DETROIT (WXYZ) — “The adjustment period was difficult for me, was extremely difficult- it still is, to where I had to go to the therapy,” said Anthony Boyd, Michigan Liberation Community Organizer.
Anthony Boyd has long struggled with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). It would be easy to assume it stems from the 23 years he spent behind bars but in fact, it began far before.
“Just from being raised on the west side of Detroit in the things that I saw at such a young age,” said. Boyd.
“Do you think there are a lot of people walking around with mental illness?” asked WXYZ’s Ameera David.
“Absolutely! said Boyd. “With the lifestyles the people that I know lived, and coming up on the streets of Detroit, I don’t how you can escape it.”
The American Psychological Association says at least half of U.S. prisoners have a mental health issue, often forcing the justice system to take on the role of healthcare provider. But with a severe lack of resources, that often means the illness goes unaddressed.
“It’s so stigmatized many of them don’t go looking for the help when they come out,” said Boyd.
That reality, experts say- driving increased rates of substance abuse, criminal activity, and recidivism -- namely in black, brown, and poor communities.
That’s the engine behind Michigan Liberation and its care, not criminalization campaign, the organization is seeking to transform the justice system -- concentrating its efforts on advocating for more health and support programs that tackle the root causes of crime, like mental illness and substance abuse over-policing and punishment.
“It has totally changed me where I cannot sit back and allow other people to go through it,” said Debbie Stepionski, a mental health advocate at Michigan Liberation.
Debbie Stepionski had her first experience with the justice system three years ago -- charged with resisting an arrest that stemmed from a mental health episode.
Despite a documented history of depression, self-harm, even being petitioned into a mental health hospital, Debbie says she was treated more as a criminal than as someone mentally unwell.
“I was working nonstop, 60-70 hours a week and being treated like dredges of society,” said Stepionski.
“What does care not criminalization mean to you?" asked David.
“It means that we take the human aspect and put it back in, said Stepionski.”Even though people do things wrong, they are still human, we all make mistakes. People that make mistakes should not be held worse; we should be helping them become better.”
If you are interested in working with the program or are in need of care: Michigan Liberation