By Catherine J Rippee-Hanson
James Mark Rippee "Patches" with his dog, Buster. (December 1987)
On November 25th, 2022, I posted an update about my brother, James Mark Rippee, for my Facebook group, 'Mark of Vacaville'. He had left his familiar area on the streets to escape the cold weather and we had just found out where he was staying about ten days before, so there wasn't much of an update. Finding him again after being lost was a relief. Lost and found again. My concern only grew when I got the details. Rather than tell others how he was doing, I ruminated about my own fears and memories, anticipating what I felt was an almost accidental clairvoyance toward the end of the update. I decided to edit the post the next day as an entry for my blog to be published over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
It was never published.
Our family was notified anonymously that same weekend that he had been found gasping for air on the streets - dying of sepsis and pneumonia. Within a couple days, I was trying to write his death notice, obituary and eulogy. He died November 29, 2022. In the 6 months since that last update, I haven't forgotten what I felt, the uneasiness as I wrote the words that have haunted me ever since. It's like a wound that never quite heals, as though a band-aid was applied over it to slow the bleeding, but the pain remains.
Every so often, I feel it resurface and the memories come flooding back. They are not all good memories. Despite that, I know I have to find the strength to keep his legacy alive and make a difference for others. To honor him and to learn from what he went through. This is my way of processing the pain, and to make sure that his memory lives on. It is my responsibility to keep his spirit alive, and to use it to help others. I want to make sure that his suffering and death was not in vain.
I've got one request. Read this blog written 6 months ago, the same weekend Mark died, and if it moves you... let your California Assembly Members know they should support SB 43 being heard the end of this month. Do it in Mark's name. If we can get this bill passed, it will help prevent other families from going through the same pain we are going through. We owe it to Mark to make sure his legacy remains and that his death was not in vain. Please, take a few minutes to make your voice heard. There is a link at the bottom of this page to add your name to a letter of support for SB 43.
by Catherine J Rippee-Hanson November 26, 2022
In the same way that my brother, Mark has been accepted into many hearts in our community and our Facebook group members are willing to help him, he can also be drawn to a group of his peers - people who are also struggling with their own serious mental illness or addiction. There are some homeless people who take advantage of those more vulnerable than themselves. We saw it when Mark was beaten and robbed repeatedly on the streets. The rules or measures we take to ensure his safety through our private Facebook group have received both praise and criticism. However, we have no control over what happens on the streets and have no legal authority to make decisions for Mark and force him to abide. Most people find this outrageously shocking, as they should. However, they blame us for his circumstances rather than the laws that do not protect someone with serious mental illness or a brain disorder. The law protects his civil rights - not his right to treatment and not his right to life. Nonetheless, we can still offer Mark the utmost that we can - unconditional love, support, and guidance.
It's easy for Mark to be influenced by others, trusting them, and to be fooled by them. His upbringing fuels his acceptance desire. It's amplified by his conditions of schizophrenia and disability. Over the past 35 years, Mark has been abused, exploited, and taken advantage of often. Time and again. If you've been following Mark's story for a while, you might think there's nothing more awful than what you've already heard. Please accept my apologies for any disappointment caused by the following words.
Unfortunately, a pattern of falling for manipulation has become a way of life for Mark. He is often too trusting, too eager to please, and too accepting of others for his own good. He once told me that when you have no one to trust, you have to trust anyone. And he does. People continue to take advantage of him, and it's heartbreaking to watch. Our family has tried to help him, but it's not easy to make someone realize what's happening and what they need, if they don't even know they have a brain disorder like schizophrenia with anosognosia.
When I think back over the years, including before he was homeless, there are ghastly memories. Mark was blind, disabled, and disfigured after his TBI in 1987. For him danger was everywhere. My twin sister, my mom and I helped Mark live independently for about 18 years along with an IHSS Chore Provider. Now they're called Caregivers and are much better trained. Over time, we got used to the dread that came every time the phone rang. Since he began living independently, we've received hundreds of calls about him getting beaten... or robbed in his own apartment. It was a risk for him to walk a block from his apartment to the store.
About 2 years after his motorcycle accident, I arranged for him to get a rehabilitation coach from the State Department of Rehabilitation for his blindness. This helped him learn to get around in the area he lived in. Together, they mapped the counting of steps and turns and walking around his neighborhood. To this day, he returns to this same part of town. His memory of that area is ingrained in him from those lessons. Before he moved into his own apartment, he lived near the neighborhood where we grew up while he recovered from the accident. Often, when he disappears, he runs clear across town near where we lived as children.
Blind people can learn how to navigate any town or city by mentally counting steps, hearing obstacles, detecting traffic, using a cane, etc. Mark became particularly adept at navigating around town until recent years. It's one reason why our local police department spread misinformation about Mark being partially sighted. They went as far as to dispute his blindness with our family even after being presented with definitive medical documentation that showed he doesn't even perceive light. (NLP) It's been said that they knew he could not be totally blind after observing him for 9-10 years getting around town. Umm... I mean, yeah... Their officers almost hit Mark several times with their own vehicles. We've seen reports.
