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Viewpoint: I hope you read this

November 24, 2010
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Indiana Lawyer Commentary

jlap1I was first introduced to the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP) sometime during my first year of law school – I’m guessing orientation – but it was not a particularly memorable experience. Recognizing instantly that I neither had nor planned to have any substance or gambling addictions, I permitted the information to float in one ear, through the empty space reserved for information that does not apply directly to me, and out the other.

As I predicted, I completed law school without developing any addictions, and had long forgotten the existence of JLAP. I was on the homestretch, entering my last semester and preparing my application for the bar exam. Apart from a couple of speeding tickets, I had never been in trouble in my life, and I was looking forward to the letter from the Board of Law Examiners welcoming me into that summer’s class of bar applicants. That letter never came. While my friends were moving one step closer to admission to the bar, even if it was just being allowed to sit for the exam, I was stuck in limbo.

I have always been cursed (or maybe blessed) with a Catholic conscience that forbids any deviation from the absolute truth, so when I encountered Question 23 of the Indiana Bar Application (“From the age of 16 years to the present, have you been diagnosed with or treated for any mental, emotional or nervous disorders?”), I had to answer truthfully: Yes. I then had to supplement my Application with Form B-1 to provide details about my “disorders.” I explained that I had taken an anxiolytic the previous December in response to my increasing anxiety (I had begun to, quite literally, pull my hair out (trichotillomania) while studying for my penultimate set of finals, and needed to save my eyebrows). Unfortunately, the strong “downer” drug made me really weepy, and I stopped taking it after only a few days, deciding that my eyebrows would, after all, grow back.

Then, in February of that last semester, a listserv email from the university appeared in my inbox. These were always good for information about goings on at the Med School, and I always skipped through them to the opportunities to participate in studies, which were almost always paired with the chance to earn some extra cash. I rarely qualified for the studies, but on this occasion, I thought I had a chance: researchers were looking for people with depression. With six years of psychology studies under my belt, I was fairly confident that I met the criteria; that, coupled with the prospect of a little spending money, was enough for me to sign up.

As I knew I would be, I was accepted into the study. It was pretty basic – start taking a low dose of Lexapro (an antidepressant), do blood tests, do a few MRI scans, and that was it. I went through the motions, and dutifully performed all of the tasks requested. I felt almost smug, knowing that I had duped the researchers into thinking that I actually had a serious problem. But then a strange thing happened: I started to feel better. I wasn’t pulling my hair out. I wasn’t staying up all night ruminating over how I wasn’t good enough at this, or how I had messed up that. I wasn’t feeling anxious that I wasn’t anxious about anything, or guilty that I wasn’t feeling guilty about anything. I stopped scratching myself when I said or did something I thought was stupid, and I stopped wishing that I had the guts to use a knife instead.

Feeling better was strange, because I didn’t know that there was a “better.” I’d felt the same way as long as I could remember. When I was 6, I started staying awake at night wracked with guilt for everything that I had done, every word that I had said, and everything that I had thought, even if I hadn’t actually thought it, but just in case it was lurking in my subconscious.

The first time I thought about killing myself, and the closest I ever came to it, was when I was 11. I straddled the railing of my parents’ third-floor balcony before deciding to just go inside instead. At 12, I had a constant urge to kill myself. I know that the only reason I didn’t do it was because another girl in my class committed suicide that same year and I saw the devastation it caused. I didn’t have a desire to kill myself, I just always felt compelled to do it.

During high school, I became so obsessed about germs that I washed my hands until they bled, and my siblings had to abide by the single-spaced page of rules I posted in our bathroom. I started hurting myself around that time, too. I would scratch myself or press a fork into my skin to the point just shy of drawing blood.

In my first year of undergrad, the walk to my first class of the morning was spent wondering how I would kill myself that day. Again, it was never something I wanted to do – just something I thought I would do. I can’t really explain the feeling any other way and I can’t think of anything to compare it to. Out of boredom one day, (in retrospect it was probably apathy), I sewed my fingers together. I stitched myself up when I got paper cuts and signed up for whatever vaccines I could just to feel the pain in my arm. I also gave blood as often as I could so I could feel the needle pierce my skin and watch my blood drain away.

In grad school, I became so anxious about even numbers that I avoided them at all costs. I became ill whenever I encountered one. I hated being in crowds or anywhere noisy. I became obsessed with punctuality; tardiness enraged me and made me sick to my stomach. I discovered that I liked gin and that Nyquil worked even better when I didn’t bother with the little measuring cup. I was still scratching myself and still constantly thinking about death.

It may seem ludicrous, but by the time I got to law school, all of this was normal for me. I was content knowing that my thoughts, obsessions, and compulsions were just a part of my personality. There was no other way to feel. There was no other way to be.jlap2

You can understand, then, why it was so strange to feel better. It was as if I had spent my entire life living in a shadow, not knowing that the sun even existed.

