In the Frunchroom: John Tolley

As often as possible, we bring Frunchroom audience members onto the stage to tell their own stories – often to bring a new perspective to a common narrative.

John Tolley is a Chicagoan who’s spent most of his life living on the Southwest Side of Chicago. He’s had many occupations and experiences, one of which is being a Chicago Police Officer. He’s currently a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) instructor and Critical Response Unit (CRU) officer. As an instructor, his team teaches fellow police officers from Chicago, neighboring suburbs and local universities communication skills designed to help build rapport and calm an individual in mental crisis. As a CRU member, his team will respond to situations that call for more teamwork or communication skills, such as a hostage barricade situation, assisting the negotiator. 

Married to his high school sweetheart for the past 30 years, he has four children, all boys. One of his sons lives with schizophrenia. He is one of four children, two of whom live with bi-polar disease – including him. 

Here’s what John says about his work with mental health – his own and others’:

I work with people living in crisis because of their mental illnesses and I, myself, live with one as well. I see the stigma everywhere I go. I see the way people deal with the homeless on the streets of Chicago. I see people refusing to accept the fact that a family member or loved one may have a mental illness. I see people afraid to seek help because of fear or intimidation caused by stigma. One in five people live with a major mental illness. Mental illness effects all our lives, yet people are frightened by it. People are ashamed to have it. People refuse to accept it. And the stigma grows.

In 2017, we had 17 suicides in the department. It is my hope that by sharing my life, by “outing” myself to other officers, they may see there is hope in recovery. That we can still live with a mental illness and remain officers. 

John is the author of Disturbance With A Mental, which features his short stories and poems about mental illness. He’ll read two poems and a short story about his son son living with schizophrenia.

Join John and the rest of our readers this Thursday, July 25th at 730pm at Beverly Arts Center.

RSVP on Facebook here

About Scott Smith

Chicagoan, husband, father, writer.
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