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Transcript: Season 1, Episode 3, Decriminalizing Mental Health with Cat Brooks

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Lee 0:00 While I was inside, and I was going through different institutions, even the criminalization or the dehumanizing or the the stigma that was around folks that were dealing with mental health issues was also relevant for people that were incarcerated. And so, like, they even had, like a bias towards towards folks that were dealing with mental health issues. And, you know, they have like, negative names for them, they call them j cats, which stood for category j, which is what the system used to put them into, when they were dealing with, with mental health issues. That was the old term. And then it went into triple CMS, like, oh, you’re a Triple C or something like that, but it was always had like a negative connotative meaning to it, instead of like us, uplifting, one another in there and dealing with mental health issues. In addition to that, I know like when I would come out for Chow, or or whatever, there would be like lines of people that were waiting for their-

Ra 1:04 For their meds?

Lee 1:05 medication. Yeah. What was your experience, like, inside?

Ra 1:08 Pretty much the same? Pretty much the same, there was a lot of stigma from to your point, the incarcerated people, the CEOs, everybody, not a lot of mental health education anywhere. I mean, the part that shocked me the most was when I got to a yard and I realized that they pull you off your drugs to reassess whether or not you need that particular drug, particularly if it’s a narcotic. And so, if you are somebody who suffers from something like bipolar or schizophrenia, and you’ve been on a medication for 25 years, and you’re incarcerated, and the jail provides it, and then you go to A-yard and they pull you off your medication, and it’s like, what, what do you think is gonna happen in this scenario? How do you think this person is going to function? Interact with others? What do you think the social climates of this processing area is going to be? Yeah, it just seems really obvious, like this is a mistake. And of course, there are follow-ups from that, you know, pretty horrifically, I think. 

Lee 2:08 Yeah, no, and I think that the fallouts not only with, like how people are treated inside that are dealing with mental health issues, but also the fallouts with the for the folks that are actually them personally, right. Because there’s embarrassment, there’s some shame that comes in, there’s some isolation, there’s some like sectioning off, like, I can’t hang out, or I don’t want to live with this person because of this. I don’t want to even talk to them. Like, I don’t want to understand what they’re going through because I personally don’t want to then be categorized or like, catalogued as a person that is a sympathizer- 

Ra 2:41 Right.  

Lee 2:41 or somebody that is like supportive of that in, like internal politics, I don’t know how it was for you, but internal politics, there are even like segments of the population, that if you are on meds, like you, if you don’t get off of them, if you don’t get off your psychotropic meds or your your medication that you actually need to deal with, whether it’s bipolar, or whether it’s schizophrenia, or whatever, that you will then become a target, and like a target for violence, and they will remove you when a violent way just to so you’re not weakening the race or weakening the car. And so, it was trying to navigate that field of like me personally, I know that I had some, there was a couple of times while I was inside, I was going through some like serious sadness and depression, right?  

Ra 3:30 Yeah of course.  

Lee 3:31 And so, kind of trying to grapple with that of like, do I go in and talk to somebody? Do I not go in and talk to somebody? If I do, and they do put me on medication am I going to be the, you know, a target to be attacked? Or am I going to be transferred to a different institution because now we have like heat risk  

Lee 3:51 we have these different, like-  

Ra 3:52 Right.  

Lee 3:52 even system things that are in place that continuously isolate you or demonize that you are somebody different, and we need to treat you in a different way, in the sense of we’re going to penalize you, right?  

Ra 4:06 Right.  

Lee 4:06 We’re going to like move you to institutions where they’re not necessarily well run or there’s not any programs or there’s not any options-  

Ra 4:13 Right.  

Lee 4:14 or opportunities.  

Ra 4:14 The weather can be fundamentally different.  

Lee 4:16 Yeah.

Ra 4:16 You don’t know the people, you haven’t you know, made any relationships there. Yeah, no similar experiences. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorders, but I was off medication for years prior to to prison and I had a panic attack on A-yard. Luckily, in my cell around supportive women and so I went to the mental health office and I was just like, I don’t I don’t know what’s wrong, like I haven’t had a panic attack in a decade. And the guy was like, look at where you come from and where you are right now. Like, if you weren’t having a panic attack, I would be worried. You know, if you weren’t a little off foot by this and you know, pointed outside at general prison shenanigans. He’s like I would be concerned. He’s like consider it a good sign. Your body is aware that you are in a situation that probably requires a little bit of panic. So I mean, my mental health officer there was was fantastic and that was really great. And I would send women particularly to him, because I’m sure as you know, not all medical staff is great.  

