A Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter's gripping account of one young man's path to murder - and a wake-up call for mental health care in America
On a summer night in 2009, three lives intersected in one American neighborhood. Two people newly in love - Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper, who spent many years trying to find themselves and who eventually found each other - and a young man on a dangerous psychological descent: Isaiah Kalebu, age twenty-three, the son of a distant, authoritarian father and a mother with a family history of mental illness. All three paths forever altered by a violent crime, all three stories a wake-up call to the system that failed to see the signs.
In this riveting, probing, compassionate account of a murder in Seattle, Eli Sanders, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his newspaper coverage of the crime, offers a deeply reported portrait in microcosm of the state of mental health care in this country - as well as an inspiring story of love and forgiveness. Culminating in Kalebu's dangerous slide toward violence - observed by family members, police, mental health workers, lawyers, and judges, but stopped by no one - While the City Slept is the story of a crime of opportunity and of the string of missed opportunities that made it possible. It shows what can happen when a disturbed member of society repeatedly falls through the cracks, and in the tradition of The Other Wes Moore and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, is an indelible, human-level story, brilliantly told, with the potential to inspire social change.
While the City Slept
Up the block, where South Rose Street intersects with Eighth Avenue South, Israel Rodriguez was watching his eighteenth birthday party wind down. His actual birthday had come three days earlier, but the celebration was postponed in order to take advantage of a fast-arriving Saturday night. Now it was 3:00 a.m. on the Sunday after that Saturday night. Israel stood on the sidewalk outside his family's home, lit a cigarette, and smoked it near the spot where roots of a large maple tree had cracked and raised the concrete on a scale not normally seen in a city accustomed to sidewalks rearranged by tree roots. Here, the whorled roots had created a small mountain of vaulting cement whose peak passersby were forced to ascend and then descend. As Israel pulled on the cigarette, he, too, heard glass breaking. The sound seemed to come from the direction of the dead end on South Rose Street, and his mind identified it as a window being smashed. Israel found this odd ...
Every public official in a position to effect change in the mental health system ought to read this book and reflect deeply on its lessons. The rest of us can simply be moved to the tears summoned by the enduring love, tentative hope, and inconsolable pain of this searing human tragedy.
(Reviewed by James Broderick).
Full Review (923 words).
While the City Slept is a searing indictment of the mental health system in the United States, showing step-by-step how the failure of an overworked, underfunded bureaucracy led to a likely preventable human tragedy.
Among the many challenges communities face is in ensuring that those experiencing mental illness get proper treatment. In most states, merely presenting symptoms is not enough. In fact, more often than not, unless the person has demonstrated violent behavior, nothing can be done to compel treatment. However, in 1999, New York State lawmakers approved "Kendra's Law," which has since been hailed by many professionals as a breakthrough in the way states administer mental health services.
Kendra's Law – named after ...
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