Robin Shellow Attorney | Recognizing and Defending the Schizophrenic Client
Not Guilty by reason of mental disease
insanity, mitigation, competency, schizophrenia, sentencing
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thoughts on current issues

CAN YOU FIND ME ANOTHER VIETNAM: Recognizing and Defending the Schizophrenic Client

The Shellow Group is considering a new section of this site dedicated to publishing sentencing stories. A long time ago, I told my friend and colleague, the former Executive Director and founder of The Sentencing Project, that sentencing was my first love and writing my second.  During the late 90’s Malcom Young and I worked on three homicides together where each client had the unenviable distinction of being the youngest child in their state facing life in adult Court at the age of 13. The first page of the sentencing report called Looking Backward was maybe the best 250 words I have written for a Court. The second best is what follows, titled Can You Find Me Another Vietnam. We are interested in your opinion as to whether we should create a new page on the website, or keep these as occasional stories contributed to our blogsite. Please let us know in your comments.


image002Andy was a 22-year-old criminal defendant charged with attempted bank robbery. He had a previous brush with the law that included one count of possession of marijuana.  Before the marijuana charge, he ran afoul of the law, when the U-haul he was pulling decided to run away from home and park itself in Andy’s backyard. Suburban police officers not familiar with U-Hauls who suffer from emerging adolescent mental health issues, tried to claim Andy attempted conceal the U-haul by hiding it under his parent’s grape arbor. After a few collegial laughs the parties agreed to forgive and forget. The case was dropped. Neither Andy nor the U-Haul experienced any adverse criminal justice consequences.  Andy thought the U-haul should get some treatment. Andy sent the corporate office of U-haul a list of treatment facilities appropriate for a U-haul that was having more than its usual share of difficulties making the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Whether the U-haul or Andy was schizophrenic in those days no longer makes much difference.  Like the U-haul, Andy had been reluctant to sit down for any significant evaluations of his mental health until his current offense. In the past, Andy took some pills a doctor gave him—or maybe he didn’t. On today’s date, his diagnosis is full- blown schizophrenic or almost full-blown. All of the doctors who have submitted reports agree he is either schizophrenic or not quite yet schizophrenic. A few weeks ago, Andy was pulled over after sticking his finger in his blue Dartmouth College sweatshirt and demanding fifteen million dollars from a bank teller. He demanded fifteen million dollars for a disease he claimed he had but wanted to sell to her. The teller’s discomfort that Andy had AIDS or some other terrible disease is understandable and in part accurate. Andy has no communicable physical disease, but at the time of this offense he became aware that he was developing a mental disease called schizophrenia. Without telling anyone, Andy had begun to read about it on the Internet. Andy did not like what he read. He did not like the disease. Sometimes he thinks that since his parents gave it to him that they should take it back. Sometimes, he wants to sell his disease for fifteen million dollars. In a rare moment, if having a really bad day, he threatens to give it to you whether you want it or not. After Andy was arrested, the officers asked him why he wanted to rob a bank and his answer was, “because I can’t find another Vietnam.” His response did not make sense to the officers at the time, but after reading this piece, his response to the police makes sense—at least to me. What follows are not verbatim transcriptions of a single discussion. They are an attempt to put in order and distill a series of three discussions that took place over a couple of weeks. The order of three discussions is roughly divided into the three wishes referenced in this piece. Each of the three discussions began with the same series of requests or pleas from Andy:  I do not want to be schizophrenic. Do you want it? What should I do? Can you find me another Vietnam? I apologize in advance because Andy uses very vulgar language. I have quoted his words and phrases as accurately aspossible.  The doctors, in their variou sreports, conclude that for Andy the use of vulgar language is the methodology he uses for filling in gaps that exist in his thought process. I have known Andy since he was seventeen. Andy has gaps. Andy is a brat. Andy uses distasteful language. Andy is also a loving son. Andy is a good student. Andy has an IQ of 129. Andy is currently fluent in three languages. Since the age o f17, Andy has been learning a fourth language–the language of schizophrenia. He and I have had an ongoing argument for the last couple of years whether he hears in one language and speaks in another. Andy believes he hears in a different language than he one he uses to speak. If Andy is right, as he so often is, then when this disease becomes full-blown, he will be fluent in five languages. I am presenting to the court Andy’s words and Andy’s context, so this court has the best opportunity to find a language that Andy can hear and follow. As the court is soon to find out,Andy is often hard to hear and follow. At the end of this submission,there is conversation with someone who purports to be Saddam Hussein or his purchasing agent.  The conversation detailed below occurred into an empty telephone line. I was not talking to Saddam Hussein.  I include it in this piece, because for a few moments Andy rid himself of his disease by parking it with us. It seemed a harmless thing to do for a boy who will who will besaddled with it for the rest of his life—unless he is able to find a buyer for it– and today this Court appears to be the highest bidder.

