Health and Medicine

Queering Mental Illness into a New Revolutionary Consciousness

By Nicky Reid aka Comrade Hermit

Exile in Happy Valley

Jordan Neely was kind of a weird kid. If you ever saw him, you would know what I mean. There was just something profoundly ‘other’ about his spirit and through the right set of eyes, it was something beautiful to behold. He looked just like Michael Jackson back when Michael Jackson still looked like Michael Jackson. Joyful, genderless, racially ambiguous. He could dance to absolutely no music at all, and my God could he dance. Perhaps you have seen him, in the subway station or beneath the shimmering lights of Time Square, moving so effortlessly, as if his body had a language all its own that could say all the words that forces beyond his control wouldn’t allow him to say. And smiling, always smiling…

I had a friend kind of like that once. His name was Osaze Osagie but to me he was always just Ozzy, and he was kind of a weird kid too. He stood as tall and as dark as an oak tree and dressed like every day was Sunday. You never saw him without a Bible in his hand, but you never heard him preach. I’m precisely the kind of creature that Ozzy’s church warns their parishioners about, a gutter mouthed gender outlaw with a profoundly profane disdain for anything even remotely resembling authority. But Ozzy never made me feel uncomfortable. He seemed to exude an aura of gentle wisdom that said far more about the mysterious ways of Christ than conventional diction could ever express. And he was always smiling. That same smile that could be seen on Jordan Neely’s face before the world caved in on him.

I met Ozzy at a psych rehab where I was recovering from decades of spiritual abuse that had rendered me an agoraphobic hermit by my mid-twenties. Ozzy had been diagnosed with several words that failed to accurately capture his spirit any better than the Catholic Church managed to capture mine. During one of his darker days his father called the police. Ozzy was talking about hurting himself before he stopped talking at all. The police came to his apartment, covered the peephole on his door and knocked without identifying themselves to someone they knew was already terrified. They claim that Ozzy attacked them with a steak knife. They claim that three heavily armed men required a taser and three bullets to defend themselves. One of those bullets landed in Ozzy’s back. He was 29 years old when he was murdered by the state in 2019. I can still see him smiling when I close my eyes.

Four years later it would be Jordan Neely’s turn. After spending years being chewed up and spit out by the revolving gears of New York’s various institutions for carceral readjustment, Neely finally lost his smile and begged the subways he once danced for to save him. “I don’t have food. I don’t have a drink. I’m fed up. I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I’m ready to die.” These were Jordan Neely’s last words to society and society responded to his heated desperation with cold violence. A man trained by the state to kill poor people put Neely into a chokehold for fifteen minutes and two passengers held him down while the rest of the people on that train car calmly sat and watched him die. “You’re gonna kill him now.” They warned Neely’s attacker as if he should be mindful while he takes the garbage to the curb. Jordan Neely may not have been murdered by the state, but the state trained a dozen human beings who could have easily saved him to stay in their seats and behave like a crowd.

Both my friend Ozzy and Jordan Neely were Black, but their race wasn’t the only thing that made them disposable. As I said, they were both weird kids and western society considers this to be a condition that should be heavily policed. Osagie and Neely died because they are part of a growing caste of mentally ill Americans. The Surgeon General has declared our existence to be a public health crisis. Loneliness. A pathological disconnection with the outside world that was ferociously accelerated by the societal devastation of the Pandemic but didn’t begin with it.


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