The brand new greatest story ever told… is about Albert Einstein’s Unheralded Prescription for Peace and why he was like @thedigitaljesus of our time.
I’m compelled to suggest that Albert Einstein’s free will skepticism–his belief that a person is mistaken in thinking that he or she could have done other than he or she did–is an unheralded prescription for peace that this insightful genius left for the benefit of humanity.
I’m compelled to champion this idea within the suicide prevention community. We have GPS technology and many other modern marvels because of Einstein’s genius insights about reality. It’s time to consider leveraging Einstein’s apparent genius insight into the human condition too.
A world full of people who genuinely view free will as an illusion, and who are committed to maximizing well-being is a world without shame. It’s a world without egotistical pride. It’s a world without revenge–a world without hate of self or others. It’s a world full of people being compassionate, loving and grateful.
Recognizing that we may have already extracted as much utility from the likely fictional idea that human beings are autonomous agents consciously controlling their thoughts, feelings, and actions and therefore their lives, is an important conversation that I don’t hear many people in suicide prevention and mental health advocacy having. I’m committed to changing that reality. Recognizing the likelihood that free will is an illusionary creation of humanity is a silver bullet capable of piercing the heart of the stigma surrounding “mental illness.”
It’s evident to me that Einstein would have said that believing in free will is a major risk factor for depression and becoming suicidal.
It’s time to seriously consider Einstein’s conception of what it means to be a human being. This guy was clever enough to notice that humanity was grossly misperceiving the foundational building blocks of our reality–time and space. Is it so incredible to fathom that Einstein might have had profound insights into the illusory nature of the “self” and free will worthy of our attention and consideration?
Einstein’s conception of what a human being is and how reality works would suggest that we reconsider how we approach describing the problem of human suffering, including the suffering that leads people to die by suicide.
Dear Dr. Michael Marcus,
Back in 2002, I had some ideas on July 31st and August 1st that led me to get into a pickup truck, and drive to Langley, Virginia, from my home in Philadelphia. Before leaving, I grabbed a glass pipe with a hunk of hashish in it and a poster of Albert Einstein with his tongue sticking out. A few hours later, after slowly driving passed a large sign informing me that I was trespassing onto CIA property, I told the first federal police officer that I encountered, that I had driven there, in part, to identify myself as the person who had just registered the domain name: iamosamabinladen.com.
I explained how I had lost my Internet connection at home earlier in the day, just seconds after registering the bin Laden domain. I was questioned by a few different federal officers over the next hour as I remained in my truck, and was eventually surrounded by four armed officers, with weapons at the ready—three on foot in front of me and on either side of me, and one atop a military humvee, behind me. After that an officer wearing body-armor asked me to get out of the truck, and frisked me before cuffing my hands together behind my back. Then four officers escorted me inside, through a metal detector and down a hallway into a small room with a table and two chairs. There were two cameras in opposite corners of the room, near the ceiling, that were aimed at the chair they sat me down in.
Then an officer came into the room and read me my rights, and then, an unassuming, middle-aged man not wearing a uniform came into the room, sat down in the chair across from me and asked me to explain myself. We had a cordial, cogent conversation for over an hour, during which I explained my reasons for doing what I did, in detail. After that, one of the federal officers removed my handcuffs, and gave me a citation for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, and for trespassing at the CIA. Next, my questioner escorted me out of the small room and down the hallway again towards the door I had originally entered the building through. To my complete surprise, he extended his right hand, as if to shake mine, and said, “Thanks for your cooperation tonight.” I instinctively reached up, and started shaking his hand.
“There’s a difference between wisdom and intelligence. You only made one mistake. You should have thrown the pipe out the window before you pulled up to the gate,” he said.
We were still shaking hands when I responded, “That’s what you think.” Our handshake ended. Neither of us said anything else, and I got back in my pickup truck, and headed home to Philly.
Thirteen days later I arrived at the Pathways office at Wilmington Hospital with my mother and older brother. You told us that you wanted to speak to my mother and brother first, in private, before speaking with me, your patient. They went into your office, and I accompanied a patient, whom you had just met with, outside for a cigarette.
“So, what’s up with Dr. Marcus talking with your family without you in there?” he asked.
“I’m pretty sure I’m about to be committed,” I replied.
“Really? What for?” he asked.
“It’s a long story,” I said.
“Well, for what it’s worth, you don’t look crazy to me man,” he said smiling wryly. I smiled back.
“Hey thanks man, I’m not. I just…”
“You just what?” he asked.
“I just don’t think like most people think, I think. You know what I mean?” I said.
“Sure,” he said. “Maybe you should get away for awhile. Bus station’s just a couple blocks from here,” he said.
