On the morning of March 22, 2016, Cody Lee Miller earned internet fame when he climbed a Sequoia tree in Seattle. He refused to come down for 25 hours. “Man in Tree” was trending all over Twitter. After the ordeal was over, everyone forgot about what might happen next. So what did happen next?
He was charged with first-degree malicious mischief and third-degree assault. During his 25 hour stay, he threw pinecones, branches and apples at police officers, and several people walking by. The damage to the tree was estimated at around $7,000. Authorities said that there was “an incalculable waste of time and services” spent on this disturbance.
Miller’s mother, Lisa Gossett from Wasilla AL, has come out and explained that her son suffers from schizophrenia. Ms. Gossett said that the family has tried several times to get help for her son, but was told there was nothing that could be done unless he was a danger to himself or others. “There’s nothing we can do because he’s an adult and doesn’t think he needs help,” she said. “It feels very hopeless.”
The judge ordered that he pay $50,000 in bail and also to stay away from the tree. No mental health treatment was ordered. “There are all these people out there worried about the tree, but they’re not worried about him, the human,” said Lisa Gossett. “He’s obviously sick.”
Washington state has cut millions in the budget from mental health care funding. Many other states, trying to save money, are doing the same thing. Despite the fact that they are probably costing themselves more money in the long run by increasing incarceration of people with mental illness in jails and prisons. Nursing homes and elder care centers also see an increase of mentally ill patients. Jails and nursing homes cost the state more and both are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of helping people with mental illness.
Until real changes can be made in our current mental health system, people like the “Man in Tree” will continue to make headlines. Unless we improve and start actually trying to help instead of punishing people who are sick, people like Cody Miller will be forgotten and marginalized.