Andy: I do not want to be schizophrenic. Do you want it? What should I do? Can you find me another Vietnam?

Robin: Where did you hear the word? Who told you about that word?

Andy:  I looked it up on the Internet. Neither you nor my parents mentioned the word, I found it myself. It took a long time. Did you know there is an “I” before the “A.” in the word schizophrenic? You can’t find Schizophrenia if you don’t put the “I” before the “A.” Why did you keep the “I” in schizophrenia secret from me?

Andy’s Mother: Andy, you may not have that word you are talking about. It could be that all of the marijuana you smoked has made things confusing for you. No one has really said that word in a way your dad and I have truly embraced.

Andy: Mom, you are confusing to me. You are mixing up wishfuthinking and hope. Schizophrenia is genetic. If I have it, you should know it, because you gave it to me. Since you gave it to me, I’m going to give it right back to you. I think you already have it. I read it can be traded it back and forth between people. You can even trade it to other countries, if you trick them. Mom watch out– don’t get wacky on me! You are full of hope today, but you are rather confused. I will give you some of my pills. I just want to warn you the pills make you fat and they make you fart. Dad likes you even though you are overweight and can’t even sit in a chair, so he might still like you if you get fat as a cow. Dad will you still like mom if she gets fat as a cow? Will you still love her if she farts a lot?

Andy’s Dad: I will always love your mothe

Andy: Ok mom, which pills do you want? I think you should start with the pills that will make you fat as a cow and if you remain confused in a week, I’ll give you the pills that make you fart. Let me know if you want some of my pills. I have a lot of extras. These are the kind of pills that sometimes you don’t feel like taking. The pills make it hard to sort out ordinary things like the difference between wishful thinking and hope.

Robin: What is the difference between wishful thinking and hope?

Andy: This is a hard question. Turn away from me. When I don’t take my pills, I can only see one of your eyes and then I get really confused because instead of a bitch you are a dick. I don’t want to look at you.  Iwould not be so confused if you had told me about the letter “I” before the “A”. Lawyers are forbidden from hiding the truth from their clients and I am a client!   For a long time after I graduated I wished that Harriet, the girl I liked, had allowed me to take herto the senior prom. She did not. In fact, she would not even talk to me. When you think about something before it happens, it is hope.  When you think about something after it happens, it is wishful thinking. But here is where it gets all fucked up. When you think about it afterwards and don’t know or can’t remember whether it happened, it gets really confusing

Robin: What do youmean by confusing?

Andy: Haven’t you ever put the “I” before the “A” and read about this stuff? Harriet and I never said a word to each other, but I believe we still went to the prom and that we still go out together. I believe that I pick her up after class. I believe that we are going skiing tomorrow.  She lets me run my fingers through her hair when we make out.

Robin: How do you make out with someone who does not exist?

Andy: Fuck off. If you don’t understand the meaning of what I am saying, you can have some of my pills. Do you want the pills that make you fart or the pills that make you fat? You hid the “I” from the “A” and so I don’t really have much hope you will ever understand making out with someone who exits only if you agree go to her stupid musical productions.

Robin: What does it feel like to make out with someone who doesn’t exist?

