Dear Elected Officials, Appointed Officials, Healthcare Providers:
I am writing to you with great urgency on behalf of my brother Monte Cullors. Monte has struggled to find meaningful mental healthcare and effective social services over the last two months while experiencing several waves of mental health episodes.
At the age of forty now, my brother has lived with Schizoaffective disorder since he was a teenager, diagnosed at the age of 19 years old after being viciously beaten by the Los Angeles Sheriff Deputies at Pitchess detention center.
Both our family and Monte have struggled to find the most effective care strategies to not only manage his wellness throughout his adult life, but in supporting Monte’s awareness surrounding the impacts of his diagnosis.
As his family, and given the continual issues of Monte’s experiences with county-based and institutional responses to his mental health episodes, we have exhausted our options for managing Monte’s care needs as only next of kin.
We are requesting your help in expediting the process to secure immediate and life-saving conservatorship so that we may begin a long-term comprehensive care plan.
Though at times our family efforts have minimized the severity of harm experienced during his past mental health episodes, the wrap-around care Monte requires simply exceeds our capacities when not fully authorized to make decisions on his behalf.
A phenomenal and gifted artist, self-taught craftsman, jewelry-maker and beloved community member, since the youthful age of sixteen, Monte has survived many years of incarceration, and additionally abuse by the Sheriff’s Department during his time in Los Angeles County Jail system.
In a moment where Los Angeles has taken great strides towards investing in alternatives to incarceration, my brother, like many others, continues to struggle with finding stable employment, housing and comprehensive healthcare and social services.
The pairing of the homelessness crisis and a mental health care system whose standard of care do not produce long-term stability, seeking alternatives to addressing these interconnected issues are rarely possible outside of law enforcement interventions.
My family and community that surround Monte have witnessed and supported him through many psychiatric episodes.
In fact, we are often the team the coordinates getting him to a hospital, exercising immense patient advocacy with his doctors, securing suitable housing in preparation for his release, and building care plans for him in order to access employment as well as forming meaningful relationships.
Because of Monte’s documented traumatic experiences of abuse administered by law enforcement, it has been essential for us as the family to constantly advocate for minimizing law enforcement contact at all costs.
The presence of police officers, for instance when called to a scene in which he is having a mental health crisis in public (as non-guardians we cannot apply a container around his daily movement and travels), only exacerbates his state of crisis, further triggering his post-traumatic stress, heightening other episodic symptoms.
Sometimes when we are around when such episodes happen, we are successful at intervening on Monte’s potential interface with law enforcement, however in other moments that we are not, and inevitably the situations always get worse.
Despite the rich practical and professional knowledge that exists in the loving family and community that surrounds Monte, what remains clear is our uneven success in getting him care has wholly relied upon his fluctuating awareness of his symptoms, his ability to articulate his needs, and his taking the initiative to seek care before his symptoms reach the level of crisis.
Unfortunately, given his diagnosis and the lack of sustained support surrounding him, such communication and self-awareness is not always possible for Monte. When it is not possible, it simply has been life-threatening.
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Since September, Monte has been in the middle of a prolonged episode and has been met with dangerously inadequate care. Early on, Monte noticed he was hearing voices and made three attempts to check himself into Pacifica Hospital.
While he knew he would get worse, he was denied admission because he was not considered a danger to himself or others in that present moment. Monte’s mental health worsened rapidly, and within 48-hours he was found naked running in traffic near Van Nuys and Aetna.
The police were called to the scene and they took him to the hospital Sherman Oaks Hospital.
The doctor in charge of his care showed very little interest in Monte’s stability and made every attempt to release him before he was in fact stable.
Our advocacy for his care only stalled what was clearly a premature and ill-informed release, and within 24-hours Monte was back out roaming the streets, homeless, confused and with no next steps to ensure his safety.
The last two months have followed an alarming but predictable pattern:
Monte, or we as his family, initiate connecting him to mental healthcare professionals.
