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Christina Eilman

Aug 27 2006 | Comments 36

I just read another article in the Chicago Tribune about West Hollywood’s Christina Ellman (pictured), the 21-year-old bipolar girl who was thrown from a seventh-floor unit in the Robert Taylor Homes after being sexually assaulted there. She’d come to the housing project in a profound state of disorientation, having been released from a nearby jail just hours before into one of the highest-crime neighborhoods in Chicago. She’d never been there before.

Having nowhere to go, and without any friends and a dead cell phone, she wandered into a store and asked for a bottle of water to take a pill with. People who encountered her said she was barely coherent—a seemingly drunk white woman stumbling through a black neighborood in tight shorts with a blond ponytail. She was bound to be noticed.

She would never have been there at all if it weren’t for the fact that Chicago police arrested her the day before at Midway Airport. She was trying to get on a flight home, but she was off her meds, and too out of control to know what to do. Her father wanted her to be held somehow until family could come get her, but she was thrown into a jail cell rather than a hospital.

She protested, knowing even in her manic state that she needed help. Her pleas to the guards to take her to a hospital were ignored, and even mocked. The police fielded phone calls from her parents, who told them repeatedly she had bipolar disorder and was without her meds. Still, she was kept in a cell without medical attention, violating every rule of dealing with a mentally ill person. Then she was released, and was later found on the ground in her underwear.

Of course, after a fall like that, she’s a mess. She’s in a brain-injury unit in a hospital, barely able to move. She’s enduring intense therapy in the hopes she can one day take care of herself a little. But at the moment, she only makes fleeting eye contact, and it’s unclear how much she even understands.

Her parents have moved into temporary housing to be near to her while she’s in the hospital. After suffering through the pain of having a child with mental illness, they’re now dealing with what is, in some ways, a graver situation. Even when Christina was ill, her parents had their daughter. Now she’s in limbo—both physically and mentally. How much more can her parents take? Of course, they’re very, very angry. They’re suing the city of Chicago for $100 million. They should get every last cent.

Why blog about this now when it happened months ago? I guess I’m just feeling overwhelmed by the details of the story, which I never allowed myself to read. I’ve never related so strongly to a story like this before, and I’ve read hundreds of articles over the years about mental health—cases involving murder and suicide and gruesome inmate deaths. Something about Christina’s story, though, really compels me. I guess it’s because that could’ve been me. The story brings back so many memories.

My illness was at its worst when I was 21, as Christina is now. That was the year of my first hospitalization, which came when I was in a mixed state. My apartment was a disaster area: a disgustingly dirty single room with a second-hand mattress and the smell of decay. (The adjoining apartment was occupied by Daniel Johnston, if that gives you any idea.) A boy I was dating came over, against his instincts, and slept with me in the unwashed bed. I begged him to stay, but he ran out the door. “Don’t leave,” I yelled after him, knowing if I was alone things would unravel.

And they did. I somehow cut myself with a knife, not in a suicidal gesture but in an altered state. I called my therapist and told her I wanted to cut my thumb off. She told me to go to the state hospital, around the corner. I stashed the knife in my bag and drove myself over there. It was about two blocks away. When I got there I was put in a curtained cubicle, where I used my knife to slash the mattress and tear the sheet apart into strips. They tried to admit me but I wouldn’t relinquish the knife.

I left, driving wildly, and went to another hospital. They wrestled the knife away and admitted me. In a strange way it was one of my happiest moments of my life. I felt safe. I cried a lot. I got medicated for the first time. I got help. I could see myself more clearly, though I was talking in a weird baby voice. I missed my cat. I wanted never to leave. I got kicked out because my insurance ran out.

