Pittsfield resident Todd Poulton brings his memorable mug to TV's 'Sleepy Hollow'


Photo Gallery | PHOTOS: Beyond the face of Todd Poulton

PITTSFIELD >> Todd Poulton's got a memorable face.

Within 30 minutes of his fiancée, Melinda Tarjick, sending them a few headshots taken with a cellphone camera, Poulton was cast as an extra for the Fox Television series, "Sleepy Hollow." The show puts Washington Irving's characters Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman into a modern supernatural drama.

Poulton's expected to appear in Monday night's new episode, which airs at 9 p.m.

You won't hear his voice, but in the bar scene he filmed, you might see him playing the "suspicious guest," marked by the two-toned blue tattoo scrolled onto the right side of his face. For the scene, his hair was mussed "like a werewolf," Poulton said. Costumers dressed him in a purple shirt and long black coat, and he was given an electronic cigar to smoke, reinforcing his appearance as a dangerous-looking bloke.

"When you look at a guy like me, most people look scared," said Poulton, whose various career roles have included contending spots on celebrity boxing tours. Poulton, who also goes by his stage name, "The Punisher," convinced Wesley Lamore at Pittsfield's Intradermal Designs to give him the facial ink so he could mimic the infamous look of now retired professional boxer Mike Tyson.

But Poulton's looks can be deceiving, as the "Sleepy Hollow" crew quickly discovered. For his scene, they directed him to take a drag on the e-cigar. Seconds later, the tanned, burly, 200-plus-pound 50-year-old was doubled over, choking and coughing like an adolescent.

Poulton remembered the director yelling at him, "Cut! Hey Face Tattoo Guy, what's the matter with you? You never smoked before?"

The boxer laughed, recounting the incident. "'No,' I told him. And that's the absolute truth."

Lauren Poulton, 22, grew up in the Berkshires with her father and two siblings, Casey and Christian, and now lives in Durham, N.C. She describes her dad as "outgoing, lovable and kindhearted."

"I want people to know that if you judge him purely on his loud, outgoing personality or his face tattoo, you are missing out," Lauren said.

"He was a teacher of special education when I was growing up and it really made me admire him as a person because I saw how much he cared for other people. He taught me to treat everyone with the same amount of respect and that the most important thing in life is to do good for other people," she said.

Todd Poulton's looks and antics combined have, in recent years, given him some local, regional, even national press on the boxing and entertainment circuits. Through this exposure, he's also been able to highlight the fact that his actions, well-intentioned or misunderstood, are spurred by what he describes as his "biggest rival" — OCD.

Poulton's part of 1 percent of the population in the United States affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder. That's about 2.2 million adults ages 18 and older, according to statistics reported by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Symptoms of this disorder have been highlighted in mainstream media, from "Deal or No Deal" game show host Howie Mandel's fear of germs and contamination to numerous network shows about the compulsion known as hoarding, which ties into the fear of letting things go.

While the symptoms may seem fascinating and quirky to some people, for the individuals who find themselves obsessing over specific thoughts, or feeling uncontrollably compelled to do certain things, OCD can make life a very scary and painful existence.

Clinical Psychologist Aaron Sardell, Psy.D., has been the director of The Counseling Center in the Berkshires since 2010.

"The challenge of OCD is how disruptive it becomes in people's daily lives," Sardell said.

A symptom like hoarding, for example, can present serious environmental health problems. The symptom known as "checking behavior," something Poulton has been affected by, compels people with OCD to repeatedly check on certain things, like their house, or the bumps they hit in the road, until they're convinced that nothing has been harmed or damaged.

In Poulton's case, his behaviors caused him to leave a full-time job he loved.

Since the 1980s, Poulton's work has been with youths and adults who face significant challenges, from physical and cognitive disabilities to trauma and abuse.

Retired Wahconah Regional High School math teacher and athletics coach, Paul Procopio has been a longtime colleague and friend of Poulton's.

