I feel honor bound to make note of the fact that Mark David Chapman, who has been incarcerated for almost 32 years for murdering John Lennon on December 8th, 1980, has been denied parole for the 7th time since the year 2000. It is not surprising to me that he has been denied parole and I don't see him ever becoming a free man, unless they release him as a very old man. Because he killed John Lennon, who was a beloved and iconic figure, and because so many people still revile Mr. Chapman for his violent act, he will be treated as a special case and be denied the opportunities that other men have been granted after spending over 20 years in prison because of having committed a murder.
The reason I feel honor bound is that I believe that Mr. Chapman suffers from elements of the same illness I have suffered from, namely schizophrenia and other related illnesses. Though I am amongst the majority of the mentally ill who have not been violent towards others, under other circumstances it could have been me locked away in prison with little hope of getting out. And for me it brings up the question: how should mentally ill people who have been violent be treated? Many say, keep them locked up for life and others say kill them, but I think that is an evasion. I know from experience that one can become extremely deluded and paranoid and then come out of it and return to some form of recovery. The difference between me and Mark Chapman is that he committed one act, the act of murder, that he can never take back. But does he really deserve to be locked up in a 6' x 10' cell, mostly in isolation, for the rest of his days?
Many people say yes, including Yoko Ono, who fears that Mr. Chapman, if released, would go on to murder one or both of John Lennon's sons. Truth is more likely that Mr. Chapman would be in more danger of being harmed than of doing the harm because, even over 30 years later, some people still want violent retribution for what he did. What Mark Chapman did was the result of severe mental illness and easy access to a gun and to ammunition, but some elements of society that believe so firmly in retribution, are also mentally ill. I've read numerous comments from people, including a 12 year old girl, wishing for Mark Chapman only torture and death. Even if I weren't leaning very strongly towards Buddhism, I would still believe in the preciousness of compassion. I have been influenced enough by Jesus' instruction to love one's enemies, forgoing judgment in favor of compassion, to know that I believe that hatred cannot conquer hatred, that only love has the power to deeply heal even the hardest of men and women.
From what I've read, Mark Chapman is neither hard hearted nor uncooperative. There were a few instances of acting out during delusional episodes in the first decade or so, but there has been no record of misconduct from him since 1994. He has been described as a "model prisoner". He is kept from most other inmates because there is fear for his safety still. He is a Christian, more specifically a Born Again Christian or at least he was at his last parole hearing two years ago. I have no idea if he was or is being given therapy, but it appears he hasn't taken psychiatric drugs for many years. Early on he said he disliked psychiatry and resisted being labelled a schizophrenia sufferer, but he did hear voices and was under the sway of delusional thinking off and on for years. He chose to plead guilty to the charge of murdering John Lennon, instead of pleading innocent by reason of insanity, though many of the psychiatric doctors who tested and interviewed him asserted that he was definitely psychotic. Regardless of this, he accepts the judgment handed down to him and knows he may never be free. Part of what sustains him is his faith in a higher power. Within the solitude of his life and in his heart, he believes that he has been forgiven.
What if Mark Chapman was your brother, son or husband? How would you respond to him? What kind of treatment would you want him to have? There are millions of people with mental illness in the U.S. alone with a percentage that has fallen into violent attitudes and actions and there are millions of family members and friends who have been affected by the mentally ill. This is true for those who are addicts as well. The network of people affected by mental illness combined with those affected by addiction is vast, yet too many of us still remain silent. There is too much stigma and shame attached to mental illness. That's one reason why I write in this blog. I refuse the stigma and I refuse the shame and I hope to encourage others to follow and share their stories. Of course, we all have to work our process through gradually, but at some point I think we will be given the opportunity to be of help to others and to openly question the narrow-mindedness of stigma and the punishment that often follows.
Everyone of us has made serious mistakes in life, but when judging others who frighten and repel us, we often turn a blind eye to our own shortcomings. And sometimes by doing that we transform into the very kind of being that we once condemned. Judgmental, violent, mentally unstable, if not in action then in attitude and in intent. In becoming hardliners we have to watch out about becoming hypocrites, too. I know that I was at my sickest when I was full of resentment and judgment and that's what prevented me from starting to heal. I was so involved in my own delusional story line that I wasn't able to see the bigger picture. The bigger picture is so big because it includes everyone. There really is room enough in all our hearts for everyone, but we have to turn our will towards it and cultivate it like we would cultivate a garden.
A Recovery Blog
This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.