Mom and Guardian Lynda Burrows caresses a picture of her son, Paul, as she sits in his empty room. She bears the burden of caring for an adult son with mental illness who, on this day, is in jail after a run-in with the law. More than 61.5 million people have some sort of mental illness. Cuts to psychiatric services nationwide are overburdening jails and caregivers. Lynda is convinced that Paul, like so many of the mentally ill who make headlines after causing violent harm, could easily become society’s problem rather than just hers. “If I don’t get help for my son and I end up dying, you will become his victim because he can’t help himself,” she says. “Paul’s not the only Paul out there.”
Lynda, right, and Paul’s wife, Kim, leave the Perry County Jail after bringing him money for phone cards for calls home. Paul and Kim are parents to four children.
Despite living in fear of physical and emotional abuse from her son, Lynda does not believe the mentally ill should be in jail. But cuts in mental health funding over the years severely limit other placement options. With Paul incarcerated about an hour’s drive from the apartment Lynda and Paul share in Jasper, Ind., Lynda didn’t visit him as much as she would have like because she couldn’t afford the gas.
Lynda has been Paul’s legal guardian since he turned 18 and this takes a toll on every aspect of her life. “I have had a lonely road,” she said. “I can’t date. I can’t be with anybody, because you don’t know what Paul is going to do.”
Lynda is admitted to a hospital and treated for high blood pressure after a fainting episode. Her doctors said she collapsed from stress. “I’m going to be 66 this year, four years from 70,” she said. “I’m not going to be able to take care of Paul anymore. So what’s going to happen to this man?”
Lynda arrived alone at the Dubois County Courthouse for a hearing for Paul on felony charges of receiving stolen property. The hearing was postponed, leaving Lynda worried about whether Paul could get proper treatment in jail.
Lynda is reunited with Paul after his release from the Perry County Jail and vows to get him the help he needs. “If I don’t get help for my son and I end up dying, you will become his victims because he can’t help himself,” she said.
After his release from jail, Paul’s mood is light as he eats at a McDonald’s with his mother, his wife and his nephew Brandon Ellett. Lynda is encouraged at moments like this when a happier spirit breaks through the darkness of his mental illness. “He’s a great guy,” she said. “I want you to understand. He’s got a heart of gold.”
Lynda estimates she has moved at least 40 times because of Paul’s struggles with his health and police. Sometimes the moves were to give him a fresh start after a run-in with police. Other times were evictions because of outbursts.
“What time is it?” Paul asks Lynda every couple minutes as the clock ticks closer to midnight. Paul’s medication prescription had run out a couple days earlier and he was struggling to manage his anxiety until he could refill the prescription the next morning. “I feel like an empty capsule,” he said.
Paul has isolated himself since being released from jail and his quietness is unsettling to his mother. “He’s not the same Paul I had (before jail). Is it better? Yes. But I don’t know what to expect.”
Paul is in tears as he ends a session with his psychiatrist, Dr. Linda Callaghan. He seemed relieved as she assured him she is available to help any hour of the day.
Paul gets ready for a test at Memorial Hospital that records brain activities. Doctors are trying to understand what is causing memory lapses, which has been a problem, Lynda said, his entire adult life.
On the eve of Paul’s 36th birthday, Lynda and Paul sit outside a courtroom in Jasper. Paul went before a judge to determine whether he is competent to stand trial on charges he received stolen property. “I am very, very, very exhausted for all this,” Lynda told the judge.
Lynda is careful not to bother Paul even though she is bothered by his lingering in bed, smoking and watching TV. “Right now all he does ... is live in his own world,” she said. “I know not to cross it. If you cross his path and maybe just say one little word, your life is in danger. I’ve been thrown on the floor.”
Paul says goodbye to his son, Jayden, 8, after their first visit since Paul was released from jail. Because of his struggles with mental illness, Paul’s relationship with his wife and four sons are strained and visits are infrequent.
Paul rests in his cell at the Dubois County Security Center where he was held for three months on felony theft charges before being transferred to a state mental health facility. Despite the fear of physical harm at Paul’s hand, Lynda has mixed feelings about his incarceration. “I don’t like seeing him sit in jail,” she said. “But at least I can sleep and at least I can watch TV and at least I can do what I want and I don’t have to worry that he’s hiding behind some closet door ready to kill me.”
Lynda organizes stacks of papers that show her legal guardianship over Paul as well as records documenting mental health treatment over the years. For the first time in a long time, Lynda couldn’t afford to pay a private attorney. Paul’s appointed attorney told Lynda he needed as much paperwork as he could get to document Paul’s mental illness. “I should not have to be doing this,” Lynda said.
Following Paul’s release from jail, Lynda is relieved as she walks with her handcuffed son who is to be admitted at the Richmond State Hospital. “I’m safe and he’s safe,” she said. “He’s not behind bars. He’s going to get his proper care and his proper treatment now.”
Lynda settles into a new apartment and is happy Paul will now be in the care of Southern Hills Counseling Center. “I should be 100 percent happy but I’m still his mother. I love my son, I miss my son. But I don’t miss the drama.”