainly understand, willingness (or agreement about the problem) is always the fundamental bedrock of recovery. It is what happens before Step 1 in the 12 Steps starts. This is why the Chief of Police pointed out that Michael is at Fairland as a ‘volunteer.’ What this means is for Michael to end up better, he has to allow it. Right now he would, he said so when any of us last talked to him, and the key moving forward is to keep letting this troubled soul know that we care about him. Through that, God willing, he might find his way.
In conclusion, the point of this story is two Clarksdale County and City officials are effectively working togther; they have great respect for each other, and ClarksdaleNews, and others, hopes that this meaningful step toward unity might well be contagious. A secondary point focuses on our hope that Michael, and anyone else with suck problems makes it, and that Michael’s part in this story might inspire others to seek whatever professional assistance they might need. It works, if you let it.
(pt. 1 of this story here)