Lee 4:18 Yup.  

Ra 4:35 Not all mental health staff is great, some are just brutalizing really more than anything else. You know, people, I had a, I had a bunkie, who would like, wake up in the middle of the night and evolve with the other girls. It was fine. She was my bunkie we were good. But she would like take all my clothes and like refold them and hang them up and she was clearly going through something and they would like wake me up. They’d be like, she’s folding your panties. I’m like, let her fold. It’s so late, let her fold y panties.  

Lee 5:36 Right. 

Lee 5:37 Like, what is the worst thing that could happen here? Like we’re already in prison? These are state panties. Not that serious.  

Lee 5:43 I needed a cellt like that. Like, fold clothes for me? That’s a plus.  

Ra 5:46 Sure, let her refold them. If she doesn’t, yeah. Whatever the reason is, I’m good. Like, it’s not bothering me. But of course, to your point, that escalates because there’s a lot of stigma. And they’re like, well, if she folds panties in the middle of night, she might stab you in the eye. And I’m like, that’s a leap. That’s a big leap.  

Lee 6:01 From holding your clothes to stabbing you. 

Ra 6:03 Right, but erratic behavior is so alarming inside, you know, when when everything is so regimented, and you have this situation where somebody is just doing something outside of the norm, especially like, if you’re doing something outside of the norm, when the risk of that is jail, jail, or a rubber bullet, or you know, more time, then it’s like, you’re, you’re really not able to control this. And that element, I think, is really frightening to the people inside. And then fear creates the same scenarios that puts people inside.  

Lee 6:32 It’s funny that you call it jail jail because I know exactly what you mean. But like, if people are like, what does it mean jail jail? Like what’s jail jail? You’re already in prison. So yes, for like, quick reference, break that down. 

Ra 6:44 Sure, every other word I want to use is also another prison term, but shu. What do they call it on  TV shows, the hole?  

Lee 6:50 The hole, yeah.  

Ra 6:50 Yeah, isolation.   

Lee 6:52 Adseg, administrative segregation.  

Ra 6:55 Yes, yeah. But basically isolation, a cell by yourself. Oftentimes, if it’s for mental health reason, or they can say it’s for mental health reason, naked in a room by yourself or no, essentially naked. It’s like a sheet cloth. I don’t know how it works for men’s prison but that’s what they do for the women and you get your food through like a slot in the door, and you get to go outside for short, short periods of times in specific areas. It’s, it’s not great. Not the best place to be.  

Lee 7:18 No, and they make it so uncomfortable for folks that are having like breakdowns or that they’re having just like, any types of issues where they go, oh, do you feel like you want to harm yourself? Or do you want to harm anybody else? And you’re like, do you know how many people like disrespect me during the day? Like, in my head, I’m thinking like, if I just attacked this person violently, like, they’ll stop picking me picking on me. And it’s, I think it’s one of those things for me personally, I grew up in a in a large family. And when I was a kid, it was like, if you hit me, you know, I’m supposed to hit you back. Like, this is what the dad said, like, this was the toxic masculinity that was in my house, right? Like, if if somebody attacks you, you attack them back. And then as I started to go through the institution, it was like, listen, you can’t let anybody disrespect you because if you do, you’re always going to be preyed upon, you’re always going to be looked at as weak, and they’re going to take your food. They’re going to take your stuff from you so you have to stand up at any time. And so, when you’re starting to be ingrained in this, and, and on top of that, you’re dealing with some type of mental health issue, also that you’re trying to work through and navigate, and then you got folks that are disrespecting you like, that is your options, like you either sit there and you become like, you know, weirded out to other people around you, or you start to become very violent and hyper aggressive, which leads to jail jail.  

Ra 8:32 Jail jail. 

