MORAIN: System again fails mom struggling with mentally ill son

  • This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to protecting children at schools, or anywhere gun violence could take. It is also about how to recognize those in need of mental help and care.

Sacramento County jailers released Matthew Herrera a week ago Saturday after keeping him separate from other inmates for his safety and theirs. Because he had no clothes, jailers issued him a disposable paper jumpsuit and flip-flops — and sent him on his way.

Thirty-one hours later, he stole his mother's 10-year-old Honda, hurtled onto Highway 99, sideswiped an SUV, spun to a stop and ran, leaving his mom's car a mangled mess.

Herrera had been in jail for three months on a parole violation for assaulting a mental health care worker. He first was treated for mental illness in 1992, 10 days shy of his seventh birthday, after he wrapped a mini-blind cord around his baby sister's neck and explained that voices told him to do it. He has revolved in and out of jails, prisons, crisis centers, state hospitals, transitional housing and his mother's home ever since.

He takes illegal drugs when he can but refuses anti-psychotic medication unless he is compelled to do so. He dropped out of high school, learned no job skills and has nothing going for him other than his mom, Karen Herrera, a 55-year-old state worker who cannot bring herself to forsake him, despite the pain he has caused.

There is no doubt that Matthew Herrera is severely mentally ill. But what's truly twisted is how we Californians deal with him and people like him. I first wrote about Karen Herrera's fight to find help for her son two weeks ago, reporting that he would be released at the start of the long Presidents Day weekend, with no particular plan for his care.

Herrera's parole officer met him at the downtown jail and took him to the Consortium for Community Services, a drop-in facility for mentally ill parolees that is funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Karen Herrera met them at the office<NO1>., which is across North 12th Street from Goldies Adult Superstore and Loaves &amp; Fishes, where homeless people can find a meal. <NO>. She tried to hug him. He was rigid. She brought him pants, a T-shirt and a jacket and medication, which he agreed to take. He blinked hard, gazed to the side and grunted a "yeah" when I said he seemed tired.

The consortium has slots for 55 to 60 parolees. There are 400 similar slots for mentally ill parolees statewide. Corrections officials estimate there are 22,000 mentally ill parolees. The consortium offers many services. Housing isn't one of them.

Consortium counselors did find a bed where Matthew might be able to sleep. But seeing how unstable he was, his mom decided to take him home once more, hoping to keep him calm until he could see therapists at the start of the workweek.

Once they reached her small tract house in Elk Grove, he went to his old room and slept until she woke him for a dinner of ribs and baked potatoes, his favorite. He ate, went back to bed, got up in the middle of the night, ate more and slept past 10 a.m. She made a breakfast of eggs and sausage, and he gorged again, so much so that he became ill. He paced the house and cursed his mother. Accusing her of crazy things, he grabbed the phone, called Elk Grove police and demanded that she be arrested. That was 12:34 p.m. Sunday. Worried for her safety, she, too, phoned the cops. A squad car pulled up at 12:43, about 27 hours after Matthew''s release from jail.

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