He is denied entry because he is not considered dangerous enough to himself and or others.
If admitted, his care plan is always centered around moving him as quickly as possible out of treatment, rather than getting him stable.
Monte is released from the overseeing healthcare institution without any notice to those of us who are actively advocating for his care.
His family is completely unaware of his whereabouts, and he is without money, phone or ability to easily contact any of us upon released.
Monte is once again homeless and any attempts to get him care are met with suggestions that we call the police.
Because the systems in place are either inadequate or are driven by priorities that don’t result in my brother’s long-term stability, our family and community lives with the daily fear that something terrible will happen to Monte.
When seeking aid when in crisis, those who are formerly incarcerated should not have to constantly fear being arrested, charged, brutalized, or murdered at the hands of law enforcement, simply based on their present or future symptoms and behaviors arising from one's mental illness.
We have exhausted many options, including driving him to the hospital, having daily phone calls with nurses who are managing his care, visiting him while he is inside, scheduling in person meetings with the doctors to bottomline his extended out-patient treatment plan, coordinating access to full service partnerships with his social worker, scrambling to find him when he is released without notice, and coordinating friends and family to search for him when we haven’t seen him for days. We desperately need your help.
As a leader who has been moving the county away from paradigm that have historically failed my brother. We are taking steps to secure a conservatorship over Monte and we are asking you for the following support:
Help us begin the process to expedite conservatorship no later than Friday, December 6th, 2019.
Help us move Monte to a reliable county facility that will actually support the implementation of conservatorship in an expedited manner.
Please plan a meeting with my family by December 2nd 2019 to help figure out the next steps forward.
Help me come up with a plan to support not just Monte but the 300,000 Angelenos suffering just like Monte.
I, my family, and the community that surrounds Monte, love him dearly. We believe a conservatorship will give us the legal avenues needed to ensure his future safety, well-being, and dignity. We ask that you give Monte’s case your immediate attention and help us ensure that he gets the care he needs and deserves.
Patrisse Cullors, Chairperson for Reform LA Jails and Monte’s sister
Family and Community Supporters:
Cherice Foley, Monte’s Mother
Paul Dumont, Director Community House
Richard Edmond- Vargas, Co-Director Success Stories Program
Mark Anthony Clayton-Johnson, Frontline Wellness Network
Ren-yo Hwang, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Mount Holyoke College
Eunisses Hernandez, Los Angeles Campaign Coordinator JustLeadershipUSA
Dylan Rodríguez, Ph. D., Professor, University of California at Riverside, President - Elect, American Studies Association, Chair of the UC Riverside Academic Senate
Linda Sarsour, co-founder, Women’s March, Executive Director, MPower Change
Lex Steppling, Director of Policy and Campaigns, Dignity & Power Now
Prentis Hemphill, Resilient Strategies
Jolie Chea, Ph.D., University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow 2018-2020; Assistant Professor, UCLA 2020
Chisato Hughes, Community Advocate, California Coalition for Women Prisoners
Colby Lenz, Co-founder and Legal Advocate, Survived & Punished
Kendrick Sampson, Actor, Activist, Co-Founder of BLD PWR
Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Queen Sugar, Actor and Activist
Deirdre Wilson, MSW Candidate USC, 2021; Shelter Advocate, WISE Place Emergency; Shelter for Women
Ahmad Abuznaid - Attorney and Organizer
Isaac Bryan, Director of Public Policy, UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center
Kelly Lytle Hernandez, UCLA Professor of African American Studies, History, and Urban Planning
Francisca Porchas Coronado, Latinx Therapists Action Network
Alejandro Villalpando, Assistant Professor, California State University, Los Angeles
Ivette Alé, Senior Policy Lead, Dignity and Power Now
Lynne Lyman, Co-founder Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership and Co-author and co-chair of Proposition 64
Jasmyne A. Cannick, Journalist & Advocate
Photo: Patrisse Cullors