It was the beginning of hell. Everything fell apart, but I finally went home to be with my parents, who saved me. I cannot imagine the pain of being Christina, trying desperately to get home, knowing that was safety, and not being able to get there. The frenetic phone calls to friends and family; the desperation of a mind clouded by odd thoughts and noise. She wanted to be well, like I did, but she didn’t know how. She was on the cusp of help, though, until the Chicago police intervened. Mind you, this is a police force that has been specifically trained to deal with people who suffer from mental illness. Hard to believe.

People feel for the parents, as do I. I think of my mother’s face when she greeted me in my altered state. I think of the tears in my father’s eyes. But I think more about Christina, and the strange feeling you have when the mix of lucidity and madness takes hold. You think, “I know I’m off. I know I shouldn’t be saying these things. I’m a freak. Or am I? Someone help me.” It’s utter despair. It’s no wonder so many people with biploar disorder commit suicide.

The years that followed for me included more manic episodes with more painful moments than I can bear to recall. Sometimes one of those moments will pop into my head, and I think, “My God. How did I live through that?” So many people who loved me but couldn’t save me. So many humiliations and disappointments. Above all, so much fear.

One evening comes back to me too clearly. I was living in yet another dirty apartment with heaping cat litter and bugs in the bathroom. I walked into the bathroom and saw a huge roach in the tub. Unable to think clearly, I went and got a fire-starter you use to light stove burners with, and came back to the bathroom. I got into the tub and sprayed the roach with Raid until it was sluggish, though not dead. Then I set it on fire while I scrunched my legs beneath me, and screamed as I watched it burn—slowly. The stench of chemicals filled the tiny room, but I couldn’t leave. And I couldn’t stop screaming. I was so afraid. I wanted to set myself on fire.

I think it was later that night when I tried to kill myself, using a recipe from a book on euthanasia. Or maybe that was another night, and I’m conflating the two for drama’s sake. I don’t know. But I do know Christina could’ve been on the way to wellness and safety.

Christina’s story hits me hard. I’m so sorry for her, and I’m so sorry for her parents, Rick and Kathy Paine. I wish them the best of luck. They need it.

She begged for help; guards said, `Shut up’

liz | 10:23 PM | Uncategorized

gena Says:

I went on to read the article in the Chicago Tribune. This is the most atrocious thing I have read in I don’t know how long. How could people, whose job is to protect and to serve, have been so insensitive to the needs of this woman? I once forgot to bring my medicine with me on a trip. I was not alone so my husband was able to keep me safe. It was a really horrible experience even still. How would these “safeguarders” act if it was a relative or someone close to them who was crying out for help? I hate to even think. Are they toxic people themselves? The City of Chicago owes more money than exists to this young victim’s family. I hope to God they get it.

Aug 28 10:08 PM

Kent Says:

What a terrible thing the city of Chicago did to this poor girl, and to her parents! I hope they get every cent they’re asking for, too, and then some. The jailers who mocked her, and then released her into that neighborhood should be held accountable, too (but I guess that’s not likely to happen). These people are, quite simply, sadists. Yet they are part of the “normal” population.

I’ve experienced panic attacks and similar instances of desperation like this, too. Mostly at about this same age. So much of this seems to happen in late adolescence or early adulthood. I know the experience of desperately, frantically seeking help, and sometimes not being able to find it. What you describe is teribbly sad, Liz, but I think you were very fortunate to have parents who loved and supported you. Having family or friends, or someone, who stands by you and is genuinely interested in your well-being can make a huge difference.

Aug 29 1:17 PM

Lynn Says:

I just made a 10 hour car trip (each way) to bring home my son who was in distress. Everyone said to just buy him a plane ticket. This horrible story underscores why I couldn’t do that. How can I tell over the phone if he could manage to get on the plane properly?
Also..thank you for your candid sharing of your past. You give me hope for my son. He’s living in squalor, with no insurance, no job, etc. but there are small hopeful signs. Your continued ability to live, love and work, and do so with (insert word kind of like spunk but different) is so comforting. Your willingness to share the nitty gritty details makes it so much more meaningful and real. Thank you Thank you Thank you