Lee 8:32 Or leads to the shu, it leads to administrative segregation. And in those places, they make it even more difficult for you as a system, because like you said, they take all of your property away, they take all of your contact that you have with folks and family, they take away all of your phone calls, they take away your clothing, they strip you naked, you’re in this barely like you’re in this garment that does not keep any type of heat in, you don’t get blankets, you don’t get sheets, because you can tear them up and use them to hang yourself. So anytime that you say, do you want to harm yourself? Or do you want to harm others? Or have you thought about it? It’s like, all of their alarms go off- 

Ra 9:07 Right.

Lee 9:07 and the thing and then they put you through this, of course, you’re not going to tell them because you’ve know, after the first time like, oh, if I tell them that that’s their trigger warning of hey, this is where we’re going to actually send this person and it’s just so difficult for a system that is built on oppression and penalizing people that now on top of it, they’re tasked with society’s responsibility of dealing with mental health issues. It just doesn’t work doesn’t fit. And it’s it’s one of those things that we really need to relook at and say we can do better by our people and our- 

Ra 9:41 For sure we can absolutely do better. I mean, it’s kind of an impossible situation for the prison itself too because you can’t diagnose somebody in the short amount of time they have during processing. You need, you need dedicated time with people and to your point, there’s a reason that you would need even more time than in a out free world sort of scenario because there are reasons don’t want to tell the truth to mental health and there are good reasons they’re not manufactured in any way. They’re they’re legitimate reasons, you know. And yeah, it’s it’s it’s a difficult situation to do for even like the mental health workers inside because they’re trying to navigate this balance between being there for you, preserving the presence of the prison, not being able to diagnose you in a reasonable amount of time even having to like, revisit your diagnosis is almost impossible. So, even the people who are put in like specialty housing because of the mental health issues that they have may be poorly diagnosed, and other people inside who seem to be fine, may be not diagnosed. Like, I didn’t tell anyone inside, except for the mental health officer, after a while that I was diagnosed for generalized anxiety disorder. That would have prevented me from being in the fire camp program, that would have had me doing three or four months more time because I would have had to be on pills. Pills are not allowed when you’re out in the wildlands. So and I don’t think I’m uncommon, and an uncommon story, when it comes to things like that. I think a lot of people are hiding their diagnosis as they have them. Because there’s really no benefit in you in doing that, you know, and sharing it, I guess.  

Lee 9:43 You know it’s one of those things too, with I don’t know about generalized anxiety disorder, but I know that folks that would deal with anxiety while I was in or they would deal with like, hyper-stress with the classes that I used to run, we always used to have like a breathing period at the very beginning of the classes. We actually started a yoga class there, we actually started like these different, we had a meditation class. And so, we were trying to implement things that were pure lead in order to help folks or assist folks through these common occurrences that are not like schizophrenia. It’s, these are real things like their hearing people talk about.  

Ra 11:36 Right? 

Lee 11:36 Folks will get it, they will get attacked, they will get like, isolated, they will get like put off into other cells or with other people that they can’t necessarily get along with and like and so, the ramifications for them being forthright in and forthcoming is really taken away at the onset, right? Not even from the institution, but even as a kid, right? The first thing they want to do is start to put you on Ritalin. They want to put you on these things, and then the other kids are shaming you. And like, if they find out that you’re on medication, then they want to start like, calling you names. And so, the education really needs to happen at an early period but it’s never too late to educate folks on how to treat others, or demystifying some of the stigmas that kind of go with the with the mental health issues. And so even like, as soon as you go to juvenile hall, or as soon as you go to county jail, or soon as you go to, you know, a prison institution, all those steps of the ways they have a like a, you know, there’s a stigma that goes around around mental health issues, and it’s saddening, but it’s also an opportunity for the folks that are like aware of it to be able to step up and try to like defend them, but also educate the others that are like operating out of ignorance.  

