Introduction: Some of you might have been wondering why you haven’t received an essay from me, lately. Well, I spent last December and the first four months of 2015 writing on local politics with a focus on increasing brand awareness (tedburnett.com) among area residents on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Over the holidays, I saw an opportunity to push a cause that’s been of interest to me when President Obama announced his intentions to normalize relations with Cuba. For many Americans, this action seems long-overdue when we already trade with communist China, Vietnam, as well as, Russia. By lifting the embargo, these two neighboring countries and our industries can legally trade with each another. Some travel restrictions will also be lifted for Americans.
Currently, the state of Alabama ships $41.8 million worth of fresh poultry to the communist island, annually (2012). The state stands to grow this business along with shipping other agriculture products including lumber. The Port of Mobile is one of America’s closes ports to Havana, Cuba which is also a sister city and a centuries-old trading partner. For over a year, I’ve been trying to get our new mayor to support and take action on moving our underperforming regional airport back to its original home at Brookley Field, which is located along the western shore of Mobile Bay. It’s only minutes from the downtown business district and the port by interstate. I can envision the opportunity to one day move air cargo between Havana and Mobile before transferring the freight onto truck, train or barge and moving it inland.
The Mobile Regional Airport (at Bates Field) has been located at the edge of town near the Alabama-Mississippi state-line, since 1938, when the Army Air Corps came to town taking control of the municipal airport at Brookley Field. Later, renamed Brookley Air Force Base, it operated until closing, in 1969. Given the city’s MSA (metropolitan statistical area) of 600,000 (2010 census) few area residents choose to fly out of west Mobile because it requires driving down the city’s main artery, now, choked with six lanes of traffic and lots of red lights.
Mobile’s airport (U.S. ranking #159) and the city are bleeding passengers, revenue and tax revenue to two other competing cities (Pensacola, Florida (#98)) and Gulfport, Mississippi (#131)), which are only an hour’s drive in either direction along Interstate 10. As a result of the stiff competition, Mobile suffers from lower air passenger traffic, fewer carriers, it has direct access to fewer hubs and routes and it’s commonly serviced by smaller regional jets over the larger single aisles (737’s), as well as, having a well-established reputation for higher airfares compared to its rivals. The airport’s major problem is its failure to be located near an interstate, which the city has two: I-10 and I-65.
Following Obama’s Cuba announcement, I launched my first Change.org petition and I bought my first ad on Facebook promoting the idea of moving the airport to the public. It quickly took off on Facebook with area residents who started giving it “likes”, as well as, signing the petition. I was stunned. With everyone on their Christmas break, families and friends were spending time together and naturally the petition became a subject of conversation across the city. Following Christmas Day, I was contacted by a local reporter with one of the TV stations seeking an interview. We met up about an hour later; my petition was their lead story that night. By Sunday, I was contacted by another reporter from a competing TV station who was also seeking an interview. We met on Monday afternoon at Brookley Field and again the petition served as their lead story at the 10 o’clock broadcast. Unfortunately, the petition was deliberately sacked at the end of the news piece when someone with the Mobile Airport Authority or the city of Mobile gave an outrageous cost ($500mm-$1b) to move the Mobile Regional Airport back to the Brookley, which already has one of the longest runways in the country, an active control tower, radar and receives daily commercial jet aircraft for maintenance. What’s missing is a terminal and a parking deck that’s priced at or < $150 million.
Currently, Airbus’ first assembly plant in the U.S. for their A320 is being built at Brookley Field and is nearing completion. As we were setting up for the interview on the fence-line, on the west side of the property, hidden by trees a Boeing 737 approached the airfield from the east flying over the bay before touching down on the long 9,600 ft. runway. The pilot hit the plane’s reverse-thrusters creating a loud engine-noise as the air was redirected forward slowing down the aircraft to a near-stop before taxiing off the runway and heading towards a maintenance hangar. With the crazy cost figures of a half-billion-$1 billion, supplied by an anonymous source to the reporter, the mood quickly changed online among the city’s undecided as I suddenly saw it in the form of hate in their Facebook posts as the petition numbers all but, dried up. I finished up with 644 signatures. I sent the list of names and their comments to the mayor’s office, to the city council and to the Mobile Airport Authority. For my honest efforts, thank you’s were hard to come by.
See attachment: A Low-Speed Chase through Georgia (29 pages)
N > 18,000
Brookley Air Force Base, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brookley_Air_Force_Base
January 28, 2017
An update: For the second time, A member of the criminal justice system, an Alabama circuit court judge, has reviewed my files in this case and declared that my constitutional rights were violated.
Note: The following is a true story.
April 9, 2015
A Low-Speed Chase through Georgia
It’s been three years since a five-month nightmare finally came to an end. Since then, I’ve tried unsuccessfully to explain this event and its ending – to myself and to everyone else. Some of you know this story, most don’t. Its anniversary has come and gone twice, now, with no essay to show for it. I think I’ve been unable to put the event into the right context, to square the circle. My reputation among some has long been soiled by my diagnosis of bipolar disorder now this new label only defames it, further. For trying to be a law-abiding citizen, it’s becoming more and more difficult to live out. It’s proof that few things in life make any sense.
On May 9, 2012, I appeared in the Monroe County Courthouse, Superior Court, in Forsyth, Georgia to plea out to a reduced charge of felony Obstruction of Justice “with mental illness”. While maintaining my innocence in my mind, at least, I took a plea allowing me to avoid going to prison for the next 5 to 20 years. With three law enforcement officers all witnesses to the events of my arrest and ready to testify in court for the prosecution on the original charge of Aggravated Assault upon a Law Enforcement Officer along with a misdemeanor for “fleeing and eluding” the police (at 42 mph in a 70), it would’ve been a sucker bet. Aggravated Assault upon a Law Enforcement Officer is a very serious charge and is only one step below Georgia’s notorious “Seven Deadly Sins”, all of which carry life sentences.
Last fall, I applied to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to clear up some unfinished business related from this conviction seeking to have my civil and political rights restored, which includes the right to be a notary public, the right to run and hold public office. I mailed in my completed application along with two criminal background reports, as well as, the following 19-page narrative explaining to the chairman of this state board my personal story, how I first got sick with bipolar disorder, my history with it and the events leading up to my arrest, on the night of December 11, 2011, outside of Macon, Georgia. Having fulfilled all my obligations to the state of Georgia, I didn’t aspect to have any problems with this last item.
I also copied a number of other parties (list of names on last page, p. 22) including the Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R), Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens (R), Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R), Alabama Attorney Governor Luther Strange (R), former U.S. Representative Jo Bonner (R-AL), current U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-AL), U.S. Federal Judge Emmett Ripley Cox of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (AL, GA, FL) (Judge Cox and his wife are lunch companions, we eat 2-3x a month). Most knew of my arrest and my incarceration in Georgia while others didn’t.
Given the fact that mental illness was the underlining factor in my arrest, along with the severity of the state trooper’s original charges while doing five months of incarceration for what I perceived as a victimless crime, I thought my case warranted the attention of the Georgia Legislature and the Georgia Supreme Court to put laws “on the books” to protect the mentally ill from being taken advantage of by their own family members, as well as, by the state in cases just like mine. At the time, Georgia had no laws or a process for protecting the mentally ill. All charges were treated as criminal regardless of there being no criminal intent. Today, Georgia is finally in the process of rolling out a mental health court system across the state similar to drug court. Last fall, Judge Ripley Cox mentioned his invitation that he and his wife received to have lunch at the law office of Georgia’s legendary defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook, 86, earlier in the year. Unfamiliar with the name, I looked him up and read his Wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Lee_Cook.
Bobby Lee Cook has tried over 300 murder cases and handled several thousand other cases in the course of his lengthy career. In 1997, he was inducted into the Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame. Cook is thought to be the inspiration by behind TV’s Matlock, an Atlanta trial lawyer starring Andy Griffith. I read a quote credited to Mr. Cook that I thought was the perfect introduction for my narrative to the chairman and the rest of the state board. It was risky, potentially irritating enough to cause a push-back by them and maybe it did when they decided to reject my application. Having quoted Bobby Lee Cook, I sent him a copy hoping that someone in the group would show an interest in my story and write back. The famed attorney did just that going one step better by putting my case, the entire ordeal with the Georgia criminal justice system into words that I never could’ve… (See page 5)
Cook and Connelly
October 20, 2014
Mr. Thomas Edward Burnett, Jr.
