Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Stranger in My Car

A few weeks ago I was called by a county caseworker. Given my name by an inmate in her county jail, she asked for my assistance in getting him from the county jail to a chemical treatment facility. It would require a full-day commitment due to distance, but I said yes. This person is estranged from his family, and having experienced that before I understood how difficult it can be to advocate for someone when they didn't really want the help.

I arrived at the county courthouse to sit through the person's public sentencing hearing. When he walked in I was taken aback. His body spoke of hard drug use: blonde, with a fresh haircut and shave, his eyes were bright and clear yet he was the thinnest human I had ever seen aside from the orphans I have met over the years. He had been in the county jail for a couple of months. I don't doubt he had actually gained weight during his stay.

His public defender explained to the judge she had spoken with his extended family about his history, how he started using drugs at the age of 15 or younger , first recreationally, later as a means to escape the situation his family had been involved in. He struggled with clinical depression without the aid of medication. He spent his high school years in alternative learning programs designed for "at risk" kids due to his mental health needs. The judge accepted the recommendation of the prosecuting attorney and stayed his sentence of 58 months in federal prison, instead sending him through "drug court" and the county's new chemical treatment program. Although only two years old, with the very intensive counseling and on-going supports they have in place, this program is seeing the highest 1 year sobriety rate of any similar program in the country. So, so lucky this boy. I prayed for him. That whatever got him to this point would be helped with this program. That he could feel the love of his family he didn't want contact with. Why didn't he want contact with them?

He loaded his meager belongings into the back of my van. A backpack and small box of keepsakes was was all he owned. We mostly rode in silence, me making small talk here and there as I tried desperately to talk to this stranger sitting next to me, but he was withdrawn and angry over some situation that had happened just before the hearing. He seemed resentful of my help, and I wanted to tell him how difficult it was for me to get there. I realized although he is about to turn 29, he seemed much younger. When teens start using drugs, their brain development stops at that point. This "kid" had started using at 15, which matched his current, very teen-like attitude.  I wanted to ask "How did you get to this point? "  and "Why don't you talk to your family?" and "Is  this your "rock bottom?" But this was his thing. He is an adult, after all.

We arrived at the treatment facility.  He followed me through the automatic sliding door as I gave his name at the front desk. I turned to introduce him and he was gone. Through the glass doors I could see him on the railing along the front walkway, his hands shaking as he lit a cigarette, his knee bouncing in nervousness. The staff intake person, John,  gave me a knowing look. "Here's a cart to bring his things in. I'll be right here if you need me."

The cart was a bit awkward to steer, and I knocked it into the side of the building as I approached him. "Lets go get your things." I said, as I dragged it past him, opening the back of the van. I stood behind the open doors and took a breath. "Please God. Help me help him through this. Give me the words. Give me wisdom. Show me when to speak and when to back off." Like a young boy he watched as I put his things on the cart, reluctantly following me back inside the building.

John greeted us again. "We'll be going to the in-take area..." and I could see the kid's eyes flashing panic as John listed the items not allowed in. "We're big on family involvement here. There are several times over the next few weeks when you can invite family to participate in counseling sessions." I hoped he would involve his family. It was all up to him now. "Well, shall we?" John asked, as he gestured toward a locked door.

"Do you want me to go with you?" I asked? Oh, how I hoped he would say yes.

Without looking at me he mumbled his answer "I know you have things to do. Just go."

I understood. He was upset, maybe even embarrassed, by where he had gotten himself.

I gave him a hug anyway.

This stranger. I hugged this stranger, feeling his bony shoulders as my stomach twisted itself into knots, tears threatening to spill from my eyes.

I sat in my van and cried the tears known only to mothers with broken hearts.

My son.

My baby boy.

Please God, help him.


Danielle M said...

I pray with you.

Adelaide Dupont said...

This is a good thing to talk about with your current teenagers:

"Would you like to be 13/14/16/17 the rest of your life?"

[suggested by this quote]:

"When teens start using drugs, their brain development stops at that point. This "kid" had started using at 15, which matched his current, very teen-like attitude. I wanted to ask "How did you get to this point? " and "Why don't you talk to your family?" and "Is this your "rock bottom?" But this was his thing. He is an adult, after all."

eliz said...

My "stranger" is 35 this year. I "find" him on the computer if I'm lucky I can "find" him because he's incarcerated. Years ago I went to a training for work about a Drug rehab program in Duluth, I saw a man of about 45 crying because his mom never saw him sober. He was part of the presentation. I wanted to hug him and tell him she'd be so proud. The program had given him a janitorial job, and he was finally on medication for depression and sober. I don't know if I'll live to see my son helped. In and out of prison/jail over the last 16 years certainly hasn't helped anything.
I'm so sorry. I know your pain all too well.
(((HUGS)))and praying for your son too.

Leah Spring said...

Eliz, if you find your son in jail, and he is within driving distance, please go visit him. I know with my kids, if they are in trouble they will not reach out to me, likely because they are embarrassed they screwed up. Also, the longer they stay away, the harder it is for them to reach out. Go visit him. Don't ask question, just tell him you love him. Let him volunteer what he wants.

eliz said...

I do Leah, I do.

J.R. said...


Relle said...

That he asked his case worker for you by name says something. A baby step back towards you. It must have be hard on the car ride to have him so close but so far at the same time. Will pray he asks you to the family days. What a blessing from God that the judge agreed to this program rather than the jail time. Praying that knowing where he is, helps your heart and lifts the burden some. Hugs