Ra 12:55 No, I totally agree. I guess one of the most frustrating things about mental health stigma to me is that everyone I’ve run into personally, whether that be at prison, college, work, is is genuinely interested in providing the best environment for the people around them. Like I remember in jail, the woman in the bunk next to me, we call it the sidecar. She was my, she had seizures. And one of the other women in the room had a daughter who had seizures. And so she was like, this is what you do. And I just remember everybody in that tank, everybody in that room, 40 women were just gathered around her. No other conflicts mattered. In that moment, we all wanted to know how to take care of somebody who was having a seizure, you know, and we practiced and we learned, and I think those types of skills are super important to have. And I know the fire camp program was not great for me, you know, left permanently disabled and all that, but I’m really glad I learned some EMT skills because that’s kind of reassuring to know that I can take care of my community with, you know, my hands and a couple tools. And I just wonder, like with mental health stigma, how similar that is, you know, like, if you say, here are three things you can do to make your child’s life easier if they have anxiety. I know when people find out I have anxiety, because I’m a fairly neutral person, I would say, I don’t exactly seem- 

Lee 14:11 Ra, the neutral.  

Ra 14:11 but just just neutral, a nice gray of a human. But, you know, they seriously wonder because as a child, there are kids having panic attacks and crying a lot because of these things. And they asked for basic things they can do to make their child’s life better. And it’s like, it’s heartbreaking to know that people are just willing to ask a total stranger about their kid just to come up with one tiny thing they can do to make their kid’s life a tiny bit better, and that that information isn’t freely available that they have to like, jump at the chance that someone’s going to be as open about their mental health issues as I am, you know?  

Lee 14:42 Yeah no, and I think this is like a really good segue into like our guest today. Cat Brooks because she is part of an organization that is trying to bring different organizations together, different communities together to be able to like what we’ve been talking about, like just educate folks demystify the stigma the stigmatization. I always have problems with that word, but also, you know, to eradicate the state violence from our communities. And so, this right here will be like a really cool interview, I think that we’re going to have and for her to be able to, you know, talk more about her organization and kind of like what she’s doing and what they’re doing and, and how we can all get involved to be able to support getting rid of those biases that kind of happened. See how I changed it from stigmatization because it’s easier to say skills that.  

Ra 15:30 Did we want to start with maybe an introduction, Cat? Did you want to, maybe your name, pronouns, and anything that you think our listeners to know about your work?  

Cat 15:38 Sure, my name is Cat Brooks. She, her, hers, theym anything respectful. I am the Executive Director of the Justice teams Network and the co-founder of the Anti-Police Terror Project. Both organizations are committed to interrupting, rapidly responding to, and ultimately eradicating state terror. I’m also an actress, playwright, and director. I’m a mama of a 15-year-old, God help me, and I’m based in Oakland, California.   

Lee 16:01 That’s awesome. So, you talked about the first care response and I know that I really want to get that broken down a little bit how that kind of functions because Ra and I were just talking before you came on and we were talking about how the, I guess it’s like the demonizing of folks that are incarcerated and how they’re dealing with their mental health issues and if they seek help, whether it’s with their peers that are not maybe supportive of them, or their struggles, or even the institution of how like, all of a sudden, there’s a lot of restrictions that happen whether they take their clothes, they take their property, they put them in isolation, they put them in a room, and they don’t get the proper care or the help, that would be best. And so, the rapid response thing is like, super interesting to me and I was wondering if you could kind of just explain that a little bit more.   

Cat 16:45 So I want to take a step back and say that the criminalization, the demonization, of people with mental health crisis, right, starts the second police enter the picture, right? So, there’s a cycle of police to prisons, police to prisons-

Lee 16:56 Right.  

Cat 16:57 If you look at who’s incarcerated, right, it’s not the the folks that the majority of society has in their heads, right? It’s people that have mental health issues, people that were numbing for the mental health issues that White Supremacy and the United States creates, utilizing substance abuse. Mental health issues generated by trying to survive progress conditions in the richest country in the world. So, we meet mental health issues with criminalization instead of compassion and so our mission, really, with mental health first is to cut that off at the past, right? And to provide an option that is not state related, to respond to mental health crisis. I mean, I think the other thing that I would say is that the other thing is that people when you say, mental health crisis, they immediately think, you know, a Western diagnosis, right? Schizophrenia, Bipolar, etc. I have a mental health moment, at least once a week, right? Just just trying to survive this single mom that works four jobs and has six kids. Just being Black and Brown in this country. Like I said, you know, surviving being poor, the stressors of capitalism, all sorts of things cause us to have breakdowns and mental health because we don’t take care of it on the front end. So, if you want and you’re looking for another option, and you’re in Sacramento, or Oakland, at least, you can call Mental Health First. And instead of a state operator or a state actor, you’re going to get a trained volunteer. Some of them are clinicians, some of them have, you know, letters behind their names. Some of them are just system impacted folks who have experience trying to navigate getting mental health supports in the very broken system that we have that is Western medicine.  

