Editor’s note

This is the first in a two-part series that follows Lloyd Hale’s journey through schizophrenia and recovery. The series continues in the Dec. 30 section.

When Lloyd Hale was a kid growing up in Georgetown and New York City, drugs were a normal part of life at home, on the streets, wherever Hale and his friends hung out. Dealing was a way for his father to pay the rent and get by in the projects.

But Hale’s dad wound up spending most of his son’s young life in prison for drug trafficking. And at 13, Hale began smoking marijuana and drinking heavily himself. He preferred it to school — and much else.

He cut class and got into fights. Charged with armed robbery, he was sent to a state Department of Juvenile Justice facility for a month.

When he returned home, a friend asked, “So how much community service did you get?”

“80 hours.”

80-80-80-80-80-80-80-80

The number repeated, an uninterrupted string echoing through his mind.

Looking back, it was the first sign.

———

Soon after, Hale realized he could continue conversations he’d just had with people in his mind. He could talk to his older brother or razz a buddy — then walk away and keep talking with them through his new mental communication.

Yet, it also meant that a fight could rage on long after the person was gone.

It was a secret ability, a hidden world that not all people were able to join. Everyone he spoke with swore they would deny their mental talks if he ever mentioned them out loud.

And they did.

“Do you remember when you said ... ?” he would ask.

“Hale, I never said that.”

———

One day, God and the devil both came to him, settling into his physical body. Hale was sitting beside his brother in his bedroom, the attic fan whirring loudly, breeze flowing through the window, billowing over him.

Hale felt God speaking in his head, the devil in his midsection.

God spoke in a strange, rhythmic tone that kept time with the fan. His message traveled to Hale’s stomach, where the devil heard it and spoke back. Hale couldn’t understand what they were saying, but he could hear the sound and feel the reverberations travel through his body.

He opened his mouth to speak the sounds. But nothing came out.

———

Did anyone ever notice?

“He’s high,” they would say. Or, “he’s been drinking.”

Which was true.

———

Hale’s world became a haze of smoking and drinking. He rarely spoke out loud. Why bother? Almost all of his conversations took place in his head where people could talk freely.

But increasingly their mental talks turned into arguments. It left his thoughts stormy and paranoid, his stomach coiled into knots.

Music, however, brought relief through its poetry and rhythms. Hale often listened to the rapper Nas, whose songs mentioned the Third World.

The Third World? That must be the world where Hale could talk to people beyond a physical conversation. Was there a Third World that Hale might one day see, too?

It existed, he was certain. He just couldn’t access it yet.

He figured his mother and older brother already could, and he needed their help getting there. Hale began leaving his shoes by his brother’s bed or his shirt on top of it.

Maybe his brother could sprinkle something onto them to give Hale sight into that world, too.

“I thought everybody was in this place,” he said.

But his brother never sprinkled anything into Hale’s shoes. Never touched his shirt. If he noticed anything odd, he never said so.

———

One night, Hale lay in bed talking to the devil, whose aggressive taunts infuriated him.

Hale was no pushover.

“If you’re so tough, show me who you are. Show me your face!” he demanded.

The devil showed nothing.

Hale went to the living room couch. His mom was in the kitchen cleaning up. When she leaned over for a second, her head briefly visible through the doorway, the devil said: “Here I am.”

———

His mom was reading in bed later when Hale joined her.

“Mom, I’ve got a question.”

She set the book down.

“Are you the devil?”

———

Hale’s mom was no pushover either.

At the time, her husband was imprisoned, she was living and raising her boys in a high-crime area in New York, dealing with the drugs and violence that came with its streets.

When her sons walked to a nearby store one day, a group of guys across the street started shooting at them.

Hale and his brother raced to the store for safety. Their mom arrived shortly after.

She had her own gun. It was always under her mattress should she need it.

———

After his father’s second conviction, Hale’s family moved to Georgetown, where at 15, Hale got a job washing dishes. At work, his mental conversations with customers and the staff turned hostile. When a guy threatened to fight him, Hale quit.

The next day, his mother dropped him off near a string of restaurants before driving to work herself. She ordered Hale to get another job.

Hale continued to speak with her in his mind. She sounded so defeated, so desperately in need of help. Hale loved his mom. If he could help her, he would.

She confessed what was on her mind. It was about her boyfriend.

“He wants to die but doesn’t want to kill himself,” she said in his mind.

———

Hale did not look for a job that day.

He hitchhiked back home while everyone was at work and broke in through a window, knocking his mom’s curtains down before retrieving her gun.

He caught up with a friend and headed out, smoking pot and taking the back roads. Hale felt the calmest he had in a long time, the closest to the Third World he had ever gotten. Sales tags popped off the fabric of his shirt: “bullet-proof shirt for sale!”

Then Hale remembered the task his mother had asked of him. It was night, and his mother’s boyfriend would be home from work.

“I got to go take care of something,” he told his friend.

When he got home, he walked up the stairs with the gun in his back pocket. His mom was standing at the head of their bed, her boyfriend at the foot. Hale didn’t hear anything, not even the gun when he fired it twice at his mother’s boyfriend, once in the head.

It wasn’t until he got downstairs that he heard the screaming. He heard his mother call 911.

“My son did it!”

