Tag Archives: juvenile justice

Arrested and in shackles

June 10th, 2019

Every mom hopes that her children have wonderful opportunities in life.  That hope was always there, living in my heart, the same as most parents.  We all want our children to be happy.  We would like our children to succeed. We want them to graduate, we hope for them to get a job and do something they love to do. We don’t care much what it is as long as it is meaningful and they are following through. But those hopes and wants change over and over again when you have a child with trauma.

They changed for me with one phone call.  I got a call from the police in the middle of the night.  I jerked awake and heard, “Hello, Ms. Viano.  We have picked up your son. He was arrested and will be in court tomorrow morning.”  After I ask in shock, “What? Why? How? “ I realize that it’s 2 a.m. and I need to talk to someone but I have to wait.  The hours from 2 to 6 a.m. are really hard.  Going back to sleep is out of the question.

While I wait for 6 a.m. to come and I can call my mom to talk about it, I pace in the kitchen. Make coffee, get the tissues and cry. I wonder what happened, I don’t know any of the details because I was too shocked to ask. The not knowing makes it worse and my mind makes up stories, each worse than the last.  Then I remember, I can call and ask those questions.   I pick up my phone, call and get more information.  It leaves me with more questions and more turmoil.  I have some of the story but I am still unable to understand and make sense of this.   I keep checking the clock.

Finally, it’s 6 a.m. and I can call my mom. She answers immediately asking, “What is wrong? Are the kids okay?”  I start to tell her only to have my voice crack and my sadness overcome me. She listens with her full attention, like she often has in the 15 years I have raised my son. This time she says to me, “You always try your best as a parent. We all want him to get help and be okay.”   She pauses, then comes the next phrase, “I have no idea how to raise a kid like that.”  There lies the truth.

While I am comforted, I am alone again. But I am thankful that I have a family to talk to and understand.  There are many times that they don’t know what to do with my questions, my worries and most of my entire story.  But they listen and they care.  That’s a lot.

I arrive at the court promptly at 8 a.m. and go through the metal detectors.  My heart feels like it is in my shoes. Nothing feels good. Nothing feels right. Nothing feels helpful. This is what people who tell families to go to court to get help for their children need to understand:  it hurts, it’s frightening and it doesn’t make sense.

Finally, the courtroom is open.  The judge walks in and the moment is here. This is the time I have been dreading.  My son walks in behind a glass wall and with handcuffs and shackles on him. He is dirty, sad, and scared. I am a parent who can only look at her son and gaze into his eyes to show him I am there. My eyes well up and I begin to cry.  I see his lips moving telling me, “Sorry mom.  I am so sorry mom. I love you”. I believe him. He is sorry and he needs help. Jail no – help and treatment yes.

Moments later he is taken to jail to be held on a bail I cannot afford. I am alone, I am confused and I am struggling to be understood and listened to.  How can substance abuse, mental health and jail come together to support families and siblings? How can parents feel like they are not alone?

Time and time again parents have to search.  No one connects us – we have to find a community of parents on our own.  I found a wonderful organization, Justice 4 Families,  and wish I had found it sooner.  There are parents who have done this before you who can answer those questions. Parents need to know they are not alone.  There is a community waiting for them who can help them help their child, their adult family member and most of all, themselves. We all need support and someone to tell us, “I know what to do.”

Meri Viano is our guest blogger.  She is the parent of two sons and a daughter who continue to inspire her blog posts.

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March 4th, 2013

He was worriedMy son has been in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for more than a month, but he can’t stay there forever. We are faced with a couple of choices, neither of them good. He can go to jail for the charges pending against him (two assaults, three stolen cars, destruction of property) or he can go to a locked IRTP, an intensive residential treatment program. For six months he wore an electronic ankle bracelet which was supposed to keep him out of trouble. But he repeatedly “forgot” to charge it, kept pushing its geographic limits, then finally managed to pull it off and fling it somewhere in the park, never to be found again. Now the District Attorney says that to keep society safe, he has to be locked away.

“He’s not a bad person,” I tell our attorney, as though he needs convincing. He stole three cars in a three week period. Why? Because he met a boy at a dance who lived an hour away and he needed to see him. He assaulted program staff when they set limits which he didn’t think were fair. Or he imagined they set those limits, it wasn’t clear.

And all of it, deep down, stems from trauma. When he likes someone, even if he’s met them only once, he becomes obsessed, he must impress, make sure they like him back. He won’t give them a chance to reject him (diagnosis: borderline traits.) And if a staff sets an unfair limit, it feels like a horrible breach, the end of their relationship. He loses it, attacks (bipolar I; impulse control disorder.) All so he doesn’t have to feel that initial pain again (PTSD.)

He was sixteen, the first time staff pressed charges for assault. Instead of adult court, there was an administrative hearing. We sat in comfortable chairs around a gleaming oak table: the lawyer I’d hired, my son, the staff member of his residential program whom he’d assaulted. The staff passed around photos of his injuries: a hugely swollen eye, purplish bruises, ghoulish; a bump on the back of his head where my son had “grazed him“ with the fire extinguisher. “He could have been killed!” the magistrate boomed at my fidgety son, who was looking alternately scared and bored. I averted my eyes from the staff, though his face was healed.

It feels more shameful to have a child who hurts others than to have one who is “just” mentally ill. My son’s probation officer promised to “get him,” claiming he wasn’t disturbed at all. I worry that people think I am trying to keep him from jail because I condone his behavior. I know the staff thought I over-indulged him. But there is a ninety-three percent recidivism rate for teenagers who are sent to prison. I feel as if I am trying to save his life.

So we wait. I need to fax psychological reports, past hospital discharges, proof that he has “major mental illness” to DMH central office. As I collect the best documents–meaning those which make him look the sickest–I feel like I am trying to gain admittance to the country club or get him into college (I wish!) It’s a scary race. Will he get into the IRTP before St. Elizabeth discharges him?

Postscript: I found out this morning that he got into Center Point, the IRTP. Now we begin a new chapter.

Our guest blogger, Randi Schalet, is a psychologist and an adoptive mother of her twenty-two year old daughter and eighteen year old son . She credits her ability to carry on with parenting her challenging son to the support of friends, family and, especially, other parents.

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