Goodbye to Ken Braiterman

Corinna West
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This is a memorial to my friend Ken Braiterman who was a long time member of the mental health civil rights movement. He was a best friend/ally/coworker/enemy of David Hilton, who lost his life to mental health civil rights battles. Ken wrote a great series of posts about David’s struggle with advocacy.

Ken Braiterman

I met Ken Braiterman at the 2008 Alternatives conference in Buffalo, New York. I had performed my Olympic poem and he decided it was good enough that he would take a chance to talk to me. We traded contact info and he interviewed me later for a book about the history of the mental health civil rights movement that he never quite wrote. He sounded like a good person to talk to, and called him back when my med withdraw starting getting hard a few weeks later. He talked me through it, which he later explained in this essay about, “How Distress Model Language Cured Corinna’s Psychosis.

We became friends and business partners and he edited my blog for a long time and helped my business in numerous other ways. I adopted him as a stand-in for the dad I never had, and he adopted me back as the kid the mental health system took away his chance to have.

Ken Braiterman on the bridge where I was married two years ago. His Lou Gherig's disease was just starting to make things hard for him.
Ken Braiterman on the bridge where I was married two years ago. His Lou Gherig’s disease was just starting to make things hard for him.

He died last week of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. His hometown Concord monitor wrote a nice front page article about Ken Braiterman. The only thing I noticed they got wrong is when they said, “He thought he knew better than the mental health system.”  But we all here on this site know he probably did actually know better than them.

I miss him a lot. His blog is still up here if you want to read more from him. He also has writings on this site, and on my Wellness Wordworks site.

My Poem About Bringing Complete, Honest Mental Health Info to the World:

His final advocacy efforts to defy the mental health system are published here. This is the story that is reference in the poem.

1 Corinthians 13
Ken Braiterman Memoir
AKA The Consensus Steering Commitee poem

And this poem burst out of me like the tears after those all years I couldn’t cry
My passions and dreams frozen inside stuck in the system just wanting to be a person
Who believed in the Creator. And those helpers cared,
All those nice people, my voice silenced by love, none of us challenged the assumptions of illness,
Or that I just needed a friend.
Till, one day, I walked into frisbee golf, a drinking, moving party and my woes didn’t matter.
The bike people pulling the party along with them, town to town, the poets pounding out notice
Of their passions, and I built a team. I swept up my friend Ken who became the closest of all.
So we weren’t alone anymore, my workaholic coach telling me to stop and get out.
Get out again, get out of your mind, have some fun and come back to fight again another day.
Ken taught me to fight, we worked out plans to tear down destructive forces,
Till they loved us, and at the end, almost the end, they gave Ken a lifetime achievement award
Like Stan Musial, nominated for fame by his enemy and Ken who’s been my friend indeed told
The system.
he still played against them.
even though he’s dying. Moving beyond this life of fighting, being called by the Creator
And Ken watched me Called, watched me through my fall into despair when the Lord
told me keep teaching those mental health people,
instead of tearing them all down and building a different sequel.
But Ken is for me, and God is for me, so who can be against me,
and I’ve got the words to free my people, the complete recovery, lives rebuilt into discovery
of talents and joys and beauty and new ways to contribute to creation.
Our broken wings restored by new visioning, our people integral to this world’s missioning.
That message overcomes any of the sickness and devastation they can pass out.
So I’ve got my words, I’ve got my witness, I’ve been granted the
courage business to change the things I could,
me and Ken selling our courage buckets on street corners at midnight,
But wisdom to know the difference? And serenity to accept the people we cannot change?
We got the faith in recovery that could move mountains and we’ve not been heard.
This poetry language a gift that’s gotten nowhere without love.
Because I couldn’t figure out how to love the people who harmed me.
This peace we seek, my and my mentor, we’re tired of fighting now,
Tired of hurting the harmers in hopes they’ll wake up, and convert, challenge their assumptions.
When they just did their best, they cared so much but I finally learned I couldn’t trust their caring.
Their views of my life glaringly wrong, but by judging them
I’ve been the clanging gong
So now I gotta accept love to give love to speak love to have God’s word’s finally start to
Sink in to them.
And their harm doesn’t matter, bucking their system nothing to bearing them a new vision,
That love doesn’t give up, and like Ken always believed in me, I can believe in me till the end.
Relax and let the words come out making my enemies and me equal,
love pulling out the blocks to building the sequel
together.

-Corinna West
April 10, 2014

(This poem was published earlier here as  as part of this post): https://www.madinamerica.com/2014/04/village-shalom-shooting/

4 COMMENTS

  1. Corinna – I find it very proud of you and humble at the same time to make this tribute for Ken, your friend and ally. Of course, your poem deserves separate comments, since so much can fail unexpectedly in these difficult efforts, but yours works and you should keep it and pull from it for further hope and understanding, I think. Thank you and condolences–