Andy: It feels just the same as if she did, but she doesn’t always complain that I taste like cigarettes. She is my girlfriend.  She is beautiful. I have created a beautiful girl out of an ugly bitch who sings in Oklahoma and was born in Connecticut.

Robin: What is wrong with that?

Andy: Oh, sometimes it gets really bad. My wishful thinking can sometimes get so loud I need to tell the bitch to shut up. People on the bus think I am talking to myself. They think I am nut

Robin: But, you are talking to yourself so maybe you are nuts.

Andy: No, I am not nuts—at least not today. She really pisses me off.  I don’t want to shave just to take her out for coffee.  I don’t want to go to her stupid drama productions. In fact, some days, she is just a bitch from Greenwich dating a handsome sicko with an exotic Asian disease. When I am mad at her, I pretend she refuses to fuck me. She never refuses to fuck me. But, when she does, her innards fall out like a cow that has just given birth. She is a stinking fucking fat cow. When I get home, I am going to break up with her. Maybe some other asshole will go to her musical productions. She never lets me play racquetball?

Robin: How can you be mad at someone who says things that you make up?

Andy: Even though I know she is an imaginary girlfriend, I get angry when she says things that really hurt me. After a long fight, we forgive each other and go have coffee. You would think that because the stupid bitch isa product of my imagination, I could shut the bitch up when she complains I don’t shave and that I taste like cigarettes. It does not work that way. I wishit did. There are days where no matter how hard I try I can’t shut the bitch up

Robin: Who pays when you go to Starbucks?

Andy: Bitch! Fuck off. I wish you would either get with the program or take the fucking pills. You are very hard to deal with when you are being irrational. Can’t you ask me a better question? Andy, if you were ananimal what kind of animal would you be? Andy, look at these pictures and tell me a story? Andy, fill in the blank. If you had three wishes what would they be?

Robin:  All right, I get the picture. But, I am not a shrink. But, I’ll bite! If you had three wishes, what would

they be?

Andy: My first wish would be that my grandma didn’t die. When she died everyone was so was sad. When Grandma died, I could see the pastslipping.  When the past slips, it feels like a mudslide. It threatens totake with it everything that is familiar. Do you know what I mean?

Robin: Not really, well, sort of, Maybe. No, not really.

Andy: God damn it!  Make up your mind. It doesn’t make sense to me either but at least I try not to sound dumb and confused. Isn’t that the name of your law firm, Dumb and Confused, attorneys at law? I will sell my confusion to you! It is your turn.Don’t you read the back of the Trojan package where it says, “ To know is to love?” Since you ask so many dumb and confusing questions you can have mydisease for free for a few hours and see how it feels.  Consider it a sick-fucking gift from me to you. Let it fuck with your head for a few years and then you’ll know what VietNam felt like when our family shipped them sick uncle Arthur.

Andy’s father: Uncle Arthur wasn’t sick

Andy: He put ketchup and horseradish on his dirty stinking army boot and sat down with a four star general and ate his boot off of a china dinner plate. He thought his stinking boot was a lamb chop.

Andy’s Mother: Thatis not quite the story I heard.  At the hospital, Arthur told them he believed he was eating the leg of a North Vietnamese child killed accidentally by a hand grenade that was attached to his arm.

Andy: Your stinking parents shipped off a soldier to a country which was having the hell bombed out of it by drugged out American soldiers and no one thought it was even a little weird that your brother, my uncle, didn’t know the difference between a lamb chop and the body part of a dead kid when he found himself dining in the fucking Garden of Eden with a four star general?

Andy’s Mother: It wasn’t a dead kid or a lamb chop. It was his boot. You are making more out of this than is healthy for you. We just want you to be healthy.

Andy: Are you serving boots with feta or hollandaise tonight? Would you like me to open a white wine with your boots or a red wine? Everyone knows you serve white wine if it is a boot and red if it is lamb chop.

Andy’s Father: And whiskey if it is a dead kid.