Ra 18:19 What a phenomenal initiative. I can’t I mean, there’s really nothing like it not not done to this. But uh, it’s an awesome success. I think that’s, I think that’s fantastic. And I guess I have a question about a word I read on the website, which is healing justice, or an expression, I guess, on the website, what does it mean? And how does it play into this system of rapid response?  

Cat 18:37 Healing justice is relatively new to being a cornerstone of our work. I was raised in the old school of organizing, which meant you smoke, you drink, and you work yourself to death, right? And that was the sacrifice she made for the people. And while this work has been in existence for for quite some time, for us, it became really clear particularly in our work with families, right? And the trauma that they carry with them from the moment that they learn that their loved one has been stolen by the state and on onwards forever, that we were missing a key piece of the work. And so, healing justice is about sustaining your heart, your mind, your health, and putting that first. Not being an afterthought. And that’s how we approach the work, right? From a place of trauma informed everything and employing healing justice techniques and practices that work for the participant. Right? So what works for me, I may get down with Reiki, you may think that’s crazy people stuff, right? You may get down with meditation, I may think that that’s woo woo stuff. So, so it’s really participant centered and it’s also trying to make sure that the modalities that you’re utilizing are appropriate for the communities that you’re serving.  

Lee 19:38 I brought this up to Ra earlier about how it became like a, like a criminalization of mental health issues, and I thought it was connected to, it’s probably connected even further, but if we’re in California, I thought it was connected to the Reagan Era where they started shutting down all of the mental health hospitals or any of those and started criminalizing and locking people up and then we had like this big boom. And I know it was related to the crack epidemic and the war on drugs and this type of things, which, for me personally, from just my experience, having drug issue in my past, that it was connected to my depression, it was connected to my anxiety, and my stress and my things. And so, where did the, like criminalization from your standpoint come from of mental health issues? 

Cat 20:24 I’m by no means a historian, but I have the same narrative you do. I mean, really, you can start with the current report, right? And the war on drugs, honestly, that’s that’s where I would go. And that’s where our resources as a result of that report, which basically said that Black and Brown communities were on the verge of rebelling, where they ripped resources and supports out of our community and replaced it with a militarized police state and an even more violent carceral system. Then Reagan followed up that blow with, he did open up the mental health hospitals, and by open up I mean, defunded, and that’s a lot of times when you talk about the funding, those are two of the first big incidents that we’re talking about and when we’re talking about refunding, we’re talking about giving our communities the resources and supports that will rob from this. And then of course, that was compounded by the crack epidemic, not just the utilization of that drug, but the violent militarized way to which this country responded to that epidemic. Which you know, depending on which version of history you ascribe, to all of that was done intentionally, which is my belief that our communities were flooded with crack cocaine in direct response to the black liberation movement, right? One of most powerful movements we’ve seen in this country.  

Ra 21:26 And I love how you earlier and and in this answe too like, designated the difference between like Western mental health diagnosis and everything else you know? I’m Mexican, and Indian and both of my cultures have very old ways of dealing with what I guess we would call self-care here now, too, and it makes it like, you know, I wanted to ask you why it was important. I mean, we know why it’s important, again, singing to the choir, but we want other people to know, why is it important that we address these stigmas? And why is it important that we particularly create these pathways for mental health? And I think, you know, one part of the answer you kind of already gave, which is like, it’s kind of a reclaiming of these cultural rights that were militarized again, and I think that part’s just kind of beautiful. But Sorry, I got distracted, but yes, how why would you say that it’s important to address and destigmatize mental health as like a forefront focus of abolition or other type of work like this?  

