This article first appeared in Sunday's State Journal.
Back in January, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel played a video montage of television anchors from around the country trying to pronounce the name of a Madison man arrested for possessing marijuana in a city park: Beezow Doo-doo Zopittybop-bop-bop.
The audience found the name highly amusing, as did much of the rest of the world.
Newspapers from Canada to Australia ran stories on the guy. CNN's Anderson Cooper put the 30-year-old high school dropout on his "RidicuList," asking, "What compels someone to change his name to that?"
Beezow — we'll call him that for ease — was in the Dane County Jail at the time and oblivious to the international attention. He had no television or Internet privileges and didn't hear about the Kimmel segment until a fellow inmate mentioned it a few days later.
"It was interesting to me," Beezow said in an interview at the jail in mid-March. "I do plan on becoming a recognized figure in the world, and I'd predicted that an event such as that would happen."
Beezow is not embarrassed or upset by the reaction to his name, which he legally changed from Jeffrey Wilschke in November. Those closest to him also don't begrudge folks a few laughs, but they want people to know there's a real person behind the punch line, one struggling to find his place in society.
"I get that it's funny, but at the same time, this is a very sad situation," said his sister, Kathryn Wilschke, 29, a college student in Chicago.
Court records reveal a troubled man who sometimes sought and other times rejected mental health services while living on the streets. Help was within reach at times, but something always got in the way, from Beezow missing appointments and refusing to be medicated to a mental health system sometimes unable to keep up with demand.
"He's an example of both the precise kind of person the support structures in our society are intended to help and the challenges involved in providing those services," said David Saltzman, Beezow's court-appointed attorney.
Sitting in jail
Beezow is concerningly frail — 5 feet 6 inches and 114 pounds — with pale skin and shoulder-length brown hair. He keeps his lips closed when he smiles because of a missing front tooth a bully knocked loose when he was 15.
After Beezow's name went viral, people started writing songs about him and posting videos on YouTube. They say he looks like Jesus or a Johnny Depp character in a Tim Burton movie.
For the last two years, he has been a raw foodist, eating only uncooked vegetation, fruits, nuts and seeds. This posed a challenge in jail, where he has lost 21 pounds since being arrested Jan. 5 on three misdemeanor charges.
A Madison police officer found him at Reynolds Park with a baggie of marijuana, a drug pipe and a knife with a 3-inch blade. The knife violated terms of his probation from an earlier conviction for carrying a concealed weapon, a loaded handgun. That's why he's still in jail today. He will stand trial in late May on the latest charges.
That unusual name
It took Beezow a while to save $300 to legally change his name, but he accomplished it Nov. 28 in Dane County Circuit Court. Judges have little discretion in such matters — almost anything goes. Asked to give a reason for the name change on a court form, Beezow wrote, "I believe this is a much more fitting name for myself."
In an interview, Beezow said his first name represents "the explosion of awareness of the interconnectedness of the infinite love in the universe." Doo-doo "is the struggle of our daily lives with that awareness, that with love comes chaos."
Zopittybop-bop-bop "is the outcome of that struggle, which is often ironic, especially because all life ends in death."
He is very particular about the way his name is capitalized and hyphenated because he says it came into his head just that way about two years ago. He isn't very religious but believes in God and assumes a higher power was involved.
"When I sing my name on the streets in a falsetto tone" — he stops to illustrate — "it has a spiritual resonance."
History of therapy
By third grade, adults in Beezow's life became alarmed over violent pictures he was drawing and sent him to a therapist, the first of many his family paid for in his life, he said. This was in the Illinois village where he grew up, outside of Chicago.
He and his sister were given up for adoption as preschoolers because their biological parents were unable to care for them, said Kathryn Wilschke, who declined to elaborate. "We both were dealt kind of a crappy hand, so to speak," she said.
Beezow's adoptive mother died when he was a teenager. His adoptive father declined to be interviewed.
Wilschke, who visited her brother in jail last month, calls him kind-hearted and highly-intelligent — "a borderline genius." He is not a violent person and talks often of wanting to get emotionally healthy, she said.
