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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Write On Me--Disability in the New Age of Mass Communication and Technological Masterbation

I never dreamed I'd be this way.  Never thought I'd be having this little fun and so much joy...Never realized that so much is at stake when it comes to keeping healthy and staying focused....but it is....and this is my story....My camera lense creeps behind the scenes to reveal what it's like...what are the fears, what are the setbacks, what are the circumstances....

I was diagnosed in the 1980's with a bipolar condition not long after I had difficulties graduating from undergraduate studies in Boston towards my Bachelor of Science degree.  Most of my time included lots of sleep and not being able to stay focused on what was currently at hand.  I was adopted as a young boy and the unanswered questions of my sense of being have always been left open with very little closure.  This causes confusion....nothing to grab on to and nothing to hit and scream at.  The writing helps and for this I now bring pen to paper in order to vent frustrations and hopefully stop becoming a paria on societies wall.....I do not write to become part of the story intentionally but hope that this brings insight into the frustrations that are evident towards the path that was chosen by my sibling and parents as well as me in a world where my insanity brought us all down....ending family ties....detroying the very essence of a clan, a unit, a stable sense of being, no terra firma....This will not be an uplifting tale that has happy endings and ends up on some Hollywood Disney screen.  This is real.  This is myopic....It will tend to be sarcastic and sometimes funny but this is my struggle, my Meinkopf without trying to have any ties to  Hitler and the Nazi Party....I want no revolution but revolt by writing, telling it like it was and is....bringing it home and sharing with you the realities of what it is like to live with a mental illness that has set me back but sustained me through the years by being able to collect from the government what I was able to contribute when I was well.....Families have been destroyed through some of this process.....It is real once again and very scary to relive.  It is horrific to experience first hand and be aware that this is not a made up story that has been non fictionalized in order to color coat and sway you into following my experience.  It is real...This is a docment, not a short story.....WRITE ON ME and believe it...WRONG OF YOU to think this couldn't happen to you.  It might some day.  You never know when it could be you. WRITE ON ME...WRITE ON YOU....RIGHT ON ME...RIGHT ON YOU.

Battling with a Bi-Polar condition finally got diagnosed after graduating Emerson College in the early to mid 80's.  The highs and lows I experienced kept me from keeping many of the broadcast jobs I achieved in New York City.  My frustrations would mount and my loss of interest in employment at ABC, CNN, The NBA and Fox News limited me to just short freelance projects.  But my yearning for independence and freedom to cover and document my own stories was intense.  I needed to have my own voice, my own creative freedoms to be able to reach out and hopefully make a difference through my work.  The illness kept me back and stifled my growth causing me to be hospitalized many time at some of New Jersey's finest hospitals.  Carrier Clinic, Mountainside, Overlook Hospital and finally Greystone State Psychiatric Unit were my medically tracked stays amoungst a time in the late 1980's where mental illness was just finally becoming an issue, beginning to break down stigma's.  For many of us, the Clinton Administration was the shinning hope of political and medical awareness for the first time nationally establishing organizations that could help people with the illness's and get them help they so yearned for and deserved.  Mental Health Associations have been wonderfully supportive and politically funded to bring about more awareness.  I produced my first half hour documentary in the early 90's on Bi-Polar and Mental Health Awareness entitled "PORTRAITS: MOVING FORWARD" through the help and support of the Mental Health Association of Essex County, NJ.  For one of the first times I was able to open the door for a select few to tell their stories and begin to break down walls.  Former NBA Basketball Star Luther Wright, from East Orange, NJ, Pat Chemi and Celia Vandergroft shared their stories about living with the illness for my camera hosted by Academy Award winner Celeste Holm.  Her passing just this past year has since saddened me so.  She was a delight and total professional during our shootings of the project and it would go on to win Telly Award status nationally for the presentation.

