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My name is Craig Sears. I'm a survivor of a traumatic brain injury. My journey has made me all too familiar with the difficulties faced by individuals and their families working through the arbitrary system of care.

It was July. It was a beautiful Connecticut summer afternoon and I was out riding my motorcycle. I had just turned 20, and had a lot going for me. I was making a very good life for myself. I had a great family and a good job in construction and as a part-time mechanic. I was making good money for a kid my age. I had a great girlfriend and lots of friends. I had two cars and lived in a nice condo right on the water. I was living the American Dream. I'll leave that up to you to fill it in because I had everything a man could have possibly wanted — and in a heartbeat it was all gone.

Suddenly, I came up over a hill, and there was a car going the wrong way. It was too late. I couldn't stop and we collided. I was thrown nearly 40 feet over on-coming traffic. I was not wearing a helmet and I landed head first into a curb, just missing a telephone pole. I have no memory of the next 6 months. That period of time is a Black Hole in my life. I was in and out of a coma, undergoing multiple surgeries. The doctors operated on my head, and did what they could to patch up my body. This was the beginning of my physical recovery.

Though my body was healing, a bigger problem went untreated and no one realized it. Insult was added to injury. This is where I fell through the cracks. Despite having my head in a cast, no one identified the true nature of my injury as being a Traumatic Brain injury. That oversight would cost me dearly in the years to come. I had no idea of the hell I was in for. Had I known what lay ahead, I would never have fought so damn hard to make it. I would have given up, lay down and died. My struggles were constant, and I had to relearn everything. How to walk, how to talk, how to eat, how to use the bathroom; How to care for myself, and then there was the incessant pain, the physical pain of my body overcoming weakness and injury. Worse yet, there was the anguish of not knowing who I was.

Things went from bad to worse. Soon, the treatment center I was in transferred me out to a local hospital and put me in a mental health ward. (I was told there were no other services offered for people with traumatic brain injury.) I spent the next 9 months locked in against my will, slowly regaining my memory. It was a locked ward and the doors only opened when someone came in or out. I started sneaking out when they would bring in breakfast, lunch or dinner trays. I would run to the back stairwell where the service elevators were, jump in go to the first floor and dart out the front or side door. I would get a couple hours of peace before I would get brought back by the police, because the hospital would always call them and tell them I had snick out again. I was angry and I wanted out. I would sit by the phone for hours trying to figure out how to make a call out. I finally figured it out and began calling out to anyone who would listen to me - Town officials, State Government anyone who could get me out. While I knew I didn't need to be there, I did know that I needed help in other areas. But the help I needed wasn't available. Keep in mind traumatic brain injury is not a mental illness.

Eventually, a sympathetic ear at the Governor's office helped arrange a meeting between my family, my doctors, and a state representative. I told them all, I wanted out and I needed out and it was clear to them that I was right. But where was I to go, I had only one real option and that was my family. Yet I didn't want to be a burden to my parents. I applied for Section 8 disability housing, and was put on a waiting list. I was turned down repeatedly. So in the meantime, my family helped me get into my own one room efficiency apartment. While a big step up from the psychiatric ward, this too, was far from ideal. I now found myself living alone, except for the roaches and rats, and vulnerable, in an area known for drug dealers and prostitutes. I wandered those mean streets, trying to regain some kind of memory. I would watch other people to see what they were doing, how they were acting in order to regain anything that I knew how to do before the accident. All I could figure out at this time was that this was not who I was.

With time and my family's help, things began to improve for me. My mother got me a weight set, my father bought me a bicycle and I started volunteering at a local hospital, which gave me access to their physical therapy rooms. I'd learn what they were doing for rehabilitation and go back home at night to do the exercises on my own in order to regain my strength and abilities. But without any medical oversight, I'd overdo it and I would hurt myself repeatedly. There were many times, my mother took me to the hospital because I hurt so bad that I couldn't walk or move.

Socially, things were awkward. One day after volunteering, I was leaving the hospital and I saw a woman fall to the floor. My instincts were to grab a wheelchair, put her in it and run her into the emergency room. I thought I was doing the right thing. But in reality, my actions upset the emergency room staff, and the next day, the hospital asked me not to return. I was crushed.