“I know,” I said, as I reached into my pocket, and pulled out a train ticket to Penn Station in New York City and smiled.
“Even better! What are you waiting for?!” he asked.
“I don’t know… there’s part of me that wants to be on the inside again,” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
“The last time I was inside a mental hospital I was miserable, but I’m not miserable now. You ever heard of Nellie Bly?” I asked.
“No, who’s that?” he said.
“She was a reporter in the late 19th century who feigned madness in order to get committed so that she could write about what was wrong with mental health care back then,” I said.
“Is that what you’re trying to do now?” he asked.
“Sort of… I just think I might be in a better position to help the people inside than the doctors who work there,” I said.
“Is that what you’re going to tell Dr. Marcus?” he asked.
“No. He thinks I have bipolar disorder. I’m sure he’d think I was suffering from delusions of grandeur if I said that,” I said chuckling.
“I think you’re right about that. Do you think you have bipolar disorder?” he asked.
“I don’t know… I mean, my energy and mood ebbs and flows sometimes, that’s for sure… but I like to think of myself as more of a… bipolar explorer, you know what I mean?” I said.
“Yeah… I think I do,” he said as he took the last drag on his cigarette. “Well, wherever you end up… I wish you luck,” he said.
We shook hands. “Thanks brother. You too, and be well.” I said.
“Same to you,” he said and walked away.
Next, I headed back inside the hospital and took a seat again in your waiting room. A few minutes later, you opened the door to your office, and invited me to come in. I went inside, sat down in front of you with my brother and mother seated behind me, and you proceeded to ask me questions about my mood, my appetite and how much I was sleeping. You also asked me if I was having any suicidal thoughts. I told you that my mood was elevated, my appetite was fine, I was sleeping a little less than usual and that I hadn’t had a suicidal thought in years. Next you asked me if I’d be willing to admit myself to a psychiatric hospital for awhile. I said no, and told you there was no good reason to do so. You asked me if I would be willing to participate in an outpatient, day-program, and I said I was willing to consider it. Then, you said that we were done talking, and that I was free to go. I opened the door to leave your office, and I was greeted by two police officers who took me into custody.
In spite of my anger, I cooperated completely with the cops. It seemed apparent that they were pros adept at handling people in my situation—someone who had just been summarily stripped of his inalienable right to liberty by an agent of the state with considerably less due process and civil rights protections than suspected violent criminals are afforded. The two cops and I had a convivial conversation on the ride from the hospital to MeadowWood, the private, for-profit psychiatric hospital you committed me to. It had been four years since I’d been in a mental health care facility. I was in a genuinely good mood by the time I was admitted, and shortly thereafter I was chatting idly with my fellow patients in the common room of the adult ward. Within half an hour of arriving I was standing in front of a whiteboard distinguishing Einstein’s theory of special relativity from his theory of general relativity for a small cadre of my fellow patients, as staffers sized me up.
I excused myself from the group when a staffer asked to speak with me in private. She explained that MeadowWood’s resident psychiatrist had issued an order for me to begin treatment immediately by taking a dose of Risperdal, a powerful antipsychotic medication.
“So the doctor wants me to begin treatment before meeting or speaking with me?” I asked.
“That’s right,” the staffer said.
“Well, that doesn’t seem right to me. I’d like to meet with my doctor before he decides how best to treat me,” I said.
“Dr. Ekong is a woman,” she said.
“Fine. Her gender has nothing to do with why I want to meet her before I begin taking a new medication. How can she prescribe a course of treatment for me without ever meeting or speaking with me?” I asked.
“Dr. Ekong reviewed your file–”
“My file? I have a file already?” I said, cutting her off. “I’ve been here less than an hour and haven’t spoken with a doctor yet. What’s in my file? Can I see it?” I asked.
“You can discuss that with Dr. Ekong during your time with her tomorrow when she’s here,” she said.
“Okay great. That’s all I was asking for. Thank you,” I said and turned to walk away, feigning that I thought I had sold her on me not taking the Risperdal.
“Wait a second! Dr. Ekong’s order still stands, and if you don’t take your medication, I have to report back to her,” she said calling after me.
“I thought you just said that I could wait to discuss this with her tomorrow when she’s here,” I said, continuing with my feigned misunderstanding.
“I said that you can discuss your file and your treatment plan with her when she’s here. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have to do my job, and administer the medication prescribed for you by your doctor,” she said.
“Okay. I’m assuming you can reach her by phone then?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Then why can’t I speak with her?” I asked.
“That’s not how it works,” she said.
“Okay… well… can you please explain to her that I would like to meet with her before she unilaterally decides on a course of treatment for me?” I asked.
“I can, but if you continue to refuse to take the medication prescribed for you, she’s likely to order us to treat you with a different one. One that can be injected with a needle,” she said.
