Crazy by Pete Earley

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

(Pete Earley)

Pages: 384
Year Published: 2007

Teaser: Pete Earley gives readers an inside and informative look at the country's current status when it comes to treating those with psychological disorders. He makes it personal with stories of his own family's battle with mental illness.

Short Thought:
Heart wrenching and powerful food for thought.

Expanded Thoughts:
{Spoilers} Crazy is very different than many of novels in the non-fiction genre with which I have been previously acquainted. It wasn't dreadfully boring, and it appealed to a wider readership instead of a more specialized audience dealing in a specific knowledge arena. Earley succeeds in this by hitting three distinctly different notes in this work. He includes the necessary statistics, figures, and research that would read as a dry news article. The presented issues are made more personal and memorable as he includes some of the background stories of various inmates and about how mental illness has affected and trapped them in the current system. Lastly, he gains the trust of the reader and ensnares our emotions and tugs at our heartstrings with the story of his son's battle with mental illness. Crazy is highly successful in bringing to our attention the “macro” issue of de-institutionalization, but portraying it in a “micro” way that is better received and remembered by readers.

The author's research portion for this novel kicks off at a high level and never really slows down its pace. Armed with firsthand knowledge of the problems with our country's current state of affairs in regards to mental health patients and a fire in his belly, Earley starts his research at the Miami-Dade County Pretrial Detention Center in South Florida. This jail is of the older inner architecture. The cells are crowded with up to fifty prisoners at any given time. He begins by shadowing the doctor in charge of the patients on the cell block as he makes his rounds for the day. When they finally reach the wing that houses the mentally ill, it becomes apparent that jails are not properly equipped to deal with these afflicted individuals. The filth is staggering, the stench is overwhelming, and the state of the prisoners is, at best, disheartening. After some figuring by Earley, he estimates that the doctor ends up spending about thirteen seconds per inmate on his rounds. It is a shocking statistic that jumps out at readers as one begins to realize the dire situation of the status quo.

The author explores many other problems with the current system, or “revolving door” as he so aptly refers to it, in a similar and equally telling fashion. He mirrors his research with stories from his own struggle with the fight for his son. These personal recollections in the novel with be the primary focus for the remainder of this paper.

Even more depressing and telling than the stories about the prison conditions was the story of the author's son, Mike, on his road from scholar to mad man and back again. Mike's descent into madness began when he was less than one year from graduating from university in Brooklyn, New York. Because of the stress of searching for a job and transitioning his life in general, he started exhibiting strange behavior and even physical sickness for no apparent reason. His parents assumed it was just normal behavior for someone at that particular stage of his life. Perhaps, it was just due to all of the stress he was under at his current stage in life. Unfortunately, they were horribly wrong. It was anything but routine and normal.

Mike's strange behavior only became worse. He began to have obsessive delusions about a classmate of his, that barely knew him, that he had to save from evil. He was even convinced they were on the verge of marriage. Mike's conversations were rapid, segmented, and made absolutely no sense anymore. For example, he was convinced that God was sending him messages, that only he could decode, on billboards and other medias. Earley got his son checked out and started him on medication, but the trouble wasn't treated that simply. Mike refused to take the pills, and then the chaos truly began as did Mike's severe symptoms of schizophrenia.

Earley runs into trouble from every direction as he fights to get his son the help he so desperately needs.. The insurance company won't allow him to be treated for more than a three day period. The laws don't make Mike take the necessary anti-psychotic medication. The police don't have proper procedures set up to deal with the mentally ill either. And if that wasn't enough, his ex-wife, Mike's mother, strongly disagrees with him as to how to deal with the young man. Unfortunately, these problems get shoved to the background when Mike, in a delusional episode, breaks into a neighbors' house and vandalizes it in order to take a bubble bath. Now, the author's son was arrested and in danger of serving jail time or even ruining his record with a felony. The situation has escalated very quickly. Mike's life could be permanently impaired if the charges stuck.

The couple whose house Mike had vandalized was vehement about on pressing charges. Earley then had to truly battle for his son's future while trying to get him court-ordered into a psychiatric program. After a long battle with the prosecutor and the victims of the break-in, Mike finally was allowed to plead no contest to two misdemeanors instead of a felony. He was placed on probation and required to attend a program which included orders to take the much-needed medication. Earley held his breathe until Mike finally remained on medication. His son eventually got a good job and gained back his independence. It was a refreshingly happy ending to a very frustrating and scary journey.

The portion of this novel that is most memorable are the six segments that make up Mike's Story. It makes it personal. It takes us knee-deep into the situation—straight through Pete Earley's eyes. Not only does the author portray, in gut-wrenching fashion, the chaos he endured, but he delivers a warning to the reader. A situation like his can truly happen to anyone. It makes it hard for anyone to push the matter aside.

It is easy to forget that Mike's story isn't a clever piece of fiction. It's real life, and it's how similar situations are dealt with around the country everyday. These and the other sections in Pete Earley's novel are indicative of a chaotic mental health care problem that is a rapidly growing Pandora's box pushing to crack open.

Though Pete Earley successfully conveys the desperate need for change in respect to this issue, and for special treatment to those with disorders in the eyes of the law, but the situation is complex and ever-evolving on both sides of the argument. It's true that the reader feels sympathy for Earley's son when he is put before the court, but one must not forget the crime he committed. His crime was minor compared to most, but it was still a crime with copious amounts of damage to the victims. Where does the line of sympathy get drawn? What if a schizophrenic kills someone because he believes they are aliens sent to destroy him? Is it really okay to give him a milder punishment just because he is ill? Where does treatment fit in with the feelings of the victim's family? What if a mentally ill man was caught taking inappropriate pictures of children in the park? Are the victims any less violated? Or if a delusional man broke into your house and smashed everything in sight? Is the damage going to cost less because the man was crazy? The questions and situations are endless, and they have equally reasonable opposing sides. Mentally ill patients need help, and people need to be able to feel safe. Perhaps, this is one question that may never have an answer supported by a majority.


  1. Although you wrote this some time ago, I am only now reading it and I want to compliment you on your analysis and insights. It is one of the best reviews that I've read of my book. Thank you for sharing it with your readers.
    Pete Earley

    BTW Mike had two more breakdowns after the book was published. He ended up getting shot with a Taser by the police. But today he is doing well and has become a peer to peer specialist, which means that he goes into our local jail and talks to persons with mental illnesses.
    It has been a long journey but I am tremendously proud of him and how we both have grown.
    I will eagerly read your future reviews.

  2. Mr. Earley,

    Thank you so much for the comment. It means so much to me, because I was very moved when I read "Crazy." It taught me more than any other psych-related book that I've read, because your writing gave me a front row seat into this huge issue.

    It is wonderful that Mike now uses his experiences to help others. It is very inspirational.


  3. I'm in grad school to become a mental health counselor, and this book is our assigned "textbook" for our mental health care systems class because our professor, an MD, PhD, LMHC, was so moved by it. Fantastic book.


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