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Community Classroom

Tuesday, August 3rd, 7pm

Streamed live for free on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter

Criminilizing Crisis:

Mental health, criminals and police

Moderated by Gordon Boyd

Too often we read headlines reporting that a call to police for assistance with a loved one in a mental crisis has resulted in a tragic death. Too many incarcerated individuals with mental-health issues are left to suffer without treatment. People living with mental illness and addiction require our nation’s creative thought, understanding, compassion and commitment. This Community Classroom examines the problem and contemplates solutions.

Over the past year, the public has become increasingly aware that we don’t have an adequate public-safety system for responding to mental-health emergencies. As our community’s emerge from Covid-19 lockdowns, we see gun violence, social disturbances, and pent-up anger spreading, including incidents here in Saratoga Springs..

Across the nation, communities are looking for new ways to handle 911 mental-health calls. Activists call for an end to incarceration for people in need of mental-health care, as well as improved treatment and healthier environments in prisons and jails.

Our presenting partners this evening are In Our Name Initiative, a civic learning and advocacy organization dedicated to bringing public attention to social, economic, procedural, and restorative justice matters and to assisting individuals and families dealing with the criminal justice system, and Gordon and Sharon Boyd.

Community Classroom features presentations by people with deep knowledge of a civic issue, with ample opportunity provided for audience questions, ideas, challenges and personal stories. The goal is to catalyze fresh thinking through conversation that is respectful, deep, empowering and unique. As Caffe Lena has long provided a stage where the stories of all people are honored, this program builds on the venue’s folk heritage with an understanding of real life struggle in today’s world.

The curator and sponsor of this series is In Our Name Initiative, an organization dedicated to civic learning and legislative action for social, economic and criminal justice matters. In Our Name is a national thought and training organization dedicated to the work of reconciling victims and offenders and finding more constructive ways to deal with crime and punishment.


Mary Buser, author of the award-winning book, Lockdown on Rikers: Shocking Stories of Abuse and Injustice at New York’s Notorious Jail. Buser was a social worker in the Rikers Island Mental Health Department. She served as Assistant Chief of Mental Health in the island’s 350-bed psychiatric unit, and the 500-cell Punitive Segregation Unit. Since leaving Rikers, she has been an advocate for the incarcerated, especially for those with mental illness, and for people held in solitary confinement. Her Op-ed, “Solitary’s Mockery of Human Rights” was published in The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/solitary-confinements-mockery-of-human-rights/2014/04/04/537f32b4-b9c5-11e3-9a05-c739f29ccb08_story.html

Other articles have appeared in Politico, Salon, Vice, The Crime Report and America. Prior to working at Rikers, Buser co-founded the Samaritans of New York, a suicide prevention hotline. She is a member of Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement.

Reverend Michael D. Bell, MDIV is a native of Buffalo, New York, who has pastored in Jamestown, Buffalo, Auburn, Ithaca, Elmira, and, at present,  in Saratoga Springs. As part of the leadership of the NYS Poor People’s Campaign, he has successfully co-organized the Elmira/Eastern Region of the NYS Campaign. Rev. Bell organized a trade association for minority contractors in Rochester, led two redresses of the Rochester City School District and Eastman Kodak minority-employee-abuse issues, while also working for one of the nation’s largest financial services businesses for 30 years (35 years total in financial services). As a pastor, community organizer, and activist, Rev. Bell was nominated to participate in Oxford University’s Round Table, the Rhodes Scholar program in 2007. Presently, Rev. Bell sits on several boards, including the Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. Board, the Multicultural Board of Northeastern Seminary, the Saratoga Springs and NYS PPC, and several ministerial groups. Rev. Bell takes great pride as a family man and community advocate. Nothing else is more important.


Gordon Boyd, a former journalist, policy analyst and consultant, is President of Mercy House of Saratoga, Inc., an emerging housing resource for individuals with disabilities and others with housing challenges, affiliated with Bethesda Episcopal Church, Saratoga Springs. Boyd retired in 2016 as owner/consultant for EnergyNext, Inc., Saratoga Springs, NY, a retail energy brokerage that assists municipalities and businesses to access better prices for electricity, natural gas, renewable power and community energy programs. He also served for seven years as a religious volunteer at Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility near Saratoga Springs. He facilitated classes preparing men for parole hearings and release, and was instrumental in developing arts and music programs for the prisoners at that facility. Previously, he served on the staff of the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, developing infrastructure, energy and environmental policies and programs. He directed an Assembly-Senate Commission studying solid waste management, before starting his business in the late 1980s. Boyd wrote for the Daily Gazette of Schenectady and the Daily Press of Utica in the 1960s and 1970s. Boyd is a former chairman of the Environment Committee of the New York Chamber of Commerce, has served as Regulatory Chair of the Northeastern U.S. chapter of The Energy Professionals Association (TEPA), and was on the board of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority.