IT WAS drizzling one morning as I walked toward the seawall. I had crossed the junction of Sheriff Street and Rupert Craig Highway, but there was hardly an opening for me to get to the Wall. Sandbags had lined the highway in preparation for the ongoing high tide.
I had to jump over them. And except for two guys, one whom I recognized as a regular going through his exercise paces a little way off, and the other who appeared to be of unsound mind, there was no one else out there.
I wondered how far I would get before the rain came down in a deluge, so I kept quite close to the steps on the seawall. The man whom I presumed to be of unsound mind was walking two dogs, one of which ran up the steps and onto the wall, while the other stayed with its master.
I then decided that I would not stay on the wall. I hesitated, but then I realized that the man was giving me an opportunity to come off the wall; so I took the initiative and left, looking back and lingering long enough to hear him saying to the first dog, “You looking at the high tide?” And although I couldn’t hear much, he continued to speak to both dogs.
Somehow, I felt guilty for not speaking to him, at least to say, “Good Morning.” After all, I could have been wrong in thinking that he was of unsound mind, when, to the contrary, he had showed some kind of responsible behavior, and was courteous in waiting for me to use the steps first; and, by the same token, holding an apparently intelligent conversation with the dogs.
We encounter peculiar people and situations every day. There is a man who, every morning, stands with books and papers at the traffic light in my area. I was very surprised that he said “Good Morning” to me on one occasion. He just stands there and observes the traffic; sometimes he shuffles his books and papers, but keeps standing. One morning I saw him running, and then I realized that it was raining. He came back shortly afterwards, and continued looking at the traffic. However, I have never seen him standing in the rain.
A few weeks ago, as I was walking past William Fogarty’s store, a man came up to me saying, “Ow, mistress, buy a buns fuh meh.” I did not even know that there was an open window on the northern side of the store. I had intended to ignore him, but he was persistent, and as I attempted to purchase the bun, he said, “Right hay! Right hay! Ask she fuh a cheese roll, tuh!” So, I told him, “No! I will buy you the bun! Someone else could buy you that!”
He said, “Alright, alright! Thanks!”
One morning, I was walking along High Street on my way to work when a woman attempted to pelt me with a stone that she had in her hand. She was muttering, “Peter pay fuh Paul, and Paul pay fuh all.” My gaze was so strong that it left her with no alternative but to abort her scheme. She laughed, and went on her way.
On another occasion, I gave $1000 to a woman who was sitting outside of Juice Power on Middle Street. She looked surprised. She was so grateful that her countenance lit up as she said, “You’re rich! This is a lot of money!”
Another day, I decided to smile with every person I met on my way to work, and that was how I passed the morning. Everyone I smiled with smiled right back at me, and it gave me a good feeling. Then I met this man who was scantily dressed, unkempt, and leaning against the rail at the corner of Wellington and Church Streets, opposite the St. George’s Cathedral. As I passed him, I smiled, and he reciprocated with, “You have a beautiful smile.”
I took my then toddler grandson for a walk in the Promenade Gardens one day, and he ran ahead of me towards the bandstand. When I caught up with him, he had already befriended a man, and was fascinated with his key-ring, a miniature Coca-Cola bottle. The liquid in the bottle moved like quicksilver. I, too, started to look at the bottle, but soon realized that it was controlled by a man who appeared to be of unsound mind. I was scared, but remained calm until the man looked at me and smiled.
He had newspapers all around him, giving one the impression that he was a reader; and that was a testimony, no doubt, of his ability to do research. He spoke intelligently, and I listened. He was doing a study of the palm trees in the gardens, and was resolute in his conviction that the nut had enough oil to satisfy Guyana’s demand for the commodity. He was, however, disillusioned over the fact that the government would not listen to him, were he to enlighten them.
On the one hand, there are those whom we consider to be of unsound mind (loco, mad, deranged), but they yet would wait on the traffic to clear before crossing the road, walk in the corner of a busy street, shelter from the rain, search for food to satisfy their hunger, are kind to animals, greet another person with a smile, or are even courteous beyond measure. Albeit, on the other hand, some of them can become very violent. There have been many cases in which the unsuspecting have died at the hands of persons of unsound mind. The recent publication of the news of an 84-year-old vendor who was chopped to death with a machete comes readily to mind. How can we determine who is of unsound mind?
