April 2009         

Shannon Teague

From the time she was a young girl, Shannon Teague knew she wanted to help people who were not able to succeed on their own. Her future was shaped by her Uncle Cecil, who she visited in prison periodically throughout her childhood. Uncle Cecil had been involved with the court system from the time he was nine years old. He continued to get into trouble with the law as a young adult, and when he was in his late 20s, he committed a heinous crime and was sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Between the age of 9 and 60, Shannon’s uncle was never out of a detention facility or prison for more than three months at a time.

As a child, Shannon knew her uncle was different. When she asked her grandmother about it, she told her, “Your Uncle Cecil is ill. His brain doesn’t’ work like other people’s. Something is wrong with him mentally. He should be in a hospital, not prison.” His family was never able to get help for him; Cecil never had a diagnosis.

Often times, even though Cecil’s family travelled considerable distance to visit him, they were told they could not see him because he was “in the hole.” Other times, he would be bruised, have a black eye or show other signs of injury. As a result of these experiences, Shannon formed the opinion at a young age that it was unfair for someone with a mental illness to be lumped into the general prison population.

It was this realization that led Shannon to the decision that she would like to work in a prison one day. While in college, she pursued degrees that would ensure she would be able to realize her dreams. 

After she graduated, she worked in a mental health agency, and then a few years later got a job working in the adult prison system, realizing her lifelong dream. Through her work in the adult system and later, in the juvenile prison system, Shannon developed connections and learned a great deal about community options available to prisoners, particularly as they are released and integrated back into the community.

Eventually, Uncle Cecil was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but he never received treatment for the disorder. After his release to a half-way house at age 60, Cecil was determined to have mental retardation. He had spent nearly all his life incarcerated, undiagnosed and untreated. Shannon’s Grandma was right after all, Uncle Cecil’s brain didn’t work like other people.

Shannon formed the opinion at a young age that it was unfair for someone with a mental illness to be lumped into the general prison population.


Today, Shannon serves as her uncle’s guardian. He has moved from a half-way house into a group home and is doing well. Shannon’s grandmother has moved out of state and is unable to visit him very often due to her age, and his siblings very rarely visit him. Shannon continues to be the constant in his life, and now when she visits her uncle, she takes her own nine year old daughter with her.

As director of The Ohio Benefit Bank in the Office of Governor Strickland, Shannon Teague is responsible for leading a unique statewide effort involving public and private partners working together to expand access to work supports and benefits for low and moderate income Ohioans. The Ohio Benefit Bank connects Ohio families with counselors trained to help them determine their eligibility for a variety of state and federal benefits. (For more information, call 1-800-648-1176 or visit www.OBB.Ohio.Gov. 

Thanks to The Ohio Benefit Bank, individuals with mental health disorders can be connected to the help they need to get and stay well, and hopefully avoid going down the same path as Uncle Cecil.

Tonight (April 28, 2009) on PBC, a documentary, The Released, will be shown on Frontline. The program is a follow up to the 2005 documentary, The New Asylums, which focused on what happens to individuals with mental illness in Ohio’s prison system. Tonight’s documentary looks at what happens when prisoners with mental illness are released. The program will profile four inmates after release. FRONTLINE filmmakers Karen O’Connor and Miri Navasky hope that their film not only points out the problem, but also the solution: community supported group homes that are well-run, staffed and supervised. 

The Released will air Tuesday, April 28, at 9 P.M. (8P.M. CST) on PBS (check local listings). Watch the trailer at: http://www.pbs.org/frontline/released


Stigma Busting Challenge: May is Mental Health Month. Get the “scoop” on mental health. Take a someone touched by mental illness out for ice cream!