How a classmate of a Supreme Court justice ended up homeless

Last spring, a District of Columbia judge made a shocking discovery when he was explaining a defendant’s rights.

“I’m a lawyer,” the defendant, Alfred Postell, a diagnosed schizophrenic, said to Judge Thomas Motley.

After a time, Motley remembered Postell. They’d graduated together from Harvard Law School. Also in the class: Sen. Russ Feingold and Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts.

Postell? He was a homeless man.

Motley sent Postell to jail.

What happened?

The Washington Post answered the question today in a compelling article exploring the depths of mental illness.

“He had all of these fancy things, a nice boat that he used to sail all over the place,” says one relative, LaTonya Sellers Postell. “He was living the rich life. Then he just all of a sudden, he bugged out. No one knows exactly why it happened. . . . He lost all of his material things. It’s been crazy. Absolutely crazy.”

Even his mother, now 85, can’t explain what happened. A darkness one day fell over her son, Priest says. He kept talking about getting arrested. He thought the police were after him. Then he had a bad breakup with a woman he loved. Shortly afterward, Postell had his psychotic break.

“I was afraid,” his mother says. “. . . He ran downstairs, and I said, ‘What is wrong? What is wrong?’ And I tried to slap him a little bit to bring him back. And he started crying. . . . And from there, it went down, down, down, down.”

There’s no happy ending in the article.

The mental health team at Green Door has begun working with him, as has Pathways to Housing, another organization that helps the homeless. His mother has tried to scrape together some money to get him off the street.

But Postell isn’t that interested.

He is mostly lost to the world now, a victim of an illness that denied the world his brilliance. He’ a reality check that anyone can succumb to mental illness.