the released

William Bryan Stokes

Each year, many offenders "max out" of prison. This means that due to sentencing guidelines, the individual will have no parole. For severely mentally ill offenders, leaving prison without parole can be a recipe for failure, as parole requirements provide them with structured support services and oversight in the community.

That's what happened to William Bryan Stokes, 29, who goes by Bryan. He maxed out in August 2008 after serving a 21-month sentence for stealing two cars. Stokes had been in prison twice before for robbery and receiving stolen goods. Each time he was released, Stokes returned to his hometown of Ashtabula, a small city along Lake Erie's coastline in northeast Ohio.

Stokes, diagnosed as schizoaffective, says when he moved back to Ashtabula he was unable to find work and had difficulty affording his medications and dealing with the stresses of everyday life. Stokes, who is a cutter and has a long history of psychiatric hospitalizations starting at age 12, deteriorated into a psychotic state. He became estranged from his family and homeless. He drank, smoked marijuana and roamed the city at night committing crimes.

While Stokes was in prison for the third time, Bridgeview Manor, a residential treatment facility for the severely mentally ill, opened in Ashtabula. When he came out of prison, Stokes received a placement there and after a period of adjustment that included a move to a friend's apartment and an arrest for an old warrant, he is doing very well.

He credits the support of the Bridgeview Manor staff -- his case manager helped get the charge against him dismissed -- and the on-site daily mental health groups with helping him to remain stable in the community. He receives Social Security, Medicaid covers his medications, and he is friendly with the other Bridgeview Manor residents. Stokes, who was aware of the cycle of incarceration he was caught in but felt unable to escape, says that he now feels free: "I beat it."

UPDATE: Stokes did well at Bridgeview Manor for over two years, but in October 2010 he decided he wanted to live on his own and moved out. Within weeks he stopped taking his medications. Stokes is now back in jail facing assault charges.

posted april 28, 2009; updated december 3, 2010

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