500 Lincoln Street, Suite B-105
Daphne, AL 36526
Dear Mr. Burnett:
I have read your letter to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles where you have apparently applied for a restoration of your civil rights. From the contents of your letter, it is obvious that you have been treated very badly, and as well have suffered a wholesale violation of your constitutional rights.
Have you filed a formal Petition with the Board on a form that they provide? If not you must do so, as the letter alone is probably not sufficient.
Judge Cox is an exceptional Judge and a very fine gentleman, so please give the Judge and Mrs. Cox my personal regards.
Bobby Lee Cook
GEORGIA MENTAL HEALTH STANDARDS
Purpose: To establish standards for mental health courts and mental health court divisions pursuant to O.C.G.A. 15-1-16.
Large numbers of individuals with mental illnesses come into contact with the criminal justice system, often resulting in poor outcomes such as the ineffective use of law enforcement, jail, court and correctional dollars while failing to improve public safety. Frequently, people with mental illnesses repeatedly cycle through the criminal justice system for relatively minor offenses because the underlying factors associated with their criminal activity have not been adequately addressed. It is estimated that almost 17% of individuals entering local jails are suffering from some mental illness and half of all jail and state correctional detainees with mental illnesses reported three or more prior convictions.
Over the past decade, courts have explored new ways of responding to individuals with mental illnesses who appear on criminal dockets. Using lessons learned from drug courts, mental health courts were established as an attempt to link mentally ill offenders with appropriate resources in their respective communities, while providing judicial oversight and supervision.
An advisory group of leading researchers and practitioners met to review best practices as they relate to mental health courts, beginning in 2008. One product of this series of meetings was the development of the Essential Elements, a ten point guide to the components considered mandatory for success when operating a mental health court. This document adopts much of the work as promulgated in the Essential Elements with some modification throughout to capture guidelines as they pertain specifically to mental health courts in Georgia.
I. Planning and Administration
A broad-based group of stakeholders representing the criminal justice, mental health, substance abuse treatment, and related systems and the community guides the planning and administration of the court.
1.1 Mental health courts are situated at the intersection of the criminal justice, mental health, substance abuse treatment, and other social service systems. Their planning and administration should reflect extensive collaboration among practitioners and policymakers from those systems, as well as community members. To that end, a multidisciplinary “planning committee” should be charged with designing the mental health court. Along with determining eligibility criteria, monitoring mechanisms, and other court processes, this committee should articulate clear, specific, and realizable goals that reflect agreement on the court’s purposes and provide a foundation for measuring the court’s impact (see Element 10: Sustainability).
Mr. Thomas Edward Burnett, Jr.
500 Lincoln Street, Suite B-105
Daphne, AL 36526
September 26, 2014
Mr. Terry E. Barnard, Chairman
State Board of Pardons and Parole
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, S.E.
Balcony Level, East Tower
Atlanta, GA 30334-4909
If you can railroad a bad man to prison, you can railroad a good man.
– Bobby Lee Cook
Legendary Georgia criminal defense lawyer thought to be the inspiration behind TV’s Matlock, starring Andy Griffith.
Dear Chairman Barnard,
Having to write this letter is the last thing that I thought would be required of me in my lifetime. I’ve gone to great lengths for much of my early life to avoid getting into trouble at home, at school and definitely with the law. As an only child, I watched my alcoholic father, a marine and a Vietnam Veteran struggle with his life, get in a lot of trouble with his wife and my mother. I wanted none of it. However, due to a learning disability, school has always caused me plenty of trouble. Over time, it had a compounding and devastating effect on my self-esteem especially after repeating the fifth grade. As a teen, I discovered alcohol and I started drinking to cope with these negative feelings. In the beginning, it filled the void, but with time and more alcohol it no longer could. By the age of eighteen, I had had enough. I was ready to die.
In 1989, I began attending Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) after four years of heavy drinking. Today, I’m 43 years old and I’ve been sober for the past 25 years. Sobriety makes you grow up. It slowly develops one’s character and inner-discipline because it forces your hand in how you’ll respond to all opportunities and crises presented to you while living with your conscience. This changes you. I went to college at Auburn University choosing not to drink in order to get my bachelor’s degree, which took five years to achieve (1995). I knew that drinking, parties and studying wouldn’t mix, if I wanted to graduate. I had always been a tortoise in school, never a hare. I finished Auburn making C’s. In high school, I had big dreams of going to law school and then a life in politics, but given my unremarkable grades I didn’t pursue either one. I reluctantly turned to the world of commerce.
In June of 1996, I was hired-on by Georgia-Pacific Corporation, in Atlanta, GA. I spent six months training at their Tampa, FL warehouse and another three months assisting their move from an old warehouse in Alexandria, VA to a new facility in Frederick, MD before coming back to Atlanta to work in their brand-new national sales center, in Smyrna. I found a room “for rent” sharing a three-bedroom condo in Buckhead. However, I quickly grew bored with the new work. Due to my dyslexia, I began making mistakes in this sedentary-job sitting behind a desk all daylong taking sales calls and entering orders into my computer. I was fired six months later. In October 1997, I went to work for Minolta Business Systems, out of Norcross. I continued to struggle in my outside sales position. Following the death of my father (in November 1998), I took the opportunity to leave Atlanta and return home to Mobile, AL in hopes of finding success closer to home. It didn’t happen. In my nine-year sales career (1996-2004), I worked for seven different companies and I was fired four times. Like school, work proved to be just as difficult or more so. I knew what it took to make C’s in school, but making a sale to put food on my table and/or to pay rent was much harder.
In April 2002, and at the age of 32, I got married to a woman that I met while working at Georgia-Pacific. We dated for five years. She witnessed first-hand my career struggles and she stuck by me, anyway. Lisa was a graduate of the University of Virginia. Her parents early on didn’t accept me. I’ve always gotten along with adults until meeting these two. I thought they would come around one day, but they never did. In their mind, I wasn’t good enough for their middle daughter and my on-going career struggles only confirmed this notion for them. Her father was a graduate of Yale University and was a practicing physician living in Newport News, VA. I quickly became their problem child, their focus when I wasn’t around. I stood in the shadow of this high society family and they didn’t want to see me become successful. At my wedding given all the challenges confronting my sober mind including the financial ones, I had a nervous breakdown (I went manic) during our wedding weekend.
Two months later, I was hospitalized as the good feeling of mania, racing thoughts and pressurized speech that had slowly built-up since the wedding/honeymoon finally deteriorated into psychosis and paranoia, by early July. I spent four days in a hospital psych ward before being discharged by a psychiatrist. In deep denial, I thought the mania was a one-time event in my life that wouldn’t repeat itself. I was wrong. In the days leading up to our first wedding anniversary (April 2003), the unresolved emotions from the wedding flooded my mind. I was embarrassed, humiliated over my illness and I felt like I had proved my in-laws right. My wife had already made arrangements for us to escape to the historic town of Apalachicola, FL for the weekend. Sensing that I was getting manic she backed out on Friday morning. I quickly found an unsuspecting friend to go with me, instead. We stayed at the same hotel, but I continued to get sicker. By Saturday night, the sheriff’s office was tipped off to my public behavior. I was taken into custody under Florida’s Baker Act where I was evaluated overnight at their jail before being transported to a mental hospital, in Tallahassee, the next morning.
I spent a difficult week in their custody before my wife was asked to come get me. My experience there was very confusing and scary. I was still sick when I got discharged. My wife had a trip planned to visit her older sister over Memorial Day weekend. Her trip out of town would send me off the deep end where I grew paranoid with racing thoughts. I took a road trip of my own across the Mississippi Gulf Coast along I-10 through Louisiana up to Shreveport, LA where my late-grandmother and uncle lived. I lasted all of three hours in Shreveport before making my way back home (a ten-hour drive). When manic, I find solitude driving alone in my car on the open road listening to music rather than being around others.