He didn’t understand. Why was she telling on him?

She’d asked him to do it.

———

At the police station, his mother arrived, covered in blood, held up by relatives.

“Lloyd, why?” she asked.

Hale smiled back. He had just turned 16. And already he had done something noble for her.

———

Hale was charged with murder. At the state juvenile detention center in Columbia, Hale spent the first 11 months of nearly three years awaiting trial locked into a world of gangs and violence. His roommate faced charges of shooting a police officer.

Hale was no stranger to violence and fighting. He held his own just fine.

He wasn’t Lloyd Hale anymore. The other guys just called him Quick.

After he was evaluated, a doctor put him on Haldol, a powerful anti-psychotic used to treat schizophrenia and acute psychotic states. Hale hated it. His tongue muscles stiffened so that it stuck out. His arm jerked uncontrollably. The side effects terrified him.

Fellow inmates encouraged him not to take the meds.

So he didn’t.

———

On his 17th birthday, Hale was transferred to the Georgetown jail. He had been charged as an adult, and to the courts, he now was an adult. Hale would live at the jail for nearly two more years awaiting trial.

His first night, Hale slept on the floor with his shirt wadded up into a pillow. He spoke to his brother using the mental communication he relied on.

“Everything is going according to plan,” his brother assured. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Sure enough, in the morning, a face peeked through the cell bars checking out the new guy. It was his brother’s good friend from back home. Turned out, he also was an inmate.

Hale breathed a little easier. It was a sign that the mental conversations were real. His brother wasn’t there, but his good friend was.

The jail was a more settled place than the DJJ facility. Most of the guys were serving time for lesser crimes or awaiting court dates. The only fights Hale got into were the ones he started.

And eventually one of those got him put into lockdown, alone in a cell for 23 hours a day, shackled and handcuffed for the hour he was allowed out. He paced his 9-by-3-foot cell, plotting revenge.

When he returned to the general population a week later, he did the things he planned.

After, Hale spoke to a guard he trusted.

“I don’t feel right,” he said. “I need to be by myself.”

Back to lockdown he went for three months.

———

That’s when Hale discovered his body could separate from his soul. When his body was awake, his soul slept on the cell’s bed. Then they switched.

Hale paced all night keeping watch over his soul. He exercised vigorously. When he did sleep, he leaned against a corner to remain upright and facing the door.

Hale also discovered that if he peered into the cell’s tiny mirror, he could talk to his brother. But his brother just spewed his fury back at Hale.

And even though Hale did not face the death penalty, he was certain he would get it. So the prison staff poisoned his food. They wanted to give him a lethal infection, like a form of lethal injection.

If the food was hot, the infection in it lived and would infect him. Once the food turned cold, it was safe to eat.

The juice was always infected. He drank only tap water from his cell’s sink.

Several doctors who examined Hale for trial said he was mentally ill. A couple said no. The jail staff offered him psychiatric medication.

He took it every now and then. Mostly, he did not.

———

Hale loved to write: poems, rap songs, essays, anything. He wrote long letters back and forth with his father, who, even from prison, encouraged him and tried to get him to think about his mental troubles.

When Hale heard that his mother was coming for a visit, he decided to write his life story and share it with her. As he wrote, with every line, every thought, he spit into a cup. It solidified each idea, confirmed it. Soon, he had a long story and a cup full of saliva.

As Hale walked to the jail’s visiting room to see his mother, a godly presence urged him to tell his story and keep cool.

He sat down with her, his notebook and spit cup on the metal table between them. He told her his story. Part of it described what she had done wrong as a parent. She challenged his version.

Hale did not stay calm.

He stood and banged on the table, tipping his cup of spit, spilling it over his notebook.

If he had only kept calm like the voice told him.

Instead, his mom stormed out.

———

One female guard took the time to stop at the little window in Hale’s cell door and talk to him. When Hale drew on the walls, instead of disciplining him, she asked what the drawings meant.

She brought him Scripture.

As he read, he felt filthy, spiritually and physically. First, he bathed with spit. Then he washed in his sink. To clean the inside of his body, he ate chunks of soap.

Hale wanted to be clean.

He also wanted to get his GED. He tried to study. And he began to think of his baby boy.

A girlfriend had given birth to Hale’s son right after he was incarcerated. When Hale studied, he studied with his son, teaching a little boy he’d never met what the books said.

Hale no longer needed a verbal conversation to start a mental one.

He no longer needed the real world much at all.

When other guys banged on their steel doors, he no longer was sure if he was banging on his door, too.

———

One night, he awoke to a commotion in the second-floor cell directly above his.

It sounded like an enraged father beating his wife and children. Things fell, crashing to the ground, and the man’s voice tore through the air vents.

“When I’m done up here, I’m coming for you!” he screamed down to Hale.

Hale punched the narrow window in his cell door as hard as he could, over and over, desperate to get out of his cell, switching hands until exhaustion defeated him.

For the first time, he laid down across his mattress, his back to his door.

———

The next day, when he got out of his cell for an hour, Hale walked upstairs.

He went to the cell directly above his.

It was empty.

———

Hale had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Finally, he believed it.

Next Sunday in Faith & Values: Follow Lloyd Hale through his inspiring recovery and his career today working to help others with mental illness.

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her at www. facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.