Back in 2006, soon after Gabriel is taken to the fire camp prison, Patrisse wakes up to Cherice telling her that Monte has been arrested again. Patrisse is in college at the time, studying philosophy with a focus on Abrahamic religions. She’s also working at Cleveland, running a program with Mark Anthony on trauma and resilience. Monte has been out of prison for three years but unable to find stability, and Patrisse has turned to spirituality and chosen family for support. As an ex-felon, Monte is unable to find even low-wage work and is ineligible for government housing. There are over 4,800 barriers to re-entry in California. “You can have a two-year sentence,” explains Patrisse, “but it doesn’t mean you’re not doing life.”
Here, Patrisse shows the day-to-day challenges of being both Black and mentally ill—not only has Monte not been able to find stable work, but he has been arrested again. Patrisse shares that there are over 4,800 barriers to re-enter society as a former prison in California (such as ex-felons being ineligible for certain jobs) in order to stress that even if Monte didn’t struggle with mental illness, he would likely end up back in prison. She believes that he is not entirely responsible for his re-arrest, since external factors pushed him toward it. Patrisse is able to handle the challenges of supporting Monte by leaning on her chosen family—a healing force in her life.
Monte moved back in with Cynthia, but, as a poor paraplegic in a wheelchair, she was unable to make sure he was managing his illness. Like many people with schizoaffective disorder, Monte stopped taking his medication and started to behave erratically again. Patrisse and her family tried to convince him to get help, but all of his experiences with doctors had been in prison or in hospitals. He was stabilized and hastily kicked out of these places because he was a poor Black man to be “contained, controlled” instead of healed.
Patrisse again shares the stories of disabled Black people (Monte is disabled by his mental illness and Cynthia is physically disabled) in order to show that Black people with multiple marginalized identities have to navigate more challenges than their able-bodied counterparts. Monte’s experience being hastily kicked out of the hospital shows that prisons are not the only institutions that try to contain and control Black people rather than offering them support.
Cherice tells Patrisse on the phone that Monte is in the hospital, though she doesn’t know the details. Patrisse feels very afraid. Paul joins them when they visit Monte at the hospital, and Patrisse recites a prayer in Yoruba for Monte that translates to “Warrior for justice, protect my brother.” The police guarding his room nonchalantly describe how Monte had gotten into a fender bender with a white woman and, after she called the police due to his yelling, they tased him and shot him with rubber bullets. Patrisse explains that he is mentally ill, confused about why police officers always assume Black people are high.
Here, Patrisse shares another example of how Black people with disabilities face more discrimination than able-bodied Black people, as the white woman Monte hit (and the police officers who arrived at the scene) read his erratic behavior as threatening rather than part of his mental illness. Not only that, but they also tase him and shoot him with rubber bullets despite the fact that he isn’t acting violently. With this, Patrisse implies that police are more interested in controlling (and abusing) Black people than protecting them.
Patrisse is angry to learn Monte has been charged with terrorism—a charge that can be used when someone says something threatening that makes you fear for your life. When she talks to Monte, his words are slurred, and he cries uncontrollably—begging for medication—the start of the depression that comes after mania (a typical cycle with this disease). Monte is then imprisoned and classified as a threat to officers, which infuriates Patrisse, since Monte has never hurt a living being. Meanwhile, police have beaten and harassed him for years. Monte is locked in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, a condition that is known to trigger mental illness. And, with no advocates, this is exactly what happens to Monte.
Monte being charged with terrorism illuminates a central contradiction of the criminal justice system: police and prison employees torture innocent people, and yet those innocent people are the ones accused of causing harm. Again, Monte is punished for having a mental illness rather than supported in treating it, an example of how ableism threatens his well-being in similar ways to racism.
When Patrisse visits Monte for the first time, he again asks for his meds, saying that they have only been giving him Advil. (There is evidence that prisons have used medicine as a weapon, withholding treatments for AIDS, Hep C, and more.) Patrisse doesn’t understand why the jailers would do this when they are the ones who diagnosed him, have his records, and would benefit from a more stable Monte. After she approaches the sheriff about it and he blows her off, she realizes that it is probably cheaper for them to just strap Monte down than to offer him proper care.