Andy’s Mother: Please stop this.  We did not make you sick.

Andy: Yes, you did. Your twin brother Arthur was a nut just like me

Andy’s Mother: You are not a nut.

Andy: Try telling that the people on the bus who stare at me when the bitch complains about cigarette smoke on my breath when we make out. I just have to shut the bitch up. You always said Arthur wasn’t right when he got home from the war. But I amtelling right now he was a nut before he went to war. I feel sorry for Vietnam. The country had enough troubles without Grandma and Grandpa selling him them the family wacko. I was taken to the nut house just like sick uncle Arthur after the people on the bus complained about me talking to myself. They did not seem so happy to see me. They greeted me with restraints and needles and ran for the hills every time I shouted, “ Asshole this is a civil rights violation, get me my shoes or I’ll own every shoe in your whole fucking house and thehouse too!”  How do you think Viet nam felt?  If I were Viet Nam, I would have sued our family for every dime they could get their hands on, then we would all being getting weird stares when we ride the bus.

Andy s Mother: Honey, the other passengers were being bothered. You need to think about other people’s feelings when you talk so loudly to that nice girl. She would have made a great girlfriend for you. Have you ever considered that she didn’t want to go out with you because you are so selfish? She just wanted you to go and cheer her on at a few musical productions. I heard she had a lovely voice.

Andy: You can hear her voice?  Dad, I think her case is more advanced than we originally thought. It is time to skip right over the pills which her fat and the one’s that make her fart. Mom needs a rest. She needs to be in a place where she can feel safe.

Andy’s Mom: Andy, all I was trying to say is that sometimes you don’t think about the impact your behavior is having on other people. You need to try to be less selfish. I am sick to death of this discussion. We cut our vacation short because you got arrested. Andy, you are driving me nuts. I just want to get through this and go home and sleep forever.

Andy: I heard it. Did you hear it? It was a threat to injure her. She can’t go home. When I put the “I “ before the letter “A” I   learned that families have to stretch the truth because the laws don’t allow family members to lock up loved ones unless the loved one is about to off self or others. I heard it just as plain as day. Did you? There was a distinct threat to injure self. We need to find out if she has a plan

Andy’s dad: I don’t think she meant it that way. She was just using a common expression when she said I am sick to death. She is just tired and wants to go home and take a nap.

Andy: She can’t be left alone. Her sub-conscious feelings might explode in a pool of blood all over the bathroom floor.  Dad, you would never forgive yourself if something happened to mom. Maybe it won’t end up being an intentional act, but just a reckless accident. Dad, it doesn’t make any difference. Will we miss her any less? We must call the police. Dad, she will not go voluntarily.  You need to be strong for all of us. Please tell her we just want what is best for her

Andy’s Mom: I am not tired. I did not threaten to kill myself. I did not say I am sick to death

Andy’s dad: Yes, actually you did say those words. I know it has been a long couple of days foryou what with coming back early from our vacation and getting stuck in the airplane seat and then all of this. You do seem very tired to me. Are you feeling OK? Should I call the doctor

Andy’s Mom: I am feeling fine. We are here to talk about what to do about Andy and how to get him some help so he doesn’t wind up in jail or worse

Andy: You should get off your high and mighty horse. It is not as though the fat bitch named “Miss don’t be so selfish, I am here to help you” also known as dear Andy’s selfless mother, stuck up for the poor Vietnamese when her parents sold her twin brother, who couldn’t tell the difference between a lamb chop and a dead kid, to a country being over-run by commies.

Andy’s Mom: No one sold your uncle Arthur to Vietnam. Like many brave young men, my brother enlisted in the army to help those poor people become liberated from the communists.

Andy: You mean you gave him to the poor Vietnamese for free? He was so sick grandma and grandpa couldn’t even get a few lousy bucks for their shoe eating nutcase son?  Well, in keeping with the selfless family tradition started by your dear sweetparents, I am entrusting my disease to you. If you can find some poor fuckingcountry who will take it, go for it. But don’t come whining to me if it is a gift that keeps on stinking like shit in a garden.

