The Snake Pit

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"People will get involved," says Leifman, "when mental health becomes a public safety issue, not a social issue."

And jail psychiatrist Poitier acknowledges that "nobody wants their hard-earned tax dollars to go towards criminals. That's the bottom line. Nobody wants mental health facilities for chronically mentally ill in their neighborhood. Add in the fact that they are criminals, lower socio-econ classes, minorities -- and you don't have a population that anybody's going to advocate for."

That leaves Poitier, who is 47 years old, to do what he can with new antipsychotic drugs such as Risperdal, Cyprexa, and Seroquel, and Leifman to campaign for help by inviting politicians, bureaucrats, and the news media in for a look. Celeste Putnam, director of mental health programs for the state's DCF, walked through the psych ward recently and almost passed out, reports the judge.

Miami-Dade County commissioners Katy Sorenson, Barbara Carey-Shuler and Natacha Seijas were also shaken. Sorenson compared what she saw to scenes in a 1948 movie called The Snake Pit, set in a mental institution. Carey-Shuler said she is still having nightmares. "Horrendous, absolutely mind-boggling to know we allow people to exist in those conditions. My heart just broke," she says. "I don't need to see that ever again. It's indelible on my brain. But others need to see it."

Portelles and Nunez, meanwhile, are still on C-Wing. Portelles, picked up in May for driving without a license, is being held on a fugitive warrant from Broward County, where he faces charges of grand theft, drug possession, and battery. He was to be in court Friday.

Arrested in December, Nunez several weeks ago was judged competent and allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor assault, and sentenced to 364 days in county jail. So he is doing his time -- in four-point restraints. But where does Nunez go when he completes his sentence?

"Good question," says Leifman.

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Mike Clary

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