Call me Doc. Everyone calls me Doc, My former wives call me Doc. My
mother calls me Doc. My Lab, Grover, can’t quite get it out, but he
comes close. Officially, I’m Dr. Patrick Michael Kerrigan,
psychiatrist at the illustrious Bay Area State Hospital. Some folks call
it BASH for short.
When I’m not ministering to the criminally insane, I’m enjoying
Irish whiskey straight up and playing some down-home bebop and blues. If
I'm lucky, I might be in the company of a beautiful woman. That’s my
life, or rather was my life.
I am a witness to these true events laid down here, both by observation
and by listening. As my friend and colleague Scotty Powell likes to say,
“We’re all students until the day we die.”
The old joke is that psychiatrists are doctors who can’t stand the
sight of blood. Maybe they can’t stand it, but if they work where I
work, they damn well better get used to it.
At least surgeons and prizefighters get to wear gloves.
Eleven years ago, while having a long drink from a whiskey bottle in a
brown paper bag and enjoying the view from a seat on the concrete base
of a light pole in the Wal-Mart parking lot in McMurtree, South
Carolina, Tyler Goode overheard two teenage boys, as he put it,
“putting down my momma.” They were unlocking their car as Tyler
approached them and asked not so calmly why they were “talkin’
trash.” One of the young kids was startled and momentarily speechless.
He didn’t have a satisfactory answer, as if there could possibly be
one, so Tyler belted the teen upside the head with the bottle. He was
about to nail him again when the other young man, a high-school varsity
lineman, tackled Tyler, who ended up having a broken collarbone.
After a police-escorted trip to the emergency room, Tyler was booked
into the county jail, arm in sling. He was a frequent flier at the
county jail; but this time, the ticket back to the street would not be
arriving in time for a convenient spring release date.
According to the jury, Tyler was not in his right mind; and even though
no one ever denied he was somewhat of a violent fellow, the final
decision came down as to whether he knew right from wrong. Apparently,
striking and injuring people who (he imagines) insult his mother is not
a wrong thing, at least in Tyler’s mind, but it is a wrong thing in
the town of McMurtree and the state of South Carolina.
The court sentenced Tyler to the custody of the State Department of
Behavioral Health Services until he could be restored to sanity and was
no longer dangerous. In Tyler’s case, that was not a trivial task, as
his condition was one that tends to worsen with age despite treatment.
For over a decade, Tyler wandered the hallways of the wards of the old
Bay Area State Hospital, mumbling, grumbling, talking to unseen
antagonizers, cursing, sometimes smiling, and sometimes offering a
pleasant “Good day, sir” to the doctor.
Even though Tyler walked slowly from the medication, he had hard, fast
fists that could catch a younger man by surprise. He could knock a
fellow patient to the floor with one unannounced swift punch to the
face. After spending fifteen minutes in the “quiet room” for his
offense and getting a small dose of tranquilizer, Tyler would return to
his normal routine of pacing the hallway, conversing and negotiating in
a world that was filled with hostile people who existed primarily to
disrespect his mother. Was he sorry? No, "but that little punk learned
This was Tyler Goode’s day in court. Every year for the past eleven
years, Tyler had his day in court. He could waive his hearing and spare
Bay County the expense of a jury trial, the purpose of which was to
determine whether or not Tyler would be released from the Bay Area State
Hospital and return to the community at age forty-five, but neither
Tyler nor his public defender would hear of it.
If the jury decided in his favor, found that he was no longer mentally
ill and dangerous, he would live among free men in the community. The
“community” in state hospital and prison parlance is basically
anywhere that isn’t in some kind of institution. Like, “Mr. Goode,
how do you propose to take care of yourself in the community?” Mr.
Goode would take the stand and proudly announce that he actually owned
the Bay Area State Hospital and was worth many millions of dollars.
On this day, his psychiatrist, one Morton Frizell, would testify that in
no way shape or form should Mr. Tyler Goode be loosed on the citizens of
South Carolina. Morty was a New York transplant who fell in love with
Charleston and started to adopt Southern ways and accent. Every day he
made the drive from Charleston down to Bay County, the location of the
Bay Area State Hospital, to tend to his flock of lambs, or wolves,
depending on the day.
The Honorable Judge DeWitt Gaillard of the probate court would be
hearing this case. For the defense, the petitioner actually, was Ms.