Robin:  Isn’t that a song?

Andy: No, it is my second wish. You asked about three wishes. My second wish is to go back to the garden.

Andy’s dad: The Garden of Eden?

Andy: No, You moron, thevegetable garden we had on Pine Street before we moved when I was in High School. The fucking Garden of Eden doesn’t exist except in some dumb book

Andy’s Mom: Andrew, please do not insult the bible. Your father and I believe in the stories contained in the bible. Those stories are real and they have helped many people get through some very difficult times their lives.

Andy:  My garden—not your garden. I don’t want to hear about stupid stories helping people get through difficult times. When I am having a difficult time, I go back to the garden. Fuck the bible and God too.

Robin: What garden?

Andy: I was five when my sister had her first communion. It was summer. We were having abig party. Mom was afraid the rabbits would eat the lettuce she grew for the salad.  Dad and I set up a tent in the garden. We ate popcorn. We crawled out on our hands and knees pretending we were animals in a jungle and we would scare the rabbits away. We had so muchfun. I was the kangaroo. Dad was the gorilla– or maybe it was the other way around.

Andy’s Dad: No you were right the first time. You were the kangaroo and I was the gorilla. But we fell asleep and the rabbits ate the lettuce!

Andy’s Mom: I don’t remember that. You never slept outside to keep the rabbits out of the garden. I think you are both making this up. I am beginning to feel crazy. Is this disease catching?

Andy’s Dad: No, we are not making this up.  We did eat popcorn and crawl around like animals and the rabbits ate the lettuce. It could be you were having one of your headaches. You always had a lot of headache saround holidays and birthdays.  We were probably trying to leave you alone and keep the house quiet for you.

Andy: We did that a lot.  Mom needed a lot of quiet otherwise the headaches arrived like a dark fog on a nice day

Andy’s Mom: I only had them once in a while. Did you really have to leave the house and play in the garden?

Andy:  It is ok mom. It was fun. When I was little, I could pretend and know it was just pretend. Even though it was dark, and I was in a tent with a big Gorilla, I felt safe. Ever since I starting reading about this disease, the warmth gets colder.  I feel less safe. The water goes from warm to lukewarm and it gives you chills.  Have you ever taken too much time to beat off before you get in the tub and the water gets lukewarm? It is kind of like that. The disease also turns up thevolume on voices. So here I am in this lukewarm bath tub after beating off and people you never wanted to hear from again in your whole life start talking toyou really loud and never shut up. Do you remember Aunt Helen who put the goldfish up her thing?  Isn’t she your fucking sister? Isn’t she the one who ran off with the lesbian she met at Woodstock? Jesus, after Arthur and Helen, you’d think grandma and grandpa would have had enough and flushed you down the toilet before you born. There goes mom with the turds, bye mom.

Andy’s mom:  Andy, please you know we will never agree on abortion. It is a sin. Your Aunt Helen was diagnosed as suffering from a manic depressive disorder after the lesbian she met a Woodstock dumped her for an advertising executive frm Newark.  She is much better now. She is a dental assistant in Buffalo. Once she started taking pills, she stopped putting fish up her thing.

Andy: Is that because the pills made her fart? I keep hearing her say: “Andy, Andy, can you come here and help me?”  I wouldn’t have gone into that sewer of a bathroom for a million dollars.  Now, there is a woman who has a priceless disease. Is she still alive?

Andy’s Mom: Why do you want to know?

Andy: Her disease might be worth some real money.  If the EPA can approve building a five star hotel and department on superfund site, we can surely sell Aunt Helen’s disease to an unsuspecting developer. Our very own “love canal.”

Robin: What in the fuck are you talking about

Andy: Are you ready for my third wish?

Robin: Yes.

Andy: No you aren’t. You are going to have to get off of your ass and do some real work.

Robin: I’ll do whatever you want if you think it will help.

Andy: Sell my disease! I am ordering you to sell my disease.

Robin: Why?

Andy: You know why.