Upon my return home on Monday, law enforcement got wind of my behavior that afternoon and they followed me home. By the end of the day, I would be taken into custody for “resisting arrest” in my front yard, in front of my friends and neighbors. When you’re manic, psychotic and/or paranoid (or all three), your brain chemistry is so out of whack. You may stop sleeping and/or be unable to sleep. However, your awareness or consciousness may actually sharpen or become heighten. One’s already high IQ may go through the roof allowing you remember what happens during an incident or over several days or weeks compensating for a lack of sleep with each passing night. However, your understanding or interpretation of these events can be completely wrong resulting in an arrest or getting into some other trouble. (This is a critical point to understand.)
I live an honest, pretty clean life, but when I get sick I lose my ambitions. I have no fears. No fear of the police, no fear of “blue lights”, poisonous snakes, heights or even death. These fears can simply go right out the window and thus one’s natural behavior changes. Adrenaline can flood my body from head to toe, which prepares me for fight or flight. What looks risky in the eyes of others doesn’t necessarily appear that way in one’s own mind. That part of the brain no longer functions properly because you’re sick. Brain chemicals needed for functioning in everyday life gets depleted and they’re not replenished due to a lack of sleep.
The day after my arrest, my mother petitioned the probate court to have me committed to the state hospital (Searcy). Upon hearing her attorney’s testimony, Judge Don Davis approved her request. The misdemeanor charges were dropped in lieu of getting hospitalized. I was sent to a local mental hospital until there was bed space for me at Searcy. After three weeks of treatment including heavy medications, I was finally stabilized. On week four, I was transferred to Searcy where I spent only 16 days before being discharged, in July 2003. After one year of going to jail and hospitals on three separate occasions, “I finally got with the program.” I returned to my private psychiatrist and I began taking my meds as prescribed. In spite of getting sick three more times (2006, 2011, 2012), I’ve remained compliant. Many diseases (cancer, M.S, M.D., Crohn’s…) and illnesses (a cold, the flu…) can and do re-occur sending someone to the doctor’s office, to the pharmacy or to an emergency room for a life-saving intervention. Even the mentally ill through no fault of our own are subject to relapse. Case in point…
In August 2006, my wife came home from work one day stating that she was being downsized by her company, in thirty days, and that she wanted out of our four-year marriage and nine-year relationship. It had been a difficult one due to my career challenges, due to my mental illness including years of depression, which followed and not having the support of her parents. The news flipped me into mania as she made immediate plans to travel up to Raleigh, North Carolina to see her sister and to scout out a new life. I wasn’t working at the time. I was back in graduate school while living on her dime. Her desire to end our marriage threatened to leave me, both, hungry and homeless. This was very upsetting.
Within four weeks, I was manic-psychotic experiencing racing thoughts when I took another road trip through Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina to get out of town before getting arrested (in a nuisance crime) a day later, back home, at the Mobile Regional Airport for refusing to pay $8.00 for parking. I was convinced that the pay-booth attendant was out to harm me. I was arrested by airport police and taken to jail. The next afternoon, I was transferred to the same local mental hospital for treatment. I was released three weeks, later. While in the hospital, I was kicked out of graduate school for sending an email to my classmates at the height of my madness. The faculty wouldn’t allow me to return to the counseling program even thought I was cleared by the university’s disciplinary officer after our meeting.
I came home to an empty house with my wife still in North Carolina. I made arrangements to put our four-bedroom house on the market, in November 2006. By the end of January, we had sold our house. She moved herself and her things to Raleigh, NC and I moved across the bay to the town of Daphne, AL where I found an apartment. With no job, no career, no income and living on a line of credit, I felt inspired to write about my marriage of five years and my mental illness. I went on to produce over 40,000 words in some 40 days before shelving the project. It was the most writing that I had ever done in my whole life and it gave me much needed confidence. What was once impossible (writing) to due to dyslexia has become pretty easy following my nervous breakdown and my intellectual breakthrough where my IQ was tested and scored at 142 (2002), up from 100 in the eighth grade.
Since 2007, I’ve been living life as a philosopher and writer. Today, I’ve produced over ninety essays while building a global audience of 18,000 distinguished contacts via email. I’m an American thought leader and a pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health, the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, lawmakers and governors), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes.
Among the schools are forty-four world-class universities, in thirteen countries with over eleven thousand physicians, professors and researchers teaching at Harvard College, Harvard Business School, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health (over 2,000), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), MIT Sloan School of Management, Yale College, Yale Law School, Stanford, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford Law School, UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley School of Law, Princeton, Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Columbia, Columbia Business School, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia Law School, Penn, The Wharton School (Penn), Penn Law School, Penn Medical School, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Chicago, Chicago Booth School of Business, Chicago Law School, Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, NYU Stern School of Business, NYU School of Law, Brown, Emory, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health… For the kid who barely got in and out of college, he now writes to seven of the eight Ivy League schools along with Cambridge and Oxford Universities, as well as, fourteen global business schools, seventeen global law schools, three global medical schools and three global public health schools.
Here is what some in my audience are saying about my work.
Thank you for writing. I have heard from many Americans whose lives have been affected by mental health issues, and I appreciate your perspective…”
— U. S. President Barack Obama, The United States of America (2008-present)
October 8, 2014 (an email response to my essay – “In the company of geniuses”)
— Hon. David M. Walker, the former United States Comptroller General and head of the Government Accounting Office (GAO) (1998-2008)
October 31, 2013 (an email response to my essay — “President Obama: A loser coach managing a losing team.”)
I am writing to thank you for contacting my office. I take your opinions and concerns seriously, and I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me…”
— U. S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA-D)
October 21, 2013 (an email response to my essay — “Maturation”)
“Dear Mr. Burnett, Thank you…for forwarding your piece to Professor [Michael E.] Porter…we found it interesting thinking and a good read.”
— Stacie Rabinowitz, Research Associate
The Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness
Harvard Business School
June 21, 2011 (an email response to my essay — “Re: How would you reinvent Capitalism? (Corporate consciousness)”)
“Love your blog. Always thought provoking…” “Keep up the good work.”
— Norman Fischer, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Clark-Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA
January 29, 2009 (an email in response to my essays — “Business as Usual?”) and “Success!”)
“…You obviously have a flair for writing as well as a keen perspective on the ever-changing Mobile and Alabama…”
— U. S. Representative Jo Bonner
1st Congressional District of Alabama
March 19, 2008 (an excerpt from Bonner’s hand-written note in response to my email to Mobile, AL Chamber of Commerce President Win Hallett — From the desk of U.S. Congressman Jo Bonner…)
“Thanks for sending this essay, Ted. I am sharing it with the director of our Course of Study, Rev. Beth Luton.”
— Jan Love, Dean and Professor of Christianity and World Politics
Candler School of Theology
Emory University, Atlanta, GA
January 15, 2008 (an email in response to my essay – Freedom and Slavery – A Cycle of Life)
In late October of 2011, I got into a heated phone conversation with a close friend and my confidant of several years. Some things were said that caught me by surprise and left me very angry. Unbeknownst to me, our phone conversation would cause me to get sick in the coming days and weeks. My illness got worse and by November 14, 2011, I found myself admitted to Pensacola, Florida’s Baptist Hospital Adult Behavioral Unit. Under Florida’s Baker Act, by law you’re given a hearing before a judge and a representative from the attorney general’s office, on day eight, where, both, the treating physician and yourself is given an opportunity to testify. The psychiatrist went first providing details of my behavior during the first week in the hospital before recommending that I stay another week.