Leticia Andover Gibbs, a true believer in the evils of psychiatric
commitment. Such commitment was even more egregious when applied to a
brother who was railroaded into a mental institution for many years,
longer than he would have served in jail for hitting a
seventeen-year-old white kid on the head with a whiskey bottle.
Tyler Goode sat in the courtroom, wearing a crisp white shirt and dress
slacks, much different from the hospital "blues" that patients were
required to wear. His often unruly thinning hair was slicked down and
combed straight back, and his face was clear of the usual stubble.
Reading glasses perched on his nose made him look somewhat studious. He
may have arrived in the courthouse in his hospital blues, but today he
appeared transformed. Maybe the jury might think all the years of
treatment have had some salubrious effect.
The courtroom was in need of a new carpet, as years of humidity and
closed windows left a distinct musty smell, which the attorneys carried
home on their suits. Paint was peeling from the ceiling, and the
upholstered chairs in the jury box were cracked and torn. The
air-conditioning worked but was weak, needing supplementation from three
ceiling fans. Courtroom 1A had distinctive oak paneling on the walls;
and although the wood was faded, a little refinishing muight restore the
rich luster. Upgrading the courthouse was on the county supervisor’s
list of projects but was way down on that list.
Tyler sat next to his attorney, Ms. Andover Gibbs, who was looking
through copious notes on yellow legal pads. Articles were stacked on the
petitioner’s table and more were in file boxes on the floor in a
two-wheel hand cart. This was not a Supreme Court case; but to Attorney
Andover Gibbs, each mental health case she represented before the court
was a matter of pride and striving for the greater good and dignity of
Dr. Frizell was dressed in a charcoal gray suit with a smart blue tie,
his usual attire for a day in court. He was tall and slender, with wiry
dark hair that seemed to explode off his head. Wire-rim glasses were
perched on the tip of his nose. He looked like what the layman would
expect of a psychiatrist. Judge Gaillard, a distinguished black man in
his mid fifties, was prompt as usual. The attorney for the state, an
experienced, silver-haired assistant DA by the name of Hilton Breuer,
was ready to match wits with his friend and adversary, Ms. Andover
Gibbs, once again.
Judge Gaillard liked to keep things casual. When the bailiff announced,
“All rise,” the good judge motioned for everyone to stay seated.
Judge Gaillard wore a gray suit, a white shirt with a starched collar
and gold cufflinks, but not the traditional robe. Everyone in the
courtroom, including the judge, stood respectfully, honoring the jury as
they filed in.
Mr. Breuer called his first and only witness for the People, Dr.
Frizell. He questioned his witness, age forty-seven, graduate of NYU and
Einstein Medical School, with psychiatry training at Bellevue and all
the other necessary requisites. The judge agreed, as he had several
times before, that Dr. Frizell was indeed a psychiatric expert.
Mr. Breuer continued, “So, Doctor, have you had a chance to evaluate
Mr. Goode, and do you have an opinion as to whether or not he suffers
from a mental illness?”
“Yes, I have,” he answered, not giving any information not
“And what have you concluded?”
“He does indeed suffer from a mental illness.”
“And what is your diagnosis?”
“Chronic paranoid schizophrenia.” The ritual continued.
“Can you explain to the jury exactly what that diagnosis means?”
“Surely, Mr. Goode has a mental condition characterized by delusions.
That is, he believes things that aren’t real, things that he imagines,
even if bizarre, are true in his world. To him they are facts
indisputable.” Dr. Frizell swiveled in his chair to face the jury,
focusing on the blonde in the back row. “For example, he believes he
invented the computer, even though he has no idea how to use one. Then
he claims the computer companies send him a million dollars a week.”
“Go on, Doctor.”
“I asked him where all that money is, and he said, ‘Well, I ain’t
gonna tell you.’”
There was some low-level chuckling in the courtroom but no gavel.
“He says he was an astronaut.”
“Okay, what about the paranoid part?”
“He believes people everywhere are talking about him or somehow
disrespecting his mother. He hears this from people on the wards, from
patients, from staff, from anyone who happens to be nearby, seen or
Tyler blurted out from the defense table, “That’s damn right,
y’all tell ’em to shut up.” Ms. Andover Gibbs shushed him and
patted him on the shoulder. He turned and looked at her. “Ain’t that
The doctor continued, “Sometimes he accuses staff or patients of
stealing his underwear and switching it for their own. When I ask him
why anyone would do that, he replies with something like ‘Cuz they put
me in this hospital with all these crazy people.’”
Mr. Breuer continued, “So just because he believes these things makes
him a danger?”
