QUINCY -- After Ron Powers' youngest son committed suicide in 2005, the Pulitzer Prize winner and prolific author swore that he would never write about the "hellish" pain that he and his family went through.
"I was in a daze in the first five years, then the healing began, and I realized after reading more about the disease (schizophrenia) that I really had to do this," Powers said.
His 2017 book, "No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America" was the result. Mental health myths and misconceptions also will be Powers' main topic of discussion when the Hannibal, Mo., native comes to Quincy on April 26 to help with a fundraiser for Transitions of Western Illinois.
Powers' book starts with the words: "This is the book I promised myself I would never write." But as he began going back through photos, emails and other items that belonged to his youngest son, Kevin, Powers saw the need to tell the world that ignoring mental illness is a terrible mistake and a social injustice.
National statistics indicate that more than 10 million Americans will suffer a serious mental illness each year and with more than three people in the average home, more than 34 million American lives will be disrupted.
Powers' older son, Dean, was diagnosed with schizophrenia only months after Kevin's suicide. Thanks to informed treatment choices, Dean's illness has been controlled.
But too many people with mental illnesses are sent to jails, Powers said.
"The moral necessity for us as individuals, and for our country, is to reclaim these people," Powers said.
"There's primal fear and prejudice against the mentally ill and because of that, (society) punishes the mentally ill when we should be treating them."
Since his book was published, Powers has been scolding the government for spending $31,000 per year to jail the average person with mental illness, rather than spending the $10,000 needed for treatment. He also has promoted programs that help those with mental challenges.
"Organizations around the country, like Transitions, are taking up the slack, and I'm so gratified that people are doing what they can to help," Powers said.
Barb Baker Chapin, director of development at Transitions, hopes that Powers' visit will help people see mental illness in a new light.
"One in five of us will suffer from a mental illness at some time in our lives, and yet there's still such a stigma associated with it," she said. "I hope Ron Powers' very personal story can help us have a dialogue about the changes we need to see in the mental health system and the way we're funding it."
Powers has written 16 books, including "White Town Drowsing," which looked at his hometown of Hannibal during the 1980s. He also wrote a biography of Mark Twain, "Mark Twain: A Life" that was a New York Times best-seller and a finalist for the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award. In more recent years, Powers was co-author of "Flags of Our Fathers" and "True Compass," which were both No. 1 New York Times hard-cover nonfiction best-sellers.
He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his critical writing about television for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1972. He also won an Emmy Award in 1985 for his commentaries on "CBS News Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt."
Several of Powers' books will be available for sale. A complementary copy of "Flags of Our Fathers" will be presented to those who buy tickets to a social hour with the author, and he will do a book signing.