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18-year-old's mother says jail is no place for her sick son
MILFORD - Lyndon Pratt, who struggles with severe mental illness and a violent temper, has wound up at Valley Street Jail twice so far this year, but police and his mother believe there needs to be a safer place to send disabled adults.
Pratt, 18, suffers from a long list of mental illnesses, including bi-polar disorder with psychotic features and ADHD, according to his mother, Lisa Currier, a single mom who has been trying to balance the needs of her disabled son with caring for her two other children. Currier also believes her son may be autistic. Pratt has difficulty communicating and understanding simple concepts and requires constant supervision.
Problems began at 6
Pratt's problems began when he was only 6 years old.
"They just came on all of a sudden," said Currier. "He was the happiest kid on the planet and then he wasn't."
For many years, Pratt lived at St. Ann's Home and School in Methuen, Mass., where he received the support he needed to function despite his disabilities.
"He did really well in school," said Currier. "He was really well behaved and worked hard."
After graduating from St. Ann's at 17 (the school ends at 11th grade), he was enrolled at the Sage School in Milford, an alternative high school program. Last spring, he graduated from Sage and was on his own. At 18, he has "aged out" of any programs offered by the school district. Currier said she has been struggling to get him into some other form of day or residential program where he can be supervised and given the structure and support he needs.
"Right now, he's stuck here at home with us," she said. "So he has nothing to do, which frustrates him, and that's when he gets into trouble."
Nowhere to go but jail
This summer, Pratt's frustration turned to violence and he lashed out against his mother and smashed furniture in their house. The police were called and that's when Milford Police Prosecutor Michael McCall got involved.
McCall said that when Pratt was arrested, the issue immediately became where to send him.
"If he's a danger to himself or others, he has to go somewhere," McCall said. "And if there's nowhere to put him, he has to go to jail."
McCall said before sending him to Valley Street Jail in Manchester, he made calls to every program and agency he could think of to find a safe alternative to Pratt's mother's house. He couldn't be let out on the street because he's incapable of fending for himself, and his mother has become a target for his frustration and anger, said McCall. But in the end, there were no alternatives. Pratt went to jail.
"I hated sending him up there. When we arrested him, he didn't even really know what was going on," McCall said. "He is so vulnerable given his issues, a prime target for physical, emotional, or other abuse, but I just didn't have any alternative."
The same issue came up again last week when Pratt, who had returned home after being bailed out of Valley Street earlier in the year, had another violent episode. Again Valley Street was the only option, McCall said.
Now the pressure is on to try to find something to help Pratt and his family. That isn't part of McCall's job description, but he said it is a moral imperative for him.
"I'm trying to piece together some help for him. I'm constantly talking to people and looking for new programs, but it seems like the solution for Lyndon doesn't exist in this area," he said.
Ultimately, McCall said he thinks Pratt would benefit from living in a sort of halfway house where he had constant supervision, but also had a chance to work and contribute to society. The struggle has been finding a way to get him into a program like that.
Mental health programs
Budgets for mental health programs have been drastically reduced in the last few years, leaving people like Pratt without access to services they need, said Beth Raymond, Vice President of Individual and Family Services at Gateways Community Services of Nashua.
"Our communities don't provide adequate support for people with significant mental health issues," said Raymond.
The biggest struggle for parents and loved ones of those who are suffering with such severe problems is just getting in the door and ensuring the right range of services are being given. But then there are waiting lists for services like residential facilities because the money just isn't there.
What people like Pratt need most, Raymond said, is an experienced advocate, someone who can navigate the bureaucracy of a system that is complex, overburdened and underfunded.
For Currier, the hardest part is not being able to help her son while at the same time, living in fear of him.
"He's ashamed of that part of him," she said. "He tells me all the time he wishes he was normal. He just wants friends, to be able to work, to have a girlfriend. He wants to do all the things he can't do, and I don't know how to help him."
Pratt will be back at the 9th Circuit Court in Milford on Wednesday, Nov. 28, to be arraigned on his latest charges. In the meantime, his mother has posted bail and he's back at home for now.
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Nancy Bean Foster may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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