Catch-22

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"THERE was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety ... was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane then he had to fly them."

-- Joseph Heller, Catch-22

THE CASE of John Dunkes, a partially paralyzed Baltimore County man who in 1996 was arraigned on minor charges -- loitering, and stealing shoelaces and a cassette tape -- and who has been locked up in a state hospital ever since. The charges against him were dropped in 1998, but Mr. Dunkes was never released -- and hospital officials routinely sent letters to the court saying he was mentally incompetent.

What made him mentally incompetent? Why, the fact that he kept telling people that the charges against him had been dropped and he should be released.

As reported by Walter F. Roche Jr. in Friday's Sun, William B. Landis, then superintendent at Spring Grove Hospital, wrote to the Baltimore County court in 2000 saying that Mr. Dunkes' "incompetency" was indicated by his insistence that the charges against him had been dropped.

And when attorney Irene Smith from the Maryland Disability Law Center showed up recently to talk with him, a hospital social worker said that he was "delusional." His delusion? That he shouldn't be there!

Apparently, Mr. Dunkes sustained brain damage in the same automobile accident that caused his paralysis. But that fact should never have doomed him to years in a lock-up ward.

The law center has filed a petition to free Mr. Dunkes, and the superintendent at Spring Grove says the hospital is looking into agencies that can help him after he is released. Seems like the very least they can do.

As Ms. Smith told The Sun, "At every step of the way, every single person who could and should have helped him let him down."

Certainly, there is craziness here -- but it isn't in the mind of John Dunkes.

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