One of the lasting consequences of my Traumatic Brain Injury was that I would slur my words when I spoke and my balance would be off when I walked. Instead of realizing that this is how I am, people just assumed that I was drinking or using drugs. No one would take me serious. It became harder and harder to find where I fit in. For example, I was riding my bicycle and a Bridgeport police officer pulled me over. I explained to him that I suffer from a brain injury. He then asked, "Are you on medication?" when I said yes, he gave me a ticket for riding my bicycle while impaired and then sent me on my way.

While I was struggling daily to live with my brain injury, I ended up with several minor arrests for public urination and things of that nature. When I would ask for help it resulted in me constantly be thrown into State Psychiatric hospitals, such as the former Fairfield Hills Hospital in Newtown Connecticut... After being 4 point restrained and forcefully drugged multiple times and having other patients spitting, urinating, throwing shit at me, and watching them have full blown conversations with themselves, I realized that this type of life wasn't for me. It was like a stay in "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest." It was cruel and unusual punishment, no one should be treated the way they treated us. My life turned into a constant tug of war. If it was not a mental institution it was a jail cell.

For example, I was walking down the street and I had to use the bathroom. It was very early in the morning and nothing was open. I saw a wooded area by the train tracks. I was using the bathroom behind a tree. I was seen by a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA police officer that was patrolling the area with his dog. When I spotted him I zipped up my pants and started walking away. When he saw me he let the dog loose. I was severely attacked and had to go to the hospital to be treated for my injuries. When I was released from the hospital I was placed in police custody and informed that I was under arrest for attempted attack on a peace officer because my leg moved when the MTA police dog was attacking me. They accused me of trying to kick the dog. I knew this was crap because I was the one taken to the hospital, not the dog. But the following day I was brought to court. I never saw an attorney; they just continued my case and sent me to Bridgeport Correctional Center for two weeks. I returned to court, this went on for about three months and from there I was transferred to a mental institution for another three months, (Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown,) and then I was released on probation. It was like a revolving door, I can't count how many times they did this to me.

With the help of my family, I moved into and out of different apartments. But the pieces of my mind and my life didn't fit quite right. I was restless and depressed. I struggled to cope. I turned to what I saw so many others do on the streets: alcohol and drugs. I learned the wrong way to deal with my problems. I thought it would help me forget all that I suffered through. Everything I long fought for, I now started to lose. It was all slipping away. I found myself alone and getting into trouble more often. I ended up in shelters, local lockups, and numerous mental health facilities all over the state. I continued on my downward spiral and soon I wound up homeless; and not long after that in prison.

The police, the court, the judge and the law, didn't know, care or consider Traumatic Brain Injury, or the fact that I had one. And once behind bars, neither did the warden. I served 5 years for what other people would sleep off overnight in the local lockup, and then clear up with a brief court appearance. Instead, I ended up inside a level four, high security prison, surrounded by gang members, rapists, killers, and child molesters. I was locked in an 8'x10' cell twenty-four hours a day with a vicious inmate next to me. I was always so scared to come out of my cell but at the same time I was scared to be in it, because of all the other inmates and because you had no choice but to be in a 2 man cell.

For example, One day I started to realize that a lot of my things were going missing. When I realized my cellie was stealing from me, I let the Correctional Officer (CO) know during wreck what was going on and I asked for a cell change. I can only imagine that the CO said something to him because after wreck, my cellie attacked me in my cell. After every wreck they do a count and when the CO came by my cell he saw us on the floor fighting. Next thing I knew there were CO's pulling us off one another and putting us in handcuffs and shackles and dragging us off to the AD/SEG for 2 weeks. From there I was sent back to my cell and was put on CTQ for the next 30 days, and I lost all my property (everything) - CTQ is Confinement to Quarters 23 hours a day lockdown, were you can only come out of your cell for a shower, in reality it's 15min. and ASU is Administrative Segregation Unit also known as AD/SEG or the hole. I guess the difference between the two is that if an inmate receives CTQ as a disciplinary action the inmate stays in his same house (cell) but is confined to that area. Where if he was doing AD/SEG time he is in a totally different housing unit; things like this were always happening to me.