Robin: No I don’t.

Andy: Yes, you do. Shut your fucking eyes.

Robin: Why?

Andy: I am tired of looking at you. I am tired of seeing see the pain I cause others when I look at you. Find a home and new country for my disease. If you can’t find a new country, then find it a new family. If you can’t find a new family for this disease, than make the sister of dumb fucking Arthur who put Ketchup on his boots pay through their asshole for my disease. If they won’t pay, I’ll park it right here in your fucking office– just like our whole fucking family did a generation ago in Vietnam.

Robin: I do not want your schizophrenia parked in my fucking office. Take it home. What am I going to do with it? Do I look like your fucking personal Vietnam? Give it back to your parents. I didn’t give you the disease.

Andy’s Mother:  We hired you to help our son. If he thinks this will help him, then I think you should give it a try.

Andy’s Father: I am in favor of that. We paid you a lot of money. If he wants to leave his disease in your office, I think he should be able to do that. We did pay you a lot of money.

Robin: What are you in favor of?  What am I supposed to do again? If you leave your disease, do I get to charge it rent? Diseases take up space and they spread.

Andy: Be my fucking lawyer.Close this deal right now.  I amsick to death of this fucking disease and don’t you dare charge it rent. Don’tyou know how many homeless schizophrenics there are in this world? I want to park my disease in your nice warm office and you want me to send it packing. What kind of fucking person are you?

Robin:  Andy, do you think we can sell it to the Iraqis?

Andy: Maybe we could get a few gallons of chemical weapons in exchange. Believe me, with all of that farting, a few gallons of chemical weapons would hardly be noticed in the sewer we call home.

Robin: Hello Saddam. Are you there? I can’t hear you. Can you speak up? Pardon me, we have a bad connection. I am Arthur’s sister’s son’s lawyer. Mr. Hussein or whoever you are, I can’t hear you. Excuse me, what did you say? Can you find me his purchasing agent?

Andy: Why did she say excuse me? Did she fart?

Andy’s dad:  For once in your life, keep your voice down. Keep all of your fucking voices down. You asked us to support you in this and help you sell your fucking disease. Shut up. I can’t hear what she is saying.

Robin: Let me introduce myself, my client’s family has been in the business of selling diseases for several generations. Our company has strong and solid ties with governments having difficulties settling their differences with their neighbors. Our long history with the government of Vietnam is heralded by many as one of the main factors that finally brought that conflict to a close. Hold I will get her.  He wants to speak to the president of the company. Who wants to be the President.

Andy: That sounds like a job for Give me the phone.  I want to be the president. I am the best president of anybody in this room.

Andy’s mom: No you’re not. Do you want them to think you are nuts! Let me handle this. Hello. Thank you for taking my call. Our family has been selling diseases for several generations. Have you heard of our company? Our diseases are rather expensive, but they are top quality. Our diseases last without preservatives for over 30 years. I am sorry to hear that. May I call your purchasing agent? Bad news. Apparently, they have a surplus of diseases or germs or whatever they are called. He said to try back in a year or two.

Andy: That is not good enough. I am not keeping this disease for one more fucking second

Robin: What if no one wants it?

Andy:  You can try tosell it to Ho Chi Min. The South Vietnamese were suckers when they took Arthur; maybe the commies are just as dumb. You just get rid of it. I refuse to go to any more of your drama productions. I hate the play Oklahoma and don’t tell me again about Chicago. I am going to play racket ball anytime if I fucking feel like it!

Robin: What is your price?

Andy:  Fifteen Million Dollars.

Robin: The price seems a bit steep.

Andy:  If you do not pay my price, you can bet your sweet ass that uncle Arthur won’t be the only one in this family putting Ketchup on his boots at the dinner table, right, mom?

Andy’s mom: O.K. Andy. We have a deal. Your father needs to take me home now. I feel like I am getting a headache.

Andy’s dad: Andy, tonight will you be the Gorilla and I’ll be the Kangaroo? We can switch places.

Andy:  I think we already did.





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