“Can we please cross that bridge if and when we get to it? You just said you would explain that I want to meet her before beginning treatment, and I appreciate that. I really do… so thank you,” I said.
“Fine,” she said with a smirk as I headed back to the whiteboard to resume my impromptu lesson on relativity. As I rejoined the group, another patient asked me how long I had been working at MeadowWood.
“Me? Working here?” I asked smiling. “I’m a patient just like you brother!” I said.
“If you’re a patient here… I’m the Pope,” he replied.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you… your Holiness,” I responded, smiling even wider and winking.
About five minutes later, the staffer called me over again and told me that Dr. Ekong had confirmed that I was to begin treatment immediately. She said if I refused to take the Risperdal, that Dr. Ekong had instructed her to give me an injection of Haldol. I told her that I would not willingly take any medication before having the chance to speak with Dr. Ekong, but added that I would not physically resist being injected against my will. I asked the staffer if I could make a phone call before being given the injection. She said yes, and I called my father and explained to him what was going on.
Five minutes later, in a private room, a woman gave me an injection of Haldol. After giving me the shot, she began preparing a second injection.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s called Cogentin. It’s to counteract the side-effects of the Haldol,” the nurse said.
“What side effects?” I asked nervously as I felt my pulse quicken.
“Muscle spasms… muscle rigidity… stuff like that,” she said. Then she injected me with the Cogentin shot.
I was already feeling dizzy and nauseous just seconds later as I went back into the common room. I walked right by the patients still gathered around the whiteboard, ignoring their calls to rejoin them, and headed straight for my bed in my room. I laid down, my whole world spinning, and quickly lost consciousness. The day following my harrowing experience with Haldol I began swallowing the Risperdal tablets originally prescribed for me by Dr. Ekong. I’m grateful that I didn’t know then what I know now: having Haldol injected into me and swallowing a single Risperdal tablet could have killed me via Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome. Imagine my utter lack of surprise when Dr. Ekong released me from my involuntary psychiatric care experience ten days after you committed me. This was the same day that my case would have necessarily been reviewed by a judge in a court of law, if Dr. Ekong had not released me. I don’t believe it was a coincidence in timing.
Imagine if judges in our legal system could imprison suspects and order them to be injected with potentially life-threatening substances without meeting or speaking with them. Imagine if imprisoned criminal suspects and criminals were financially responsible for paying fees for being in prison, including one to the judge who jailed them. Even though you are referred to as a doctor, and not a judge, these ideas are just as absurd as a reality in our mental health care system as they would be if they were part of our legal system. To be clear, I do not blame you or Dr. Ekong for treating me as you did. I blame the poorly designed system that empowered you to mistreat me as you patently did. I share this true story publicly with the intention of trying to improve an improvable system.
I harbor zero ill will for you or for anyone else involved in my mental health care mistreatment. I believe that you and Dr. Ekong were necessarily influenced by forces of institutional corruption at work within our mental health care system. Robert Whitaker and Lisa Cosgrove have written masterfully on this subject in Psychiatry Under the Influence: Institutional Corruption, Social Injury, and Prescriptions for Reform. I’m simply playing my role by highlighting a perfect example of what institutional corruption in psychiatry looks like in reality. I don’t seek attention for my anecdotal experience with mental health care mistreatment for the purpose of retributive justice against you, or for sympathy for myself, and unlike some survivors of less than optimal mental health care, I do not want to burn the existing system to the ground. Rather, my motivation is to increase awareness about human rights violations occurring within our mental health care system in order to inspire social change and systemic reform. I can’t help but wish that I had been compelled to share this true story earlier. Dr. Caroline Ekong might still be alive and Christopher Frick might not be in custody for the rest of his life, if I had done so.
As you must know, in October of 2015, Christopher Frick, at age 21, stabbed Dr. Caroline Ekong to death, three years after she had committed him to the Rockford Center, claiming that he was a danger to himself. I share the true story of my forced “care” at the hands of you and Dr. Ekong to highlight her tragic death with the aim of preventing others like it. Despite the apparent fact that she ordered that I be treated before ever meeting or speaking with me, I saw her as a caring and conscientious mental health care professional. I write apparent, because I can’t know for sure if the staff that treated me was actually in touch with her that day. Despite the apparent fact that you decided to hospitalize me against my will before you examined me, and despite the blatant incompetence or dishonesty you clearly documented on my committal paperwork, I see you too as a caring and conscientious mental health care professional.