I was put in prison for Violation of probation. Due to lack of services for TBI sufferers, I was again homeless. I was walking down a road and I needed to pee and nothing was open. Due to my previous experience with the MTA dog, I was very leery to relieve myself outside. So when I saw a garage open I went inside and took care of business. As I turned around I saw a Fairfield Police Officer standing there. I asked him, "is there a problem officer?" The next thing I knew I felt a hand on the back of my neck and I was thrown to the ground. From there I was handcuffed and thrown in the back of a police car. The police officer got in the car and once he was driving, I asked again "What's wrong, I was just taking a piss?"

The next day I was brought to court, from there to Bridgeport Correctional Center. I was housed and brought back and forth and the last day I was brought to court I was told by the Public Defender/"pretender" that I was going to the Connecticut Valley hospital to a brain injury unit but before this happened I needed to see a judge. Yes, they all knew I had a brain injury and how I needed help, but they chose not to. When I was brought upstairs to the courtroom it was closed off for a private hearing. Someone from the state office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, a doctor and my mother were there waiting. We were all told I was going to the hospital into a TBI unit, but needed to see the judge first. Bridgeport Superior court judge Lubbie Harper Jr. never heard anyone's statement, he opened my file and closed it and said he was sentencing me to the department of Corrections because they have one of the best mental health systems in the state. I'm still on NO medication and I never saw any shrinks, in or out of jail and I'm NOT mentally ill and when I was put into prison I was put into general population. This time the court gave me 5 years V.O.P. for taking a piss.

It’s bad enough that while behind bars; I received absolutely no help for my disabilities. There was no early release, or time off for good behavior from my sentence. Traumatic Brain Injury or not, I served every measure of that sentence to the fullest. It was hell! 

During my incarcerations, I suffered many indignities and witnessed atrocities. I spent years locked up twenty-three and a half hours a day, only being allowed out to shower and make a phone call. I was constantly sent to the medical ward and stripped absolutely naked and left there for days or weeks at a time. I've witnessed murders and rapes, and there were even nights I would be yelling and screaming in my sleep. Only to be woken up by the CO and put back into a strip cell. Words cannot express the horror of it all. All during a five year prison sentence. Five years that I spent every minute enduring one indignity or another.

Somehow, I survived to be released. Life though continues to be a struggle. I have no friends. I have no money. I have few options, and fewer choices. I am very uncertain of my future. I still want the American Dream, but it feels further away than ever. I want to be hopeful, but I know all too well how quickly good can go bad in life. But I try my best to help those with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) get the help we need, and to avoid the mistakes, and missteps I made.

Stop attacking brain injury survivors

Below is a copy of the e-mail that I sent to Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby along with copy's sent by certified mail to 55 Farmington Avenue Hartford, CT 06105 and to my human services advocate at OPA.

To Roderick L. Bremby
Department of Social Services
55 Farmington Avenue
Hartford, CT 06105

I'm putting this letter together because after my meeting with my ABI team at Bridgeport DSS which also included my human services advocate from OPA it was suggested that I put this letter together as a formal complaint to commissioner Bremby and governor Dan Malloys office also cc here.

My name is Craig Sears I am a brain injury survivor receiving services from the ABI Waiver; I am not writing this letter to attack anyone, but at the same time, I must ask that no one from the Department of Social Services attacks me, or dismisses what I have to say. I may not always say things perfectly, and it is easy for you to confuse me and upset me, so I am asking that everyone remembers I do have a brain injury, you can't see my injury, but it is there. I especially ask that Kathy Bruni not be allowed to attack me or my staff, I have been repeatedly disrespected by her, in meetings, hearings, and recently, when she pulled my staff aside and told them she felt "sorry" for them because they work with me.

Many people in our community are appalled by that lack of understanding and the quick anger when we question anything she says, unfortunately, for brain injury survivors, this is who you have put in charge of our programs. Attacking or being cruel to me is also seen as an attack on the rest of the brain injury community and their families.

Letter from my Independent Living Skills Trainer to my ABI Dr about the comment Kathy Bruni Manager, Alternate Care Unit Department of Social Services said to her after I gave my comment.

