A native of South Korea, Insung Philip Cho moved with his family to North Carolina when he was 5. He says he ended up earning an MBA from UCLA and went on to work in commercial banking, management consulting and corporate finance.
But Cho is a paranoid schizophrenic, and in 2005 he was arrested for attempted commercial burglary in Pasadena after voices in his head told him to write checks for thousands of dollars worth of shoes, watches and cigars that he could not afford.
Cho spent nearly a year in and out of Los Angeles County’s Twin Towers jail during a time when federal authorities say the jails were providing inadequate mental health care to inmates.
The experience prompted Cho to write a book, "Twin Towers Los Angeles," which he says depicts his time in jail. He also became active with the Los Angeles County Client Coalition. Comprising people who have experienced mental health problems, the Coalition works with the county Department of Mental Health to improve the delivery of mental health care services, including in the jails.
Cho recalls being placed in solitary confinement at Twin Towers after he told his jailers about his schizophrenia. "It made it a lot worse, my illness," he recalls.
"There's too much money being wasted on incarceration over treatment," Cho asserts. "If you want to improve lives, ... treatment is the key. The public needs to know that they can’t continue this revolving door policy. I pray that maybe I can stop that. This is a huge waste of money, ... a lot of suffering for no reason."
Cho says he still deals with voices and paranoia, but "things are a lot better than when I first got out" because he's on medication that keeps his condition manageable.
"Schizophrenia is not a disease you can cure," Cho says. "At most you can manage your symptoms. But I’ve accepted that, and I try to be productive as much as I can given my limitations. I’m trying to get the message out."