Speaking coherently, I told my story before asking the judge to be discharged. After hearing both of our testimonies, the judge ruled in my favor. I was released two hours later (November 22, 2011). Unfortunately, I was still sick. While in Pensacola, I got the idea to fly up to Raleigh, NC to see my ex-wife. I had sent her all of my essays over the years, but I had never called her or got a reaction. An hour from home and having no change of clothes, I called for a taxi to pick me up, at the hospital, with orders to take me to the Pensacola International Airport where I bought my first plane ticket since our amiable divorce. I lived on a very tight budget. I bought a $500 plane ticket with a departure date for the next morning, some clothes and a new iPhone. With these extraneous purchases, I busted my budget. I was unable to afford a hotel room at the nearby Hampton Inn. I spent the night on a bench inside the airport. However, my bipolar disorder kept me from getting any sleep.
My early flight on Delta Air Lines got me into Raleigh by noon, one day before Thanksgiving. I spent the previous day emailing Lisa my plans, but when I arrived she was nowhere to be found. I sat and waited in the airport emailing her for the next five hours. She never once answered. I had only $20 in my wallet; it wasn’t enough to leave the airport. I didn’t even know where she lived. Getting late, I finally gave up on her. I had my 10-day itinerary changed and I flew back to Pensacola that same day where I spent another night inside the airport until a friend could come get me on Thanksgiving Day.
Over the following weeks, I continued to be manic while moving in and out of psychosis and paranoia. The mentally ill have “low latent inhibition” compared to those without a mental illness. What others may tune-out, filter-out perceived as irrelevant, we notice, we sense and we may act on. On December 10, 2011, a barista at my local coffeehouse made some gestures towards me that happened to unnerve me. What transpired would result in me getting stopped and arrested on I-75 near Macon, GA (on the night of December 11, 2011). In response to this person’s conduct, I got into my car and I immediately left Daphne, AL without getting a change of clothes or a suitcase. I told no one about my spontaneous plans. Paranoid and trying to “elude detection”, I took a deliberate and indirect route out of the city, out of the county crossing the Alabama-Florida state line into the Florida panhandle where I drove east through Pensacola and beyond taking some back roads towards Tallahassee and onward to Jacksonville overnight rather than simply getting onto I-10 and going east. I had never been to Jacksonville before. I arrived at a breezy Jacksonville Beach at 3 in the morning waiting on daylight to come believing that I was going to meet a friend there. She never arrived.
I hung around for several hours after daybreak before leaving the Jacksonville Beach Pier to head south on Florida’s famous A1A to explore this area of the Sunshine State. After stopping for gas, I passed through Saint Augustine. I wanted to stop and check out this historic town, but I didn’t. Instead, I stopped at an ocean-side park south of town and I walk out on the beach. I asked and I was given instructions by an area resident for getting to Gainesville, FL. There was a series of roads that led west to this college town and to I-75. I had just passed my turn. As I entered the town with intentions of stopping and checking out the campus, I felt pressured to keep on driving. Rather than head south to Ocala and Tampa, I turned north toward Lake City. On some level, I knew that I needed to be hospitalized. However, whenever I get sick an element of denial returns.
As I approached I-10, I had an opportunity to go west and head back to Pensacola, FL and to Alabama. Having just spent a week in a Pensacola hospital, but out of pride I didn’t want to check myself back in. The treatment didn’t work. I needed three solid weeks with heavy psychotropic drugs to bring me back down to Earth. I didn’t get that either time in Tallahassee or Pensacola. Like a scout, I decided to drive up into Georgia and see what I discovered. I was on a road trip with no agenda, but not enough money to take the ride. I crossed into the Peachtree State driving the speed limit, 70 mph, for much of the way.
Mental illness causes a lot of problems including wrecking careers, finances and one’s stellar credit. I no longer had access to any credit cards and without a job – my bank account (debit card) was always on or near empty. I was living on the charity ($100) that a friend had given to me, two days earlier. However, it was quickly being spent on food and gas. A few hours into Georgia, I was out of money and I had only the gas in my car to get me closer to Atlanta (my new destination). My old sales territory bordered Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to the north including the towns of Jonesboro, Morrow, College Park and Forest Park. I was six hours from my Alabama home when I realized that I was in serious trouble, I couldn’t turn around. To compensate for my situation, I began driving slower than the flow of traffic. I reduced my speed first from 70 down to 55 mph. Later in the day, I reduced it when further to improve my gas mileage. Posted on the right hand side of the road in middle Georgia were a series of repeating signs stating “Minimum Speed 40 MPH”.
I took it to literally mean that I could drive just above 40 mph. I set my cruise control to 42 mph by the time I approached Macon. As darkness set in I was in my own world. I was on a stretch of road that was foreign to me. I had been awake for close to 40 hours due to bipolar disorder and I had been driving for some 30 hours. The first and only indication that there was a problem was when a Georgia State Trooper pulled up beside me in the right lane of I-75 with his blue lights on. “Driving” above the minimum speed limit and having not committed a crime, I didn’t think anything of his actions. It didn’t dawn on me to stop, to pullover or to get out of his way. I just kept on driving while on cruise control with my two feet on the floorboard. “I was there, I just wasn’t all there.”
The trooper then pulled past me before moving over in front of my car. I had never seen this before. With less than a foot to spar between his rear bumper and the front bumper of my Honda Accord and his blue lights almost blinding me, I thought we were driving or “flying” in some formation like a pair of fighter pilots from the Navy’s Blue Angels. At 42 mph and still on cruise control, unbeknownst to me the trooper would soon let off his accelerator causing a collision. The impact to me was a jarring surprise, but it wasn’t enough to deploy my airbags. As he pulled away from me, I noticed that my speed was quickly dropping on the speedometer. For what seemed like minutes, I struggled in the dark to identify why I was slowing down only to realize that my engine had been knocked out of “gear” and into “neutral”. At 20 mph, I shifted the transmission back into “drive”.
No sooner did that happen then I got struck from behind sending my car spinning out of the left lane across the right lane and into the emergency lane before coming to a sudden stop with my car now facing southbound. (I would learn later while sitting in jail that this procedure is called a Pit Maneuver.) As law enforcement officers descended with me sitting in my car, I slowly exited it walking straight to the Bibb County Sheriff Deputy’s patrol car parked behind me. I put my hands on his hood. I was frisked, my pockets were emptied. I was handcuffed and placed in the backseat of the police cruiser without incident. Was there any criminal intent on my part regarding what had just transpired – of course, not? Prosecuting me for these “crimes” on I-75 would be like prosecuting a three year-old for unknowingly pulling something off a bookshelf or the kitchen counter they don’t see and it breaks when hitting the floor. Do you spank a child for not knowing any better, for not understanding the consequences of their actions? That’s the mindset of the non-violent mentally ill person.
Did the state trooper and the two trailing sheriff deputies think they witnessed a crime? What if they were responding to a 911 medical emergency would they’ve behaved any different? I could’ve been suffering from an aneurism, a seizure, a stroke, but instead I was suffering from bipolar disorder. What’s the difference? One diagnosis gets you taken to jail and the others maybe to the hospital. Yet, Emory School of Medicine, Georgia Regents and Mercer all incorporate psychiatry as part of its medical curriculum. Why doesn’t the state of Georgia, the governor, the general assembly, its courts treat mental illness, accordingly? Who knows better the politicians and the law enforcement or your physicians? I was never interviewed, at any time, by the state trooper. While sitting on the side of the road, I was informed that they had found drugs in my trunk. What they thought was cocaine or some other illegal white substance was actually laundry detergent (in powdered-form) in a clear one-gallon “Ziploc-like” bag containing a 12-ounce plastic cup (for measuring purposes). The laundry detergent filled up about 1/5 of the bag. Real geniuses at work!
With its obvious perfume scent, could these officers not tell the difference? Is this not covered in basic training at the police academy or while doing laundry at home? About two or three times a month, I eat lunch with United States Federal Judge [name withheld] of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (AL, GA and FL), and his wife. I think it’s fair to say that he really enjoys having lunch with me and seeing what I have to say about the topics up for discussion. The feeling is mutual. We’ve discussed my arrest in Georgia on several occasions. He once made the point that because Alabama and Georgia’s starting pay for its law enforcement officers is low he sees more civil suits brought against its agencies and its officers by individuals then he does in Florida where the starting pay among its officers is better resulting in a higher caliber of candidates.
