When Bennie Anthony is on parole, he's a personable fellow with an easy laugh, a taste for top hats and a ready greeting. When off parole, his wayfaring spirit leads him to the bus station, followed by a homeless shelter, a jail cell and, if he's lucky, mental health treatment.
Anthony, 61, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1974. Like many schizophrenics he doesn't believe he needs medication. He's spent decades cycling in and out and between mental hospitals and correctional institutions -- see this timeline.
FRONTLINE met Bennie Anthony in 2004 while he was in prison on two counts of aggravated arson, for which he served 17 years. When he was released in 2005, Anthony voluntarily joined the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program in Cleveland, Ohio, which found him housing, required him to stay on medication and supplied him with community-based support and mental health treatment. He did well until his parole ended in 2006.
He took a Greyhound to Pittsburgh and within a few months was living in a park. Homeless and not on medication, Anthony was arrested 10 times in a year. His last arrest in that series, for assault, led him in April 2008 to Mental Health Court, Pittsburgh's jail diversion program. Mental Health Court found him housing, and when FRONTLINE met Anthony again in the summer of 2008 he was doing very well. He was on medication and receiving regular mental health treatment in the community -- both conditions of his parole.
Then, in January 2009 -- shortly before Anthony could have completed his parole through Mental Health Court -- for reasons unclear, he stopped taking his medication and boarded a bus to Akron, Ohio. There, he was arrested. And when he returned to Pittsburgh in mid-February, he was arrested for having left town, a parole violation. Anthony was placed in the mental health unit of the Allegheny County Jail, where he received medication and stabilized.
UPDATE: On April 17, 2009 Anthony was released from jail and returned to the personal care home where he had been living. He was readmitted back into the Mental Health Court program and successfully completed the terms of his Mental Health Court probation on Oct. 9, 2009. He is now living on his own.