I share this true story, Dr. Marcus, so that you, and other doctors empowered by the state to suspend people’s liberty, will be less likely to use that authority in a way that leads some patients, to want to kill their psychiatrists. Caroline Ekong and Christopher Frick were both victims of a broken, reformable mental health care system. I come in peace brother, because that is what I see you as, a brother. All those who dedicate themselves to caring for the well-being of others are my brothers and sisters. You and I are brothers on the front line in the battle of trying to bend the U.S. suicide rate curve. I am in a special position, given my considerable professional experience in systems quality assurance to provide valuable critical feedback on the mental health care system, as a result of my interactions with you and Dr. Ekong almost a decade and a half ago. Feel free to consider me your personal Nellie Bly.
You necessarily took action to have the police waiting outside your office prior to your examination of me, and to this day, you and I have still never exchanged a single word about my unauthorized visit to CIA headquarters in 2002. Four federal CIA police officers and a staffer from the CIA questioned me for about three hours with a degree of professionalism that still blows my mind, especially considering that I pulled this stunt just forty-one days before the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It’s worth pointing out that these men, despite the fact that I was in possession of a controlled substance when I illegally trespassed at the CIA, decided to release me on my own recognizance versus throw me into a jail cell for the night, pending arraignment. Things played out the way they did for me at the CIA because the people there that I spoke with were open to hearing a reasonable explanation for my actions… which is precisely what they received from me… and precisely why they let me go.
You and Dr. Ekong on the other hand, were patently not open to even attempting to reason with me. You failed to give me a chance to explain my actions before stripping me of my liberty, and she treated me with a potentially life-threatening medication before ever meeting or speaking with me. It is clear to me, as I am confident that it will be to many others, that the forces of institutional corruption in psychiatry were at work in your respective decisions. The knowledge that you had about what happened at the CIA was the by-product of a five-person game of Telephone or Whisper Down the Lane. I told my father some of what happened that day, without much explanation as to why at all. My father told my mother. My mother told my brother. And then my afraid-for-the-life-of-her-son mother told you. You did what you did, and then Dr. Ekong became Telephone/Whisper Down the Lane player number six. The assumptions that you both necessarily made about me are gross examples of professional misconduct.
While you were very sympathetic about the anxiety experienced by your patient’s mother, you failed to even try to understand me, your patient, whom I believe you assumed was psychotic. The fact that I was exhibiting some of the symptoms of a “mental disorder” described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—a nosology disavowed in 2013 by Dr. Thomas Insel, the former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health—is a pathetically inadequate justification for involuntarily subjecting me to forced care that could have ended my life. If you failed to notice this label on the committal form: “as observed during my examination of the patient” you were reprehensibly incompetent when you filled out the form. Not one scintilla of information about my unauthorized visit to the CIA or about anyone breaking into my home was provided by me to you. If you did notice the aforementioned label, then you were necessarily reprehensibly dishonest by claiming that any of that information was discussed during your “examination” of me. Why I willingly trespassed at the CIA with marijuana and a big poster of Einstein was, and still is an absolute mystery to you.
I invite you to speak with me, in front of a live microphone, for a podcast—a frank talk about mental health—to provide me the opportunity that you denied me years ago. If you meet with me, I will also explain my version of the stories that you were apparently told by my mother and/or brother that prompted you to write down what you wrote about me on the aforementioned form.
I genuinely believe that a public conversation between you and me could be very valuable for people besides you and me, and that is my aim—to create value for others as I try to improve the mental health care system in this country. If you have no interest in engaging in a public conversation with me, to provide the reasons why you behaved as you did, I will offer up my best guess as to what I believe motivated you, when I explain my own actions, in a subsequent message.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Philadelphia Chapter Board Member
Zero Suicide Champion
frank talk about mental health ~ leveraging the genius of Einstein to end suicide and to maximize well-being
November 4, 2016
On August 14th 2002, I was civilly committed to the MeadowWood mental hospital by a psychiatrist who worked at Christiana Hospital. The doctor who committed me failed to ask me one single question about the incident leading to my involuntary psychiatric treatment. After being admitted to MeadowWood and prior to meeting or speaking with the psychiatrist who was responsible for my care, Dr. Caroline Ekong, I was informed that she had directed the staff to treat me with Risperdal, an oral antipsychotic. I respectfully refused to swallow the Risperdal, and asked if I could at least speak with Dr. Ekong prior to commencing taking any psychopharmacological drugs.
Dr. Ekong refused my request to speak or meet with her prior to commencing treatment. Staff at the mental hospital told me that I would have the chance to meet and speak with Dr. Ekong the following day, but that I still had to begin taking the Risperdal immediately. I was told that if I refused to swallow the Risperdal that I would be given an injection of Haldol, another antipsychotic.
I told the staff I thought it was wrong for me to be treated against my will by a doctor who hadn’t even spoken with me yet, and I told them that I would not willingly take the Risperdal. I also told them that I wouldn’t physically resist being injected with the Haldol if they were compelled to treat me without my consent. They were so compelled, and I did not resist.
