a man smiles while sitting on the front step of an apartment building

A Fresh Start

This story was originally published in November 2020 on our website.

The day had come to move into a new place and Charles Cantey was excited but nervous. “I had mixed feelings, wondering if I could make it in society because I was locked up for 25 years,” he said.

Since 1994, Cantey had been at Summit Behavioral Health, a state mental health hospital, because of arson charges. As his discharge date neared, the team at Summit struggled with a transition plan because Cantey’s fear of navigating stairs limited his options in the community. They reached out to Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services for a consultation.

“It was a matter of days before his discharge and hearing with the probate court, so we moved into high gear,” said Dr. Thaddeus Nestheide, supervising psychologist for Hamilton County DD Services (HCDDS). “We asked for more time to see what supports we could put in place for Charles. It was incredible how quickly this all happened.” 

The magistrate reluctantly granted an extension, and within 60 days, HCDDS re-established Cantey’s eligibility, completed an assessment and enrolled him on a waiver, and found him an apartment and provider.   

James Dalton, his HCDDS service & support administrator, and Kelley Tekeste, his behavior support specialist, first met with Cantey in early March to explain how they could support him while also ensuring his safety. “Our biggest concern was he would struggle with what he didn’t know as he transitioned out to the world. He had been at Summit since 1994. Everything was different,” Dalton said.

During their early meetings, the team discovered Cantey’s deep frustration with the lack of control over his life. He mentioned how he felt his mental health staff didn’t help or listen to him. After years of being told what to do, he was ready for change.

“Charles, from the very beginning, was very endearing and funny. You could tell his motivation to do better came from within him,” Tekeste said. “We explained that we wanted to be part of his life, but he had to give us a chance.”

They continued to connect on Zoom or over the phone because of COVID-19 precautions, listening to Cantey’s concerns and answering his questions. Building trust took time but he eventually opened up and now feels more comfortable navigating this new environment. “I get some privacy, have staff who work with me, and enjoy my freedom,” he said. “My team has given me hope. It seemed like they really did care – they cared about me and my life out in society.” 

A few months after moving into his apartment, Cantey wanted to get a job and was hired at Panera Bread. “All of this transformation was driven by Charles – he has a clear direction of where he wants to go,” Dalton said. “He wants to move forward and we’re here to support him.”

Cantey’s life has changed dramatically in the past year. Though there are still bumps along the way and he’s learning to speak up for himself, he continues to make progress. “This really shows the importance of giving people control and choice in their life,” Nestheide said.