What makes Sammy run?

Huge and helpless, schizophrenic and hypertensive, Sammy Allen has fallen between the administrative cracks of a local mental health system that can't seem to get its ACT together

At this point DeFreece comes over to prepare to transport Allen to Jefferson House, the boarding home at which ACT has arranged for him to stay. According to ACT's Valdez, DMHMR policy doesn't allow his agency to refer a consumer to any of the estimated 50 to 100 legal boarding homes in the Dallas area, most of which house the mentally ill. ACT can only show a client a sheet with a listing of boarding houses, and then let the consumer choose. With Allen, however, this doesn't happen. DeFreece had already chosen a boarding house for Allen while Sammy was in Terrell.

Every step from the clinic couch to the ACT van waiting outside is fraught with tension. When Allen learns that a flight of stairs leads up to Jefferson House, he complains that he can't walk up stairs. DeFreece is skeptical and attempts to placate Allen, who, in turn, rages in proportion to the placating tones. Eventually he's screaming, horrified: "I don't want to be captive! I want to be able to go out, to do things, feed the pigeons, watch traffic!"

DeFreece hurries him along, assuring him that everything will be fine, which prompts Sammy to scold his caseworker, telling DeFreece that he's supposed to be a trained mental health professional--he's supposed to be patient. An argument ensues over who will carry Allen's bags. Sammy repeatedly insists that he's handicapped, that he's sick, that he's slow, that he's old. DeFreece finally relents, agreeing to carry the bags, and the situation cools down. After a moment, Allen says, half to himself, "I'll carry my Bible."

DeFreece responds, gotcha-like: "Oh, if you can carry the Bible, then you can carry the bags."

Allen screams, "Why are you so stupid?"
"Guess it just comes naturally, Sammy."
Allen's fists are clenched, teeth gritted, body shaking. He's about to explode with anger and frustration. "Where are my servants?" he demands. "I'm a king. Where are my servants?"

"You don't have any servants here, Sammy."

Sammy Allen's own account of his past and present mixes outright delusion with hazy autobiographical fragments, all of which is obscured by his anger, his mistrust, and his indifference to the accuracy of information that comes from a lifetime of trafficking in a world in which accurate information has little value for him.

He was the fourth of eight children born to a mother who worked as a maid and a father who worked in the Dallas public school system as a school aide. Sammy was born in South Dallas, but in 1961, when he was 13, the Allens moved to an area in Oak Cliff, the first black family in an all-white neighborhood.

Today the neighborhood is predominantly black. Sammy frequently refers--with both pride and amusement--to living his whole life in the "ghetto." His 76-year-old father, Samuel Allen Sr., still lives in Oak Cliff, along with several members of his extended family, in a home on a quiet street with well-kept houses. His wife, Cornell, died in 1981 of heart trouble.

Allen Sr., a soft-spoken man with a gentle disposition, says that all his children grew up in a religious household (he's a minister who has his own church). One of his other children was admitted to Terrell several times over the years, he allows, but now is fine. Several of his kids are college graduates with stable jobs and families. He remembers nothing remarkable about Sammy as a child, pointing out that he didn't communicate much with his son because he was always working. He refers to Sammy's illness as--literally--an evil spirit or demon, and remains unclear as to when Sammy's problems began, speculating that his son was in his late teens when "he went out of his mind or something." The police, he recalls, picked up Sammy off the streets and took him to the county jail, where he was stripped naked and put in a cell. Eventually he was sent to Terrell.

Sammy himself remembers it differently, claiming that when he was 17, his mother called the police on him because of some dispute. He was taken to jail for the first time, where he remembers shaking and hallucinating. He adds that there were grown men there and that he was just a kid, that the other prisoners harassed him. He describes it as the worst experience of his life.

In a 1977 note in Allen's file, a caseworker described Sammy's mother as screaming at the top of her lungs and refusing permission for a caseworker to visit Sammy at home. "His mother is an agitate to her son," reads the entry. "As I talked to Sammy and tried to help him remember his appt. time and date, his mother taunted him in the background. She was saying he's a mental patient, he needs mental medication."

"My mother loved me," Sammy says now. "She said some things she didn't mean."

"He would do all right as long as he stayed on the medicine that the folks gave him, all that dope that they give him," his father remembers. "Then when he stopped using the dope, he started going back off. And that's been on and on for I don't know how long now...He's been in and out of institutions and jails, that's about the whole story."

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