When Charlene Schwickrath’s son was arrested and brought to court in 2007, she hung onto his public defender’s prediction for the sentencing.
He assured her that her son probably would get a 10-year sentence and be out in seven.
“Maybe this will be good for him,” Schwickrath said she thought as she faced the reality that her son would spend the next decade in prison. “Maybe he will realize he needs help.”
He had short stays at several mental-health facilities in his 20s. But while she said doctors at the facilities knew how to communicate with him to put him at ease, he never stayed long enough for an official diagnosis.
“He would say, ‘I don’t want to be here with these crazy people,’ and at that age, he had the right to just walk out,” Schwickrath said.
Her concern mounted when he started to get mixed in with the wrong crowd, leading to minor arrests in his mid-20s. She said she believed he was being taken advantage of because the people around him could tell something was “off.”
Schwickrath said she lived fearing the possibility that he could hurt himself or others. Until his arrest.
“I had no experience with prison whatsoever, so seven years was unimaginable,” Schwickrath said.
Then he was sentenced to 37 years on robbery and assault charges — a decade longer than he had been alive.
Almost 11 years into his sentence, Schwickrath said her optimism about how time in prison could help him has long eroded. Now, she said, she fears for his health, safety and sanity every day.
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