“No, what makes him a danger is because he hits people.”
Tyler’s counselor leapt to her feet. “Objection, the doctor is
testifying to facts not in evidence.”
After some whispered debate in front of the bench, the objection was
overruled, as she knew it would be—just trying to make a point.
Mr. Breuer asked the psychiatrist to continue.
“He’s belted a few patients. And last month, he threw a plate at a
“Why did he do that?”
“He said something about getting the wrong kind of sandwich.”
The silver-maned assistant DA continued, “So your patient gets easily
frustrated and doesn’t act appropriately when dealing with everyday
stressors that anyone and everyone experiences in the community.” This
was exactly the point Dr. Frizell was trying to make. It felt good to
have logic and reasoning on his side. Yes, it’s the job of the
psychiatrist to bring crystal-clear thinking to the table.
“That’s right. It doesn’t even have to be a real stress. Often
it’s just one that he imagines. I don’t believe he’s really
improved that much since he hit that young man in the parking lot a
dozen years ago. He’ll probably slug somebody again if he’s out
walking the streets. He still hears people insulting his mother even
though she’s been dead six years.”
Tyler started to rise from his seat. “Lying sumbitch, kick yo
The bailiff took a few steps toward the table, but Ms. Andover Gibbs had
her client under good control with a gentle hand to the shoulder,
guiding him back into his seat. This seemed like the opportune moment
for the assistant DA to declare, “No further questions.”
Ms. Andover Gibbs was out of her seat like a jackrabbit, waving papers
in the air. For her, it wasn’t always about winning the case—well,
it was somewhat—but she was a true believer about the massive fraud
that is psychiatry and the hubris of psychiatrists, just like the one
who was sitting on the witness stand.
“What do you mean he hits people?” It seemed like a stupid question;
but in front of a jury, they say there are no stupid questions. They
could be wrong. The good doctor sighed and refrained from rolling his
“Well, he punches other patients especially when he thinks they’re
talking about him or his mother. That’s how he ended up at BASH in the
“That’s what they call the Bay Area State Hospital.”
“Is that some kind of a joke?” It was. She already knew that.
“No, Counselor, that’s just what they call it.”
“So, Doctor”—doctor as often said by opposing council with a
flavor of derision and contempt—“how long has it been since Mr.
Goode hit anybody?”
“Oh, maybe a month or six weeks.”
“Did you see him hit anyone?”
“Not personally, no.”
“No? So how do you know he hit anyone?”
“It’s in the nursing notes and we talked about it at the team
meeting and there was an incident report.”
“Who wrote the incident report?”
“I don’t remember.”
“So you’re basing your opinion that my client is a dangerous man
based on something you didn’t see happen and reported by some staff
member you can’t remember who it is.”
“Those are pretty reliable documents, and it happens fairly
“You mean something supposedly happens that you don’t see and you
don’t remember who told you?”
“No, that Tyler gets angry easily and acts out.”
Ms. Andover Gibbs sneered, “Doctor, would you get angry if you were
locked up in an old decrepit facility with three roommates, all of whom
are mentally ill?”
“Maybe I would, but I wouldn’t imagine people are talking about my
“Do you know as a fact that people aren’t talking about his
“Well, it’s not likely.”
“Not likely, Doctor, not likely? Well, maybe you don’t come from
where I come from, but where I come from, people are always saying stuff
like ‘Yeah, yo mama’ or ‘Yo mama’s fat” or ‘Yo mama needs a
shave.’ Like that’s the way some people talk in a community like Mr.
Goode’s. Were you aware of that, Doctor?”
“I guess I’ve heard that.”
“And how many patients on this ward that Mr. Goode lives on are
“Maybe about half.”
“Oh, maybe about half, maaaybeee about half. So there’s a good
chance that from time to time, somebody is actually saying something
inappropriate about mothers?”
“Oh, possible. How about likely?”
“I can’t say for sure.”
“Well, Doctor,” she continued, spitting out the title again,
“weren’t you just sitting here just a few minutes ago, saying how in
your pro-fesh-i-nal opinion my client is delusional and should stay
“Well, not exactly . . .”
“I can have the stenographer read back your statements.”
“Uh, that’s not necessary. Keep in mind he just threatened me right
here in front of this court a few minutes ago.”
“Did he hurt you? You know, I’m a little lady, half his size, and he
just calmed down when I asked him to.”
“Well, apparently he trusts you and feels you’re on his side.”
