“It seems as if the devil wants him dead,” his sister, Linda Taylor, told a Veterans Affairs official in a March 28 email, “but his constitution and our prayers are keeping him here.”
And like so many other Mississippians struggling with mental illness whose families have reached a breaking point as caregivers, Redmond wound up in a succession of personal care homes, some of them poorly run.
Dr. Joy Houston, program director of psychiatric emergency services for the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said if Mississippi were seamless in how it treated those suffering from mental illness, patients could easily transition from hospital care to homes where they could receive outpatient support.
Instead, many end up in personal care homes, which act as modern-day boarding homes.
When an ombudsman visited the Horizon Personal Care Home at 438 Clifton St. in Jackson on Nov. 19, 2014, she reported that a man living there had punched other residents, chasing one of them down the street with a two-by-four and threatening to kill her. Shortly after this, the man moved to another home.
Nine months later, inspectors visited Horizon and found residents in “immediate jeopardy,” living in 89-degree heat with roaches, mold and a kitchen ceiling leaking water.
Inspectors halted use of the home, which had been licensed to Wanda George Latham.
Rather than halting operations, she opened up a personal care home on 825 S. Plaza St. in Jackson, this time without a license.
Three days after Christmas in 2016, the state Department of Health won an injunction against Latham to keep her from operating.
That same year, a Hinds County grand jury indicted Pebla “Pebbles” Jones Wright, the owner of a personal care home, on a charge of felony exploitation of a vulnerable person, accusing her of taking $12,000 from a patient and attempting to steal another $2,900. The case is still pending.
Two years ago, a Purvis man was convicted of sexual battery of a vulnerable person at a personal care home in Lamar County, where he worked as a maintenance worker.
Attorney General Jim Hood’s Vulnerable Persons Unit — which saw state lawmakers sweep $500,000 from its budget last year — investigated and prosecuted the case.
In 2017, the unit received 3,151 complaints and opened 231 investigations, five of which resulted in convictions. Most of the complaints involved nursing homes.
Hood has long complained about the lack of regulation of personal care homes.
'They pop up like weeds'
State law requires personal care homes to be licensed if they house more than three people, and the state Department of Health, which since 2014 has seen Mississippi lawmakers slash more than $48 million from its special and general funds, is responsible for inspecting those homes.
Despite that law, an untold number of personal care homes in Mississippi operate without licenses and without oversight.
The Health Department puts out a list of licensed homes, which number 18 in Jackson alone (half of which are assisted living facilities).
Unlicensed homes far outnumber the licensed ones in west Jackson, and these homes continue to multiply. “They pop up like weeds,” Houston said.
Each day, Gateway Rescue Mission, which sits on the western edge of downtown Jackson, serves a hot lunch to the homeless and what Executive Director Rex Baker calls the “almost homeless” — those living in nearby personal care homes.
“A year or two ago, we would be lucky if we broke 100 (meals) for lunch,” he said. “Now we’re breaking 200.”
Some personal care homes operate in good faith, but many don’t, he said, and that’s one reason why an increasing number from these homes are showing up at Gateway.
Stewpot Community Services has also seen an increase in hot lunches.
“We are serving about 200 people at lunchtime nearly every day,” said Executive Director Jill Barnes-Buckley. “Often, this translates into about 300 plates of food with seconds.”
Of the 2,000 or so people recorded as homeless in Jackson, at least a fourth are struggling with mental illness — 100 of them who have just been released from psychiatric hospitals or facilities, she said.
Since she took over as executive director for Stewpot Community Services 17 months ago, “I’ve seen an increase in those coming around who have mental illness or substance abuse issues,” she said. “A significant number of them come from personal care homes.”
She said Stewpot winds up being an entry point to connect them with mental health services.
At a time when mental health needs are increasing, mental health resources are declining, she said. “There are not enough resources to help everyone who has mental issues.”
Living with schizophrenia
Nationwide, more than 43 million Americans over the past year have battled mental illness, but the story that often goes untold is the struggle of their families.
Mental health experts say helping a loved one suffering any long-term disease strains caregivers.
“Families need to get support,” said Houston. “Caregiver burden and burnout is a very real thing.”
Redmond's parents were among those who could no longer care for their mentally ill son.
In 1966, Redmond became the first black male student to attend what had been the all-white Provine High School.
When his mother took him to register, a white student yelled at him, “Hey, n-----, we’re going to make it hard for you.”
“He wanted to go back,” recalled his mother, Mariah. “I told him, ‘Keep walking. Don’t pay any attention.’”
After he finished high school, he joined the Marines, when the fighting of the Vietnam War was fiercest. During that time, he was stationed in Okinawa.
But he was unable to realize his dream of becoming an aviator, leaving him disappointed and angry.
When he returned home on furlough, “we were all surrounding him and hugging him,” his mother recalled. “He was just standing there.”
After he came out of what seemed like a trance, he told his family that his mind had left his body and started traveling.
“We were just shocked,” his mother recalled. “He would withdraw from us and not have too much to say.”
After he finished his time in the Marines, he married. He became more withdrawn, and his marriage ended after only a few years.