Subsequently I began swallowing the Risperdal to avoid receiving any additional Haldol injections. Ten days later, the same day that my involuntary commitment would have been reviewed by a judge, Dr. Ekong released me from the hospital.
In May of this year, while working on a memoir manuscript about my mental health care journey, I Googled “Caroline Ekong” and first learned about your story.
A couple days after learning some details of your mental health care journey I posted this on Instagram.
Christopher Frick stabbed Dr. Caroline Ekong to death in October of last year at her home in Hockessin, Delaware, three years after she civilly committed him to a private psychiatric hospital. I just learned of this event this week.
Dr. Ekong was the same caregiver who ordered me to be injected with Haldol before ever meeting or speaking with me after I trespassed at CIA headquarters five weeks before the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks back in 2002.
Imagine if judges in our legal system could imprison suspects and order them to be injected with potentially life-threatening substances without meeting or speaking with them. Imagine if imprisoned criminal suspects and criminals were financially responsible for paying fees for being in prison, including one to the judge who jailed them. These ideas are just as absurd as a reality in the mental health care system as they would be if they were part of our legal system.
I do not blame any individual for my harrowing experience with Haldol, even if their actions were illegal. On the contrary, I am exceedingly appreciative of anyone who dedicates themselves to caring for the well-being of others. They are my brothers and sisters on the front line in the battle to bring about the beginning of the end of suicide.
I don’t seek attention for my anecdotal experience with mental health care mistreatment for the purpose of retributive justice or sympathy, and unlike some survivors of less than optimal behavioral health care, I do not want to burn the existing system to the ground. Rather, my motivation for sharing this story publicly is to increase awareness about human rights violations occurring within our mental health care system in order to inspire social change and systemic reform.
Caroline Ekong and Christopher Frick are victims of the same thing: a broken, but fixable behavioral healthcare system.
I’m sorry that you’re in the position that you’re in, and I’m sorry that I wasn’t compelled to share publicly about my experience with Dr. Ekong prior to last October. I can’t help but imagine how telling my story could have been the cause of you thinking and acting differently than you did. But that is not how our stories played out unfortunately.
Fortunately we are both still in a position to try to improve the mental health care system that treated us without our consent. I would appreciate the opportunity to learn more about your mental health care journey if you’re open to communicating with me.
Dear Serial Podcast producers:
In 1993 I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Notre Dame in just three and a half years, and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.
In 1998 I had a near death experience in the back of an ambulance due to semi-intentionally caused acute carbon monoxide poisoning. I drew this picture during my first ever stay in a mental hospital.
In 2002, less than a year after I learned that my birth name literally translates to “candid catnip soldier” and within several weeks of watching the movie The Bourne Identity, I trespassed at CIA headquarters with a large framed poster of Albert Einstein with his tongue sticking out, while in possession of marijuana. After being questioned for a few hours, I was cited for two misdemeanors and released.
The next day I told my father a story about what had happened.
Subsequently my father told a story based on the story I told him to my mother and my older brother.
Twelve days later my mother and brother told a story to Dr. Michael Marcus, a psychiatrist, based on the story they had heard from my father.
Without asking me a single question about the story Dr. Marcus had been told by my mother and brother, he committed me to a for-profit mental hospital for emergency involuntary medical care.
Hours later, Dr. Caroline Ekong reportedly read the civil commitment document filled out by Dr. Marcus about why I needed emergency medical care. Without ever seeing or speaking with me, Dr. Ekong directed staff at the mental hospital to treat me with an oral antipsychotic.
I respectfully refused to swallow the medication, and requested to speak with Dr. Ekong before she began providing me with medical care.
Staff at the mental hospital informed me that Dr. Ekong was not at the hospital, and was not willing to speak with me by telephone. I was told that if I continued to refuse medical care, that I would be injected with a different antipsychotic medication.
The hospital staff did not inform me of the potential “side-effects” of the two antipsychotics which include a non-zero chance of causing death due to Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome.
I refused to swallow the oral antipsychotic, but I did not resist the hospital staff when they injected me with Haldol.
Subsequently, I agreed to take the oral antipsychotic medication due to the horrible state of consciousness induced by the Haldol.
Dr. Ekong restored my inalienable rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the same day that my “civil commitment” for involuntary medical care was subject to review by a judge in a court of law.
Four years later, in October of 2006 I made another unauthorized visit to CIA headquarters in order to illustrate ways to improve this country’s mental health care system, and was cited for trespassing again. Judge T. Rawles Jones of the Eastern District Court of Virginia presided over the ensuing 18 minute trial where I defended myself, and was found not guilty.
