Pete Earley

Pete Earley

Hard Lessons Learned: From Journalist to Advocate

Course Objectives: Pete Earley will use his personal story and research as a journalist to educate the audience about barriers that he faced trying to get his adult son help and what finally led to his son’s recovery – moving from being incarcerated, twice shot with a taser by police, to his son today working as a peer support specialist currently earning a graduate degree in social work.

Earley will explain what he learned about our mental health system based on his son’s experiences and ten months that Earley spent as a journalist following seriously mentally ill prisoners in the Miami Dade County Jail through the criminal justice system to the streets. He will describe how Miami rebuilt its broken system into a model of care today in part because of his research.

His local and national advocacy has led to Earley testifying five times before Congress and being chosen to serve as the only parent member of a federal committee that advises SAMHSA and Congress about mental health programs.

He will use his experiences during the past 18 years traveling to every state except one and visiting more than a 100-community treatment and housing programs to highlight which programs have the highest impact and he will discuss the latest federal priorities in community treatment based on his private interviews with HHS Director Alex Azar and meetings at the White House.

The overall goal of his presentation is to use his personal story to put a human face on recovery, to inspire those with mental illnesses and those who help them, and to tell the larger story about problems communities face and how best to resolve them. 

Pete Earley Bio:

Pete Earley is an award-winning journalist, best-selling author, and nationally known advocate for mental health reform.

He is best known as the author of CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, which was one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. (Crazy refers to our current system, not person with mental illnesses.) His book tells two stories. The first is his struggle to get his adult son help after he develops a severe mental illness. The second story is based on ten months that Earley spent inside the Miami Dade County jail where he followed persons with mental disorders through the criminal justice system and out into the streets to see what happened to them. His book has won awards from the American Psychiatric Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Mental Health America. He has appeared as a guest to discuss mental illness on NBC Nightly News, Cooper Anderson Live, CNN, NBC Candy Crowley State of the Union, FOX News, and CBS news. His articles regularly appear in USA TODAY and The Washington Post.  CNN named him as one of our nation’s Top Mental Health Warriors.

Since the release of his book, he has lectured in 49 states, toured more than 100 mental health treatment programs, testified five times before the U.S. Congress, and spoken in Iceland, Brazil, Poland, Portugal and India.

He currently serves on the board of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, which finds innovative ways for states to finance housing projects to help eliminate homelessness.

He is the only parent member on the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Committee, created to advise Congress about needed mental health reforms. In addition, he serves on state and local mental health advisory panels in Virginia.

He also publishes a weekly mental health blog that averages 220,000 readers per month.

In a Washingtonian Magazine cover story entitled, Top Journalists: Washington’s Media Elite, he was described as one of a handful of journalists in America who “have the power to introduce new ideas and give them currency.”

 A former reporter for The Washington Post, he is the author of eleven nonfiction books and ten novels. His first book, Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring, was a New York Times bestseller and was made into a five-hour miniseries, which won three Emmys, and was shown on CBS television. For his book, The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison, Earley spent a full year as a reporter inside a maximum-security prison. His book, Circumstantial Evidence helped lead to the release of a black man from death row after he had been wrongly convicted of murdering a white teenager in Alabama

His nonfiction books include:

Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring (1988)(A New York Times Bestseller)

Prophet of Death: The Mormon Blood Atonement Killings (1991)

The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison (1992)

Circumstantial Evidence: Death, Life, and Justice in a Southern Town (1995)(Winner: Edgar Award, 1995, Best True Crime, Robert F. Kennedy Award)

Confessions of A Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames (1997)

Super Casino: Inside the New Las Vegas (2000)

WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Security Program (2002)

CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’ Mental Health Madness (2006)

COMRADE J: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy In America After the End of the Cold War (2008) A New York Times and Washington Post bestseller.


RESILIENCE: Two Sisters and Mental Illness (2015) written with Jessie Close 

His novels include:

The Big Secret (2004)

Lethal Secrets (2005)

The Apocalypse Stone (2006)

Sly Fox written for Jeannie Piro (2012)

Clever Fox written for Jeannie Piro (2013)

Duplicity written with Newt Gingrich (2015)

Treason written with Newt Gingrich (2016)

Vengeance written with Newt Gingrich (2017)

Collusion written with Newt Gingrich (2019)

Shakedown written with Newt Gingrich (2020)


 * Family of Spies is considered the definitive book about the John Walker Jr. spy ring, the most damaging spy ring in our country’s history. Mr. Earley is the only journalist to have spoken to all of the spy ring’s members. His book was made into a five hour mini-series, entitled Family of Spies, shown during sweeps month on CBS television. It starred Powers Boothe and Leslie Ann Warren and was nominated for an Emmy. His book also was nominated as the best True Crime Book of 1988 by the Mystery Writers of America. It ranked number nine on the New York Times paperback bestseller list on February 25, 1990. It was excerpted by The Washington Post Magazine and reprinted by Readers Digest Condensed Books.