“Oh, you’re his doctor, aren’t you supposed to be on his side? Did
you ever think that what Mr. Goode needs is someone to trust, offer him
a gentle hand, instead shooting him up with whatever drugs some
pharmaceutical company bribes you into prescribing?”
“Objection!” shouted vigorously by Mr. Breuer.
Judge Gaillard gave Ms. Andover Gibbs a warning. She apologized and
withdrew the question. The damage was done. She knew just about how much
she could get away with.
She continued, “So you say he was an astronaut?”
“No, Counselor, he said he was an astronaut.”
“Did you ever hear him say that?”
“As a matter of fact, he personally told me that several times—said
he’s been to the moon.”
“Do you know for a fact that he wasn’t an astronaut?”
“I think we would all know about that if that were the case.”
“Why would he say that?”
“Well, Counselor, as I said, he’s delusional—he’s not normal.”
This was the trigger that either set off Ms. Andover Gibbs or perhaps
the one she was waiting for. “Normal? You want to talk about normal?
Who are you to say who’s normal? Maybe you’re not normal. You know,
a lot of people think psychiatrists aren’t normal.”
Dr. Frizell was caught off guard. “I think anyone imagining such a
fantastic situation isn’t normal,” he said, provoking Ms. Andover
Gibbs even more.
“He’s a poor man, lived in poverty all his life, so he imagines or
fantasizes a more glamorous life than the crappy one he’s had. Maybe
that’s something you don’t do, Doctor, and maybe it’s something I
don’t do, but people do it. People dream about winning the lottery.
Grown men go to fantasy baseball or football camp. Little boys imagine
they’re Superman and little girls dream about being a fairy princess.
Should we lock them up too?”
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Well, praise the Lord.”
Mr. Breuer said, “Objection!”
“I withdraw my comment.”
Judge Gaillard checked his watch. “I think it’s time for lunch.”
Burton Peals sat handcuffed in the backseat of Bay County Sheriff BD
Harmon’s Cruiser, riding from BASH to be delivered to the Charleston
County courthouse. His muscular arms were shackled to his waist. He was
a clean-cut, good-looking, light-skinned black man in his early
thirties. He could have been an athlete or a cop or a teacher. Maybe if
he wore a pin-striped suit and minus the shackles, he might be a lawyer.
But Burton Peals was none of these. Unlike his colleague, Tyler Goode,
he wasn’t going to be cut loose by a sympathetic jury. His crime
eleven years ago occurred about the same time Tyler was hitting
teenagers with a whiskey bottle.
While on a prolonged amphetamine binge, he had been parked in a hotel
room in North Charleston with a lady of the evening. She was a
tired-looking woman, about thirty-five, with platinum blond hair and a
resigned joylessness for the task she was being paid to perform.
However, Burton was rockin’, hoppin’, and buzzin’ with the drug
coursing through his nervous system. He sat naked on the edge of the
motel room bed, preparing to watch the prostitute shed her clothing,
when he noticed an intense yellow glow emanating from her eyes. He
thought, She’s looking right through me.
He cocked his head to one side and dropped his jaw. The woman asked,
“What’s wrong, honey? You don’t like what you see?”
He didn’t like it, not at all. She smiled at him, trying to calm him
down. She had seen the meth freaks before, even within the past week.
The meth was everywhere, including some in her own little purse. He
focused on her with an ominous glassy stare.
Oh shit, she thought, this dude is freakin’ out on me right now. As
she reached for her skimpy clothing thrown across the chipped desk
chair, he grabbed her wrist and yanked her toward him. She tried to pull
away, but his grasp was too strong. Burton was convinced he had hooked
up with a demon who was going to suck out his soul. He had to save
himself. The woman screamed but only for a moment before both hands
clenched like a vice around her throat. Guests in the neighboring rooms
heard pounding and thumps against the wall, a little more than the usual
level of disruption at this particular establishment.
When the police arrived and kicked in the door, they saw Burton naked,
kneeling on the floor with his hands still clamped around the motionless
woman’s neck. The last thing Burton said before being tased was
“She’s still growling. Do something.”
The amphetamine had done its dirty work, tipping a chronic user into a
paranoid psychotic killer. It took about a year at BASH, but Burton
recovered from his descent into madness. He remained on a modest dose of
medication that kept the paranoia under control. Treatment appeared to
be successful. Burton remained on medication, stayed clean and sober,
attended the mandated groups over and over again, but he wasn’t going
anywhere, at least that’s what everybody seemed to think.