My story though was laced with so many hardships especially amoungst my family members.  Had it not been for my mother who desperately worked on getting me help I might have plumetted even further.  My relationships with my father stayed strong throughout my career up until his death just five years ago but my parents marriage was certainly affected by my illness once I returned home to New Jersey after graduation from Emerson.  My delusions in the early 80's at home in South Orange were extreme and very manic at one time believing my life was in danger.  My family at the time didn't understand my delusions and turned to many doctors in order to get me help.  Fortunately the diagnosis came by way from the late Dr. Wally Liebhauser who helped me realize I had a serious mental illness and got me on a regimant of Lithium to help balance out my mood swings.  Dr. Liebhauser was a life saver and the Lithium treatments certainly worked effectively.  I was able to hold down better employment and the long term effects although progressing a Diabetic Level 2 condition later on were balanced with a more stable emotional existence that helped me frame my life more productively.  The medications did have weight gaining side effects which have also slowed me down considerably but I can now say I'm more productive, more stable and much more at ease with my the wonderful support I receive from my mother.  I can not even begin to explain the strength she shared with me, for me, to get through some of the most difficult times after college.  It's said that around the age of early 20's the desease shows it's ugly head and it did so then for me in Boston.  I could not function at 100 percent.  My worked declined and all I could do was sleep for days on end.  Suffering from a BiPolar condition is like being trapped within your own body and mind not being able to get out of an internal prison cell that expands and exagerates delisionally at times a world where you never feel safe or running at your full potential.  These were difficult years and I lost so much of my professional endurance during these times.  My relationships with women were filled with distrust, insecurity and fear of emotional connections.  I lost the love of my life because of my manic episodes that were filled with distrust and feelings that she would never be loyal to me.  Love complicated the issues with my illness.  Letting go of myself meant I had to trust and trust was at the center of what my illness wouldn't allow me to have.  Fortunately, through therapy and the support of St. Claire's Hospital Psychiatric Support Team (PACT PROGRAM), I've been able to sustain a stable regiment of activity and work flow that keeps me productive on a daily basis and helps me see the world in a better perspective without looking at it through some kind of kaliedascope.

The 1980's were a time for mental health patients AWAKENINGS to what it was all about  trying to help educate the masses about mental health issues, breaking down stigma's and getting public support.  My mother actively petitioned and worked with the Mental Health Association of Essex in getting better conditions for patients and learning as much as she could.  She became a mental health warrior and never stopped in helping me better understand myself and the illness.  Unfortunately, in later years my dramatic reactions to family matters exploded with my brother when I had noticed marks on his children from spills they had taken.  I was concerned and perhaps out of control in wanting to help.  He had suffered from drug and alcohol abuse in our younger years and through the guidance of my PACT Team doctors and nurses, I was advised to call DYFUS because of what I witnessed.  My main concerns were for the children but I errected a website that maliced his name and reputation in hopes of getting him help.  My judgement was highly askewed and my illness had again attacked the very core of my relationship with my brother.  These were again, horrible and hurtful times.  My anger had zenithed to a point of no return and I used the internet to destroy instead of help using very poor judgement.  This time, my actions landed me under arrest and to serve a 256 day period of time in the Morris County Correctional facility after what I had posted over the internet.  My brother had a "take no prisoner" attitude and truly wanted me jailed and imprisoned for the rest of my life.  His understanding of my illness was very limited and again, my disease detroyed and burned a bridge that was extremly painful for all of us, most importantly, my mother.  We both would no longer have ties to my brother.  The family had now truly come to an end.  These wounds are deep.  These wounds have not been mended and if I could just cut out a piece of my soul infected with this disease, I would have.  Looking back is always 20/20 but this was the last moment and episode my disease overtook me.  The days since we've all experienced our own versions of mourning.

Where do I go now from here?  Can a wounded soul emerced in mental health issues be completely healed?  Unfortunately not, but every day is a gift and through a strong medical health team I've surrounded myself with, I've been able to continue some sort of stablility with the ability to continue my work.  It has been a long journey of peaks and valleys.  Now things have been stable but there's always a chance that things could explode like some firecracker if I waive away from my support team and deny the fact that I have a chronic mental health illness.  Today things are good.  I can smell the clean fall air and appreciate the change of seasons. Today I am at peace.  There are very few days of explosive instability but the war wounds both me and family have had to survive are reminders of what we endured.  Write on me...Right on you.

FREDRIKA MANDELBAUM--The Jewish Queen of Thieves--Jewish Mob Queen


The press called her a “Queen Among Thieves” and the person who “first put crime in America on a syndicated basis.” In 1884, The New York Times named her “the nucleus and center of the whole organization of crime in New York City.” During the Gilded Age, Fredericka Mandelbaum, a German-Jewish immigrant, rose to power as the country’s premier fence—seller of stolen goods. Described as “a huge woman weighing more than two hundred and fifty pounds” with “extraordinarily fat cheeks,” Mandelbaum was the head of one of the first organized crime rings and a driving force behind New York City’s underworld for more than twenty-five years. J. North Conway, who has written the new biography “Queen of Thieves: The True Story of “Marm” Mandelbaum and Her Gangs of New York,” talks with The Forward’s Sarah Breger about life in the Gilded Age, chasing the American dream and why no one has turned Mandelbaum’s life into a Hollywood blockbuster.

Sarah Breger: What brought Fredericka Mandelbaum to New York?
J. North Conway: A combination of factors including the infamous potato famine of 1848 and increasing restrictions against Jews in Germany brought Fredericka to the United States in 1850. Her husband Wolf, had sailed a few months earlier, so she was traveling alone in steerage with a new baby. She was so tall that some documents I’ve seen said she had to stoop the whole time.

