Tony Robert Cochran (b. 1987), once a practicing radical psychoanalyst, was wrongfully accused and charged with Blackmail in the United Kingdom. During trial, where he defended and represented himself, his political history and sexual orientation became central parts of the prosecution’s case. Upon conviction, he served 10 months of a 36-month sentence in UK prisons; therefore, actual experiences with jurisprudence and incarceration policies inform his prison abolition work. Recounting the facts of the case, he outlines the events that led to his incarceration and the subsequent tabloid reporting surrounding the case.
Responding directly to distortions, sensationalism and outright lies that led to my 10-month imprisonment is not easy. Reliving the past year is not easy. Yet, today I was reminded by a new friend that forgetting is not an option; indeed, to go forward it is essential to first look back.
Reporting on my trial Emma Youle from the Ham&High published three articles. These articles are titled “‘Radical psychoanalyst’ from Camden on trial for stealing from vulnerable client” (15 July 2016), “Conman ‘psychoanalyst’ from Camden must ‘never be able to commit crime again’ says victim” (21 July 2016) and, finally, “Judge jails psychoanalyst conman from Camden saying “You’re delusional'” (7 September 2016).
Properly addressing these articles requires I give some historical background. In the summer of 2015, I was approached through The Icarus Project, a mental health forum, on Facebook regarding my services as a radical psychoanalyst. The client was particularly interested in the fact that I took a holistic view what is commonly called ‘mental illness,’ seeing these as complex relational, semiotic (related to language), biochemical, and psychohistorical phenomena.
After several sessions, I agreed to enter into analysis that included twice a week 60 minute sessions via telephone. At this time I was living in the United States and she was living in England. I also agreed to limited emergency calls. She exhausted her sessions, due to crisis, and also used the emergency calls for other sessions. Traveling to New York City with a friend, I was constantly on the road and on the phone with her. During this trip, I decided to return to the United Kingdom. My non-sexual life partner, Alexander Verney-Elliott lives in London. My client asked if I could stay with her for a couple of weeks. She made provisions for me to have my own room. She paid for my flight, considering the amount of work I had already done, was planing on doing, and that she wanted me to depart earlier than I had planned. I prepared for a Laingian intervention, based on Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing’s experimental in-patient house, Kingsley Hall. Living with patients, Laing’s “radical experiment” was and still is controversial.
A complete history of anti-psychiatry isn’t the intention of this page. Therefore, to clarify this within the confines of keeping her identity confidential and anonymous, I will now address the facts in Question and Answer form.
Why should a psychoanalyst live with a patient?
In some cases, where accommodation can be made, based on the patient’s ability and consent, I do think that short-term live-in therapy can be effective. Helping re-order, structure, motivate and encourage the patient to engage with daily life, a radical intervention at the level of where they live, is sometimes essential. Some people do not, for obvious reasons, want to live in a hospital or psychiatric facility, and this may be an alternative. At the moment these types of interventions are only available in the private sector, and they are very intensive for both the analyst and analysand. This type of work requires resilience, patience and maintenance of boundaries.
How much did you get paid?
In total, for three months of twice weekly phone therapy sessions, including overtime emergency calls, followed by four days of live-in intervention, suicide watch which involved one 20-hour shift, I was paid $1,980 plus an approximately $600 flight from NYC to London. However, PayPal refunded my patient $660 after she opened a dispute claiming that I was not owed this as I left her house “too soon.” I was therefore paid $1320 plus airfare. With two weekly sessions of 60 minutes, plus roughly 65 hours of overtime during the three month period leading up to the live-in sessions, plus two eight hour shifts and one 20-hour shift that involved verbal abuse and several sexual assaults against myself, that works out to about $1920 divided 1541 hours or $1.24 an hour.
Why did you leave?
The day and night before my departure were tumultuous; for reasons which I will not reveal out of confidentiality and to protect her anonymity, the patient was suffering from acute anger, frustration and suicidal distress. Over the space of 12 hours, during a 20-hour period where I attended to her, she engaged in inappropriate sexual advances three times, including touching my penis with her foot in the bathroom after I had showered. Gaining access to my body, she wanted me to I love her, sleep with her, etc. After managing to find a few hours alone in the room she provided, I left the following morning.
What happened next?
As I was leaving for London, to go home, I realised I had no cash, and I wondered if she’d ever pay me beyond the $1.24 an hour. Her family furnished her with a large trust-fund, and payment, despite the prosecution’s attempt to portray one of her accounts as in the negative, was never an issue. I was angry. I was distraught and angry with myself, for I suspected I had misdiagnosed the patient, the situation and my ability to respond. I took her credit card, which she had left out for me to use, and exited the house. Clearly knowing things had gone too far, I found an email from her stating, “I’m sorry about last night, I can be a bit violent sometimes. Please take this Tesco card pin 6605 and spend a little for yourself.”
