(Author’s note, 3/15/19 – This article was updated to correct the newsletter link at the bottom. It was the first in a series. If you never read it, you may find it interesting. The rest of the articles are archived under “A Thousand First Steps”)
Following my nearly successful suicide attempt I was hospitalized for a week.*
After being brought to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Hollywood, FL, the self-inflicted wounds to both sides of my neck were sutured and I spent the better part of 24 hours in the Intensive Care Unit before being moved to a regular hospital room for another day. I was then brought to the psychiatric ward, which was in a secure part of the hospital and was used to house people who presented a danger to themselves.
Initially, I was held for three days according to the provisions of the “Baker Act”, which allowed people in Florida who had made attempts on their lives to be placed in such a secure environment for ‘observation’. I was kept an additional 2 days while waiting for the ‘staples’ to be removed from my neck. Throughout those 5 days, I spent much time in reflection on the events leading up to my being where I was. I was also engaged in multiple conversations throughout each day with a steady stream of counselors and mental health professionals. The objective of each conversation was to determine whether what I had attempted to do to myself was likely to be repeated, or if it was an ‘aberration’.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had taken the first step on my “Path To Freedom” when I raised my ‘white flag’ in surrender as I lay on the shower floor approaching certain death.
Although it would be some time before I would begin to consciously recognize the ‘bread crumbs’ I wrote about in an earlier post, I had opened up the lines of communication with God when I asked Him to forgive me for the way I had lived my life. As a result of that request, I had begun to hear God’s voice. No, I did not actually hear Him speaking, but I had awakened something inside of me that I could not fully understand yet.
I hadn’t even actually started to pray yet. At least, not in any sort of deliberate manner. I mean, at that time I still had no idea what it really meant to pray, but I instinctively knew that things would be different now that I had asked God for forgiveness, and I was determined to figure out what I was supposed to do next.
Seven days after entering the hospital I was released to the custody of two FBI agents who placed me under arrest and transported me to the Broward County Jail in Ft. Lauderdale to await an appearance before a federal judge the next morning.
Even though the mental health professionals at Jackson Memorial Hospital had released me, after a daylong process of being ‘booked’, I was placed, naked, into an observation room in the jail. I was provided with two ‘vests’ made of quilted material similar to that found in blankets used for moving furniture. The room was bare except for a thin mattress on the floor. I laid on one of the vests and covered my nakedness with the other. It was cold in the cell even though it was August in south Florida. It was late, and I was tired, but every time sleep mercifully approached, someone entered the cell noisily to ‘check’ on me, effectively keeping me awake and ensuring that I would be uncomfortable.
When morning finally arrived, I was brought breakfast, which consisted of a Styrofoam container which held what appeared to be a loaf of bread. I later learned that it was something called a ‘breakfast loaf’ and. although it looked appealing, it was one of the most disgusting things I have ever tasted. Horrid, actually. Made from ground up whatever-was-laying-around-the-kitchen (literally, to include the floor, I think), it could only have been designed as a form of punishment, that is how vile it was.
Gut instinct told me I was being treated this way because of the nature of my charges, not because anyone actually perceived I presented a danger to myself or anyone else. After all, I would not have been released to the FBI in the first place had there been fears I would make another attempt on my life. The agents who retrieved me in the morning seemed surprised and, oddly, embarrassed upon learning of my overnight accommodations.
Despite the inconvenience, discomfort, and humiliation brought on by the practices at the jail, I was accepting of it all and at peace internally. God was already at work, and although the awareness of His presence was most certainly not a particularly conscious thought back then, I realize now that the Holy Spirit was beginning to occupy more space within me and was somehow reassuring me that I no longer had anything to fear.
Once in court, I was introduced to the man who would become my lawyer, a federal public defender. We spoke very briefly and when the magistrate we stood before announced I would be released with nothing more than my signature as collateral, he expressed amazement.
This I did recognize as a miracle.
As one who had made a nearly successful attempt on his own life, I should have been remanded to custody with no bail. My attorney thought I was just ‘very lucky’. I knew that luck had nothing to do with it any more than it had to do with me being discovered on the shower floor before I had died. God was at work.
I was stunned at how quickly I found myself out in the Florida sunshine, free to go where I wished. Certainly there was awareness that I still had to answer for my behavior, but I had the ability to move about while my fate was being decided.
This was a precious gift from God, and I recognized it as such.
I made my way back to the motel I had tried to leave in such a violent, and permanent, manner. The grisly, bloody mess I had left behind in the bathroom had been mercifully cleaned up and after I said a tearful hello and offered my thanks to those who were left to do the cleaning, I took refuge in my room to gather my thoughts.
Soon after, I retrieved my phone from the motel office. It was not very long before I found myself talking with my sister Kathy, who lived in Virginia. In the course of the conversation I asked her if she would send me a Bible. She said she would be happy to and it arrived a couple of days later.
It had a soft, grey leather cover and it felt wonderful in my hands. I held it and looked at it with the same wonder one would feel holding a newborn child for the first time: I knew I was holding something special, but had not the first clue what to do next.
I called my sister, thanked her for sending it to me and asked her, “Now what do I do with it?”
I had found the foot of the stairs, and I was about to begin climbing them.
(*Author’s Note: See article in Central Union Mission newsletter)