Open letter from Beverly Wittler
For the last year, my son's name has been in the newspapers, on radio stations and on TV stations. Most times people do not know the story behind the headlines. I am going to tell our story. My son has given me his permission to submit this letter.
I want to preface my statements with the fact that Jeff has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and suffers depression and anxiety. Although he did not meet the definition of insanity, he was definitely sick this night. I also want to say to those of you who do not know my son that he is a kind, caring and sensitive young man. Those that know Jeff are already aware of that.
On June 1, 2009 Jeff attacked me in an act of domestic violence, something no one who knows him would ever expect. I want to set some things straight, as follows:
1. Jeff was not high, drunk or on drugs at the time.
2. My injuries were very serious but not life threatening. I have heard that I wasn't expected to live or "make it".
3. I was not stabbed multiple times as some people have told me they heard. In fact I was not actually "stabbed" at all. I do not remember seeing the knife at all, but apparently I was threatened with the knife and I apparently grabbed the blade (according to reports) and the knife was pulled out of my hand, whereby I received a serious wound across my palm called a "defensive wound". I had no other stab wounds. I had a broken and crushed nose initially thought to be a stab wound. A forensic pathologist determined this was not a knife wound, but some sort of blunt trauma.
4. I had a broken arm and elbow sustained from falling on cement when running from my son.
5. I had many soft tissue injuries on my body and face.
6. I had a possible subtle skull fracture which was difficult to identify on x-ray.
7. I am not minimizing my injuries, and I required surgery on my nose and hand, but I was admitted to the hospital in stable condition.
8. A mother's love is unconditional.
In the May 26 issue of the Dickinson County News the assistant county attorney, Melanie Summers Bauler, portrayed Jeff's actions as heinous, deliberate and calculated. I beg to differ. Jeff was not deliberating or calculating anything that night. He was a sick young man that evening. I know my son best and I was the one that was there. My son does need mental treatment, and I begged the assistant county attorney more than once for this, but she was determined to punish him to the extreme. I wanted him to go to the Cherokee Mental Health Institute for treatment where he could receive counseling, get on the correct medications and when he got out to be monitored via court order in taking his medications, with someone else actually administering the medications.
Tell me what good prison will do for Jeff? He will also now have a felony and prison record to deal with. If he gets mentally better, tell me one employer that would hire him? Another obstacle in his future. I believe he learned his lesson about staying on his medications after a year in jail. He needs to have medications that do not cause such serious side effects as he has been experiencing. Medications have to be "tweaked" often in psychiatric patients to find the correct medication and dosage, thus making it more likely they will be compliant. He still suffers depression and anxiety, but he has no mania or psychosis on his current medications. I feel no fear from my son and neither should the community on his current medication regimen. Jeff is not a violent person by nature.
In his sentencing the judge said the system does not have an ideal placement for people like Jeff. I find it ironic that the state is building a new multi-million dollar prison in Ft. Madison and legislators are discussing which state mental health facility to close. About 20 percent or more of inmates in prisons and jails are mentally ill. Perhaps if better mental health services were available in Iowa, we would not have to put these people in prisons. I know this is not where Jeffrey belongs. People go to mental health hospitals and they are out of there as soon as they can dismiss them, which most of the time is too soon. But they are willing to keep them in prisons for years. Whichever it is, the state pays because most insurance companies do not pay for longer term mental health treatment. I do know that Iowa is near the bottom of the list of states in mental health resources. In this immediate area, as far as I know we have only one psychiatrist and a very few nurse practitioners. Spencer Hospital has a small, but good, more short term psychiatric ward. Cherokee Mental Health Institute is the nearest large hospital. I am not sure the status on mental health institute closings at this time, but Cherokee Mental Health Institute closing would be a huge loss to this area. When my son wanted an appointment in the last few weeks here he had to wait over two months to get an appointment with a nurse practitioner. This is a shame for all mental health patients in this area. I have no idea what kind of mental health care Jeff will get in prison, but I do not believe that this is their priority.
So on May 25, 2009, my son went off to prison. He is a very scared young man, and it his left his father and I, his 87 year old grandmother and numerous relatives devastated and heartbroken.
There has to be a better way!