BY MICHAEL W. BROSE, MSW
Mental Health Association in Tulsa
His name is William Boyd Sturdivant II. You may know him as “Tower Guy.”
William became “Tower Guy” or “Tower Man” in the summer of 2011, as a mob of people watched him spend five days atop the Clear Channel Communications tower.
When he came down, the show was over, and William was all but forgotten, even though he was in desperate need of mental health treatment.
If only everyone had cared about William after he came down from the tower. Maybe William would have received the critical treatment he needed for his undiagnosed mental illness. And maybe we wouldn’t have seen recent newspaper headlines that proclaimed “’Tower guy’ charged in Jenks store burglary, arson case.”
As the Tulsa World reported, “Prosecutors allege that Sturdivant entered a gated gardening area at the Sutherlands. He told police he started a fire there to keep warm … Since his arrest, he has remained in the Tulsa Jail in lieu of $30,000 bond.”
William is not alone in his struggle with untreated mental illness. There are countless men and women who will never grab the media’s attention, but they deserve OUR attention.
William represents many in our state who commit small, petty crimes as a direct result of their untreated mental illness, or untreated substance abuse issues. They are not criminals; they are sick and in need of treatment. This is a growing challenge for our state as we throw lives away by incarcerating them, and cannot keep up with the costs of incarceration.
We’re not getting anywhere by continuing in this direction of punishment before treatment. They are not getting mental health treatment while they are incarcerated, and then they are being turned loose without adequate support and help. Why in the world are we surprised that they reoffend!
We, as a city, as a state, as a culture, are failing William, and the men and women like him. And these individuals, as a result of that, are failing.
When are we going to say, “Maybe we’re not getting anywhere just incarcerating William. Let’s get him diverted into a treatment program, and get him the help he needs.”
Then, and only then, will our community no longer think of him as “Tower Guy,” he’ll simply be William.