On the night of December 11, I was taken to the Bibb County Correctional Facility, in Macon, GA, where I was given a field sobriety test in the garage. I passed it. I was then transported to a nearby hospital where a nurse drew blood from my right arm for a drug test. Experiencing racing thoughts and pressurized speech, I gave the deputy an ear full about America and terrorism as we sped across town as though we were the only ones still on the road. Upon returning to the jail, I was booked, exchanging my clothes for the standard jail apparel (orange jumpsuits and soft orange shoes). I was then finger-printed and photographed. I sat in booking for several hours to the point that I started becoming frustrated and unhinged. I felt like a caged animal. I was confused and I didn’t understand why I was sitting in jail, I came out of my jumpsuit. When the door to my holding cell was unlocked, I made a beeline to the clothes locker dragging two corrections officers (COs) one on each arm with me. I was full of adrenaline. I had leaving the jail on my mind. The COs quickly got the upper hand and they threw me into a nearby holding cell where I spent the next half-hour signing at the top of my lungs the song, “Dixie”. I was truly out of my mind.
By the next morning, I would be placed in the jail’s infirmary. I went to court and along the way someone told me to ask for a “commitment hearing”, which I did. In Georgia, this request at this first hearing requires the prosecutors to present all their evidence at the trial. Given my state of mind, I had no business asking a judge for these rights in the preliminary hearing. I could’ve easily messed this up changing the outcome of my trial and my fate. Unbeknownst to me, that same morning the Georgia State Trooper that I had my fender bender with was filing his charges against me in Monroe County Superior Court, in neighboring (Forsyth) where his post was located. After accepting his charges, the magistrate signed a warrant out for my arrest. Returning from the preliminary hearing, I was intercepted by the infirmary’s director, Roy Brown, on my way back to the infirmary.
Roy asked me if I had a history of mental illness, which I affirmed with a nod. I gave him some dates off the top of head. I spent the first week in solitary confinement. I was allowed out of my cell only once a day to take a shower. I spent a total of nineteen days being treated and stabilized in the Bibb County Jail’s infirmary. I returned to court one week later appearing before State Court Judge Bill Adams. He asked me, if I wanted to be represented by an attorney. Having had a week to think about my situation and the gravity of it sinking in I quickly said, “Yes”. This was the first arrest where I was facing the charges regardless of being sane or insane. In Alabama, your family can commit you to a state hospital where the charges would be discharged in probate. Florida’s Baker Act resulted in law enforcement being trained to look for cases of mental illness when responding to calls and getting us an immediate medical evaluation over automatic incarceration. As I would come to learn in the state of Georgia, the mentally ill get prosecuted just like someone with a criminal mind. That’s insane.
Following the hearing, I met with my newly court-appointed attorney Andrew Foster of Macon, GA. He made some notes on a piece of paper and he told me that I would be back in court the following Friday. That week came and went, I was never called. I spent Christmas in jail. On the December 29, Roy Brown paid me a visit. He told me that I was being released into the general population and that I would be going to court the next day. Once again, it didn’t happen. I wasn’t called to court to face my charges: four misdemeanors: DUI/drugs, failing to maintain my lane, holding up traffic, fleeing and eluding the police until Friday, January 28, 2012. I spent a total of 48 days in Bibb County Correctional Facility. My case was the last one to be called for that morning’s session before Judge Bill Adams. Right there in front of me, the judge and the D.A.’s office quickly agreed to dismiss all my charges pending a clean drug test, having been clean and sober for the past 25 years that was going to be a problem.
Upon returning to the Bibb County Correctional Facility, I was soon picked up, in booking, by a deputy with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. I had no clue what these charges were about after all, I had never stepped foot in the county. I sat in the backseat for the ride over racking my brain. After being booked in the Monroe County Jail, I faced the magistrate where I learned that I was facing a felony: Aggravated Assault upon a Law Enforcement Officer, two misdemeanors: DUI/drugs, Fleeing and Eluding the Police filed by the Georgia State Trooper. Having just witnessed commonsense play itself out in Bibb County State Court, I felt confident that this would work itself out, as well.
Little did I know how serious this felony charge was and I wouldn’t come to know the truth for another month or two while sitting in the cell block and finally seeing Georgia’s grid sheet in the possession of another inmate. While in Bibb County, my mother asked her estranged brother-in-law, an attorney in Louisiana, to handle my case on behalf of our family. She refused to get involved this time. However, his prior involvement in family matters over the past thirty years never had good outcomes; this effort would prove to be no different. I wished for the best, but I remained on guard. On Monday, I got my one phone call while sitting in my cellblock. To my relief it was my uncle calling to say that he had hired an attorney, Laura D. Hogue, out of Macon to gather all the information in my case and that she would be coming to visit me that afternoon or on Tuesday. He talked for no more than thirty or forty seconds before hanging up in my face. I had just spent 48 days in Bibb County Jail and he didn’t care to know how I was holding up. My life was in his hands and he could care less. That was scary. It was a very lonely moment putting the receiver back on the cradle of the wall-mounted payphone before the eyes of my new cellmates. Going forward, our phone calls were always to the point.
Laura D. Hogue, a criminal defense attorney, came out on Friday afternoon. It was the first visit from someone other than an inmate or an employee with the jail. Our visit lasted no more than 30-minutes, but I wasn’t really for her to leave. In her possession were some or all the police reports from the night of my arrest. She didn’t know about my hospitalization in Bibb County Jail. As she read one of the deputy’s reports – it sounded like the words of a definite crazy person, as I laughed to myself. What was there to fear? I asked her if she had ever handled cases involving the mentally ill and her response was, “Yes, the criminally insane.” I instantly thought to myself, you just got that answer wrong. I may be crazy, but I’m not criminally insane. Whoever she had been talking to was no fan of mine. She spoke of getting me bonded out of jail by next week, which sounded delightful. I ended the meeting asking Laura to go meet with the district attorney (Richard Milam) and tell him that I was suffering from bipolar disorder. What was there to lie about? I don’t think she honored this request, I guess I didn’t understand the laws in Georgia. However, there’s compelling evidence that the state of Georgia already knew (as far back as 2008) that it was incarcerating and prosecuting the mentally ill for relatively minor crimes at a high cost to the state.
According to the grid sheet, Aggravated Assault upon a Law Enforcement Officer was just one step below the Georgia’s Seven Deadly Sins of Rape, Murder, Armed Robbery, Aggravated Sodomy, Aggravated Child Molestation and Aggravated Sexual Battery, which gets you a life sentence in prison without the chance of parole. My felony required mandatory prison time ranging from 5 to 20 years. I couldn’t see where my situation given that I was sick on I-75 would cost me the next 5 to 20 years of my life sitting in some Georgia prison among the worst of the worst: murders, rapists and robbers. What happened on I-75 was a “one-mph fender bender” that caused no damage to the trooper’s car, to his being only to his pride. The incident didn’t make the 10 o’clock news or get a line of ink in the morning paper. However, bruised egos ruled the day and the worst possible charges were filed against me. If the state was going to get its way, it was going to be at my expense.
When I failed to appear in Monroe County Superior Court, in February, I wrote to Laura Hogue seeking an explanation. She ignored my letter. In early March, I wrote her a second letter. Once again, I got no response. I wasn’t happy with her given the fact that I write to a lot of prominent people. I quickly moved forward with plan B to get help from members of my Alabama Congressional Delegation. While I couldn’t work on the legal aspects of my case by communicating directly with the district attorney (D.A.), I could work all aspects of the political end. I wrote to, both, U.S. Representative Jo Bonner (R-AL) and U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Both have been in my audience since the fall of 2007 and they had been getting my near-monthly essays ever since. I’ve heard from Senator Sessions many times with his form-letters in response to my political and social essays. I had even heard from Jo Bonner once (March 2008) and it came in the form of a very nice hand-written note on his official stationary expressing his awareness of my talent to write and my insights while encouraging me to look for support at one of the local universities.