SB: Why did Mandelbaum enter a life of crime?
JC: This is a story of coming to America for whatever reasons and trying to make good. Like every immigrant she was trying to make a better life for her children. She came for the American dream and it happened to be the only job she could get was in crime. And she was good at it. I couldn’t find where she learned the ropes or if she had an innate ability but she knew how to set up this criminal network. She knew enough to bribe the right people, and she knew protecting her interests meant protecting a cadre of criminals; if they went to jail, they couldn’t steal things, if they couldn’t steal things, they couldn’t sell to her, and then she couldn’t sell to other people. If you were to do a flow chart of her enterprise, it would look like a very functioning business today. As a business model you would say she would be up there with the Bill Gateses of the world.

SB: Was it common for women of period to be involved in crime?
JC: Fredericka was the “queen pin” of underworld activities. She was the first such woman— or if she wasn’t the first she was the biggest and most successful. She knew exactly what she had to do to rise to the top—not just buying and selling. But she knew money talked and which politicians, police or judges to give it to. She made more money and had more power than any woman of her era in any legitimate business.

SB: Was her husband involved in her business?
JC: Wolf didn’t seem to play a role in her rise to power, but the indication I got from my research is many criminals of the period had a duality in their life. They had their husbands, their families, their children, religion, social events and then had the other side of their life which in her case was stolen goods. She remained devoted to Wolf and never remarried after he died. An anecdote that I couldn’t verify but is well known was that Wolf loved to hear piano player and safe-cracker Charlie Bullard play. When Bullard was arrested, one of the reasons Fredericka broke him out of jail was to have him come back and play for an ailing Wolf.

SB: Was Mandelbaum a religious Jew?
JC: Very, one of the interesting things is she remained fairly religious throughout her life. She settled in the German Jewish community and had very deep connection there and she was attached to her synagogue— Rodeph Shalom in Queens.

SB: How far was her reach?
JC: What became apparent during her trial was that she had bribed so many people –judges. Politicians, police—that even though everyone knew what she was doing, they were all on her payroll and had no reason to stop her. People didn’t look at her as the common everyday criminal. Even legitimate businessmen bought from her.

SB: Was she known outside of New York?
JC: As time went on and she became the largest fence in New York, thenetwork of criminals she associated with expanded and she found herself with stolen merchandise from all over including stolen items from the Chicago Fire.

SB: How did she eventually get caught?
JC: Around 1884 there was a new district attorney, Peter Olney who had vowed to clean up government. He pinpointed Mandelbaum as the nucleus of crime in New York City. His goal was to make a name for himself but also get the center of crime behind bars and that happened to be Mandelbaum. Olney couldn’t trust anyone in government or police since they were likely on her payroll. So he bypassed them and brought in the private Pinkerton Detective Agency who set up a sting operation.

SB: How did Mandelbaum escape?
JC: By this time, public sentiment was turning against criminals and corruption. Mandelbaum had two of the best lawyers in the country but even they said they couldn’t get her off. She was released on bail for $30,000—which back in 1884 was a huge amount of money. Pinkerton detectives put her on 24-hour surveillance. One day they followed her to her lawyer’s office and then followed her back home. But it wasn’t her, it was one of her maids. She had literally slipped out the back door of her lawyer’s office with one million dollars in cash and diamonds. She went to Ontario, Canada, which at the time had no extradition treaty with the United States. She was able to escape prosecution and live out the rest of her life pretty comfortably with the money she brought. She got off scot-free. You almost want to cheer.

SB: Did she ever return to the United States?
JC: According to most reports she retired in Canada— she supposedly sent cards to her old associates with her address saying, “come up and see me some time”. She did slip back into the country in November 1885 when her daughter Annie died. Everyone— including The New York Times— knew she was there. I don’t know why, but she crossed the border untouched, even though those warrants were still open.

SB: How did she die?
JC: She died at 65 and was buried at her family plot in Queens. Everybody turned out for her funeral— businessman, police and even a bunch of well-known criminals. But what was most ironic was the story that appeared in the Brooklyn Eagle the next day: After the graveside ceremony many attendees went to the police to report that they had been pickpocketed during the service. I couldn’t write a better ending.

SB: Why don’t more people know about her or how is this not a movie?
JC: It’s almost an affront to tell this story for a lot of reasons. The biggest reason is she got away with it. She lived a life of crime, she had enormous power, enormous wealth and got away with it. The other is that she is aJewish-American woman. Somehow we hear about Carney and Rockefeller but it is very difficult to find names of women like Fredrika Mandelbaum. That’s because most historians are men and if they have a choice they want to tell a man’s story. I’m not trying to make this a sexist or feminist issue but it’s very rare we talk about women’s roles in history because they have been obscured.