Prophet of Death describes the murders of a family by Jeffrey Don Lundgren and his religious cult, an off-shoot of the Mormon Church. The New York Times wrote this about Prophet of Death: “Mr. Earley’s artful narrative casts the seductive spell of a scary story told at granny’s knee.”

*The Hot House describes everyday events inside the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. Mr. Earley was the first and only reporter ever given unlimited access by the government to a major maximum security prison. He spent one year conducting research behind its walls. The Hot House was a regional best-seller in hardback in Denver and Chicago, and was a number five bestseller in the New York Post. It’s currently used as a supplemental text by many colleges and has been praised by penologists as one of the finest books ever written about prison life.

*Circumstantial Evidence describes a still-unsolved murder in Monroeville, the small Alabama town that inspired Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. His book won the Robert. F. Kenney Memorial Book Award for Social Justice and was chosen by the Mystery Writers of America as Best True Crime Book of 1995. The book is the definitive account of the wrongful arrest of a black man accused of murdering a white teenager – a case that was featured recently in the major motion picture, Just Mercy.

Confessions of A Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames is based on exclusive interviews that Mr. Earley conducted in jail with Aldrich Ames without the U.S. government’s knowledge or permission. He remains the only journalist who has spoken to Ames without a CIA or FBI censor being present. In Moscow, he obtained the first interviews ever granted by Ames’ KGB handlers. US News and World Report published an excerpt of his book as its cover story on February 17, 1997, and Nightline dedicated two nights of it program to the revelations in his book.

*Super Casino: Inside the “New” Las Vegas describes events Mr. Earley observed during a one-year period inside a billion dollar Strip casino. The book describes early Las Vegas and the events that led to it becoming the fastest growing city in America.

*WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Security Program describes how the government protects and provides new identities to criminals, including terrorists, after they agree to testify for federal prosecutors. This book was co-authored by Mr. Earley and Gerald Shur, the former Justice Department attorney who created the program and oversaw it for thirty years.

*CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness tells two stories. The first account describes Mr. Earley’s attempts to get his college age son, Michael, help after he is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and suffers a manic attack that results in him being arrested. The book then shifts to the dreaded ninth floor of the Miami Dade Jail where Mr. Earley follows several psychotic inmates through the justice system and into the streets to document how they are treated.

*COMRADE J: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War was released in January 2008 and became an immediate bestseller. It exposes secrets revealed by Sergei Tretyakov, the highest-ranking Russian spy to ever defect from his post in New York City.

 The Serial Killer Whisperer was published in January 2012 and is the true story of a teenager who suffers a traumatic brain injury that causes him to have the same psychiatric profile as a serial killer. He begins corresponding with 33 infamous serial killers and after five years believes that he might be capable of killing. Instead, with help from his family and intervention by a psychiatrist, he begins using his unusual insights to help law enforcement investigate murders committed by serial killers. Six weeks after the book was released, Florida’s governor ‘greenlighted’ the execution of a serial killer who’d been on death row for twenty years. The governor’s staff cited the book as the reason behind the governor’s sudden action.

Resilience: Two Sisters and Mental Illness, is the biography of Jessie Close, who suffered from addiction and mental illnesses.


The New York Sun described Mr. Earley’s fiction as A a cut above the popular thrillers of John Grisham and Tom Clancy in a review of The Big Secret.

Before writing books full-time, Mr. Earley worked at The Washington Post for seven years. He was hired there initially by Bob Woodward of Watergate fame, but soon moved from the paper’s Metro staff to its National staff where he covered a variety of federal agencies. His last assignment was at the Post’s Sunday magazine where his stories won a variety of awards.

Mr. Earley first came to Washington D.C. in 1978 as the lone correspondent for The Tulsa Tribune. He covered the Oklahoma congressional delegation and, on occasion, The White House and U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he worked for two years in Tulsa where he was repeatedly honored for his feature writing and investigative reporting. A series of stories that he wrote led to the release of two men from prison who had been wrongly convicted. Another series exposed shoddy treatment of the mentally ill in state institutions.

Mr. Earley graduated with honors in 1973 from Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma. He has a B.S. degree in mass communication and business administration. After graduation, he worked as a reporter at William Allen White’s Emporia Gazette in Kansas.

He is married to Patti Luzi Earley and together they have seven children. He has taught in the graduate nonfiction writing program at Goucher College, in Townson, Maryland.

Mr. Earley’s trademark is that he allows the subjects of his books to tell their own stories without editorial comment. This is how his work was described in a page-one review of The Hot House published by The Los Angeles Times:

“Before we had schools of journalism, there was a straightforward task called reporting that took you where you had not been, and told you what you had not known. This book is by a reporter, and gives the readers reporting at its very finest…”

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