Every year, when it was time for a release hearing, his psychiatrist
would appear in court and beam about what an exemplary patient Burton
was. Then the DA would present his case as to why Burton should remain
in the custody of the state. There was little logic but a lot of emotion
at every trial, year after year. The jurors were treated to the details
of the crime, glossy photos of the strangled prostitute, copies of the
original police report, psychologist reports from the time of arrest,
and angry cross-examinations
of the doctor.
“Doctor, can you guarantee this patient will not repeat his crime?”
“Doctor, do you know for a fact that Mr. Peals will continue his
“Doctor, are you willing to be personally responsible for any repeat
of the tragedy that befell Mr. Peals’ first victim?”
The jury usually did not take long to reach the conclusion that “based
upon the preponderance of the evidence,” society would best be served
by having Mr. Peals receive another year of treatment at the Bay Area
On this day of his annual hearing, he was dressed in casual street
clothes, a tan polo shirt and dark slacks. He was patted down before
leaving the facility; but as most of the residents knew, the cops
didn’t get really intimate with the procedure. In each shoe, he had
about five hundred dollars, in as high of denomination as possible. He
wore shoes a half size larger than his normal size, with what he
considered really comfortable arch supports. He was a tall athletic man
and kept in good shape. He “earned” his money over the past year
through what was referred to in the hospital as “wheeling and
dealing.” Throw that in with gambling and a dash of strong arm
intimidation and he realized his goal of a thousand bucks. He managed to
swap out his small bills for larger ones with other patients and an
occasional staff member who would receive a small commission for the
Burton was an absolutely charming passenger in the sheriff’s cruiser,
discussing groups at the hospital, the virtues of the substance recovery
program, and his favorite verses from the Bible. Sheriff Harmon, a
veteran of twenty years of law enforcement, was at ease with Burton as
they pulled into the Charleston County municipal garage. He guided the
cruiser into the “official vehicles only” space. Together they
walked up the echoing stairway.
The courthouse had several security guards at the entrance with a metal
scanner and conveyor belt with x-ray. The sheriff and his prisoner were
able to bypass the scanner and entrance security. The side door simply
opened and latched shut. Burton stood with his hands cuffed to a waist
chain. Burton looked at the somewhat overweight sheriff. “Hey,
Sheriff, I need to take a leak. Could you . . . ?”
“No problem, son. I’ll be right out here waitin’ for you.”
Harmon removed the chain and cuffs as he would be required to do before
escorting his prisoner into the courtroom. The men’s room had bars
over the window. Burton was a cooperative, pleasant fellow. Besides, he
was a patient, not a correctional inmate, and they were in the
courthouse, where there were deputy and security guards up the wazoo.
Burton went into a stall and closed the door. He sat on the john and
removed his shoes, stuffed the twenties, fifties, and a few hundred into
Sheriff Harmon looked at his watch—five minutes, no Burton. He thought
he’d give him just a little more time. After five more minutes, Harmon
entered the restroom and saw Burton’s feet under the closed door of a
stall. “Son, we gotta get movin’. You don’t wanna piss off the
judge, do ya?” Harmon pulled the cuffs off his belt and readied them.
He stood right in front of the stall as Burton stood up and flushed the
toilet. The sheriff anticipated Burton’s reappearance
when—wham—Burton gave a full-thrust kick to the stall door, smacking
the sheriff square in the face. He was momentarily stunned before
Burton’s muscular arm propelled his hard fist square into the
sheriff’s jaw. The overweight Harmon went down to the floor. Burton,
standing over his fallen custodian, looked down—“Sorry, Sheriff,
nothing personal”—and then kicked him in the face. The Sheriff was
stunned. Blood flowed from his nose.
By the urinal, a balding middle-aged man wearing a sport coat with a
juror badge clipped to the breast pocket stared at Burton. Burton
glowered back. The juror averted his eyes and backed up silently. Burton
said firmly, “Get in that stall.” The man with the juror badge
obeyed. The sheriff was down but had a gun still holstered. Burton
walked out of the restroom quietly and, amid the bustle of the noisy
courtroom lobby, exited calmly through the front door. Security police
were yelling and running to the restroom as Burton headed down the
courthouse steps to the sidewalk in the heart of downtown Charleston,
crowded with tourists and locals on that bright early summer morning.
Excerpted from "Bash" by Mike Bartos. Copyright © 2012 by Mike Bartos. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.