Here, Patrisse explains how prisons aren’t just in the business of controlling and containing people, but are also actively trying to save money in the process—Monte’s well-being as a disabled Black man is less of a priority than the prison keeping its budget small. Patrisse uses this personal example to suggest that prisoners (especially poor Black prisoners) are treated as if their lives are disposable.
Patrisse and Cherice go to visit Monte several times over the next three weeks but are turned away because he is “not fit to be seen.” Patrisse’s friends and family turn out for Monte’s hearing, but before it begins, the bailiff tells them flatly that Monte is in very bad condition, strapped to a gurney, face covered in a spit net. Patrisse is shocked and enraged—why are mentally ill poor people who have never hurt anyone treated this way in the U.S.? Even those who have caused harm should have had appropriate interventions. Healthcare should center the patient, not the money. Patrisse is furious that people see Monte, with his big heart and broken brain, as disposable.
Patrisse reflects on how police and prison employees have so often treated Monte as if he’s a violent criminal (despite the fact that he’s never hurt anyone), implying that these institutions do not exist to keep people safe but to contain and control people. That the bailiff tells Patrisse with little affect that her brother is strapped down supports her belief that the criminal justice system is disinterested in treating disabled Black people with respect. But Patrisse knows that Monte is not disposable and is committed to advocating for him.
Patrisse demands to know why Monte isn’t getting treatment, but the bailiff doesn’t answer. There is a sudden disturbance—Monte is wheeled in in a full psychotic episode, talking to himself. Patrisse is shocked by the “stunning betrayal of human dignity.” When white men in the court laugh and look at Monte like he is a freak, Patrisse feels shame, but tries to stay centered. When the judge walks in, she is confused and asks why Monte is in the courtroom. No one answers, not even Monte’s public defender. The judge admonishes the police officers, the DA, and Monte’s public defender, and postpones the trial date. As the police nonchalantly roll Monte out of the courtroom, he lets out a final scream of “Mom!” As they leave, Patrisse is angry, asking the DA how he could have let that happen, but he just shrugs.
That the judge admonishes the police officers and both lawyers for bringing Monte into the courtroom while in a full-on manic episode affirms Patrisse’s sense that the criminal justice system has been treating her disabled brother as less than human. It is hard for her to watch, yet she does not turn away and does everything she can to be a healing presence for Monte throughout the proceedings, even as she cannot touch him.
Cherice starts sobbing and says she feels guilty, which confuses Patrisse, since Cherice has done everything to take care of her kids. But she realizes this is part of being a Black mother—existing between rage, grief, and guilt as the world tries to kill your children. She can’t remember Cherice ever being relaxed with her kids, laughing with him, going to the movies, or telling them to do their homework. Patrisse worries that Cherice is “collateral damage in the battle to elevate personal responsibility over everything,” feeling she is at fault for Monte’s struggles rather than state budget priorities, low wages, police, and lack of access to food. In the face of her mother’s misplaced guilt for having a baby young, being poor, and not keeping mental illness out of Monte’s brain, Patrisse hugs her and tells her it’s not her fault—but she isn’t sure it sticks.
Cherice’s tears surprise Patrisse and cause her to reflect on how Cherice has internalized the belief that she is personally responsible for Monte’s struggles when that is not the case—external factors like racist policies, a low minimum wage, and the war on drugs all contributed to his return to prison. Policymakers intentionally treat Black people as if their lives don’t matter, so it’s no wonder that Monte—a mentally ill Black man who doesn’t have access to adequate healthcare and whose erratic behavior is read as violent—has ended up back in prison. That Patrisse takes the time to understand and contextualize her mother’s feelings even after Cherice was not emotionally available for her throughout her childhood shows that Patrisse is committed to not treating Cherice as disposable either.