Aug 29 2:21 PM

Lynn Says:

I just made a 10 hour car trip (each way) to bring home my son who was in distress. Everyone said to just buy him a plane ticket. This horrible story underscores why I couldn’t do that. How can I tell over the phone if he could manage to get on the plane properly?
Also..thank you for your candid sharing of your past. You give me hope for my son. He’s living in squalor, with no insurance, no job, etc. but there aresmall hopeful signs. Your continued ability to live, love and work, and do so with (insert word kind of like spunk but different) is so comforting. Your willingness to share the nitty gritty details makes it so much more meaningful and real. Thank you Thank you Thank you

Aug 29 2:59 PM

Liz Says:

Lynn, you did an amazing thing by picking your son up. Like Kent says, I was lucky to have supportive and loving parents. That really did make all the difference for me. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for their tireless dedication. I wish it had been easier on them, though. Sometimes an adult child doesn’t want help, and then it’s hard to know how much to intervene. Just keep loving your son, Lynn, the way you do, and he’ll be grateful to have you there for him.

Aug 29 3:15 PM

big john Says:

Thanks for providing a forum my disgust and outrage over this. I have followed this story from the beginning but todays article provided more detail into this incident and after reading the article I first put my head down on my desk and cried (not a pretty sight for a large white man to be seen doing) for Christina and her parents. Then I went outside for a smoke and paced the sidewalk in a state of extreme agitation. How does something like this happen? How callous, cynical, and cold hearted could those who allowed this young lady to walk out those doors be? They might as well have pushed Christina out that window themselves. I love my city but there are pockets of hell within her. Those who spend time in these pockets are aware they are in hell…..They are aware and they are experienced in how to handle being there. This poor woman obviously not only wasn’t aware yet that she was in hell but even if she were she certainly wasn’t equipped to deal with such an environment. What I’d like is some time alone in a locked room with the corrections officers and the piece of walking garbage who assaulted Christina. See how they deal with someone not as helpless as a small female who’s off her meds….I’d gladly take an ass whuppin in exchange for an opportunity to give them just a tiny taste of how it feels to suffer. What can we who feel for this poor girl do besides pray for her and her family?

Aug 30 5:29 PM

Peter Says:

My heart goes out to Christina and her parents. Shame on the jailers whose loving response to Christina’s pleas for help was “Shut up!” I am appalled both by the police department’s unwillingness to heed the requests of her parents not to release her on her own, and for letting her loose alone on the streets of one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago. I’ve driven through this neighborhood in broad daylight and didn’t even feel entirely safe in my locked car. I cannot fathom being from a different city, disoriented, white, and wandering around those streets in the darkness of night, even as a man. I hope Marvin Powell, the vermin Ganster Disciples leader who raped Christina, will be punished as severely as possible.

I also hope that this terrible event will wake people up to the problem–present across the country–of people in jail being deprived of psychiatric medication. I know others who have been held in jail for over a week, deprived of medication that they should have been taking several times per day. If a greater awareness and appreciation for this problem arises from Christina’s tragedy, that, at least, would be one positive outcome. In the meantime, my prayers are with Christina and her family. May the Lord bless them.

Aug 31 10:46 PM

Stephany Says:

Thank you for this eye opening story posting, and for your words of gratitude for your parents for being there for you. I am maintaining okay with my own mental health, but it has been a challenging year for me. When I saw another reader’s post saying she drove 10 hours each way…I can relate. I had just walked out of mental health court, to gain help for my youngest daughter, which was very hard: when I got the call from my daughter’s University in another state that she was being transported to a hospital 200 miles away from her University and still 450 miles away from me. I packed my bag and drove all night, 10 hours to get to my daughter who is in college, to be there for visiting hours as soon as she woke up. She had to know I was there for her as much as I have been for her sister. It was hard on my oldest, to have her young sister so sick, for so long. I stayed with her a few days and drove back home. The docs decided to discharge her early and they called me and told me they would be sending her back to her college via bus. No way, can you imagine, being sent home after a psych hosp stay on a bus, alone? What were they thinking. I got in the car and drove again, and made sure she had food in the freezer, and a case manager lined up.
I just wanted to say, that it is hard to know when to step in and when to step back.
Thank you for saying that you were glad your parents were there for you.
I am my kids’ biggest advocate, and will continue to do so.
take care

