Life behind an inch of glass
After emptying his pockets, and having his ID heavily scrutinized, a successful private investment banker walks down a long corridor to a small viewing room inside the Fraser Valley Regional Correctional Facility.
Through heavily scratched glass, he sees his son Brian in an orange jumpsuit, sitting passively and completely devoid of emotion – characteristics of his mental heath disorder.
It pains Gordon Bylo to see his son locked up, when he can see in Brian’s eyes that he clearly belongs in a hospital.
Gordon blames a series of systemic failures for ensuring Brian is being treated like a criminal, rather than a patient.
Twelve years ago, Brian Bylo, now 30, was every parent’s dream child.
The B+ Holy Cross High School student was playing district-level soccer, where he was the leader of his group, an all-star midfielder, and a model player. He never got involved in on-field scraps.
He dreamed of pursuing a career in sales and marketing, where he showed innate skills.
Brian remained a rising star until Grade 12.
“Midway through the year, we saw him retreating, grades starting to fall, and delays in the morning getting out to school,” recalls Gordon (pictured at left with wife Virginia).
Brian's mother Virginia thought it was just a result of his “teenage-hood.”
“I missed, in hindsight, some important signs,” Virginia says.
Brian walked in the family’s Delta home one evening, holding his head, and said, “I can’t take this anymore.”
He was referring to the voices in his head that would go on to torment him for more than a decade.
The voices were loud and fast, but weren’t giving him any specific message. But they just wouldn’t stop.
After hearing about Brian’s complaints, Gordon took him to a doctor right away, where he was initially misdiagnosed as bipolar, then told he had paranoid schizophrenia. From there, he was admitted to the psychiatric ward at Peace Arch Hospital (PAH).
“At that point, Brian was right out of it,” Gordon says. “He didn’t even know what day it was.”
Brian spent two months on the fifth floor of PAH, where he was assessed and attempts were made to stabilize him.
“We thought he could just go back to normal life,” Gordon says.
Eventually, all efforts by Gordon and Virginia seemed to be for naught.
After Brian turned 18, efforts to obtain updates on his medical condition were blocked by the provincial privacy act.
That summer, Gordon got Brian a job, but the schizophrenia got worse.
By November, the Bylos were witnessing much more psychosis.
Brian was heavily medicated again, and the voices were silenced for the most part. However, as it is with many people with such mental illness, when the medication isn’t working well, or when the side effects are unwanted, the patient often turns to street drugs.
In 2008, Brian started using cocaine.
It’s expensive, and for someone who’s unemployed, it meant seeking unorthodox forms of income.
Stealing household equipment for his fix became Brian’s daily routine.
He was, by all description, an amicable crook. At one point, he took a lawnmower from a person’s front lawn and walked it up the street. The police arrived, and Brian turned and introduced himself and tried to shake their hands.
He was promptly arrested and charged with theft under $5,000.
On another occasion, Brian was having a psychotic episode outside the Newton home where he was living. Specialized mental health police Car 67 arrived and diagnosed him as needing a stay in the psychiatric ward at the hospital.
But by the time he was seen at the emergency ward, his symptoms had abated, and he was released.
Gordon calls it the ER wall.
For Brian, from 2008 to today, there have been 57 court entries, mostly separate charges, including petty theft and breaches of probation and recognizance.
Brian says he’s been to jail 30 times in the past four years, a figure Gordon calls “about right.”
He’s currently at the Fraser Valley Regional Correctional Facility, doing time on what he calls the “medical range,” which can provide him with the medication he needs.
He’s there for breach of probation, and will stay locked up until April 15.
The voices, he says, are gone now that he’s on antipsychotic medicine.
“They all went away when they put me on a specific medication,” Brian said in an interview with The Leader from jail.
“I don’t hear voices anymore, like loud voices.”
He says he’s off cocaine for now, but doesn’t rule out turning to street drugs for relief in the future.
“I’ve been clean from my drug of choice for four months now, so I’m pretty happy about that,” Brian said.
However, he said, crack cocaine makes him feel less tense.
“I don’t want more… that only happens the odd time, and that’s when I get into trouble.”
Gordon realizes any chance of a normal life for Brian will require he stop using illicit drugs.
The problem is, most substance abuse recovery facilities in this country won’t take him because of his troublesome bouts of psychosis.
As for sending Brian to the United States for treatment, Gordon says that’s a non-starter now that his son has a criminal record.
Gordon says one of the biggest hurdles for the family is that his son’s medical condition is being treated criminally, rather than in a hospital setting.
But he realizes that would require a sea change in the way policy makers consider the treatment of mental illness and addiction.