From a county jail with only 130 inmates, I mailed both letters to their respective Washington offices. Within ten days or so, I got a response from Jo. This created a buzz in cellblock A, everyone wanted to read my letter unfortunately it didn’t contain any good news. As a federal official, Jo stated that he couldn’t get involved in state matters. This was a huge disappointment. It forced me to come up with a new strategy or plan C. When I was nineteen years old, I was riding with a friend in his car and he was telling me some story. The point being that the [Alabama] “state troopers were the governor’s boys”. I remember hearing that story like it was yesterday. I came to realize that even the most lenient prosecutor might be nervous about reducing or dropping such serious charges filed by one of the governor’s state troopers. With that knowledge, I knew who I needed to take my story to. I began searching for paper, pen and envelopes in the cellblock. Twice a week, this particular jail passes out paper and envelopes. It was a Godsend. The jail would charge your account for every stamp, but if you had no money they would allow you to mail out two pieces each week and charge it against any future money sent to you by family and friends. It took me several drafts and a lot of paper to carefully craft my first letter to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R).
Decades of clean living and five years of writing essays prepared me in a way that few others could match. For years, I had been writing to attorneys, billionaire CEOs, federal judges and lawmakers, major foundations, media executives and their personalities, policy institutes and some 10,000 university presidents and professors around the world. It was still very imitating given my reason for writing and having to do it from behind the walls of a jail. I had the wherewithal to copy a few others including the Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), U.S. Representative Jo Bonner (R-AL), State Bar of Georgia, ACLU, Southern Center for Human Rights, Laura Hogue and my uncle. On the last page under my signature, I “Cc:” everyone for all to see just like in an email. I didn’t know who or if anyone would step up. This was the first of three letters that I sent to Governor Deal’s office, first, explaining the incident, as well as, the events leading up to it, which is relevant in cases involving mental illness. I ended the letter by stating that “I was being railroaded into a Georgia prison.” That’s how I saw the charges. I had hoped that I wrote something that would make a difference, but I really didn’t know. An inmate called his wife and got me the addresses to the governor and the attorney general’s offices, in downtown Atlanta.
What should have taken me four weeks to get mailed out I was able to get out in two or three weeks. Within another ten days, I got a second letter from U.S. Representative Jo Bonner. My cellmates showed less enthusiasm in what he had to say this time. Jo simply stated that he read my letter and that he had sent his copy “to the appropriate officials in Georgia.” Who was that, I wondered – the governor, the attorney general? I didn’t know what to make of his brief letter to me (I’ve just recently come to learn that Jo (2003-13) and Governor Deal (1993-07) served in Congress, together.). By now, we were in mid-April. My uncle showed no interest in bonding me out while screwing up and telling me I had enough inheritance to cover my cash bond during his one and only visit. (As I would later learn that dollar amount would prove to be in the six figures.) The state’s desire to criminalize the mentally ill allows family members to take advantage of this situation and he was. No one in my family advocated on my behalf. They were unconsciously working with the state to send me to prison. Accused murders have gotten more support from their family and friends than I was getting from mine. I felt betrayed by all.
I share inheritance with my uncle as naked owners of my late grandparent’s succession, under French law. I’m currently suing my late-father’s older brother for control of my share. If I went to prison for 5-20 years, he stood to spend it all. Sitting in jail with its sensory deprivation began to get to me especially over the weekends. I had regular thoughts of suicide while looking at concrete, cinder block and steel. I could only draw so much out of my fellow inmates in the form of conversations. I went from living free, hanging out at Starbucks, at public libraries and meeting friends for lunch to being reduced to a number at roll call in the morning and, again, at night. Writing all three letters to the governor while copying everyone else made time pass-by in the dayroom and it gave me some control over my case. Few other inmates worked on their cases, they played cards and chess. Some of the jail’s deputies made sets of my letters for me making the writing effort a little bit easier. I wondered if the D.A. knew or even cared that I was writing to these various parties. I have no doubt that he thought my case was a slam dunk.
By mid-April, I informed my uncle that I wanted to hire my own lawyer. This one had just gotten another cellmate off for “stabbing his father seven times” so we were told. Karen K. Martin of Barnesville, GA was the preferred lawyer among my cellmates where most were too poor to afford her or so they thought. I had already written to her. I didn’t know how my uncle would receive my news, but to my surprise he seemed receptive to my request. He probably thought that I was committing suicide. He was all too glad to facilitate my request, which was a first time in this whole ordeal. Writing my two letters to Laura D. Hogue and getting no response, in March, made firing her easy and it took my uncle off my case, as well. Had my case gone to trial as they talked about in several email exchanges, my truth, my illness would have been crushed by the testimony of a state trooper and two sheriff deputies before a judge and jury. I would have been toast. From prison, no attorney or legal group would have ever taken up my case because these officers actually witnessed the “crime”, what crime? Pretty scary!
The following week Karen Martin came to the Monroe County Jail after visiting the D.A.’s office with a plea deal in hand. Her first words to me were that “I had been sitting in jail for too long.” And that “she didn’t understand why.” “That it was time for me to return to Alabama.” This was sounding good. The charge of felony: Aggravated Assault upon a Law Enforcement Officer had been reduced to felony: Obstruction of Justice and one misdemeanor: Fleeing and Eluding the Police. I was being given credit for time served – 150 days, no fines, 5-year probation and banishment from the state of Georgia. The DUI/drugs misdemeanor was dropped. Karen also told me that the grand jury was meeting in two weeks, if they came back with an indictment on the original charges this deal was off. I had a week to get into court and plea out. I couldn’t believe it.
To accept the felony was like swallowing a poison pill. I was told that the D.A.’s office was upset with me. They wanted to take away my driver’s license. The felony on my record could diversely affect every future arrest caused by bipolar disorder. I was concerned about the legacy of this felony on my record. If I was avoiding prison this time, I might find myself in prison the next time. Karen went back to the D.A.’s office to address my exposure in the future. The felony: Obstruction of Justice would include the language “with mental illness”. The idea of the felony was very upsetting. With court in session the following Wednesday, I reluctantly told her to accept the deal. Karen thought I needed to talk it over with my uncle.
That night, I called my uncle, but he refused to take my call. I called all night long, but I got no answer. On Thursday night, I called him. He finally answered. I gave him orders to call, email and fax Karen’s office on Friday morning telling her to accept the deal and to get me into court. I wouldn’t get a confirmation from him until the mail ran on Monday. My uncle sent me a copy of the email or fax to Karen, the first sentence said it all. “Karen, Ted called me last night saying that he’s tired of sitting in jail and that he wants to accept the felony plea bargain.” His words spoke volumes and it demonstrated the problem when the state fails to protect someone with mental illness from the actions and words of their so-called “caring” family members. It’s very dangerous.
On May 9, 2012, I knew I was making the right decision to plea out when Karen turned to me in court and said that her late husband, Harold, had trained almost every lawyer and judge in Monroe Court. With her representation, I felt like I was getting special privileges. Her words were the icing on the cake and it affirmed my decision to hire her. Unfortunately, the actions of the district attorney’s office of forcing me to take a felony and to accept probation caused me to go manic. I started getting sick in the days leading up to court. After appearing in court and signing my name to the plea bargain, I was released from jail a few hours later. Nobody in my family came to get me. I walked out of jail, which was located down the street from the interstate. I tried to not look like someone who had just spent five months in jail. As I was rounding the corner and having just passed a restaurant, a car pulled up and the driver offered me ride. I asked him to take me to a nearby gas station on an interstate exit. The one upside to being locked up for five months was that I went into jail broke and I came out with over $5,000.00 in my bank account courtesy of having my Social Security Disability checks direct deposited, monthly. You can say that I got paid to sit in jail.