On my way to the station, I determined, rightly, that I would never be paid adequately for my services, so I attempted to withdraw money. I took £300. I returned to London and sent her an email explicitly stating what had happened, reiterating my request the contracted agreements be paid in full with a reduction of £300, meaning an additional £1,790 ($2,300) which would have brought my hourly rate up to $2.73.
Why was were you willing to work so little?
Because I truly cared about the patient, considering her history, etc and I found her compelling and interesting.
What are your qualifications?
“Cochran made a show of opening a sealed transcript of his degree qualifications from the witness stand during the trial,” reports the Ham&High (7 September 2016). Yes, I did open my sealed college transcripts which showed completion of courses in counselling, human services, and psychology; I also had Mark Cousins, Director of General Studies and Head of the Graduate Program in Histories and Theories at the Architectural Association, testify that I had regularly attended his courses on critical theory, psychoanalysis and architecture; I also demonstrated that I had studied with the Center for Freudian Analysis and Research, of which I participated in parts of their Clinical Training Program based at University College of London, Birkbeck; I also showed other clinical and practical work I did in the United States, providing emergency psychological care and housing to homeless patients withdrawing from a variety of substances, in my home; building a community that became known as The Serenity Family. An organizing hub for homeless activists committed social justice, health-care access and international connections began out of this network, from my little apartment in Springfield, Oregon.
Lastly, I reiterated that my outsider status was the reason my client had approached me, and that I had informed her of all my training, and clearly noted that most – if not all – practitioners of radical psychoanalysis in the spirit of Thomas Szasz, Theodore Lidz, Silvano Arieti, Erving Goffman, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, were outside of the realm of licensing. The few social critics and analysts that do this work are on the outside, having a history of study in academia mixed with practical work outside. Years as a union organizer, training in social services and psychology, later in philosophy and psychoanalysis plus my experiences with homelessness in the United States led me to practice.
This was explained and she understood that. In fact, she said, even during the trial, to Alexander Verney-Elliott that “Tony was the best psychoanalyst I have ever had.”
How did the case progress?
After placing me on pre-trial bail on the 5th of March 2015, I was interviewed several times. The PayPal request I sent to my patient was initially dismissed, as it validated my experience of sexual assault. However, when I asked for a trial by Jury, and not one in the lower Court, the prosecution added Blackmail, which is considered “Murder of the soul” by Archibald (UK Law Book). Blackmail made the case, for unlike the charges of fraud and theft it did not rely on evidence, instead it was based heavily on judgement of character. The prosecution still contended that I had stolen the credit card, a mobile phone and an iPad. (I have no knowledge of the iPad, I did use the card (as I already noted above), and I did take a mobile phone I was given for use in England, which I planned on replacing with the money I was owed and returning to my patient.) However, adding Blackmail made the case more difficult for me to win, instead of evidence or facts it became a case of the Jury’s perceptions.
As the trial opened, Judge John Plumstead almost immediately mentioned my sexual orientation to the Jury, a fact that he would remind them of occasionally throughout the five-day trial, including in his sentencing, nor did the prosecution waste any time on mentioning my political activism. One of the Ham&High articles shows a video of me protesting white supremacy, consumerism and capitalist terrorism as a part of my trial file.
Considering the police had absolutely no physical evidence, seemed totally disinterested in the fact that I had been sexually misused, (a fact I told them the day of my initial arrest on the 5th of March 2015) the prosecution was successful at making “suggestions” a tactic in English and Welsh courts. “I suggest that you are devious … I am not here to question your qualifications … We are not here to talk about Freud but fraud,” prosecuting barrister Martin Hooper stated gleefully. In the ultra-conservative English Home County of Hertfordshire, going up against a powerful local family with deep connections to the elite, I was not surprised at the array of forces against me. I did underestimate them. I represented myself, for very personal and political reasons. I spoke directly to the Jury; however, the idea that I could not be sexually misused by a woman, which became the central, and only part, of the prosecution’s case, as the evidence whittled down to nothing, stuck with the Jury. I could tell they didn’t believe me. A man in the Jury laughed when I said what happened. The night before deliberation I told Alexander Verney-Elliott that I knew I would get three years. I smoked an American Spirit cigarette as we spoke next to the closed gate of Saint George’s gardens, he cried for the first time since the trial began, and then we held each other in the dark outside our flat.