- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 21, 2004

RICHMOND — Relentlessly upbeat and hopeful, Gaye M. Geering is building a new life after serving eight years in mental hospitals for robbing a bank, a crime for which she was judged not guilty by reason of insanity.

Mrs. Geering is one of hundreds of such people living successfully in communities around Virginia. Most prefer to maintain their anonymity because of the stigma of their crimes and their mental illness.

Mrs. Geering, 35, said she doesn’t expect the public to understand. People think, “You’re a criminal. You’re crazy.”

Nevertheless, she went public in a riveting speech before a June conference of mental health professionals in which she credited clinicians at state-run psychiatric hospitals for helping get her tumultuous life in order.

The release of “NGRIs” (not guilty by reason of insanity) has been mostly successful in Virginia. Of the 398 freed from state hospitals since 1993, 377 have readjusted to life on the outside — a 95 percent success rate. One of them was Lorena Bobbitt, acquitted by reason of insanity for cutting off her husband’s penis with a kitchen knife.

Twenty-one NGRIs violated conditions of their release and are now back in state hospitals, said Martha Mead, spokeswoman for the state mental health department.

Mrs. Geering said in an interview that she was molested as a teen and ran away from her Portsmouth home numerous times before a judge placed her in a psychiatric hospital for 30 days. “I felt so safe there,” she said.

She returned home but ran back to the hospital four hours later. She was sent to a residence for troubled youths in Richmond, subsequently returning home where she remained until she got married soon after her 18th birthday.

She and her husband separated in 1994 and she got involved with a man who sold drugs.

Eventually, “I lost everything and wound up moving into the projects,” where she lived with her two children.

“They were hungry. There was no money. I wasn’t working.”

On Aug. 11, 1994, after she was beaten by her boyfriend, “I threw on some clothes and I walked and walked. I wrote a little note with a crayon. I walked in the bank. I remember standing in line. I remember the woman giving me the money” in a bank envelope.

“I never opened it. I just walked out of the bank. I just walked and walked.”

“A detective came up and I gave him the envelope without ever opening it.”

Mrs. Geering said she can’t remember what she wrote on the note to the teller. “I’ve heard that the note said, ‘If you don’t give me money, I’ll shoot.’” She had no weapon.

Portsmouth police sent her to Eastern State Hospital, which found her incompetent to stand trial. A judge found her not guilty by reason of insanity in 1995 and committed her to Central State Hospital, where she was placed in the prison-like forensic unit.

“That was the beginning of my rebirth,” Mrs. Geering said.

After about a year in the forensic unit, she was sent to Eastern State in Williamsburg because she showed improvement and met criteria for transfer to a less secure hospital.

There, “I was given to Claire Trimer,” who Mrs. Geering credits with her successful rehabilitation and return to the community.

“She’s my momma, my best friend, my sister. She’s my everything,” Mrs. Geering said.

“I guess Claire gave me the ability that I don’t have to settle for any abusive man,” said Mrs. Geering, who was released from Eastern State in March 2003.

MissTrimer,a forensic psychologist, said she initially saw Mrs. Geering as a very strong woman with a flair for the dramatic.

“She has just done an incredible turnaround, and I am so proud of her,” Miss Trimer said.

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