Friday, August 17, 2012

The Murder of a Shopping Bag Lady

"No little girl grows to womanhood with the dream of becoming a shopping bag lady."

When NY Daily News reporter was assigned to cover the discovery of the brutal murder of a shopping bag lady on April 23, 1981, he wanted to know more about her. He felt her grisly death deserved more than a 600 word article. His desire to learn more about the dead woman, Phyllis Iannotta resulted in the book
The Murder of a Shopping Bag Lady, published in1985.  Of course the true crime story has lots of homeless mentions.

Phyllis was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia at age 52 which is unusual. Kates not only tells the story of how he tracked down Phyllis' pre-homeless identify and life, but also documents how deinstitutionalisation mental health facilities lead to an increase in homelessness. 

Kates sometimes slept in parks overnight in his quest for information for this book. Before Phyllis' death he had an assignment from his Daily News editor to stay a man's shelter. He did not last the first night; left covered with bedbug sores. Those experiences taught him that a street person's day does not begin at breakfast at a local soup kitchen.

"...for the homeless the day had no formal beginning or end." "...sleeping in fits and starts..."

Thought about my nephew when reading: "Thorazine can be as horrible as it is wonderful. At best it can leave those who take it lethargic and unmotivated." At the time of Stan's schizophrenic diagnosis, I said the prescription meds turned him into a Zombie.

"Asking the patient to 'Return home, take the medication, rest and come back tomorrow,' a meaningless intervention when home is an alley and rest is impossible." ~ Dr. Stephen M. Goldfinger

"The emptiness of daily living is exacerbated by the schizophrenic's need to withdraw from relationships." "The schizophrenci tends to be frightened of emotional intimacy." ~Quoted from book, Schizophrenia; Symptoms, Causes, Treatments by Drs. Kayla F. Bernheim, Richard R. J. Lewine

Um, does sound a bit like me.

"Phyllis, too, may have watched herself with a mixture of horror and confusion. For typically, schizophrenics stand outside themselves, detach themselves, and watch their own deterioration." That is called depersonalization. Another thing that had me fearing I was afflicted with the same disorder as my nephew. Described, for instance, as being on dance floor, watching myself from above, finding us silly, while at same time my physical self enjoying the dancing. That was the first time I had that experience which is why, I guess,  it stuck in my mind.

Can not say, however, that I was watching my deerioration when my person split, so that one, invisible, was outside self watching.

A few nuns started a woman's shelter, although they did not view it as such ~ The Dwelling Place was intended to be just that: a place to get off the streets for a while. They quickly learned "it was not easy to be accepting. The ladies brought with them more baggage than was contained in their bags, and dealing with it proved exhausting."

"Some were homeless because they were crazy, others were crazy because they were homeless."

Often said on the streets by my homeless peers if one was not crazy before they became homeless it would make them so.

Reading about the shelters, specifically The Dwelling Place, had me thinking of Bonnie and other disruptive ladies I met at shelters.

Many of the bag ladies slept sitting up causing leg ulcers. Jonah Agassu  is quoted as saying:  "On the streets, a woman is more vulnerable to attack when she's prone. Men, well you know, men react differently to a woman when she's lying down." I have seen both men and women who slept sitting up, or bent at the waist, arms crossed over legs, head resting on lap. I could never sleep sitting up ~ fear of falling.

Another homeless woman was found murdered a few days after Phyllis' body was discovered. Detective Longo told Kates that the M.O. was different, yet he feared a serial killer was on the loose.

Homeless woman, Pat: "...I have absorbed so many stabs in the back, so many insults,, that I run out of love and my whole body vibrates with hate, so that when I walk down the street people are afraid of me."

Homeless woman, Bernice: "...she was like me. Real tough. But, you know, you got to be tough out on the street."

"...dependency on charity, is, even at its best, humiliating, especially for many women who have reared children and managed families for most of their lives."

There was another quote I wanted so record here; lost the bookmarked page. Mentioned that lack of sleep on the streets causes amnesia. I wrote more about government's efforts in regard to mentally ill and homeless people on my political blog. I missed another quote that I wanted to include ~ regarding how those getting paid to administer programs, had a way of humiliating those they were paid to serve. Like some women at The Dwelling Place, the experience can bring out the anger in a person.

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