A Troubled Marine's Final Fight

When his nation called, Marine Sergeant David Lindley answered. But when he came home hurting, his country let him down

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Peter Van Agtmael / Magnum for TIME

When his nation called, Marine Sergeant David Linley answered. But when he came home hurting, his country let him down.

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There are 49,000 inmates in Illinois prisons--a fourfold increase since 1980--and 20% of them receive mental-health care. "There's a real lack of capacity to deliver any meaningful mental-health care, especially specialized care like PTSD treatment for veterans," says John Maki, who heads the Chicago-based John Howard Association of Illinois, dedicated to improving the state's prisons. "It's so overcrowded and underresourced that delivery of this kind of care, even when it's ordered by a judge, is extremely difficult if not impossible." Linley earns $125 a month keeping the furniture shop's electronics humming; he spends much of it on phone calls to his kids and on instant coffee in the prison commissary. "Hey, I was in the military--I need my coffee," he explains.

Some days I feel an overwhelming shame. When you strive to do your best, work hard and be honest in life, it's not supposed to end up like this.

The state appellate court upheld Linley's sentence in 2011, and he now has a clemency appeal pending before Governor Pat Quinn. "One week in a mental-health facility probably would have prevented this whole affair, and he would be happily married, raising his kids and working," says Bruce Benson, who worked alongside Linley in the cable-TV business in the 1990s. "He had one bad day in his life, and it has cost him 16 years plus his marriage."

Kristin divorced Linley in 2011. Struggling to make ends meet, she and the children rarely make the four-hour drive to visit him. "The divorce has nothing to do with the fact that he's in jail," she says. "It has to do with what the military did to him. The man who came back from Iraq wasn't the man I married."

Linley, like all those who wore their nation's uniform after 9/11, volunteered for duty. "They have been proud to serve their country," the Institute of Medicine said in a 2010 report detailing troops' service and its consequences. "If they have been wounded, physically or mentally, they expect their government to return the favor."

With time off for good behavior, Linley is slated to leave prison on April 28, 2020. Maybe then he will get the help he needs.

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