A new hearing date is set. Patrisse and Cherice meet with the public defender and fire him after he says, with no concern, that Monte could be sentenced to life in prison and that he has no plan to fight it, that this is what Monte wants. (This is Monte’s third strike after breaking and entering while manic and supposedly hiding a weapon in his cell while in prison, though he claimed it wasn’t his.) Patrisse makes the public defender tell Monte that they will hire a different lawyer. Then, using the organizing skills she learned at the Strategy Center, Patrisse starts a campaign to raise funds.
Public defenders are lawyers that the government provides to people who cannot afford their own lawyers. Patrisse is not shocked to find that the PD they have been assigned is not interested in advocating for Monte—he is just another part of a criminal justice system that treats Black people like their lives are disposable. Patrisse’s commitment to raising funds for a new lawyer shows how dedicated she is to fighting for her family.
Patrisse has faith they will find a way, the very same faith that led slaves to run away and Black civil rights protestors to sit down at a whites-only lunch counter. They have two weeks to hire and finance a lawyer, but it’s difficult because this is before social media and digital fundraising infrastructure. Monte hears about a lawyer named Peter Corn, and Patrisse meets with him. He makes her uncomfortable and charges $10,000, but they don’t have another choice. Alton has money but doesn’t share it, and Paul and Jasmine keep distance from the case due to overwhelm, so it’s up to Patrisse and Cherice to raise the funds. Patrisse refuses to be intimidated, though that’s what the system wants.
Patrisse wants to channel the faith and bravery of runaway slaves and civil rights protestors, implying that raising funds for her disabled Black brother to be fairly represented in court is a similar pursuit for freedom and justice. The price that Peter Corn charges is meant to highlight inequality in the criminal justice system—those with access to money are able to have better representation (and therefore shorter sentences). This is yet another example of how prison is less about punishing criminals and more about punishing poor people (many of whom are Black). While other members of Patrisse’s family turn away from Monte in this moment of need, she once again proves her commitment to healing together in community.
The Strategy Center taught Patrisse how to plan and win campaigns. (Just last year, she helped them win a fight against the school district for fining parents $250 each time their kid was late.) Donna taught her how to live a life centered on faith. And her chosen family taught her that nothing could break a community centered on love. Patrisse tells Peter they will get the money and then coordinates community phone banks and letter-writing. In 10 days, they raise $6,000. After Patrisse pushes her to, Cherice asks her parents for the final $4,000, which they eventually provide.
Here, Patrisse proves her dedication to helping Monte avoid a life in prison and also demonstrates her community organizing skills, hinting at the power she will help build with the Black Lives Matter movement later in the book. By enlisting the help of her entire extended Black community, Patrisse proves that she will do whatever it takes to take care of her loved ones in times of need.
When Patrisse meets with Peter, his law partner tells her that he once prosecuted Patrisse’s uncle, which reminds her that “for these folks, this is all a chess game.” But Peter is a good lawyer and is able to get Monte’s second strike struck from the record, preventing life in prison. Monte will have to serve six years, though, and there is no mention of medical treatment. Patrisse feels something like gratitude and visits Monte in prison every month of his sentence, glad that they mostly keep him on the right balance of meds.
Patrisse reflects here on how the legal system is just “a chess game” to lawyers, implying that they have no ethical commitments but merely do whatever they are paid to do. That Patrisse visits Monte every single month of his sentence shows her commitment to collective healing even in the face of immense trauma. She is glad to see that Monte is on the right medication—something that should have been true during his first prison stint as well.
Before Monte comes home, Patrisse and Mark Anthony organize a re-entry team for Monte made up of their chosen family. When he is released in October of 2011, Alton, Paul, and Patrisse drive three hours to pick him up. Patrisse notices all of the prisoners working at the prison, how they are an enslaved workforce, laboring for both corporate America (by making products for companies) and the state of California (by maintaining the prison they’re kept in). Monte emerges from a van, greeting his family and then asking if an older Black man with no one to pick him up can ride with them. As they drive home, Monte comments on the beauty of the scenery he has missed.