Cat 22:20 I think a couple of things. I think one, and I alluded to this a little earlier, right? If we’re not sustaining healthy, we can’t sustain and and heal our communities, right?That’s one. Two, I firmly believe that it’s impossible to be Black, Brown, Indigenous, poor, queer, trans, in this country and deal with the racism, bigotry, hatred, prejudice, I mean, it goes on and on, and not somewhat lose your mind. I mean, I talked about it with with one of my mentors, actually, often, if and I’ll just talk about Black people. If Black people actually sat with every day, if we’re if we were wholly present, with what has been done to us. If we, if we think deeply back to being kidnapped from our home, stripped of everything and everyone we know, brutalized, tortured, raped, used for chattel. If we if we really sat through what Jim Crow really was, if we really sat through what the black codes did, if we really sat through what was done to us in the struggle for civil rights, if we really sat with that shit, we would lose our minds, right? We would lose our minds, or we just start killing people. Let’s be real, right? And so, there is a daily practice, whether we’re conscious or subconscious, of it, of suppressing that, and pushing it down. And while, mind you, facing daily assaults, right? So it’s not like we have this egregious horrible history, and then shit just stopped and got better, right? And that that we live, we live in a place where our souls and spirits can thrive. It’s all about on top of daily assaults. And it’s my belief that the suppression of that reality the, the maintaining of our sanity, in order just to be able to do the daily tasks that we have to do to be able to keep a roof over our heads and feed our children that that requires an enormous amount of mental, spiritual, psychological and physical and emotional energy. And it’s my belief that if we don’t deal with that, on the front end, it manifests itself in all sorts of unhealthy ways. And so, we have to prioritize the healing of ourselves. We cannot look to the oppressor to liberate us from any of that pain of that trauma, because that would require the oppressor to admit that it’s an oppressor and that’s never going to happen. And so, if we’re going to engage in successful liberatory struggle to rebirth, reimagine, recenter healing justice practices in our daily lives.  

Lee 24:41 Which is a perfect segue into abolition and prison abolition.  

Ra 24:47 Our favorite topic. 

Lee 24:48 Right! Connecting the two. How healing justice and how like a holistic approach towards not only the destigmatizing of mental health and the struggles that that folks may have, but also connecting that to like making our communities whole, like you said, owning up facing what has happened in the past, and stop suppressing it. And this goes for all cultures to be able to do even the colonizers. Folks that have, that folks in in history that have been a part of it that also are not there saying, oh, that’s happened in the past that doesn’t have anything to do with me. But as we all know, it is all connected, right? It is all making the, the it’s rearing its ugly head in our society today and continue to do it continue. It will continuously do that until we actually face it. Can you just kind of share about what you’re thinking?  

Cat 25:40 The biggest conversation that I’m having with people about prisons right now particularly is we’re we’re moving down this, this defund refund pathway, right. And its connection to abolition is around this idea of safety, right? And safety is is a part of mental health, right? Waking up in a neighborhood, not not worrying about walking into the store, not worried about, you know, becoming, I’m using air quotes, you know, victim of violent crime, sexual assault, I mean, right? Living in a place where you’re not worried about food, right? Or housing, or keeping your lights on, everybody wants those things. What is asinine, and insane about the conversation that we’re having, the fight that we’re having, is that there’s absolutely no data that demonstrates that prisons do any of that. That locking people in cages brings any semblance of safety. None. In fact, what the data shows, if we just wanted to talk numbers, right? Is that it just creates a cycle of violence in our communities, out of our communities, into the most violent institutions known to man spit back out into our communities without resources or support. And it goes on and on and on. And so in the 21st century, it would be my hope that humanity would be able to find a more restorative way of dealing with trauma. Of dealing with acts of violence, of understanding that both folks that engage in the perpetration of violence, and also the folks that are survivors of that violence, both of those folks need healing, because that’s how we create whole and healthy communities. Yeah, certainly, yeah. So it’s like, I just had this conversation with the supervisor or Board of supervisor yesterday, who just could, he just couldn’t understand it. And I just kept telling him, show me where locking people up makes me any safe. Show me where if someone harms me, not putting them into a cage restores me to a place that’s whole? Show me that. You all, and by that I mean, the opposite side often like to talk about, you know, the family unit, the family unit, the family unit is so critical. And yet, every single policy you have in terms of creating safety destroys the family unit at its very root.   