Nine years later in late 2015, I watched Sam Harris’s 2012 talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas about the illusory nature of free will.
In May of 2016, while working on a memoir manuscript about how the events described above led me to view the life of free will skeptic, Albert Einstein, as “the brand new greatest story ever told,” I learned that Christopher Frick, a 21 year old man whom Dr. Ekong had civilly committed in 2013, stabbed her to death in October of 2015.
A couple days later I posted this on Instagram:
“Imagine if judges in our legal system could imprison suspects and order them to be injected with potentially life-threatening substances without meeting or speaking with them. Imagine if imprisoned criminal suspects and criminals were financially responsible for paying fees for being in prison, including one to the judge who jailed them. These ideas are just as absurd as a reality in the mental health care system as they would be if they were part of our legal system.
I don’t seek attention for my anecdotal experience with mental health care mistreatment for the purpose of retributive justice or sympathy, and unlike some survivors of less than optimal behavioral health care, I do not want to burn the existing system to the ground. Rather, my motivation for sharing this story publicly is to increase awareness about human rights violations occurring within our mental health care system in order to inspire social change and systemic reform. Caroline Ekong and Christopher Frick are victims of the same thing: a broken, but fixable behavioral healthcare system.”
In October of 2016, after securing an appointment with Vice President Biden and/or his policy staff at the White House to introduce him/them to the executive leadership of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, I submitted this story to the creators of Serial.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Dear Mr. David M. Larabell,
Mr. Kevin Huvane,
Mr. Ari Emanuel,
Mr. Bryan Lourd,
Mr. Richard Lovett,
Mr. Patrick Whitesell,
Mr. Brian Swardstrom,
Ms. Tracey Jacobs,
Ms. Sharon Jackson,
Mr. Sam Gores,
Mr. Jeremy Zimmer, and
Ms. Theresa Peters
Cc: Mr. Matt Damon
Mr. Jeff Skoll
Mr. Harvey Weinstein
I am writing to see if you would be open to having a conversation with me to discuss a unique and valuable storytelling opportunity for you, and how you can help hasten the coming of the day when suicide is no longer one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States.
100 second teaser trailer – https://youtu.be/ItHa13dpy9I
I will send you the complete story summary by the end of business 6/27/16. (See https://medium.com/me/stories/public for a work in progress partial draft.) After developing this true story for well over a decade, I’m reaching out to all of you now because I’m confident that, after reading the summary, at least one of you will think the goal below is a sure thing.
Receive an opening bid for committed of no less than 1 cent more than the inflation adjusted value of monies received by Mr. Matt Damon and Mr. Ben Affleck for their work in connection with the film Good Will Hunting.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
frank talk about suicide at http://iameinstein.com
@iameinstein on Twitter
The “brand new greatest story ever told” is about Albert Einstein.
I have still not finished the complete story summary I intended to deliver by 6/27/18. My new deadline for delivery is July 13th.
committed — “the beginning of the end of suicide”
the brand new greatest story ever told — part 3
Chi-Chi was born in the seaside town of Francavilla al Mare, Italy in 1900 and began working in pyrotechnics when he was sixteen. By his thirty-sixth birthday he’d become a skilled craftsman in the art of manufacturing and setting off spectacular displays of explosive flying projectiles, better known as fireworks. The lure of opportunity across the Atlantic fueled his growing desire to leave Europe, find a wife and emigrate to America. He was fond of the eldest daughter of Angelo Mancinelli, a tax collector who lived a few miles South in Canosa Sannita, but she was unimpressed with his proposal of marriage and the idea of starting a family in the United States. Teresa wasn’t interested in trading her life of relative ease and comfort in the small town near the Adriatic for an uncertain future with a man she barely knew, in a country where she didn’t speak the language. Fortunately for Francesco, my paternal grandfather-to-be and namesake, Teresa’s younger sister Emma was fond of the young pyrotechnician, and she possessed a degree of wanderlust that her older sister did not. Emma and Francesco were married, and then Francesco made his way to America in advance of his new wife, to find work and a place to live. Upon his arrival at Ellis Island he American-ized his first name to ‘Frank’ as was the custom for many European immigrants with foreign-sounding names who were intent on finding success in their new, adopted homeland. He traveled to Boston where relatives helped him find a job at a local fireworks manufacturer. He found an apartment in Randolph, a suburb of Boston, and sent word to Emma. Shortly thereafter she arrived in the States, and the newlyweds began their new life together in America. The year was 1937.