When Mark fell into the middle of the street, he didn't need help, a police officer said. A witness objected, saying, "What's wrong with you?" "He's blind!" The officer rolled his eyes and replied, "He's not blind! Do you see that little bit of eye moving around? "He can see!" Since most blind people still have eyes - technically, the globe of the eye that may appear to be looking at something, that logic is absurd. Mark has suffered this kind of abuse and discrimination throughout his adult life. According to one police report, Mark was at fault when he was hit by the second car in recent years because he wasn't in a crosswalk. He's totally blind. They stated in the police report that he is partially sighted.
Mark is often taken advantage of in his personal life too. He's had alleged girlfriends... financial abuse and outright theft... all for nothing more than the monthly income he gets from SSI and SSDI...assault and the most horrific yet - evils that rival the macabre. Despite being unable to see the torturous things Mark sees in his mind or hear the unrelenting voices he hears; we have seen humanity's sadistic response to it. There's a sense that he's a living parable, offering much pain, many lessons, and many morals to be understood. Ever since Mark's accident, his few material possessions have been stolen over and over again. It gets worse. So much worse. Our family has seen unimaginable suffering in the face of unspeakable depravity that keeps creeping into our lives.
I remember one incident that stands out better than the rest in my memory. The emergency room at the local hospital called me saying, "Your brother was seriously injured and brought in by ambulance." It wasn't the first time I'd been called because he had been injured so often. I was told it was being treated like a domestic violence situation by the police. Their explanation didn't make sense to me. At the time, Mark didn't have a girlfriend. I didn't know what else to expect since there was always more. As I rushed to the hospital, I felt a familiar sense of dread.
I've been through those ER doors so many times before. When he was beaten with baseball bats by gang members. During his stay in a trailer on someone's property in the canyon, he fell down a rocky mountain. He lay at the bottom for hours before being found. When he got jumped on by a bunch of teenagers who thought it was funny to steal his groceries. On top of repeated injuries, abscesses around the empty eye socket seeped into his brain and put him in critical condition more than two dozen times. This led to emergency surgery each time. There were more than 65 surgeries and dozens of hospital stays. Back then, the doctors and nurses wanted one of us to be with him to keep him calm. This time, I was totally unprepared for what I saw.
In the emergency room, a young doctor approached me. "Be prepared, it's not a pretty sight." I thought he meant Mark's disfigurement and lack of eyes... and maybe cuts and bruises. As I attempted to walk past him, he blocked me from reaching Mark, and I got really irritated. I was so annoyed and inpatient with this doctor. I heard Mark moaning and mumbling about wanting his sister. I would not wait. "Maybe you should talk to the police first," he suggested. I didn't know what this doctor's problem was but I didn't want to wait anymore. I brushed past the doctor and followed Mark's voice to find him.
As I stood in the doorway of the small isolation room, I froze. I was stunned when I saw Mark lying on a gurney covered in blood. What had happened? He had cuts and gashes all over his face, and a lump the size of a goose egg...but that wasn't all. There were wounds all over his body... a bloody mess of ripped flesh. Thinking about what could have happened, I thought about a racoon getting into his house. I also thought about a pack of dogs attacking him in a frenzied attack. A vet's hospital was next door to him. Maybe some loose animals escaped. It all flashed through my head as possibilities. What other explanation could there be?
As I stood in the doorway, a nurse came over and said, "Let's talk over here", leading me away from the scene. "We're cleaning up the wounds and stitching them where they need to be. Currently he's on an I.V. antibiotic and will get a tetanus shot soon. He's being scheduled for a CT scan soon for a possible concussion." My first thought was that he must've hit his head when he fell during the attack. I asked, trying to confirm what I thought had happened. "Why does he need a tetanus shot?"
She said with a furrowed brow, "These bites can be very dangerous."
"What kind of bites? Suddenly, I wondered if I was still at home, sleeping in some warped nightmare. She continued, "These bites did not just break the skin." She halted, adding, "...the flesh was torn away in some areas." "What the hell kind of animal bit him?" I insisted. Her eyes remained still for what seemed like moments, as she seemed to struggle with what she needed to tell me, but I know was only a few seconds. "Honey, those bite marks are human." I felt the blood drain out of my face, nausea swelled, and anger erupted. "What.... what? I asked. "What!"
For many reasons, Mark's life has been the stuff of nightmares. We have witnessed not only his struggle mentally and physically, but also others' perception and treatment of him. We've seen the best and the worst of humanity. The night he got hurt; this is what happened.
