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Friends Remember Andrew Martinez

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday May 26, 2006

Andrew Martinez’s funeral was Thursday, but a memorial will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. in People’s Park. 

As news of his suicide in his Santa Clara County jail cell last week spread, the one image that kept coming up in the minds of those who knew him best was Martinez, known as The Naked Guy, dancing to the tune of “Break on Through to the Other Side!” on his handheld tape player at the 1992 September Nude In at Sproul Hall. 

“There were 10,000 people cheering him that day, cheering what he stood for —a society sans racism, sans greed, sans oppression,” said Debbie Moore, friend and co-director of Berkeley’s psychedelic performance troupe Explicit Players. 

“There was such a sense of calm, of control in Andy,” she said. “It’s shocking to see how society moved him to a deeper and deeper level of isolation.” 

Moore remembers Martinez wanting to renounce living in tiny cell-like rooms, pollution, cars and “concrete eating up the world” of plants. 

“He pitched a tent and took on the daily task of demolishing the concrete driveway at The Chateau—the Berkeley housing co-op he lived in at one point—with a sledge hammer and pick ax so that it could return to a garden,” she said. 

Moore said that it was actions like these and many more which led Andrew to be labeled as crazy. 

“I used to have conversations with him even after he left Berkeley to go back to Cupertino to live with his family,” she said. “In his voice I heard frustration, I heard agony for the endless psychiatric sessions he had to go through, the social norms he had to follow.” 

Betsy Putnam, housing supervisor for the University Students Cooperative Association in Berkeley, remembers Andrew as a “perfectly nice person” when he lived there in 1996. 

“I saw no problem in him in the year and a summer that he lived here,” she said. “He paid rent naked and kept his wallet in his backpack. But then, how can you possibly tell, we have 1,200 students living here at the same time.” 

Dan McMullan, a Berkeley activist for the Disabled People Outside project, recalled Martinez as a principled person with definite ideas. 

“He had an expression of freedom that nobody had seen in Berkeley for a long time,” he said. “People from all over the world come to Berkeley to see interesting people, and Andrew Martinez was one of those people.” 

McMullan himself was jailed in solitary confinement in Santa Rita Jail for four months. “It was hell,” he says. “I cannot imagine Andy with his mental condition having to go through solitary confinement. All I did in that cell was pace around all day. I even started to hear voices. Frankly, if I had a plastic bag like Andy had had I too wouldn’t be here today.” 

A private criminal attorney in Santa Clara County, who did not want to be named and who currently has a client in maximum security solitary confinement at the Santa Clara County Main Jail, described solitary confinement conditions as “simply horrible.” 

The attorney said that the other county jail in Elmwood was where all the “well-behaved” criminals were taken. In the “farmlike” atmosphere of Elmwood which is lower in security, inmates can be closer to the outside world.  

“The rest, mentally ill or not, end up in the main jail. If you have someone who is not behaving properly, the corrections people can make it really difficult for them. I don’t think it is a good place for the mentally ill. No one can prove these problems because there are no witnesses. Although mental patients are kept separately on the second floor which is devoted to the medical care, it is not good to be mentally ill and be in jail. Our justice system is just not equipped for it,” she said. 

Nancy Brewer, spoksperson for Santa Clara County’s Public Defender’s office, declined to comment on Andrew Martinez’s case but spoke about cases similar to Martinez in general.  

“It all depends on how mentally ill the person is,” she said. “Sometimes the person is taken to EPS—a special unit for severely mentally ill people—or to a mental institution. And if they recover and are found to be competent enough they are brought back for trial. But mental illness and competency are two very different things. If a person is mentally ill and competent to testify, he will be kept in the main jail.” 

Jennifer Bodollo, public defender for Martinez in Santa Clara County, declined comment on her client out of respect for Martinez’s family. 

Ann Kring, professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, told the Planet that there has been a rising trend over the past ten to twenty years for more and more mentally ill people to land up in jail instead of mental institutions.  

“Often homeless people end up in jail regardless of whether or not they have committed a crime,” she said. “Being mentally ill and a criminal is a tricky situation. In the case that you are mentally ill and are kept in solitary confinement while awaiting trial, the illness can grow. Very few jails in the U.S. are adequately equipped for mental care. They are understaffed and underfacilitated and it is difficult to understand when an inmate will commit suicide. It is not even a good idea to have something like a plastic bag in a cell room which is housing a mentally ill patient.” 

Kring added that as a society we needed to do a much better job of taking care of mental patients who end up in jail. “Unless society is willing to step up there will be more cases like Andrew Martinez. It is sad that in the year 2006, the best we can do for our mentally ill prisoners is simply put them in jail.”