Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Perfect Storm (Part Three of Three)

I don’t know much about John's incarceration.  He did not write frequently and no one from the prison would talk to us or tell us what was going on with him.  John was released on parole after 2 years and we did find out, after he had been released that he was prescribed “a lot of pills” while in jail.  We never did learn what specific medications he had been on or for what because John could not remember the names of them.  He only knew that there were pills to help him stay calm, different pills so he would not be depressed and anxious, and yet more pills to help him sleep.   When John was released he was told he had to live in a halfway house in one of the worst possible neighborhoods of a city about 30 min from our family home.  As soon as John called us – the day he was released - we began attempting to contact his Parole Officer. 

I had spent the period of John's incarceration studying his neuropsych reports and learning about FASD.  We knew from John's probation and from what we had learned about FASD that without support, without an external brain working to help him with the executive functions he lacked John would not be able to successfully navigate parole.  Our mother attempted to accompany John to three different meetings with his PO but was told she had no place there and would not be allowed into the office.  She stayed anyway and tried to write down any instructions or rules John could remember from his meetings with the parole officer but most of what John was able to tell her was very generic. 

“Keep your nose clean, boy.”

“You have another appointment next week.”

“When next week?” she’d ask.  “Um, I think the same as this one?” he would say.    But usually he was wrong about the day, or the time, or where he was supposed to report to; the PO’s office, the drug testing clinic, the Fresh Start support group.  Or if he remembered the day, the time and the place correctly he would lose his bus pass or get on the wrong bus and end up missing the appointment again.

John rapidly became depressed and withdrawn.  Although I live several states away I made the trip to visit him several times to encourage him. I called, faxed, and wrote letters endlessly to John's PO, to the head of that office, even a couple to the State Board of Parole.  No one was willing to so much as answer a call or return a letter.  John had been out about 2 months when I noticed on one visit that he seemed unnaturally lethargic and his eyes were highly dilated.  When I insisted he tell me what he was on he swore up and down he had not used any illegal drugs.  In fact he was at great pains to show me the pack cigarettes he had purchased at the minimart right across from his halfway house. 

It turns out they were a newer form of synthetic marijuana.  For those like me who have no idea what “synthetic marijuana” means – it is a designer drug in which herbs, incense or other leafy materials are sprayed with lab-synthesized liquid chemicals to mimic the effect of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in the naturally grown marijuana. The original forms of this sold as both “Spice” and “K2” were banned in 2012.   These drugs have become increasingly popular however, because as each brand of synthetic cannabinoid is banned a new one is promptly developed and “legally” sold until it is added to the list.  John had indeed legally purchased the cigarettes he was smoking but he failed his drug test that week none the less.  He did not understand that.  He had no idea how something he could legally buy at the same place he got his morning Pepsi was illegal.  But he promised not to touch it again and his PO seemed willing to overlook it.  We don’t know for sure what his thoughts were because again he refused to answer any of our attempts to contact him.  The only thing John shared with us from that meeting was he had been told “Take responsibility for your actions and be a man.” 

John continued to miss, and occasionally make, appointments and found a job doing maintenance work as a volunteer for a local church.  He was able to keep good attendance at the church position because they were willing to keep his hours consistent week to week.  We knew things were not ideal with John's situation.  He would tell us occasionally about being afraid of his housemates at the halfway house, things that we purchased for him like clothing, bus passes were stolen or lost, and we knew his attendance at various appointments was spotty.   In spite of this, things seemed to be settling into a holding pattern.  There were no repercussions for his failed drug test and while his living situation was unpleasant John seemed to be doing ok.   We stopped bombarding his PO with requests for contact.  It seemed futile and he did not seem inclined to penalize John for his slip ups.   This was a serious mistake on our part. 

What John's PO was doing was compiling a case to have him returned to prison for his full term.  One day when John turned up at his PO’s office he was met by an officer with a warrant to take him immediately to jail.  He was able to call and tell us where he was but not much else.  He did not understand why he was there or what was going to happen next.  We were frantic.  I called every number and resource I could dig up through the internet.  I finally found two sympathetic and helpful people.  A secretary at the Public Defender’s office who got me the name of the person assigned to John and the date of his parole violation hearing (only 4 days away) and Kay Kelly from the FASD Justice center at the University of Washington.  Kay pointed me to several useful papers written about FASD and the Justice system as well as an excellent web site by David Boulding a Canadian Lawyer who has done a lot of work in the area.   She also helped me dig up the state laws on Parole and violation hearings etc.

Armed with that, I started yet another phone and letter writing campaign.  I wrote a 14 page letter for the PD to give to the judge at John's hearing.  I sent copies of the American Bar resolution on FASD, copies of all the letters I had sent John's  parole officer, and copies of John's  diagnosis and testing results.  John's Public Defender was open-minded and helpful.  The judge was open-minded as well.  All of the violations raised that were related to Bill’s areas of difficulty (ie missed appointments) were dismissed.  The failed drug test, although six month old by this point, was the only complaint upheld.  The PO asked for 24 months in the state penitentiary so John “would learn his lesson”.  Mercifully the judge instead sentenced John to 90 days in a drug rehab boot camp program and instructed that the intake and outplacement coordinator there work with us to help John.

John completed his 90 program with no difficulties and was released to parole residing in our mother’s home.    His new Parole Officer has read all the info we provided on FASD and is working closely with us to help John reach his goals.  John has not had a single violation of the terms of his parole for 3 months now and was granted permission to travel out of state for the holidays.  We celebrated as a whole family for the first time in 3 years.  I don’t remember a holiday sweeter for us since our father passed away. 

I wanted to share this story because it should not be this hard.  All of the systems involved to help a child like John failed him.  A family should not have to fight so much to be allowed to assist someone who is disabled by FASD.  Can you image what the trajectory our brother’s life would be if the public defender and judge at his second trial had not listened to us?  What do you suppose happens to all of the young people who have families less motivated, less informed, or less just plain stubborn than we were?  Our prisons are filled with people on a revolving door program who, just like John, never had a truly fair chance.  

*This story was shared with my brother's permission although I have altered his name to protect his privacy.

No comments:

Post a Comment