Lee 26:52 Yeah,  

Ra 27:35 Yeah, absolutely. I mean, prison itself is a another violent reckoning, I know that just going through that system gives you another history to reckon with, you know? On top of the violent United States history that we already all kind of deal with by sheer default of being here. And to your point about the family, you know, it really does destroy, destroy things because you, you fall out of contact, you’re unable to attend and be with people in the way that is meaningful or needed for community care to uplift each other. And it wears on people, it truly wears on people.

Cat 28:26 And that’s my story, right? So I’ve never been incarcerated, but my father struggled with substance abuse when I was growing up pretty intensely. And I was nine, when he finally got sent to prison. And what I, what I remember about that time was a few things. One was, I knew that my father was sick. That’s how I talked about it. You know, when I was little, he was that way again, he was he was sick. And I knew that where he was going was not where he needed, that he needed help. I couldn’t articulate that, but but somehow my little spirit knew. That devastated me as a child to have him ripped out of my life like that and it had lasting impacts both in terms of my own substance use, in terms of the type of men that I dated, in terms of my self esteem, and I mean, all of the shit and and it did rip us apart because I went from the grief, you know, phase as a kid to you know, preteens who are assholes to where I refused to respond to his letters. So they were just blocked, they would just go unopen and I refused to take his calls. I now of course, feel horrible about that. And then the last piece for me, I mean, the big blow was he had a directive that no one wants to bring me to come see him. He didn’t want me to see him. And it, we’re still rebuilding, right? From from that that time to this day and and he was a Vet, which is far too many of our folks that are incarcerated are and so he’s still working through all of that trauma and on top of the trauma of being incarcerated, and then of course, the trauma of our devastated relationship. So none of that made him get sober. None of that created any healing for the community. None of that made it made it difference, but the impact the consequences, right? Were lifelong.   

Lee 30:07 Yeah, it feels like, you know, I think sometimes it’s often overlooked. And when they’re making policies that deal with, with community issues, that they’re not even a part of that community, which is a whole nother story. One of the things with the family dynamic and breaking them apart and separating them, you know, as kids were taught to talk about our feelings, right? If we’re feeling something our mother or caregiver, they’re like, tell me about it. What are you feeling? What are you going through, right, but yet, when, as we start to get older, like you were talking about earlier about being imprisoned, they want us to imprison our feelings, like I don’t want to know what you’re thinking, I don’t know what I know what you’re feeling, I want you to do what I tell you to do type thing. And this is the system that is that is doing this right, and they have like this separatist type of attitud that is that completely needs to be dismantled and broken down. And this is why I’m such like a supporter of not only prison abolition, but also the awakening of folks to be able to kind of start to look at their community members in a way of inclusion and instead of being like, separate from them, and when we get into like the healing justice and why we need to, like properly address that at the onset and connect that with prison abolition, connect that with creating whole communities, we would like to give you, Cat, the last words on on why it is so important in the work that you’re actually doing? And give us a little bit of direction on how we can not only be supportive, but also be educators to other folks that that what we learn from you and what you’re doing, we can also pass on to others.

Cat 31:49 I think it’s all of our responsibilities, right? To, to take a stand in terms of decriminalizing mental health and prioritizing mental health. And so, I think that it’s it’s incumbent upon all of us to make that a daily personal practice. Whatever works for you. Take one of our trainings, right? And if you don’t have to recreate Mental Health First in your community, exactly the way we do it, but come get the principles, right? Maybe there’s just five of you that live on your block and you want to be that resource for each other live in in a particular region. I know LA is sprawling and huge. Make a commitment to stop allowing police to be your first response to every single social ill, right? And and I get it, I really do because when I see something scary, again, I’m using air quotes, or I feel threatened, that’s still my first instinct is to dial those three numbers 911. I still have to stop myself, right? And understand that that doesn’t create safety for me. That also means as organizers, we’re incumbent on creating alternative systems of safety, right? Who can we call, instead of law enforcement, get trained up in transformative justice, understand that our people are moving from a place of trauma and then relate to that, because you too, I bet are moving from a place of trauma because who in this country is not moving from a place of trauma, but we do do believe in passing policies. So we you know, here in Oakland, starting very soon, cops will not be responding to mental health calls. That’s gonna matter. Right? Of course, you have to be careful because the state co ops, waters down, and kills the brilliant ideas and work and labor of the people, so you have to stay engaged. And remember that our movements are really led by love, right? And that we do what we do because of a deep love for the people. And sometimes that love can get challenged because sometimes people are challenging. Sometimes people in general are challenging, so critical to the work to the sustainability and actually to the success of the work it makes versus a labor of love, not of rage, or anger, a labor of love. Standardize those practices, make that the new norm. That’s the only way I see us actually getting to abolition is by creating sustainable, replicable models, right? Sustainable in terms of practices and healing justice is one of those practices and replicable meaning they can transfer from Oakland to Sacramento to San Diego to Los Angeles. Not exactly because you can’t transplant any one model in another community, but you can transplant principles.   