I caught a ride from Forsyth to a hotel at the Atlanta airport where I checked in. Separated from my Alabama driver’s license in Bibb County Court, I was unable to purchase a plane ticket. I continued to disintegrate mentally experiencing racing thoughts and becoming paranoid. On day three, I checked out of the hotel and I caught a ride on MARTA up to a Buckhead. I could’ve easily been picked up by the Atlanta Police or by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department. Within two or three days, I walked from Buckhead all the way down Peachtree Street to the Greyhound Bus terminal. I bought my first ticket on Greyhound to Tampa, FL, but I got off overnight in Gainesville, FL. I spent the month of May and June in Florida where I was hospitalized twice, first, in Ocala, at The Vines, for a week before being released and again spending over two weeks, in Gainesville, at the University of Florida/Shands Hospital. I was released the last week of June 2012. I’ve been stable ever since. Upon returning home, one thing hanging over me was my probation. I never heard from anyone. In the spring of 2012, I began ordering all my court records from this incident. Upon getting a certified copy of my case file from Monroe County Superior Court, I learned that the judge had suspended my probation citing my mental illness, in August of 2012. That seemed only fair.
Mental illness does not discriminate. It can strike anyone, at any time in their life. It doesn’t care who you are, what your last name is, what your occupation is, what your standing is in your community or what your goals and dreams are. It has struck down the rich, the poor, the famous, the most powerful, the most educated and the illiterate, blacks and whites, men, women and children. The stigma is real. Nobody brings you a casserole dish when you’ve just gotten out of a mental hospital. Mental illness is well-known for its negative aspects, but it also has some positive qualities, too. I recently produced a much needed video to shed some light on the subject.
“In the company of geniuses”, is a short film (18 minutes +/-) about famous people with a mental illness and how our schools, our teachers, our textbooks failed to mention the connection between their illness of bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia… and their groundbreaking achievements and breakthroughs to generations of American children that later created a false impression and a stigma for those diagnosed with a mental illness. Rather than appreciate the mentally ill or have empathy for us, too often there’s fear and hate for this misunderstood group. I have no doubt that fear and hate for us can be seen in how law enforcement treat us and how the criminal justice system like the state of Georgia’s takes a “nuisance crime” and turns it into a level six or seven crime. I have no doubt that prejudice played a role in how my case was handled by the rural Monroe County, Georgia District Attorney’s Office and why I’m, now, having to write to the Georgia Pardons and Parole Board seeking relief. This case should have been dropped, but false pride won out.
Featured in my film besides President Abraham Lincoln and British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill is a British actress who won an Academy Award for her role as a Southern Belle and Georgian from Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind. Vivien Lee suffered from bipolar disorder for much of her adult life. Can you image anyone else playing the role of Scarlett O’Hara? The second person with Georgia roots lost his father to suicide when he was only 24 years old. Young Ted was left with a $12 million billboard company and was told to dream bigger than his dad did. Ted would turn his father’s business into a $8 billion media company over the next few decades, along the way, putting Atlanta on the global map with the launch of his cable news channel, CNN, and making the Atlanta Braves’ ‘America’s Team’ and turn its players into household names in the living rooms on most homes across America with his nightly broadcasts on WTBS. It’s the stuff of genius. Ted Turner also has bipolar disorder. Like him or hate him, what has been Ted Turner’s impact on the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia? Incalculable!
In July 2012, I learned that my ex-wife got remarried in January 2010, but she never bothered to tell me in all that time. The $500.00 that I spent on a plane ticket to go see her could have bought me a lot of gas on my drive through Georgia and back into Alabama. I confronted her about it, but she has never apologized. Her silence almost bought me a ticket to prison. I’m very disappointed in her.
In the fall of 2012, I returned to writing with two essays appearing on The Huffington Post.
At the heart of climate change
(The Huffington Post: November 12, 2012)
Are we trying to cure the infection or the fever?
(The Huffington Post: September 16, 2012)
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’m applying to reclaim my civil and political rights, to get a pardon and a pardon exception. In truth, my request for a pardon from the state of Georgia is tantamount to Martin Luther King, Jr. applying for one from the city of Birmingham or the state of Alabama. My case I did nothing wrong, I was sick. The state of Georgia for too long failed to pass the appropriate laws protecting the mentally ill. This state had the chance to drop the charges against me, but a district attorney ignored the state’s own research. Your own study indicates that 17% of inmates have a mental illness and are being incarcerated for relatively minor offenses. As I seek a career in politics, as well as, consider leaving this bankrupt country that your generation has run into the ground, I’m left with a five-month experience that needs to be shared with the world while having another stigma to shake off my back. Mental illness took me years to find any humor in it; this felony leaves me shaking my head and thinking just how backwards the state of Georgia really is.
Cc: Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R)
Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle (R)
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens (R)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, M.D (R)
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R)
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Retired U.S. Representative Jo Bonner (1st Congressional District of Alabama, 2003-13), (R-AL)
U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (1st Congressional District of Alabama, 2013-present), (R-AL)
U.S. Federal Judge Emmett Ripley Cox, United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit
(AL, GA and FL) (A personal friend.)
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein
Dean and Professor of World Politics, Jan Love, Candler School of Theology, Emory University (audience member)
Professor Norman Fischer, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Clark-Atlanta University (audience member)
Mr. Vernon M. Keenan, Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation
Sheriff David Davis, Bibb County, Georgia
Sheriff John Cary Bittick, Monroe County, Georgia
Mr. David Ralston, Georgia Speaker of the House
Mr. Robert E. “Ted” Turner, III, Chairman of the Turner Foundation, Atlanta, GA
Mrs. Karen K. Martin, Martin and Martin, Barnesville, GA
Mrs. Laura D. Hogue, Hogue and Hogue, LLP, Macon, GA
Mr. Bobby Lee Cook, Cook and Connelly, Summerville, GA
Hon. Chief Judge of Superior Court, Towaliga Judicial Circuit Thomas H. Wilson
Bobby Lee Cook quote, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Lee_Cook#Famous_Quotes
Forbes.com – Ted Turner – At Long Last, He’s Citizen Ted, http://www.forbes.com/2003/01/30/cx_da_0130topnews.html
Georgia Mental Health Court Standards, http://w2.georgiacourts.org/gac/files/MHC%20Standards%202011.pdf
Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame, http://www.triallawyerhalloffame.org/inductee/bobby-lee-cook/
Wikipedia – Vivien Leigh, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivien_Leigh
My medical history including hospitalizations has been withheld from this audience.
Copyright © 2014-15. All Rights Reserved. “Dear Chairman Barnard” by Ted Burnett
My other essays and videos can be viewed at my blog – http://www.tedburnett.com. I can be contacted via email at – firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE WHITE HOUSE
October 8, 2014
Thank you for writing. I have heard from many Americans whose lives have been affected by mental health issues, and I appreciate your perspective.
The needs of people with mental illnesses have gone unaddressed for far too long. Since the first White House Conference on Mental Health over a decade ago, doctors and researchers have made extraordinary progress in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, and promoting mental health. Yet, many families still lack access to the treatments and community resources needed to help their loved ones recover.
As a longtime supporter of mental health parity, I recognize we must do more to improve services for individuals and families. My Administration has coordinated health forums around our country, bringing together citizens, health care professionals, and elected officials to discuss solutions for better care. We have also taken an important step by funding biomedical and behavioral research grants at the National Institute of Mental Health.
People living with mental illnesses, community organizations, as well as health and social service agencies can work collaboratively to better understand, diagnose, and treat these illnesses. Together, we must overcome the fear and misunderstanding that surround mental illnesses so that more Americans can live out their dreams and achieve their greatest potential.
For more information on mental health assistance and health care reform, please visit www.MentalHealth.gov or www.HealthCare.gov.
Again, thank you for writing.
State Board of Pardons and Paroles
February 18, 2015
Mr. Thomas Edward Burnett, Jr.
500 Lincoln Street
Daphne, AL 36526
Dear Mr. Burnett:
The Board has had the opportunity to carefully and thoroughly review all available information regarding your application for the restoration of civil and political rights. At this time the Board has denied your request. You are not eligible for a Pardon at this time as you have not yet had the opportunity to live a law-abiding life for five years following the completion of sentence. In order to be considered for a pardon exception, you must provided supporting documents for such consideration. According to our current information, you may apply again after August, 2017.
Thurman L. Henderson
Assistant Director of Clemency
Dissatisfied with their response, I appealed to Governor Deal.
Thomas E. Burnett, Jr.