Within a year and a half, Emma gave birth to their first child, a boy that they named Franco, my father-to-be. In 1940, my grandfather’s employer went out of business, and Francesco had difficulty finding work, so he relocated the family South to Wilmington, Delaware. The family grew over the next several years. Emma gave birth to two more children, both girls, Isabella and Susanna. By the late 40’s my grandfather had saved enough money to become a homeowner, and move the family out of their one bedroom apartment and into a two-story duplex with three bedrooms — a tangible piece of the American dream.
Emma had never been particularly happy about her husband’s chosen occupation due to the dangers inherent in working with explosives. Having three children to care for only added to her consternation. In the summer of 1950, concerned for her husband’s safety, she pleaded with Francesco, imploring him to stop working with fireworks. Emma wanted her husband to find a job where he wasn’t one mishap away from the unthinkable happening. He wasn’t particularly receptive to the idea. Francesco was fifty years old and an expert in his field. He made a decent wage; plus, he enjoyed the work. Emma persisted. Nicholas Salvatore, her next door neighbor while growing up in Canosa Sannita, had also left Italy and settled in Wilmington. Emma convinced Nicholas to offer her husband a job as an apprentice butcher, but Francesco didn’t take it. He had little desire to start over in a new profession.
Unfortunately, Emma’s fears turned out to be eerily prophetic, when less than two years later, the unthinkable actually happened. The death of my namesake was a front-page story in the local newspaper three days after Christmas in 1951.
I was thirty-three years old when I visited the library in the city of Wilmington to search for the microfilm containing the news story about his demise.The headline read: Workman Killed by Blast In Elkton Defense Plant. Defense plant? I thought when I read it. That was news to me, as I had always thought my grandfather died making fireworks, not explosives for a war. I knew the name of the company where he worked, Crown Fireworks & Display Company, but my father had never mentioned anything about it being a defense contractor. The few details about my grandfather’s life that I did know came from the handful of stories my father told about him. My father described how Francesco had a daily routine during the workweek that rarely varied. He would wake very early each morning, and leave the house by five o’clock so that he’d have enough time to walk the three and a half miles to the train station, in order to arrive on time for work in Elkton. He would return home around seven o’clock, take a quick nap and then eat dinner. After that my father would sit with his dad as he did “piece-work” to supplement his income. Francesco assembled fireworks fuses for a penny apiece. My father would keep a running count of how many fuses his father had made. During the summer months, part of Francesco’s job included setting off fireworks at Woodside Amusement Park every Friday in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. There were rides and food and games and prizes and moving picture shows. The fireworks display was the culmination of the evening’s festivities. Each week, Francesco would pick up my father from home in a company truck and head North to Philadelphia. Franco would take in a Hop-a-long Cassidy picture show while his father was busy setting up. After dusk, exploding projectiles composed of combustible chemical compounds lit up the night sky as the crowd gathered would ooh and ahh. Afterwards my father helped clean up and load the truck.
The story my father tells about the day his mother’s worst fears were realized is a short, sad one. He was on the sidewalk across the street from his house talking with a grade school friend when he heard his mother screaming his name, “Franco! Franco, where are you?! Franco!” Not surprisingly he has a flashbulb-memory of the moment that he learned that his life would be forever altered. It was more than three decades after my grandfather’s passing when my father retold the story of that day, in detail, to the whole family over dinner. “I can still see her standing on the porch screaming. She was hysterical; she had this frantic look in her eyes. The sound of her cries gave me chills. I knew the moment I saw her. I knew something terrible had happened; I knew something had happened to my father,” he said. My grandmother told my father there had been an accident at work and that Francesco was in the hospital. Franco stayed at home to watch his two younger sisters while Emma made her way to the hospital as quickly as possible. Francesco was still alive when she arrived, but he had first, second and third degree burns over most of his body, and died within a few hours. She returned home that night to give her children the dreadful news. Over the span of a single afternoon, my father had become the “man of the house.” He was thirteen years old.
Little was known about the circumstances surrounding my grandfather’s death. My father knew that there had been a large explosion followed by a fire, and that his father had been the only fatality. He was adamant about wanting to discover precisely what had gone wrong that day, but he was never able to discover the truth. Although he has never said precisely why, my father has always had the feeling that his father’s co-workers knew more than what they said about what had happened that fateful day. I can understand his curiosity. Had his father made a mistake that led to his own death? Or had someone else made a mistake? Or maybe it was a situation where his father saw something about to go terribly wrong, and he was trying to prevent it. The answers to these questions seemed unknowable. The truth of what happened apparently lost in the same fire that cut short my grandfather’s life.
