This book combines that which, as a forensic psychologist, I’m most interested in: violent crime and mental illness.
Just over seven years ago, Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper were violently attacked in their Seattle home as they slept. The perpetrator broke into the house, entered their bedroom, ordered each woman to strip, and then sexually abused them multiple times. When he was done, he stabbed each of them multiple times and then fled the house. Still nude, the women ran outside, screaming for help. Unfortunately, one of them fell in the street and never got up, dead from a stab wound to the heart. The other one, though, lived to testify against the man in a case that ultimately got him life in prison without parole.
I hadn’t heard of this case, but I instantly found reasons to care about it. This book combines that which, as a forensic psychologist, I’m most interested in: violent crime and mental illness. The perpetrator, Isaiah Kalebu, was psychologically unwell: angry, violent, delusional, entitled, sometimes psychopathic even. He’d had a rough childhood, that much was true—but something else was much, much wrong.
The couple’s commitment ceremony was just weeks away—so close, in fact, that it became Teresa’s memorial gathering. Turns out Teresa was from St. Louis, as I am, and her brother’s a relatively well-known stage and screen actor, Norbert Leo Butz, and also an alum of Webster University, which I attended. And while Sanders tells the women’s stories with sympathy, the book never turns into a sobfest; instead, he tells Isaiah’s story, too, with the same detached, yet considered approach.
Let’s be honest, though. Isaiah’s a murderer, and he knows it. He knew the difference between right and wrong, knew that raping and killing people was both morally and legally criminal, and yet he did committed the heinous act. (There’s also speculation that he had previously killed his aunt and her boyfriend by burning down their house, although he’s neither charged nor convicted of such.)
Sanders helps us see, though, how Isaiah had perhaps fallen through the cracks of our country’s miserable mental health system. He saw doctors, was prescribed medication, and got in trouble with the law, yet no one followed up to ensure he was doing what he had been ordered to. The judges didn’t talk to the doctors or to each other; everyone, it seemed, just forgot about him.
After he was arrested for the attack on the two women, Isaiah made many trips to Western State Hospital for psychiatric evaluations, some court-ordered and some in response to his erratic behavior. Doctors never could agree on a diagnosis and he was always returned to King County jail before too long. Toward the end, some even found him to be malingering, faking his symptoms. Although there was a general consensus of a pathological character, perhaps even sociopathy, no major mental illness was diagnosed and Isaiah was repeatedly found competent to stand trial.
Once the trial recap is over, Sanders turns our attention to some shocking statistics about the rate of mental illness in prisons, and the cost of mental health treatment vs. the cost of imprisonment. He also illustrates the many ways the U.S., with all its deinstitutionalization and massive budget cuts, sells its citizens short—those mentally ill, as well as those affected by mental illness, such as Teresa and Jennifer.
While the City Slept is a sobering look at these problems, told through the tales of three individuals. Each of them has been horrifically impacted by a lack of mental health treatment: one lost her life, one is forever scarred, and one has lost his freedom. And we’re all paying for it. | Laura Hamlett