When Beezow was 18, he and some friends road-tripped it to Madison for an Arlo Guthrie concert. He loved the city. Five years ago, after hitch-hiking around the country, he moved here.
He is homeless and lives mostly off a monthly federal disability check due to a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
Beezow disagrees with the schizophrenia diagnosis but says he suffers from severe depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder from having been physically and sexually abused as a street person. His recent interactions with the mental health system were frustrating for all parties.
Last June, a Dane County judge found him incompetent to stand trial on the concealed weapon charge and ordered he be treated with anti-psychotic drugs at the state-run Mendota Mental Health Institute. Beezow, who strongly opposes being on anti-psychotic drugs, said he was treated with them anyway, which his attorney confirms. Beezow remains livid about it.
After a lengthy stay at the hospital, he was released and pleaded no contest in August to the concealed weapon charge. He was placed on probation for 18 months and ordered to continue psychiatric treatment. He failed to follow through, his probation agent later told the court.
By last fall, Beezow was reaching out for help at Journey Mental Health Center in Madison, a nonprofit agency that has a contract with Dane County to provide mental health services. He was told to come to a drop-in clinic a few days later, on Nov. 16.
According to court records, Beezow showed up that day but was turned away because Journey reached its daily patient quota. He was told to return Nov. 30 but didn't. "I was mentally drained," Beezow says now.
In December, not long after he changed his name, Beezow went to St. Mary's Hospital and told emergency room workers he was the anti-Christ and might kill himself or maybe strangle someone.
Beezow now says he told them "these wild things" only so he could get psychiatric help. He was sent to Mendota on an involuntary hold, but when told he'd be put back on anti-psychotic drugs, he recanted everything and was released.
"I'd really benefit from a stay in a mental hospital if I could pursue treatment at my own pace and not with drugs," Beezow said in early April.
Due to patient confidentiality, county mental health officials could not say whether they treated Beezow. But they said the basics of his story were familiar.
Decades ago, society had an answer for people like Beezow — take away their rights and institutionalize them, said Francis Genter, who oversees adult community services for Dane County. That dehumanizing practice was rightly stopped, but it raised other questions, he said.
"What do you do when a person either doesn't want treatment or puts conditions on the treatment that run counter to traditional, proven practices?" Genter asked. "It's a challenging situation, and that's why you probably see a lot of homeless people with mental illness across the country."
Genter noted that despite tight times, Dane County is spending nearly $6 million more today than it did five years ago on adult mental health services. However, the facilities that contract with the county for preventive mental health services saw their budgets frozen this year.
The average wait time for non-emergency mental health services for adults in Dane County is about three months, said Mary Grabot, who manages those services for the county.
Lynn Brady, chief operating officer for Journey Mental Health Center, said her organization recently instituted daily drop-in clinics to pare waiting lists, yet she is blunt about the problem.
"Funding hasn't kept pace with inflation or need," she said.
For people such as Beezow who sometimes have difficulty functioning, it is expecting a lot of them to keep track of clinic hours, secure transportation and show up for appointments, said Bonnie Loughran, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Dane County.
"They really need a person to depend on — a family member, a friend, a case worker, someone," she said. "If they don't have that, it's real easy for them to get lost in the illness."
Beezow does not seem to have such a person in his life, at least not locally. "I mostly hang out with street hustlers and kids," he said.
His sister calls him her closest family member, yet she is a full-time college student and waitresses 30 to 40 hours a week. "I have helped him out as much as I can," she said.
The person closest to him in Madison may be Saltzman, whom Beezow told a judge is the best attorney he's ever had. Saltzman, 32, vacillates between frustration over his client's predicament and recognition that a mental health system can realistically do only so much for any one person.
"At this point, what Beezow appreciates more than anything is a chance to be heard, a chance to be taken seriously as a human being," Saltzman said.
Thursday at the jail, Beezow said he sometimes worries his name will never allow him to fly under the radar again. Yet he does not regret changing it.
"In all of eternity, I wouldn't want to be anything but Beezow."