The microfilm article I’d found contained another revelation about the circumstances surrounding the blast that day. The sub-headline read: Wilmington Man Fatally Burned, Another Injured by Mystery Explosion That Destroys 2 Company Buildings. That someone else had been injured that day was news to me as well. More from the article itself:
Frank Bellafante, 51, of 611 Concord Avenue, Wilmington, died at 8 o’clock tonight in Elkton’s Union Hospital of first, second and third degree burns of the entire body. A fellow workman, Lee Hill, 18, of Elkton, was treated at the hospital for minor burns. A third man in the immediate vicinity of the explosion escaped injury.
After I shared these details with my father, he said that he had never heard of Lee Hill, and he hadn’t known that anyone else had been injured that day. It was 2004 when I discovered this article; fifty-three years after the story it told. Lee Hill was only eighteen years old when this happened. There was a chance he might still be alive. And even if he was deceased, if he had any children, the story they may have been told about that day might have included more information about the explosion than the version I knew. Maybe the truth wasn’t irrevocably lost. A few other details from the article painted at least a vague picture of the scene of the blast that took my namesake’s life:
Authorities said the building in which the blast occurred was completely destroyed, as well as an adjacent building. No definite cause of the explosion could be established, but one source reported that the three workmen were engaged in loading explosives on a truck when the accident occurred. The blast was heard two miles away.
It’s a wonder my grandfather even made it to the hospital alive, I thought. The revelation that he was making munitions for the war in Korea as opposed to making fireworks is hardly surprising. Money talks, and it’s not hard to imagine that fulfilling defense contracts for the war would be more lucrative than manufacturing fireworks for entertainment purposes. This relatively minor revision to the personal history of my grandfather had more than a minor impact on me when I learned of it. My grandfather had left Italy as fascism was on the rise there and in Germany leading up to World War II. He had aspired to make his living as a pyrotechnician, and to raise a family in America. That he perished while handling munitions bound for a different war, half a world away in Southeast Asia, gave me pause. Of course without more information, I can’t know for sure that my grandfather’s death was specifically attributable to the fact that he was working with munitions instead of fireworks. Before reading the article about the day my grandfather died, I used to have a somewhat romanticized view of my grandfather’s life and death. Most likely due to projecting desires about myself onto my grandfather’s life, I had always viewed fireworks as a sort of pyrotechnical art form, and him therefore, as an artist. One who painted the night skies with sensational, dazzling displays of exploding light and color. In my idealized view of him, his refusal of my grandmother’s pleas to find work in a safer occupation was an artist refusing to give up his art despite the dangers inherent in creating it. In the story I subconsciously told myself about my namesake, Francesco Bellafante was a passionate, adventurous artist who had traveled to a new world to practice his art, and who died doing what he loved. In this fantastical story born in my imagination, his death was some kind of noble, mythical martyrdom in the name of art. Learning that he died making bombs to be dropped on people halfway around the world instead, helped shatter my fanciful notions about his death. Clearly my grandfather’s death was a profound tragedy that caused immense amounts of pain and suffering for his family. And it would have been no less tragic had he been loading that truck with a batch of shells for the celebration of the upcoming New Year.
What I have never had a single fanciful notion about was what life was like for the Bellafante family after my grandfather’s death. In the immediate aftermath of his passing my grandmother became literally sick with grief. She was so hysterically despondent that she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for five weeks. Four-year-old Susanna was sent to Boston to stay with relatives. Nine-year-old Isabella stayed with friends of the family in the neighborhood, while my father, the thirteen-year-old man of the house stayed at home, alone. What had been a family of five, living a relatively happy life just two days after celebrating Christmas together, was transformed, in an instant, by a mysterious explosion, into a grieving widow in a mental ward with three, young, fatherless children with shattered lives. That is the inescapably sad truth about what happened that day, regardless of how or why it happened.
The deeper truth that I saw more clearly after reading and fully digesting the article about my grandfather’s violent, tragic end was one that I had always known was there. The experience left me with a deeper appreciation for the reason behind why I had previously had a tendency to think of my grandfather’s death in a romanticized way. It wasn’t because I was named after the man, nor was it because of my own desire to make a living as an artist instead of as some sort of business professional. Nor was it because I had never met him or knew very little about him. The reason, in fact, was quite simple and rather obvious actually: I was scared to death of death.
committed — “the beginning of the end of suicide”
the brand new greatest story ever told — part 2
committed is a true story that I am sharing with the aim of popularizing suicide awareness and prevention in order to save lives.
Music by Estes Shane Whalen
This video is Part 2 of a series.
Click here to watch Part 1.
To read this post on Medium click on the image below.
committed — “the beginning of the end of suicide”
the brand new greatest story ever told — part 1
committed is a true story that I have lived, that was designed to save lives by popularizing suicide awareness and prevention.
I put pen to paper for the first time in connection with this story on May 31st, 1997. Almost 19 years later, I’m grateful to finally be ready to begin telling it, publicly.
To read this piece on Medium click on the image below.