“Are They Crazy Or Saying Something We Don’t Want to Hear?”: An Intriguing Conversation among MC Students


On Wednesday, Nov. 6, Andrew Skotnicki, P.h.D., and Nuwan Jayawickreme P.h.D., treated Manhattan College students to a lecture concerning the nature of the imprisoned mentally ill in Hayden 100.

Skotnicki and Jayawickreme are both professors at the College. Skotnicki is a religious studies professor, while Jayawickreme teaches Psychology.

The audience was mostly made up of Psychology majors, but all students were welcomed to attend. Skotnicki and Jayawickreme opened the discussion by emphasizing how much they wanted the students to participate.

More and more people with mental illness are going to into the criminal justice system, and they argue that that is unjust.

“Most people in prison that are perceived as crazy are not crazy at all … Why are we putting them through this trauma?” Skotnicki proposed.

The lecture opened up with some statistics. According to the Bureau of Justice, for every one person treated in a psychiatric facility, five are confined in prison. More than half of those imprisoned have a mental illness, and 40 percent of those people do not have a criminal charge.

In 1950, there were about 500,000 open beds in prison. There are now about 50,000.

Skotnicki is currently writing a theological book on how conceptualizing mental illness is doing society a disservice. He has been working on this project for about eight months, but the topic has animated him since he was in college. The book is titled “The Prophets Are All Crazy.”

According to Skotnicki’s research, it costs $167,731 a year to incarcerate somebody. That’s almost as much as it costs for four years of Ivy League school.

“There is something that schizophrenics are saying that is making us so uncomfortable that we are imprisoning them and forcing taxpayers to pay an astronomical amount. But schizophrenics are involuntary prophets,” Skotnicki said.

He analyzed how a neoliberal capitalist system is encouraged to pursue profit, therefore people of lower-economic status are more likely to go to prison when diagnosed with a mental illness. However, the Bible includes many prophets that are all seen as nonsensical to the public and thrown in jail. So why isn’t that possible in the twenty-first century?

Jayawickreme became a clinical psychologist and a specialist in PTSD because of the history of mental illness in his family. He discussed how much of a negative impact language has had on the mentally ill, such as the use of the word “crazy” and the glorification of mental illness in pop culture.

Schizophrenia simply means that a person has an enlargement of the brain. “They experience a fabrication of a reality of what we presume is real,” he explained.

The prevailing distribution of wealth and the divided political world makes it difficult to get healthcare for those of lower-economic status, even though they are more likely to get Schizophrenia than those of high economic status.

“[Schizophrenics] are not less than human because you think their brains are broken,” Jayawickreme said.

He explained that African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, while Caucasians are more likely to be diagnosed as bipolar. This is because bipolar disorder is more socially accepted.

“The sanest people in the world are the ones who look at the world as it is and find it depressing,” said Scokniki.

Skotnicki poses the question we need to ask to the mentally ill. “What is it about your reality that makes you so angry?” He only hopes that one day we can understand the anger of the mentally ill, and the first step is listening to them.