A Place of Hope

By Heather Cummings

Only several months ago, as you were asleep late in the middle of the night, mothers, sisters, daughters, fathers, sons, and brothers (many of whom have a mental health condition) were released from the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) by being dropped off at a downtown Albuquerque street corner. No resources. No phone to call their family. No food to nourish their body. No health care to continue the treatment they were receiving to keep them mentally and physically well. No safety net to transition them back into the community.

In May 2018, Bernalillo County opened the Resource Re-entry Center. The center is another part of creating the continuum of care our community is badly in need of. The funding for this is being paid for by the proceeds of the one-eight of 1 percent gross receipts tax that went into effect in 2015 to fund mental and behavioral health services. The tax is estimated to generate about $20 million a year to fund more mental and behavioral health services.

Robert Salazar, Vice President of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Albuquerque, shares his vision for the Re-Entry Center, noting “What I see in this place is hope.” Below captures his speech at the opening of the Re-Entry Center.

I’m here today because I have hope and wouldn’t be here without that. Ten years ago, I had a revolving relationship with the criminal justice system. Ever since I was seven years old and as far back as I can remember, I lived with mental illness and struggled with mental illness. This really complicated things for me as far as getting treatment. We grew up in a culture where we don’t talk about this and so we all had that one family member that everyone said, “Well that is just how they are.” None of the conversations were about how to help the family member through their mental health condition. 

Having hope is really important and I never knew that any of the dysfunctionality I was dealing with was dysfunctional, because it was normal; it’s what I grew up with. I didn’t have any other coping strategies. Giving up and getting high was the only thing I knew. About five years ago, I found myself in MDC (Metropolitan Detention Center) again and it was a pretrial officer that decided that I had these other issues going on and she recognized my mental health condition. I had already been diagnosed, but had not been getting treatment. And she recognized the substance abuse issues as well. Instead of writing me off, she went down to the MDC and got me put in the PAC (Psychiatric Acute Care) unit; the PAC unit is psychiatric care. That set the groundwork for recovery for me. I messaged individuals in NAMI about a program that helped me and gave me some direction. 

While I was in the MDC, I had structure. I had a treatment team. I had education. I didn’t have a lot of coping strategies, but I was in a controlled environment so that worked for me. I was in there for about 18 months. When I was released I had no resources. No insurance. No money. I was lucky to still have the support of my mother. That was one bridge I didn’t burn and had it not been for her, she drove me around town back and forth, trying to get a three-day script that the jail gave me. At that time there was a Walgreens on north Coors that was the only place you could get these scripts filled. I got dropped off downtown in the middle of the night at 3 o’clock in the morning. That wasn’t going to happen for me, if I didn’t have her support. She took me back and forth to that place three times before I finally got my prescription, because the prescription never made it. 

I look back at that experience and that has been my experience every time I came out of MDC. I didn’t have resources. I didn’t have a form of communication. If I had a cellphone it was dead and service was dead, as well. I had nothing and being dropped off out here with the only coping skills I had to give up and get high… It’s easier to give up and get high then to find a ride and find shelter, to find medication, to find resources. I’m not the only one who has gone through that. There’s a lot of us in our community that deal with that on a daily basis. 

This place offers hope right now. What I see in this place is hope. Because there is a big disconnect in services, especially in learning how to live again after being locked up for so long. It is a big shock. If you don’t have those resources, it’s going to be easier to give up. It’s many of the coping strategies many of us have used. Today I’m not giving up. Today I’m trying to use that experience to share with others because I know there is others that go through this. Nationally, 1 in 5 people will live with mental illness in their lifetime. Here in New Mexico, the statistics are 1 in 4. This is a huge problem in our community and being able to have the right resources when you need them the most and are the most vulnerable, will provide that hope. I’m just excited to be a part of this today, so thank you.      -Robert Salazar