According to the Online encyclopedia, insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviour characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioural patterns. Insanity may manifest itself as violations of societal norms, including a person becoming a danger to themselves or others, although not all such acts are considered insanity. In modern usage, insanity is most commonly encountered as an informal unscientific term denoting mental instability, or in the narrow legal context of the insanity defense. In the medical profession, the term is now avoided in favour of diagnoses of specific mental disorders; the presence of delusions or hallucinations is broadly referred to as psychosis.
When discussing mental illness in general terms, “psychopathology” is considered a preferred description.
In English, the word “sane” is derived from the Latin adjective, sanus, meaning “healthy”. The phrase, “mens sana in corpore sano”, is often translated to mean a “healthy mind in a healthy body”. From this perspective, insanity can be considered as poor health of the mind, not necessarily of the brain as an organ (although that can affect mental health), but rather refers to defective function of mental processes, such as reasoning.
Another Latin phrase related to our current concept of sanity is “compos mentis” (lit. “of composed mind”), and a euphemistic term for insanity is “non compos mentis”. In law, mens rea means having had criminal intent, or a guilty mind, when the act (actus reus) was committed.
Another source describes insanity as a mental hell that you would hate to live with. It’s like having a broken mind: Some people become disabled because of physical conditions, and live in wheelchairs. Some people become disabled because of mental conditions, and live in insanity.
The insanity defence, as I understand it, is one of the most popularly depicted criminal defence strategies in television and film culture. In legal terms, the McNaughten Rule dictates that a person may be considered not responsible for a crime, if his or her state of mind is in a diminished capacity, or they did not know it was wrong. This has given life to the perception that the defence is an easy solution to evading jail time. For example, the perception was further fuelled by the portrayal of Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, who chose to be committed to a mental hospital to avoid hard labour in jail.
Nonetheless, the insanity defence, as a strategy, is fascinating, and its validity has been widely debated since its inception in the 20th Century, mainly due to the difficulty in proving beyond reasonable doubt that the accused person was insane during commission of the crimes, and the ethical implications of allowing deranged criminals to avoid incarceration.
Research has revealed that in 1941, two brothers robbed a payroll truck in Manhattan, killing an office manager and a police officer in the process. In the subsequent trial, the brothers attempted to prove their insanity through extreme behaviour. For example, they would bang their heads against the table until they bled, bark like dogs, drool, and cry uncontrollably. The court was unconvinced, and proceeded to try them for their offenses.
Towards the end of their incarceration, they pursued a hunger strike for a total period of 10 months, refusing any food. On March 12, 1942, they were taken to the electric chair in a state of near-death and were executed.
Until this present day, the Espositos’ trial verdict remains a record for the deliberation time, which took approximately one minute to deliver. In its time, it served to correct the misconception that criminals who plead the insanity defence often walk as free men, which is rarely the case. Even if a person were determined to be mentally ill, a study at a mental institution in New York found that some patients spend a far larger amount of time committed than they would have spent in prison for their crimes.
Homeless and insane
What I wish to focus on, however, is that insane person who is homeless, does not maintain proper hygiene, roams the streets, speaks to him/herself, and injures the unsuspecting, among other things. It is very difficult to get them off the streets. For one thing, the police can’t remove them. The family has to be involved, and even when they give consent, the subject must be passed through the Court system, and a Court Order to commit them to an institution must be issued by the Court.
For this reason, members of the public are known to take matters into their own hands, retaliating with equal violence against acts of the supposedly insane.
The cares of the world make some persons see life in a different light. There is a thin line between sanity and insanity; the psychiatrist knows this only too well. People are hurting today, and they are depending on us to show them love, perhaps the love they have never known. The biblical injunction exhorts us to love one another:
“We know what real love is because Christ gave up His life for us. And so we also ought to give up our lives for our Christian brothers and sisters. But if anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need, and refuses to help, how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions. It is by our actions that we know we are living in the truth”. 1 John 3: 16-19 (NLT).
If not loving them, what else do you think we can do to help them?