Sep 10 2:54 PM

Ted Says:

I live in Chicago. There aren’t not words in our language to articulate the rage this story has produced in me. It has been woefully under-reported here. And unfortunately, it’s not all that surprising. For many Chicagoans, the true feelings this story produces cannot be described outloud. This is the most horrific urban nightmare imagineable, come to life.

A federal judge has just sealed – at the request of city attorneys – internal police interviews regarding this case in a lawsuit brought by the victim’s family. This too is rather typical of this city. And also just as disgusting.

Please contact the Chicago mayor’s office at the URL below. Let them know how you feel. Let them know how disgusted you are by the actions of this city’s police force, and of its City Hall. Please. In no other city in America is the populace as impotent and without voice as they are in Chicago. The Machine is bigger than ever – it’s just under the radar now. Help us!

Sep 21 4:53 PM

Dennis B Says:

When a black kid walks through a white neighborhood and gets assaulted, we’re quick to point scream and yell and take names. Yet no one acknowledges that the inner cities are hate- filled places where whites are not safe BECAUSE of prejudice. Our views on race need to be turned around — this was a hate crime.

Sep 22 7:40 PM

Big Bill Says:

It was the Wentworth Street women’s holding facility that turned het loose in the ghetto.

Have you ever been there? It is run by a bunch of fat black polica matrons, run by black women sick of white girls and their privilege, black women tired of black men running after white blond cooz, black women fed up with white girls, black women like the ones you see at Walmart, slapping and beating their kids in the checkout line to get them to shut up, black women willing to see her raped and dead (if necessary) to shut her up.

Sep 22 11:31 PM

cambel Says:

While we are busy piling onto the police, (Who deserve it) don’t forget the racist tenants of the Robert Taylor Projects who saw this girl but didn’t help her because “White people and us, we don’t mix”

I don’t see anybody really commenting about that. The rapist, the tenants of that building who saw this girl should all be thrown in jail along with the police who tossed her out into that area.

Mar 15 6:54 PM

Dan Says:

Why is it when I Google “Christina Ellman” the only search result is this page?

Jul 8 2:55 AM

kelly Says:

here’s a link to the story (and yes, please use links in your post so we don’t have to google),0,5417061.storygallery

what a heart-wrenching story that could have been prevented, makes me angry and want to help people more, but what can we do as “non-parents”, just a friends??

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Renee Says:

I’m from Chicago and so I would know not to step a foot out of or away from that police station. I wouldn’t go east or west. I would demand a phone call and wait until I got the hell out of that neighborhood. It is bad. Speaking of bipolar, that neighborhood and Midway Airport are 2 totally different worlds.

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Kevin Says:

Despite the newpaper article, in fact”
Ms. Eilman has the right not to have her detention unreasonably extended (Pltf. Ex. A,
Evans Report, p. 5);
 Local police lockups do not require the same level of medical and mental health services
that are provided in jails and prisons (Pltf. Ex. A, Evans Report, p. 6);
 There is no lawful authority for the Chicago Police Department to hold Ms. Eilman for
family or relatives to pick her up (Pltf. Ex. A, Evans Report, p. 7);
 An attempt to transport Ms. Eilman for a mental health evaluation would be a violation of
her fourth amendment rights (Pltf. Ex. A, Evans Report, p. 8).
 Ms. Eilman was in Chicago to apply for an interview for a stripper job and went to the Robert Taylor Holmes in search of work.

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