”Good Afternoon, Doctor Yesterday at the public hearing a woman by the name of Kathy Bruni came up to me after it was all over and asked me if I was "Craig's staff". I answered her, "yes I am" she then proceeded to say "oh wow I feel for you, I really do". I kind of brushed it off and laughed about it because I knew she wasn't too fond of Craig because of previous in counters with each other. After Craig was done speaking I was telling him what she said but it was because I thought it was kind of funny. He also laughed. But the day went on Craig brought to my attention that she could have meant it in a hurtful way. I didn't think so but I did stop and think about it and Craig is a very loud person when he feels strongly about something he has a tendency to get hyped up and upset. But he always come to the table with facts and if he's unsure about something he asks questions. I didn't feel that it was appropriate for her to say that to me it was one thing about asking me if I was his staff but to make a comment like she did I think it would had been better left unsaid. I don't know if she said it as an attack on Craig but I know that it was completely unprofessional especially in her line of work. I hope I didn't take too much of your time I just wanted to make sure you knew what was said and how I felt about it. We all know how things can be twisted around.

Stephanie, (Craig's ILST)"
Being a voice for all those that don't have one;
This constant harassment by Kathy Bruni isn't funny at all, it's insulting on so many levels. I do not go to these public meetings - hearings to be made fun of. I go to try and make others understand the difficulties I as well as so many other brain injury survivors and their families go through on a daily basis. It's not easy living a life of a brain injury survivor. All the challenges we have to face, all the people looking down on us because we are "different". Well everyone, including the state and those who put the changes into affect need to understand that we are human just like them and we have feelings too. The difference is you have less to worry about. You don't have to worry about people helping you get dressed or do your laundry or even cook you food. Some people even have to be feed! All these people who claim they "understand" well they don't, when you walk in a day or a life in my shoes or one of the so many other brain injury survivors or even their families you might understand it a little better. I consider brain injury survivors apart of my extended brain Injury family and I will continue to put on a fight. We need to understand the reason why we have a waiver in the first place that was made for brain injury survivors.

That goes without saying I can relate,
Prior to obtaining waiver services, and as a result of a lack of community based supports, I was imprisoned and institutionalized.

In 1990 the state department of mental health was being sued by 25 brain injury victims who were placed in psychiatric hospitals because there was nowhere else to put them and no services or programs for them.

Click here: http://www.clearinghouse.net/detail.php?id=439&search=

My life today fact: I live and work a program 24/7, I have taken the advice to try and better myself and every time I have, the system has found a way to bring me down and leave me with no room to grow. I understand the advice people have given me and I have used it and have worked it all into my life on more than one occasion. Every time I put the tools in my "tool-box" (or should I say brain) in an attempt to better myself, the system has found a way of pulling me back down. I have kept in this "box" where I'm very limited on what I can do. I believe that my rehabilitation has been curtailed as a result.

I can't help but to be concerned about what the state is going to do to me next, all because I have a Traumatic Brain Injury. It's bad enough the state took and wasted 5 years of my life by putting me in prison, all because I am disabled and they did not want to help me. How can you keep putting your trust into a system that would rather lock you up and throw away the key then help the people who actually need it?

With that being said, Is Kathy Bruni Manager, Alternate Care Unit Department of Social Services. So arrogant that she thinks she knows better than the leading experts or does she just not care about people with disabilities? (Brain Injury)

I want a public face to face apology from Kathy Bruni at the next brain injury meeting held at the state capitol televised by CTN to myself and the rest of the brain injury community which includes my ILST staff that Kathy Bruni attacked at the advisory board meeting & CTBISN, family members and supporters! Because they were present on another occasion when Kathy Bruni attacked me; including removing Kathy Bruni from the waiver altogether! Making it impossible for her to have any contact with the brain injury community and our programs!

I do not like being attacked, harassed, or made fun of by state employees because I am disabled and I come to the table with facts.

(Governor Malloy and Commissioner Bremby)
• I am ashamed of what you did, and continue to do to brain injury survivors, veterans and disabled children and adults in this state.

Craig Sears
Brain Injury Survivor
Board Member
CT Brain Injury Support Network