Friday, April 25, 2014

A Perfect Storm (Part Two of Three)

When John joined our family my parents were not knowledgeable about FASD in specific, but did have experience parenting other traumatized children.  Of the 6 children they raised 4 came from difficult beginnings.  They by no means did everything right but our father took a special interest in and spent a lot of time with John having just retired from full time work when he arrived.  After almost a year of trial and error and just plain hard work for both John and my parents, he was off of all but one ADHD medication, functioning wonderfully at home, and keeping his grades decent enough at school to be allowed to play on the basketball team.  The next 3 years were good ones.  My parents were strict but loving and John thrived with the high level of structure and attention they provided even if he still struggled mightily at times, particularly at school.

Then, when John was 17 and starting his sophomore year in high school, my father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack and it all fell apart.  The adult children in our family, including me, all lived far away and my mother could not cope with the grief of losing my dad and three grieving teens, one of which was John.  John began to cut classes, then to skip school entirely.  He lost his place on the basketball team and began running with a different group of friends.  There were multiple in (and out of) school suspensions.  When John stayed out all night our mother called the police, frantic that something might have happened to him.    When the police located him at a friend’s house John admitted to drinking and to smoking pot as well as using pills he got from his “friends,” (both uppers and downers).  This led to another stint in a group home with state mandated rehabilitation services.  He completed his 30 day rehab and returned to living with our mother.  This was the first time any doctor or therapist mentioned FASD to her.  They did not provide any information about FASD or its impact other than to caution her John would be much more susceptible to addictions and to watch him closely for any signs of relapse.

At 18 John hung out with kids who were younger than him chronologically, 15 or 16, but far more worldly and street smart than he was.   They suggested one evening that it would be “fun” to break into the garage of another friend while he was away and mess with his bike.  John fell in with that plan easily enough and when the boy’s parents did not find it at all amusing and called the police John was the only one charged as an adult.  He was charged with and convicted of felony breaking and entering.  John’s lawyer did nothing to raise his disability as part of his defense.  He never even brought it up at sentencing.  Our mother begged the judge to consider the recent loss of our father and John was given 5 years of probation with very strict probation rules.  Any violation of them would mean a 5 year jail sentence.

John managed to hold it together for the rest of his senior year of school and although his grades were very poor he did graduate.   As an “adult” over the age of 18 and a High School graduate, John no longer qualified for any of the state programs he had been part of (respite care, after school programs while my mom worked, etc).  My mom helped him find a job at a grocery store but he was unable to handle the constantly shifting schedule of work hours and was quickly fired for missing work, showing up late, etc.  With too much time on his hands and too little supervision John began to run with the wrong crowd again.  His friends (mostly younger than him again) convinced him that his probation appointments were not “really mandatory” and he began missing them, here and there at first, but more regularly over time.  The probation officer would lecture John about missed appointments but never spoke to our mother, who had no idea this was happening.    John failed a random drug screen and then a second.  He overslept and skipped a third.  Since John was a legal adult it was not deemed necessary to inform our mom of anything going on.   The first hint she had of any problems with his probation was the officer at her door that came to arrest John and take him to county for a parole violation hearing.

Our mother was in no financial shape to afford a private attorney again.  She tried to contact John’s public defender but was rebuffed.  John, embarrassed to have her find out "how badly he had fucked it all up" had asked the Public Defender "not to tell his mom."  Again, John is an adult in the eyes of the law, so a childish desire to prevent our mom's disappointment was interpreted to mean do not involve her at all in his defense.  The judge for John's hearing was again told nothing about John's FASD or any of the testing that had been done documenting his cognitive and executive function issues.  He saw, as most would, a young punk who "didn't learn his lesson the first time" and he ordered that John to serve out his original 5 year sentence in jail with no credit for time already served waiting for trial or while on probation.  

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

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