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Madeleine Doubek: ‘You’re going to need a bigger prison’

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Fear gripped 49-year-old Tina Wardzala of Cicero by the throat at a young age. It rarely has loosened its grip.

As a young girl, Tina said while her father was away driving a truck, her mother would invite men in, get drunk and pass out. Then the men would come to “play” with her.

About 15 years ago, Tina worked as a line cook at a diner and the regulars were like family. One of those regulars was elderly and ill. Tina was delivering a meal to the customer when she entered a dimly lit apartment hallway and found three men waiting. They raped her.

Before that moment of terror, Tina had worked at the diner and a branch library. She enjoyed music and waded into crowds at Grateful Dead and Neil Young concerts. In that moment, fear took her hostage. Mental illness enveloped her. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia and bipolar disorder. Cloaked in black, Tina shared her scariest secrets. At times, she choked out the words. At times, tears spilled. Fear has its hold. Now she also lives in fear of the state’s intractable politicians.

OPINION

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No court judge has risen to her rescue, nor those like her, diagnosed with mental illness. No continuing appropriation has saved her, nor the nearly 1,700 other adults and children who turn each year for help to the Family Service and Mental Health Center of Cicero, where she told her story from the safety of her therapist’s office.

“I’ve come a long way … thanks to my therapist and my team,” she said. It took Tina five years before she told her therapist about the rape that resulted in the birth of her 14-year-old son. She also has sons who are 25, 21 and 10 years old. Three still live with her, mostly on a $750 federal disability check and state food stamp money she says was cut recently from $365 to $140 a month.

Now her overarching fear is going somewhere uncomfortable, to a new doctor and a new therapist.

Executive Director John Morgan says the center got $190,000 in state grants and contracts for years. Now, only a $20,000 contract remains, one the state has yet to pay this year.  Morgan has cut Tina’s psychiatrist’s weekly hours by three, as well as those of another psychiatrist, a woman who treats children and speaks Spanish in a majority Hispanic community. A crisis intervention worker and other workers’ hours also were cut. So far, Morgan has avoided layoffs. His staff refers some patients to a psychiatric hospital six miles away. There’s a six- to eight-week wait.

Tina Wardzala

Tina Wardzala

“The whole thrust of the mental health system is to break down barriers,” Morgan said. “This is erecting barriers. It’s already a problem that people who need it don’t seek the help they need. Having to leave a trusted doctor they’ve seen for years is also an issue.”

This Tina knows. She endured years of wrong diagnoses. She says she’s been homicidal and suicidal. She kept one son out of school for a year because of fear. She hasn’t gone to a state office to ask about her food aid because it might be filled with men. The trip might mean taking a bus that makes her feel too confined. There is progress. Tina volunteers at her son’s school. She shops for groceries and second-hand clothes.

The state budget impasse gave her the courage to tell her story.

“Fear is a terrible thing … It takes everything away,” Tina said. Of her therapist, she added, “She saved my life. I thought I was such a bad mom … They gave me back my self-worth. And now they want to take this away?

“The whole political thing is all messed up,” she said. Her anger is aimed at the governor. It doesn’t ebb after she is told Bruce Rauner just took office, and that the state has run a deficit for many years.

“So he’s left holding the bag, which is not fair,” Tina said. “He’s affecting a lot of people that need the help desperately. He’s supposed to be a very smart man. He could probably figure it out. I’ll be hiding underneath my couch. Crime’s gonna go up.

“Let’s not give the people that need their medicine their medicine,” she said, “and you’re going to need those guards. You’re going to need a bigger prison.”

Madeleine Doubek is chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois.

Follow Madeleine Doubek on Twitter: Follow @csteditorials

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