A young woman I interviewed and hired as his chore provider was his attacker. Mark said she was a friend. He trusted her. Mark hired her, despite my uncertainty about her motives. Besides being a helper, he thought she'd be his girlfriend. He believed it because she let him believe it. She met Mark on CB radio. He used it to interact with others and connect with the outside world after losing his sight. His handle was 'Patches' because of the eye patches he had to wear for so long after his original accident. In addition, he underwent a 14-hour surgery that terrible night as he was pieced back together, and bones put back into place with wires, screws, rods and skin grafts. 'Patches' was the ideal handle for him. He loved it. He only had two worldly possessions. An acoustic guitar my husband and I bought him for Christmas, and his CB radio. His peace of mind depended on these things. He was insistent on living independently as much as possible. Even though he was alone a lot, both of those things made his life bearable, and he had something he enjoyed.
Within a few weeks of being Mark's IHSS Chore Provider, she convinced him to let her move in with him. Having seen Mark be taken advantage of so many times in the past, I was not supportive of this change. I had my doubts about whether she would even work as his helper. I got three references and an emergency contact from her, along with a job application. She wasn't someone I would have chosen to look after my brother, so I tried to be careful. In all their infinite weakness, the laws let Mark make the final call.
According to the officer on scene, Mark was attacked while bathing. His beloved guitar was smashed over his head, splintering and breaking as he was beaten. As he struggled to comprehend what was going on, he apparently wasn't incapacitated enough for her... so she bit him. Biting and clamping down, she tore away his flesh like a lion rips apart its prey. It wasn't clear how long the attack lasted, but Mark had hundreds of bite marks all over his body.
Was she high on drugs? Did she flip out in anger? What would motivate someone to treat another human being like that? Is she a sociopath? A psychopath? My mind reeled as I contemplated the details of what had happened. Is this really domestic violence, in the minds of the officials? To this day, I still can't understand this level of depravity. But I know it absolutely exists. After witnessing the damaging effects of humanity's darkness, I was speechless and desperately searching for answers.
I discovered that this woman, who met Mark on a CB radio, was married. I had been working for a company that required me to learn how to trace people which came in quite handy. I learned quite a bit about her from her application and references. Both she and her husband were avid CB enthusiasts. They had met "Patches" (my brother) who spent a lot of time telling them about the wonderful CB equipment donated to him. The whole thing was a scam. A grift. Her husband wanted the CB equipment Mark talked about. She pretended to be interested in Mark and wormed her way into his life and home. The night she attacked him, she took all his CB radio equipment with her when she left. Yes, that's right. Mark was viciously attacked, demeaned and mutilated for a CB radio. He was so humiliated by what she did to him that he refused to press charges. Although they were not arrested and charged, Karma came around eventually.
We have plenty of reasons to be overprotective of Mark or concerned about things that could happen to him. As much as we can, we keep him safe from the dangers we know are out there. That brings me to the present. We're glad Mark has some shelter right now. Unfortunately, we don't like his choice, which is merely a last resort to escape the cold weather. There are many questions and uncertainties surrounding his current living situation. He pays $600 a month to sleep on the floor or in the backyard when it is too crowded. This is a situation we can't control, and it's not the answer we support.
People like Mark have been exploited by everyone from the lowest of the low to the highest in society. I know he was desperate and thought he had no other options. I fear though that he is being preyed on again because of his vulnerability and is being exploited. Taking advantage of vulnerable people is immoral. Unfortunately, those in vulnerable situations are targeted and abused. If you wonder why we aren't thankful and happy for Mark having some shelter this cold Thanksgiving weekend and why we aren't breathing a sigh of relief, it's because I'm holding my breath. I know what's coming. I can feel it in my bones. It's the same sensation I had before. It's telling me something is about to happen. The familiar dread is building. I'm afraid of what might happen to him and worried that I won't be able to help him where he is right now.
Whatever is coming, I know it's not going to be good.
Rest in Peace James Mark Rippee
April 17, 1963 - November 29, 2022
Urge the California Assembly Health Committee to pass SB 43!
SB 43 unanimously passed the Senate. We need your help in the Assembly. The legislation was referred to the Assembly Health and Judiciary Committees and may be reviewed as soon as June 27th in the Health Committee.
SB 43 would expand the definition of grave disability to include individuals who are unable to access treatment for their mental health disorder, even if they are able to provide for their basic needs. This expansion would allow more individuals to receive the help they need - saving lives.
Please reach out to the chair of this committee, Assembly Member, Jim Wood, and ask that he please support SB 43 and vote in favor of advancement to a vote in the Judiciary Committee with our template below.
Use the Treatment Advocacy Center's simple form to send a message directly to your senator. Start by inputting your address. You can submit your support or add your personal story on navigating the consequences of the outdated “gravely disabled” definition.
Rest in Peace James Mark Rippee
April 17, 1963 - November 29, 2022