By: Jennifer Osborn
ELLSWORTH — The mother of a homeless Ellsworth man is frustrated by the revolving door of Maine’s judicial system for people like her son who have substance abuse and mental health struggles.
“He needs an involuntary commitment,” Leanne Lilly of North Conway, N.H., said of her son, Nicholas O. Stanley, 33.
Lilly said her son is an alcoholic and has a traumatic brain injury he sustained in an all-terrain-vehicle accident as a teenager.
Stanley has been arrested several times, usually on charges of violating bail conditions by drinking, according to court records.
“This has been going on for years,” Lilly said. “Cycle, cycle, cycle and he’s out and back on the street.”
Lilly would like her son kept in the jail until a bed at a rehabilitation facility is open. From rehab, she said she would get her son into an institute that specializes in recovery from traumatic brain injuries.
Stanley, incidentally, is in this week’s Hancock County Jail arrest log. He was also in last week’s log as well as in May and June.
If not in jail or living in a homeless encampment off High Street, Stanley is “habitually in the hospital in Ellsworth for grand mal seizures,” Lilly said.
The seizures are a side effect of the brain injury.
“He has a 15-year-old mentality in a 33-year-old body,” Lilly said. Stanley was 15 when the accident occurred on Swan’s Island. Surgeons had to remove part of Stanley’s right frontal lobe, which affects impulse control, the mother said.
“He likes the way he’s living,” Lilly said. “As a traumatic brain injury person, he doesn’t know this isn’t the way to live.”
With no known phone number or address for Stanley, The American was unable to reach him for comment.
His mother said police will find her son panhandling and ask him to move along. If Stanley has been drinking, he’s arrested on a charge of violating his bail and taken to the jail. He’s then released with a new court date.
Another common scenario is that Stanley will suffer a seizure and fall. An ambulance will take him to Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital, where he’ll be treated and released until the next time he suffers a seizure, the mother said.
Lilly said she’s spoken with hospital administrators about the hospital committing her son, also known as ‘blue-papering’ but said she’s been told that’s beyond the hospital’s scope.
Stanley has a pending charge of assault on an officer — a felony — alleged to have occurred at the Hancock County Jail on May 30, according to court records. Stanley is due in court Aug. 22 for that matter.
The Hancock County District Attorney’s Office shares the mother’s frustration for her son as well as scores of other people who are seemingly trapped in a cycle of jail and homelessness.
“It is pretty common for this type of thing to happen,” said District Attorney Matt Foster. “It is also very frustrating for us.”
“The way our current system is set up, we really can’t do much about it,” Foster said. “These folks need mental health and substance abuse treatment, but there are no services for them, so they get put in and out of jail repeatedly. I wish we had more tools to use to help these people get out of the system.”
“There are plenty of people who are in this situation,” the prosecutor said.
“I believe at one point, Mr. Stanley was on five sets of bail for drinking, and all of our requests that he be held without bail for the five violating conditions of release cases were denied,” Foster said.
Foster said his office asked the court to set cash bail in the pending felony matter but that request was denied. A judge set an unsecured bail so Stanley was released.
Defense attorney Dawn Corbett was recently appointed by the court to represent Stanley. Corbett has not yet met with her client and declined to speak specifically about his case.
However, Corbett said the lack of services for the mentally ill is a problem that defense attorneys deal with regularly.
The Penobscot County Jail has a social worker who will work to get inmates placed on a waiting list at Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor, Corbett said.
Meanwhile, she said, the solution in Hancock County is to take inmates in crisis to the hospital.
“When they’re in custody, it’s up to the jail to pay any medical bills,” Corbett said. “The county can’t afford it.”
Tracey Hair, executive director of HOME Inc. in Orland and the Emmaus Homeless Shelter in Ellsworth, said the Statewide Homeless Council has been working on “a blueprint for people leaving the jails” to share with the Maine Department of Corrections as well as the county jails.
“The good news is that some steps have been made in that direction, for example reinstating MaineCare prior to release,” Hair said.
“Regardless of city or region, the number one challenge continues to be housing of all kinds; shelters, transitional housing, short- and long-term housing,” Hair said.
“This does not help a concerned mom immediately but there is movement in the right direction,” Hair said. “What’s difficult is the jails often do not have the capacity to hold people while they wait for housing. We’re hoping that housing can be worked on during their stay in jail and upon release they can move directly into housing. But we still have a long way to go.”
Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane agrees there’s a problem.
“Around the state, the jails are the receptacles for people with mental health issues that have nowhere to go,” Kane said. “There just isn’t enough mental health services around.”
“There’s a lot of things that once they come through that door, we are responsible for,” Kane said. “Every person that goes in to the jail is an expense to the county.”
Another frustration for Lilly is that court dates change and Stanley doesn’t know.
She questioned how a homeless person can find out that his court date has been changed.
“With no phone and no mailing address, there’s no way to communicate with him,” Lilly said.
“This is not just my story,” Lilly said. “This is not my child’s story. This is everybody’s story.”
This article appears in The Ellsworth American.