Patrisse’s commitment to building a community of Black people centered on healing pays off—her chosen family shows up to support Monte in a big way. Their “re-entry team” is dedicated to supporting Monte in re-entering society. Patrisse notes that she sees prisoners laboring away in order to underline her point that prisons not only exist to control and contain people, but to exploit them for their labor.
They stop for food and then drop the older man off in Hollywood—he doesn’t know where to go, like so many prisoners with lengthy sentences. Then they drive to Cherice’s new Section 8 apartment for a barbecue. Chase greets his father half-heartedly—there’s no way to make up the time they lost. They have a calm night and, before Patrisse leaves, Monte asks if she can help him find a job. Little does he know she has been working on this with the re-entry team and has a janitorial job lined up with a social justice non-profit she has been working with. The re-entry team members will make sure Monte gets to work on time.
Patrisse shares the story of the older Black prisoner to show that while Monte is lucky to have a community dedicated to helping him heal from the trauma of his prison experience and get back on his feet, many other Black people are left with very little re-entry support. She notes that Monte’s son Chase only greets his father half-heartedly to point out how the prison system deeply affects prisoners’ loved ones as well.
Several weeks later, Monte tells Patrisse he’s going to be fired. She calls the ED of the organization, who says Monte isn’t cut out for the job and won’t budge even after Patrisse tries to tell her that they will adjust his dose, and that this is what it means to work with mentally ill people. Monte becomes very depressed, and Cherice can’t support him since she’s also supporting Chase and Bernard. Jasmine and Alton now live in Las Vegas and convince Cherice to bring Monte and join them—housing is much cheaper, and there are good jobs. Patrisse accepts that her mother is leaving but also feels that the war on gangs is a “forced migration project” and “ethnic cleansing”—people of color out and young white people in.
That Monte is fired because his mental illness makes it hard for him to be a reliable employee shows the particular challenge of navigating the world as a disabled ex-felon. Patrisse writes that the war on gangs is a “forced migration project” or “ethnic cleansing” because, by criminalizing Black people and making it impossible for them to get jobs after prison, these policies force them to leave their homes (where their families have sometimes lived for several generations) for places with more affordable rent or jobs. When Black and Latinx people leave these places, young white people move in, effectively replacing one group with another.
Monte moves to Las Vegas but hates it and returns to LA against Patrisse’s advice, moving in with Cynthia. Less than a year later, Cherice calls Patrisse to tell her Monte is off his meds and is destroying Cynthia’s home. Mark Anthony and Patrisse drive over there (they now live 45 minutes away in Central LA in an artist’s village) and find Paul holding a crying Monte in his arms, broken furniture and plates everywhere. Monte is calm now, but Cynthia rightfully won’t let him stay there. Patrisse can tell that Monte hasn’t slept in days and takes him home with her and Mark Anthony to rest.
Patrisse continues to share stories that highlight how difficult it is for Monte to navigate mental illness in a society that doesn’t offer adequate support for people (especially poor Black people) with disabilities. Still, Patrisse proves that she is as committed as ever to being there for Monte even in his most manic moments, as are Mark Anthony and Paul. They are a community dedicated to helping each other heal.
Cherice and the re-entry team meet the others at Cynthia’s, and they all try to convince Monte to go to the hospital. He associates hospitals with prison and has a flashback to his time in LA County Jail (when the only water he had access to was a toilet), and he starts drinking out of Patrisse’s. Watching him like this steels Patrisse’s resolve to get him to the hospital. Since Monte responds better to men, they call in more male support. Mark Anthony and the other men calmly convince Monte to go to the hospital, telling him they love him and want him well. Mark Anthony goes into the hospital with Monte to get him settled. They have navigated this with no police—“this is what community control looks like.”
That Monte starts drinking out of a toilet during a flashback to his time in prison indicates how traumatic his time there was—clearly, the prison system is less interested in supporting inmates with mental illness and more interested in controlling and abusing them. At least six people come to help Monte get to the hospital even when he’s lashing out, which shows how committed their community is to supporting one another even in the darkest times. This experiences proves to Patrisse that when communities work together, police aren’t needed.