Back to Form B-1: I disclosed that I was taking Lexapro, why I was taking it, and that I was feeling better. I felt sure that the board would reward my honesty and appreciate the steps I’d taken by admitting me to sit for the bar, so when my letter came telling me that I could not take the exam until I had met with a person named Tim at JLAP, I am not exaggerating when I say I was furious. On the phone, he told me that our meeting would have several possible outcomes: I could be cleared to take the bar unconditionally; cleared, but on a probationary basis; or told that I couldn’t take the bar at all that year, and that I’d basically have to cross my fingers for the next year. WHAT?! Surely this process was only necessary for psychotic or drug-addicted bar applicants, not young men and women with improving depression. If the board was trying to encourage disclosure about mental difficulties, they were going about it the wrong way!

I showed up to this meeting with this person named Tim in my most angry clothes: a blouse with military buckles on the sleeves, a black pencil skirt, and heels that could poke out an eye if wielded in the correct manner. I pulled my hair back into its tightest possible bun and set my face in the most irritated look I could muster. Throughout our meeting, I sat with my arms crossed defensively. I spat out monosyllabic answers to questions, and told Tim how stupid I thought this entire charade really was.

Looking back at it now, I don’t think I made the best first impression, particularly considering how much was at stake. Tim has since told me that he thought I was going to jam his desk pen through his forehead. (An act that wouldn’t be entirely out of the realm of possibility, but after 20 years of successfully not killing myself, I had developed an extraordinary amount of self control.) Curiously, I was much more relaxed during our second meeting, and was cleared to take the bar exam. Tim explained that I was referred to JLAP because of the recency of my symptoms and so that I would know it was an available resource. He said that it was a good thing, after all, that I had disclosed my depression – if I ever got called before the Disciplinary Commission for any reason, they would know to take it into consideration. Of course, that was never going to happen to me, but I let Tim give me the pithy script justification all the same.

That summer, I upped my Lexapro dose to deal with the additional stress in the months before the exam, and continued to notice improvements. I passed the exam, was sworn in last October, and began my job as an attorney.

My life was coming up roses. I was working at a great firm and continually looking for ways to develop professionally. I had discovered what it was like to not be depressed and enjoying every minute of it. The feeling lasted until this past January when I first became a bit down. I noticed that I was sleeping in, arriving late to work, and unable to concentrate throughout the day. Looking back, I don’t know how I got anything done at all. I was forgetting assignments, barely making important deadlines, and certainly not endearing myself to the partners.

By February, I could hardly work at all (although I sat in my office for over eight hours each day). I could think of nothing but cutting my throat. I thought about which knife I would use and where I would first press it into my neck. I thought about who I wanted to find me and how to leave as little mess as I could. I thought about the feeling of the blade against my throat and the way my skin would cut like butter underneath it. In the evenings after work, I drank more than I ever had before – not enough to constitute a problem (thanks to my knowledge of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”) – but just enough to make it impossible to concentrate, which meant that I didn’t have the psychic capacity to feel guilty or anxious about anything. One night I crossed the street only to be barely missed by an oncoming car. My thought in that moment was, “Well that would be inconvenient.” I couldn’t have possibly cared less.

Apathy, in my estimation, is the worst feeling of them all. My body and mind felt nothing. I was empty – a void. The thoughts that I did have were fantasies of cutting my throat. It was getting harder and harder to appear fine and sneak under the radar at work. I figured out what Tim had meant when he referred to the Disciplinary Commission – if I hadn’t had higher-ups keeping tabs on the cases I was working on, things could have gotten really bad for me. My mind was using what little focus I had left to keep me from absentmindedly killing myself; attending to work was on the back burner. When I finally reached my limit and knew I couldn’t keep going by myself anymore, I emailed Tim at JLAP, and met with him the next day.

I knew that talking about it would make me feel better, although I had always been staunchly opposed to formal therapy. I fell apart in Tim’s office and he listened. Together we decided that while the drugs had helped a lot, they had done all they could do. I gave into the fact that I needed more, and Tim recommended a therapist who he thought would be a good match with me. I emailed her that day.

JLAP was there for me when I needed it, and I had really, really needed it. When I started going to therapy, it was taking every ounce of my self-control not to scrape my knuckles against concrete walls, just to feel something – anything. I had started to think a lot more about the razor blade in my desk drawer, which I don’t know why I keep, but it somehow makes me feel secure. My throat-cutting imaginings were becoming more and more vivid and invasive.

Since I started therapy, I’m doing really well. I still go once a week. My therapist recommended a psychiatrist, who I meet with for medication management, and a really wonderful acupuncturist. I finally feel in control. I’m not cured, and I don’t think I ever will be. I see depression as a condition, not a disease, no more amenable to a cure than diabetes, although equally manageable. There are still times when I want to hurt myself, still times when I think about killing myself, but I don’t, and I won’t. I know how to process those feelings, I know how to feel about having them, but most importantly of all, I know where to go when they get too big for me to handle on my own.•

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  • My cry for help was unanswered
    My cry for help has been unanswered. The amount of energy and courage that it took me to contact JLAP was tremendous. This was over two years ago, and I was, and am, in terrible trouble. Unfortunately, either JLAP is not equipped to help, or I am located too far from the offices. I feel like they just left me out in the cold, alone, and spiralling further downward.
  • My experience with JLAP
    was quite different -- opposite in fact. Details at www.archangelinstitute.org

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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