Understanding Lonnie And Mental Illness

Monday, September 9, 2013

I came across one of my old neighbors today when came across him walking from the grocery store and gave him a lift home. Most all of the old times in the community had pretty much gotten accustom to seeing the young man walking, sometimes talking to himself - asking if he could do some yard work or some minor task to pick up a few dollars here and there. We'd sometimes leave stuff out in the yard we didn't need anymore, but was in pretty good condition for him to pick up and either keep or sell just to have a little extra cash in his pocket. So maybe to that degree it's our fault that Lonnie may have been sees either picking up or walking around with some type of lawn care machinery or something, from the what the neighbor I rand into today described. It's our fault that we'd sit out stuff and give him permission to pick it up if he wanted it. 

If Lonnie picked up something from someone's yard, he likely thought it had been discarded or laid out by someone for him to pick up.  Some newcomers haven't taken time or don't seem to care much to get to know the old residents, their habits, their ways, the way we all, white, black, Cambodian, others and how many of us came to put aside our difference and reach out to one another. Many came in with an exclusive click, ostracizing those they felt didn't belong. 

It hurts to know that Lonnie may have to spend some serious time in prison because he's misunderstood. You see Lonnie, although highly intelligent, is schizophrenic and possibly bipolar. His family was already living in the community of St. Elmo and were longtime residents when I returned to the community in the latter '70s or early '80s. His father is now deceased. His mother moved away to live with a daughter after becoming terminally ill. I lost contact with them but from time to time I'd come across Lonnie returning to the neighborhood, and I'd warn him to be careful - that some of the newer residents weren't as tolerant of people like him the way the older residents had become accustom to; walking around, talking to himself, wearing shorts and a T-shirt in freezing weather(we'd give him jackets and pants), walking in down-pouring rain (we'd give him an umbrella) and lift to somewhere he needed to be. 

It wasn't unusual to sometimes see Lonnie carrying a large TV, or boxes of stuff someone had left on the street for him to pick up.He'd always ask if he could have the stuff if someone was outside. He'd assumed it was alright to pick it up if no one was around. We'd already told him to take whatever he thought he could use if he got to it before the city pick-up we'd call to come out. Just don't leave a mess. Lonnie was always courteous with his "yes-mam", "no-mam." One of the local churches would give him stuff too.

 I'd gotten to know Lonnie well enough that I could tell when he was off his medication. And he was always honest when I asked him if he was. I've never felt threatened or intimidated by Lonnie. He just wasn't that type of person, on or off his medications. I warned him that even my husband and I, my son home on leave, USAF, had been considered a "suspicious" person in the community by some of the newcomers and had called the police on us. That my son, home on leave with his wife, also home on leave, had once been assaulted by police while walking on the same street he was born and spent all his growing up life until joining the  military and moving away. Although, like he and his family, we were longtime homeowners. That there was a different breed, less tolerant that appeared to be moving into the area. That in many ways certain areas of the community appeared to be off limits to people like him, and even people myself, and was regressing back to the days of my 80+ year old mothers time. She knows the history of the area well. Having spent her earlier childhood in another area of the same more tolerant part of the community. I honestly thought Lonnie had been able to listen to, understand and heed my warnings until today, and coming across another older white neighbor who was upset that Lonnie was possibly being made a scapegoat for something he likely had nothing to do with. 

Granted, Lonnie is no angel. He has a criminal record. But mostly because people like him with a mental illness makes an easier target for criminals and authority alike. Having been born in the community near 60 years ago, I'm aware of its history, both good and bad, dark and light, it's levels of tolerance and intolerance and off limits of certain parts of the community. I know how some residents have a history of exaggerating and even fabricating things to get their way or target other residents they wanted removed from the community. If what that neighbor told me today is true about Lonnie and his present situation, it's reminiscence to another period of time that also has connections to another darker history in the community. Like that other young man over a century ago I believe Lonnie is an "innocent man." Lonnie Hood certainly is no burglar who would break into anyone's home. He may have mistakenly picked something up from someone's yard he thought they'd thrown out for trash, but I don't believe he took anything purposely or with the intention of stealing anything. 

I don't know when Lonnie's case is due. or if it's already come up and has been decided. I just don't believe Chattanooga should convict another innocent man for something he most certainly likely had nothing to do with, and I'm hoping any judge, any prosecutor will do the right thing and be fair in their judgment. 

Brenda Manghane-Washington


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