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Mental Anguish

Rescuing the mentally ill has brought millions to the Mental Health Corporation of Denver--as well as complaints of coercion, mismanagement and neglect.

In the meantime, many of the Goebel people are stuck in a holding pattern. Like Kuroki, Howard Pyle likes Laradon just fine; the place offers him "more freedom," he says, than he ever had at any of the boarding homes or institutions he's stayed at since a "significant car accident" 26 years ago sent him on a dizzying journey through the mental-health system. But he, too, longs for something more; if he stayed at Laradon too long, he frets, "I think either the staff would get to their wits' end or I would."

"There are so many options," Pyle says. "I'd like to write short stories and sell them to magazines. I know that I'm not considered able, but I'd like to do more painting. I'm a surrealist. The world needs another Dali."

Although Pyle describes the group home as a "stepping stone to the future," he's understandably cautious about his prospects. "Look at it this way," he says. "The future is a mystery. The past is history. And today is a gift--that's why they call it the present."

Even those Goebel clients who've been fortunate enough to obtain some degree of independence know their circumstances can change overnight. For the Goebel plan to succeed will require an enormous, ongoing commitment of funding and training--and not even the best of intentions can fully overcome the challenges many of the boarding-home refugees now face.

Consider the odyssey of Richard Deem. A former Highlands resident, Deem was one of the first Goebel clients to be moved into his own apartment--proof that the leap to independent living was possible. But Deem has had a rough year since he was interviewed by Westword in January. Battling manic depression and schizophrenia, he's been hospitalized three or four times in recent months, he says, and has spent weeks in a bed at a crisis center. Soon he will be moving out of his Capitol Hill apartment and into the Barth Hotel downtown, which his therapists believe will provide him with a more congenial environment.

"They say I have to move out because I became too isolated in my apartment," Deem says. "I have hallucinations. I've had them for 37 years. I can't get rid of them. I can't. It's gotten worse."

A former seminary student and an avid reader, Deem liked staying in his apartment, reading his books, watching TV and listening to the radio. But the loneliness became too much for him to bear. He says he has friends in the apartment building, but he hasn't seen them recently. At the Barth, he'll have a private room and lots of neighbors, but he'll have to give away most of his books.

"I'll keep some of them, the most important ones," he says, gesturing at a single shelf stocked with the I Ching, The Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church, a catechism and books on the Civil War and the Soviet Union.

Although he doesn't know quite what to expect, Deem says he isn't worried about the coming move. "I will miss my friends in the apartment house," he says. "But I can communicate with them telepathically. It's a gift from God. I also have ESP and clairvoyance. Those are gifts from Christ. And my hand"--he holds up a weathered palm--"has the Stigmata."

At the moment, the sacred marks Deem sees on his hand are just as real to him as the Barth Hotel. Maybe more so. It's a gift to be reckoned with, just like moving day and all the other challenges and mysteries posed by the Goebel plan. There are no quick fixes, no tidy and lasting solutions to the problems of the mentally ill.

Sometimes, though, a little common sense goes a long way. Last week, for the first time, Sam Haigler told the staff at Valdez about the troubling voice on the radio in his room. Haigler didn't want to turn off the radio because it belongs to his roommate, who'd told him not to touch it.

Now the radio is removed from the room every evening at ten o'clock, so Sam Haigler can get some rest.

Visit www.westword.com to read related Westword stories.

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