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"Todd and I go way back, before the tattoos," Procopio said.

As a youth, Poulton was a modest boy from the Dalton hilltowns. He won equestrian show awards and in had a knack for hockey.

Procopio said Poulton and his siblings inherited a strong set of values and faith from their parents, James and Donna, both active in volunteering their time and talents.

After graduating from Wahconah, Poulton went back to the district to work as a track and field coach and also work with children with special needs.

"In a school setting he was fabulous," Procopio said.

He recalls Poulton's particular focus working with a pair of brothers attending Nessacus Middle School. They had severe physical limitations due to complications with multiple sclerosis. Poulton used his strength to literally carry the boys through classes and field trips so they could enjoy life.

Poulton said as he got older, his ODC symptoms became more prevalent, particularly as he experienced losses in his life, such as when those boys he cared for died from MS, and his first marriage failed, and he struggled with weight between the mid-1980s and '90s.

Poulton went on to hold jobs with Hillcrest Educational Centers and Berkshire County ARC, but by the early 2000s, his "checking behaviors" — leaving for work but having to turn around to check that the house was secure, multiple times — became a chronic issue of tardiness and failure to show. He was forced to stop working.

Poulton's older daughter, Casey Garavito, 27, a physical therapist now working in Myrtle Beach, S.C. said, "Growing up we always picked fun at Dad for having to do what we called his 'twosies,' which meant if something struck him as odd or bothered him he would have to turn around and do it twice. It wasn't until around 2005 when he was officially diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, that I really started to research the disease and even found that I carried many similar traits."

Today, she credits his advocacy and says, "My hope for him is that he continues to actively participate in the battle against the mental health stigma and continues to find inner peace."

Poulton is now treated through combined behavioral therapy counseling and medication. "It's because of this, I believe I'm still alive," he said.

And though he's on disability from working, he keeps active by doing things like coaching kids and adults pro bono in his home gym, and taking on different hobbies and boxing benefits for charity.

Kathy Armstrong said her grandson Kyntrell Daniels, 9, has not only benefited from Poulton's coaching, but his mentorship. Poulton told Daniels that he'll only help him with his boxing if Daniels helps his grandparents around the house and keeps his grades up.

"Kyntrell idolizes Todd. He listens," said Armstrong, who noted that her grandson recently earned a "most improved student" award.

Poulton currently plans on moving to Myrtle Beach to be closer to his children, and to continue to find ways to help people through athletic training and charitable activities.

"My job today is trying to stay mentally focused and get the word out there to never, never give up on your dreams, no matter what you suffer from, and be a productive member in your community," Poulton said.

Contact reporter Jenn Smith at 413-496-6223.

4 things to know about obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is classified as a neurological anxiety disorder. Other anxiety disorders include: panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia (or social anxiety disorder), specific phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Learn more at the National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders

Some common obsessions and fears related to OCD include: Contamination, losing control, harm, perfectionism, unwanted sexual thoughts, religious obsession, superstitions. Obsession with any of these can be seen through a person's repetitive behaviors or compulsions, or so-called 'rituals,' which help to relieve temporarily relieve the person from thinking about these ideas. Learn more at the International OCD Foundation: http://iocdf.org

The exact cause of OCD is unknown. Some research suggests symptoms may have genetic links. Other studies suggest the onset of OCD can be related to behavioral, cognitive, environmental and other risk factors. Learn more at: BeyondOCD.org.

Research has also shown that OCD is treatable through therapy, medication and by making other conscious lifestyle changes. People who think they or a loved one may be struggling with OCD should make an appointment to work with a health care professional to determine the best options for treatment and care. Learn more through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America: http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd

To learn more about The Counseling Center in the Berkshires, a private, nonprofit counseling center with offices in Pittsfield, Williamstown and Great Barrington, visit ccberkshires.com or call the main Pittsfield office at 413-499-4090 for information and assistance.


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