500 Lincoln Street, Suite B-105
Daphne, AL 36526
February 24, 2015
Dear Governor Deal,
At 43 years old, I am requesting a meeting with you seeking relief after receiving a letter in the mail from your state board of pardons and paroles. They declined my request to have my civil and political rights restored following my arrest in December 2011, on I-75 near Macon in my one and only plea bargain (and conviction, ever) to felony obstruction of justice “with mental illness”, on May 9, 2012, in Monroe County Court. The letter said that I couldn’t reapply until 2017. I find this response from your board to be unacceptable and another reason on why I should leave this bankrupt country, today. As a political writer and activist, I’m well aware of the real state of the union and the spiraling out-of-control national debt run up by your generation that will probably never be paid back down by your children or your grandchildren. Like our government, both, our society and the family unit are undergoing a crisis in purpose. Governments are destroying its citizens’ lives and rights while our two political parties are dressed out in blue and gray.
The original charge of Aggravated Assault upon a Law Enforcement Officer was a bit excessive when the state trooper, Thomas Wilson, pulled ahead of me and then in front of me to slow down my car that was traveling at 42 mph in a 70 to bring me to a stop. At the time, I was suffering from a manic episode, a lack of sleep and I was confused. I was later hospitalized for 19 days in the Bibb County Jail to treat me for bipolar disorder. At the time of the arrest, I was out of money, low gas and unfamiliar with that part of the state while heading north to Atlanta. This turned out to be a victimless crime — neither the trooper nor his vehicle was hurt from the one-mile per hour bumper to bumper collusion and the incident didn’t even make the 10 o’clock news. I was clean and sober at the time of the arrest and I have been for 25 years.
Under the plea bargain, I got credit for time served (150 days), no fines (significant given the original charge) and banishment from the state, five years’ probation, which Judge Wilson later dropped upon closing out my case, on August 9, 2012. I thought his actions spoke volumes about my case.
I would like to remind you of two recent events: The first being the 2008 global banking and home-foreclosure crisis and its impact on your state. How many Wall Street bankers were brought down to Atlanta and put on trial for ruining Georgia’s economy for years and for causing mass unemployment, for bankrupting Georgia families while foreclosing on their homes? Did any CEO or anyone from Countrywide, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Chase Manhattan, Goldman Sachs… spend a single day in Fulton County Jail for causing this crisis? Have any of these banks been banished from Georgia for life? When you put my arrest in some perspective like a bad economy caused by the recklessness of greedy bankers, the state board of pardons and paroles actions towards my case looks pretty ridiculous, petty and even downright childish.
While on your watch as governor a 2013 winter storm blew through the South, through Georgia and Atlanta catching many officials off-guard, leaving many children stranded at their schools or on their buses overnight while their parents got stuck on your interstates. While no one died in the storm, you were heavily criticized for your lack of leadership and preparation as governor in managing the response to the storm. The crisis made national and international news. However, your constituents seem to have forgiven you as I now seek the same from your office — to be made whole and thus set free – with the restoration of my rights and/or a pardon. You’ve enjoyed a successful political career that I can only dream of.
Cc: Governor Robert Bentley (R)
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens
Jo Bonner, former U.S. Representative (R-AL)
U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-AL)
U.S. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
U.S. Federal Judge Emmett Ripley Cox
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange
Bobby Lee Cook, Cook and Connelly
Terry E. Barnard, Chairman of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles
STATE OF GEORGIA
OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
March 4, 2015
Dear Mr. Burnett:
Thank you for writing to request my assistance. I appreciate your concerns.
Unfortunately, this is a matter solely under the jurisdiction of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, and I am unable to intervene. State law specifically restricts my office’s power in the granting of pardons. I encourage you to request assistance from Terry E. Barnard, Chairman of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, so that he or the appropriate member of his team can review your comments. You may contact this office directly:
Terry E. Barnard, Chairman
State Board of Pardons and Paroles
2 MLK, Jr. Drive, East Tower, Suite 458
Atlanta, Georgia 30334
I hope this information is helpful to you and that you understand the limitations placed on my authority. Thank you again for writing.
Dissatisfied with the governor’s response, I then appealed to U.S. Attorney for Northern Georgia John Horn.
U.S. Department of Justice United States Attorney Northern District of Georgia
Richard Russell Federal Building Telephone: (404) 581-6000
75 Spring Street 5.W., Suite 600 Fax: ( 404) 581-6181
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
March 24, 2015
Mr. Thomas Edward Burnett, Jr.
500 Lincoln Street, Apt. B-105
Daphne, Alabama 36526
Dear Mr. Burnett:
Thank you for your correspondence of February 28, 2015. I have reviewed your letter and the enclosures and understand that you are disputing the denial by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles of your application for restoration of your civil rights. The United States Attorney’s Office does not have jurisdiction to review such decisions by the state board, and we cannot offer legal advice to individuals. I certainly sympathize with your circumstances but, unfortunately, cannot offer any assistance in this regard. You may wish to contact a private attorney through your local Bar Association or Legal Aid Society.
JOHN A. HORN
Acting United States Attorney
Chief, Criminal Division
Dissatisfied with this response, I then appealed to Judge Cox the next time I saw him at lunch. To be continued…
After 3 years, I’ve finally gotten to say what I wanted to say to this audience about this experience. There’s more that can be said, but I’ll save it for a later date. Know that this essay like many of the others that you’ve read have served as reading material for inmates in a Georgia prison where one of my former cellmates is doing a 20-year sentence. He was convicted for manufacturing meth for himself and his brother on two occasions, in the same year. “Mark”, a twenty-five year alcoholic and drug-addict, said he had become too poor to buy it on the streets now he’s doing some serious time. We exchange correspondence on a monthly basis. I’m always surprised by the positive tone of his letters. Given that sentence, I’m not so sure that I would be so spry. On more than one occasion, Mark has mentioned to me that his fellow inmates enjoy reading the essays. In doing time myself, I know why and that’s the very reason that I mail them to Mark. On two occasions, inmates have transferred out of Mark’s prison to another facility only to write to me seeking my essays. Unfortunately, due to their criminal backgrounds, I’ve chosen to pass on becoming pen pals with them.
I want to give a special thanks to all those who helped with my case, shared their supply of paper, envelopes, and pens, made me copies, wrote a letter or made a phone call on my behalf and to my attorney representing when others failed to. I definitely had a couple of guardian angels looking out for me in middle Georgia. Without former U.S. Representative Jo Bonner quick acknowledgement of my letters to him by responding twice to me while I sat in jail, I would’ve most likely gone to prison. I want to also thank my attorney Karen K. Martin, of Barnesville, GA. She was all business with, both, the D.A. and with me. The road to freedom required me to swallow some bad medicine, but I lived to tell about it.
For the Monroe County (Georgia) District Attorney’s Office to be all pissed off at me as I was told by Karen Martin, someone must have called down from Atlanta (from, either, the governor’s office or from the attorney general’s office) telling them to send me home. (I’m unsure of this part of the story that led to the original felony being reduced). However, it pays to write to your representatives in Washington, that’s something I’ve been doing since the fall of 2007. I think Jo had total confidence in my story on the night of the arrest that he was willing to “go to bat” for this constituent sitting in jail, in another state. I can’t imagine too many members of Congress taking time out of their busy schedule, in Washington, or back home to write a letter or to make a phone call for some troubled constituent, but he did. I think it speaks volumes about him, as a person.
Since my first year or two of writing, my motto has been “Question everything.” After this experience and the failure of those in my immediate life, I’ve had to modify the motto a bit to now read…
“Question everything and trust no one!”
It sounds pretty cynical and maybe it is, maybe it should be. That’s what happens when we lose our innocence, we become cynical and bitter about life. These are only cover-ups for our disappointments and our hurts. I still have mine. I’ve come to see that it’s in one’s best interest to assume nothing, to trust no one or risk being betrayed.
We have to distrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal.
– Tennessee Williams
It’s time to move on.
Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved. “A Low-Speed Chase through Georgia” by Ted Burnett.
My other essays and videos can be viewed at my website – http://www.tedburnett.com. I can be contacted via email at – email@example.com.