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Grassroots Graton by Heather Granahan

Prejudice and Injustice

Aug 31, 2017
by Heather Granahan

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As a child, I spent years growing up in small villages in Greece, either island-bound or in very remote mountain towns. My dad strove for privacy as he completed a multi-piece sculpture commission. Us kids went to Greek schools and navigated village life. One common element I witnessed on a near daily basis, whether in our villages or other towns, was the presence of a known “village idiot”. Looking back with painfully clearer vision I now know these shunned and sometimes tolerated characters as suffering from extreme and untreated behavioral conditions and disorders. These people (usually men -who knows where the women were hidden away) were often tolerated with an almost indulgent attitude while being simultaneously stigmatized.

The confusion on their faces at those times betrayed an enormous lack of knowledge, training and coping skills.

Greece in those years was a third world country in many ways, including the attitude towards behavioral health. You would expect a lot more from modern Sonoma County, wouldn’t you? Well, surprise -  stigma for the illnesses is about as well-hidden as a hateful racist is in West Virginia these days.

My friend the dictionary defines PREJUDICE (noun) as:

• an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

• any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.

• unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.

Preconceived/without forethought/unreasonable? Not in our little free-thinking and acting Graton, you protest.

At the risk of sounding like a Southern Sunday preacher (that I am probably related to whether I wannabe or not…you can take the girl out of the South, etc.), here’s a little test for ya’ll: what did you sound like during our recent town e-flurry about the RV-dwellers who were again noted to have taken up residence on a few of Graton’s border streets?

Honestly now – were you bemoaning the sight and begrudging the presence of these neighbors?  (For the extra-truthy: Did you mention property values?) For the honesty super bonus - how much of your opinion was based on experience and how much was pre-judged & prejudiced before any interaction?

One of the amazing human tweaks that makes our species unique is our seeming need to divide, label and conquer through the perception of real or perceived differences– color, language, beliefs, residence style, customs – you name it. What is important in this game is that there is an identifiable and usually invented difference. Talk with a twang? Must be dumb. Residence is portable? That’ll do for shunning. Seem to be behaving differently than is “normal” or calm? I had better avert my eyes and mind.

I sadly see that our town is with its own share of prejudgment. I am likewise glad to see that our town, led by a few, is lifting a chin and wanting to talk a bit with the people that are vexing them. Open communication is a start, and I suggest airing some fear to start.

Open eyes and hearts are surely next on our lists. Even as the budget lops more and more resources from our grievously underserved population, we must open our minds and methods to those who need us most.

It was famously once said by Hubert Humphrey:“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

 With 5 of 20 of the US population needing treatment for some level of mental illness, Sonoma County has potentially 20,000 such needy individuals. We currently serve about 5000 monthly with a network of County health staff, NPO partners and other programs. These individuals often are challenged to work, and need some financial backup as well. They are often our young brilliant citizens with much to offer society with some skills and treatment. Some have a second disability to contend with. Some were that cute kid who had playdates with your child, and had a tragic reaction to kick off their young adult life.         

People keep talking about how the system is broken ... but it’s not. There never was a system,” saidBarbara Bozman-Moss, a retired local attorney whose young son suffers from schizophrenia and is scheduled for placement at Napa State Hospital.

Bozman-Moss and her husband, Denny, have plans to create one of the missing treatment pieces in Sonoma County, one they callCAASI Farm. They plan a rural healing place people can live in for a period when in need of a working retreat from being fearful, oversensitive or simply out of control. As a model, CAASI looks to nonprofit treatment centers such as CooperRiis, NC, Gould Farm , MA andSpring Lake Ranch, VT which all combine a very involved farm task schedule with regular counseling and pharmacotherapy.

The Healdsburg couple said CAASI Farm (for Community Action And Social Integration) would provide a positive healing environment, with less of the thick gridded windows and other debasing and isolating aspects of traditional psychiatric hospitals and jail’s mental health units. With the closure of two of the North Bay psychiatric hospitals leaving the local jails burdened with what care they can provide, the need has rarely been greater.

We’re better than that, folks, and have more resources, too. Help our county connect the dots and the treasures; expand our own comfort levels; let’ s turn this tide with love and real care.

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