“That broke his heart,” his mother recalled. “He told me, ‘I don’t want to live anymore.’”
She saw her son going downhill and eventually using drugs. “We had him admitted into the VA hospital (in the 1980s),” she said. “They detected he was schizophrenic.”
He became a 100 percent disabled veteran after being diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. She became the guardian over his military benefits, and her late husband, the Rev. Jessie Redmond, served then as guardian over his Social Security benefits.
But as her son’s mental illness worsened, they could no longer care for their son.
In 1994, they agreed to let Jackson lawyer Harry Rosenthal become guardian of their son, Edward Redmond.
After that, Redmond stayed briefly with his sister, Taylor, and her husband, Franco.
He said he got Redmond off crack and put him to work in a bakery in Memphis, where the couple operates the Right Stuff Health Ministries.
He had a radio show on nutrition, and Redmond called in one night, saying he was healthier now that he was free from both legal and illegal drugs, "thanks to God and to you."
Rosenthal said he didn’t let Redmond stay because Franco wanted $3,000 a month to keep Redmond.
Taylor and Franco responded that the upkeep for Redmond was expensive, given his needs.
As the decades passed, he bounced from place to place across Mississippi, spending time in psychiatric wards, hospitals, jails, motels and personal care homes.
When his parents visited him at one of those homes in Florence in 2003, they were horrified.
When the caretaker of the home "mentioned that the place was a prostitution, drug addiction place," his mother recalled, "we took him home with us."
After he cut his hand and it wouldn't stop bleeding, Redmond went to the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, only to be moved back into a personal care home, she said.
"That was the true beginning of the end," his mother recalled, her son going from "slop house" to "slop house."
Nowhere to turn
When the Redmond's family complained to VA officials in 2005, they went and interviewed him.
"Mr. Redmond appeared to be clean and happy with his guardian," Joe J. Adair, director of the regional office of the Department of Veteran Affairs, wrote in a letter. "He indicated that he was happy where he was living and had no complaints with his guardian."
Rosenthal said that Redmond has received good care over the years but has had problems because of his behavior and his felony conviction.
“My goal is to have Edward put into VA nursing home,” he said. “The reason they don’t take him is because of his behavioral pattern. I’m constantly preventing him from being arrested.”
Redmond has been repeatedly arrested for shoplifting.
Rosenthal said he put Redmond in a Gulf Coast nursing home but after arrests on shoplifting charges, he moved Redmond to a personal care home in Kiln.
“He was real happy there and participated in the drug program at the VA,” Rosenthal said.
But Taylor said the family was far from happy, calling the place “below dump status.”
The Redmond family asked Rosenthal to return Redmond to the Jackson area, where the family could visit him more easily.
Rosenthal said he moved Redmond to Brookdale Residential Home in Clinton, paying $4,754. He also purchased $2,762 in furniture from an estate sale.
Taylor called the furniture “pieces of crap. It was all scratched up and pitiful.”
Rosenthal disagreed, saying he purchased couches, other furniture and a television. He said all those items belong to Redmond and are in storage now.
Redmond stayed several months at Brookdale until he “misbehaved,” Rosenthal said.
Afterward, he put Redmond in a personal care home in west Jackson, which sat next door to one the Health Department shut down before.
When the family learned where he was, his sister, Taylor, said the family would call the home early in the morning, only to find out he had eaten breakfast and had left “to go down to the bus station area.”
She said that concerned them because Redmond is so vulnerable, using a walker.
When Taylor’s husband, Franco, visited the home, he said he saw "weeds all around. There was a dog chained on the porch. It stunk, and people were laying in the gutter.”
He said Redmond “gave up on the world when he came out of the war. If he can get enough beer, cigarettes and hot dogs, that’s all he wants.”
Last month, Redmond somehow made it from that personal care home to the VA Medical Center in Jackson.
What stunned family members was how much it seemed that Redmond’s health had deteriorated over the past year or so.
Family members told the Clarion Ledger they were also upset because many of the places that Redmond had stayed over the years were not VA-approved places.
The family pushed for Redmond to be moved into a VA-approved assisted living home, and Rosenthal agreed.
He said he has always tried to accommodate the family’s wishes, if possible.
He said the real source of his conflict with the family is “they have always wanted his money. That’s the problem.”
Taylor disagreed, saying, “Our family’s concern for Edward is motivated out of genuine love."
Edward's sister, Celia Burse, and her husband, Pastor Jimmie Burse, said Edward, who is missing many of his top front teeth, needs dental care, physical therapy and a daily assistant but that he hasn’t been receiving these like he should.
Rosenthal said Redmond has received good care over the years. “He’s a good guy,” he said. “I get along with him.”
The family is hoping to regain guardianship of Redmond through the courts. So far, the VA has sided with Rosenthal, who serves as guardian. The VA, however, did recently appoint someone else to handle Redmond's money.
Celia Burse said there needs to be a “war cry for the mentally disturbed in this city, state and country. Can you hear it?”
Mentally ill relative wanders streets while family fights guardian