Ra 33:58 Are those available through Zoom? Like, anybody anywhere can take them. 

Cat 34:02 Yes, yep, yep. If you follow the MH Oak or MH Sac accounts on Facebook or Twitter, things get announced there or you can sign up for Anti Police Terror Projects’ newsletter. We don’t we don’t spam you, I promise you.  

Lee  34:14 Spam it just gets so aggravating after a while.  

Cat 34:19 Right? You just unsubscribe. So we don’t do that. But yeah, that’s where you can get information and we’ll train anybody.  

Ra 34:24 I wanted to backtrack a bit and say, you know, I’m sorry about your dad and I don’t know if any other person can like offset guilt or blame or whatever with the writing back, but I think survival instinct is an important thing to you know, and corresponding. When I first went inside, I was still trying to do everything on the outs, you know, like I had a business and my husband needed care. He had pretty severe depression, so I was trying to do everything and she said, it’s not hard time unless you’re living in both worlds. You know, that’s what makes it hard, but if you focus here and you stay in this place, you’ll get through it and he’ll get through it better and I, I think, I think there’s truth in that, that people kind of sense even if they don’t verbalize in the same way, you know, writing those letters, making those calls, is hard on a body. It’s hard on the soul. And in my personal story, you know, it actually, it ended in my husband’s death after a year, he just couldn’t, couldn’t do it. And I think when I hear people who have incarcerated loved ones say that they’re struggling, I’m like, take take that break for you. Because we’d rather come home to you, then then have to have to hear what we lost you, you know? So whatever care you need to get through that system, I don’t think there’s any any shame in taking that. So I just wanted to, personally, I guess, say that.  

Cat 35:35 Thank you. I’m sorry for your loss.   

Ra 35:37 Thank you.

Cat 35:38 And I’m glad you’re both home. 

Ra 35:40 Me too.  

Lee 35:41 Me too! Obviously, we just want to, you know, uplift you Cat and say how much we appreciate you, like showing up for us and showing out to, you know? It’s going to take the whole village to raise up this child of creating a community care that is going to be sustainable in being able to be replicated, like you talked about. I think that’s it. Right?   

Ra 36:04 Thank you so much.

Cat 36:05 Ill see you again soon.  

Lee 36:06 So what did you take away from like, what was your big takeaways right now, Ra?   

Ra 36:12 From from Cat?   

Lee 36:13 Yeah. 

Ra 36:14 It’s exciting to have someone who’s like, here’s a really easy thing you can do. Go, well maybe not easy, but achievable, achievable thing. 

Lee 36:21 Yeah, so and I think it’s really important that we, we continue to engage folks like that, as it gives you like stakeholder shift and what we’re actually doing, and it gives you agency and being able to say, you know what, I can do it too. 

Ra 36:36 It kind of gives you an idea, like, you know, like you said, you’re you’re part of it, you’re building it.   

Lee 36:41 And as a community, if we continue to care for one another, abolition is a certainty and not a like a utopian dream.   

Ra 36:50 Right, yeah. I mean, we’re building it. It’s now, it’s not, it is kind of a dream, but it’s also really achievable one. It’s not that outlandish when you start breaking it down and I and I feel like that’s what Cat really contributed to the conversation is that it’s, this is this is now there are things you could be doing right now that are building that it’s, it’s happening right, right now, and you can get involved.