"> ');

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’
Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’
—Matthew 5:38-28

Henry was fifteen and a half when he was seen on a Person in Need of Supervision (PINS) petition because of his academic failure, truancy, and oppositional behavior. He had been out of treatment since his discharge from White Pines at age eight. I often thought we were too late for some of our patients. This time, it proved true.

  • At age sixteen, teenagers can become emancipated minors, legally independent, making treatment plans less relevant. Patients can then make choices about whether to go to school or take medication, and where they want to live. Henry was certain about dropping out of school: “I failed first grade, and I’ve hated it ever since.”

His mother admitted to a long history of neglect and abuse: “I was able to care for his sister, but I could not stand Henry. My mother came to assist with his care when he was born to prevent placement with the county.”

mirror fragments on gray surface with the reflection of a person s arm
  • He had low weight gain and repeated hospitalizations due to bronchial infections. Diagnosed with Failure to Thrive, Child Protective Services noted that he was “malnourished as an infant, investigation closed.” His mother broke his clavicle when he was five, and the county placed him in foster care for about eight months. She took a parent-training class so he could return to the home, but how do you teach an abusive, neglectful mother to love, especially when she had never known love herself?

He had low weight gain and repeated hospitalizations due to bronchial infections. Diagnosed with Failure to Thrive, Child Protective Services noted that he was “malnourished as an infant, investigation closed.” His mother broke his clavicle when he was five, and the county placed him in foster care for about eight months. She took a parent-training class so he could return to the home, but how do you teach an abusive, neglectful mother to love, especially when she had never known love herself?

He had low weight gain and repeated hospitalizations due to bronchial infections. Diagnosed with Failure to Thrive, Child Protective Services noted that he was “malnourished as an infant, investigation closed.” His mother broke his clavicle when he was five, and the county placed him in foster care for about eight months. She took a parent-training class so he could return to the home, but how do you teach an abusive, neglectful mother to love, especially when she had never known love herself?

They both heard the crack his clavicle made when it shattered, broken by his flight, propelled into the air by rage, wrath spilling out, ripping, and lifting him into the wall.

He splintered.

How long ago were her bones cracked by her mother?

Generational neuronal configurations
dug deep in grooves of rage so that nobody forgets when it’s time to throw the next baby against the wall.

Both living with busted bones, shattered dreams, splintered pieces left for the doctor to mend.

In looking for love, they repeat a pattern deep, dug in, and stuck in the only groove they know.

After she threw him, they traveled to the orthopedist, but when she dragged him across the waiting room,
he screamed, trembled, and cowered.

And so child protective services was called —“clavicle broken, mother grabbed him by the arm and roughly pulled him, odorous and unkempt.”

Who picked him up and brought him to me?

I wish I remembered, because that’s how I came to know a small boy with a broken clavicle, who trembled when he walked
because he worried about walls falling in and breaking him to pieces all the time.

“I began to like him a little bit when he was three, but it wasn’t until he was eight years old—after his first stay at White Pines and his father taking custody—that we bonded.” His mother repeated her story, as I asked questions.

Eight years is a long time to be unloved by your mother.

woman carrying baby at beach during sunset
  • Henry was discharged from White Pines to his biological father’s home, and he stayed there despite constant physical abuse. Henry was a bed-wetter and was beaten on his back and legs with belts, sticks, hands, “whatever his father had.” He was forced to sit in his bedroom, facing the wall, for up to six hours at a time. When I asked Henry why he never told the judge or his mother about the punishments, he gave a frequently heard answer: “I didn’t know there was anything wrong with it.”

Finally, his sister had visitation, and when she returned from the father’s house with welts, his mother tried to regain custody of Henry.

His diagnostic evaluation read as follows:

There is inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and poor organization. Henry loses things, is forgetful, and distracted. He is noncompliant with medication for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and his mother does not enforce compliance. Her depression keeps her from being an effective parent. Henry began to experiment with marijuana after failing eighth grade the second time. He felt nothing could be gained from attending school, so he didn’t go. He left his mother’s house and is living in a one bedroom apartment with an adult male friend of the family.

Henry plans to drop out of school in three months and is interested in construction. He is courageous, humorous, and honest. He has never tried to kill himself, but a year ago he stated, “I wished I’d never been born, and I’ll never say that again.” What a big deal that was.

Research shows that children who are not nurtured, loved, held, stimulated, and fed show increased incidences of learning and behavioral disorders. The school should have developed an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for Henry in first grade given his math difficulties and academic failure overall. Wellbutrin XL may be a good choice for Henry to treat his ADHD and anger. However, compliance in a teenager who is living away from home is questionable.

If the home he is living in is safe and drug free, that would be good. However, many abused children lie about the safety of their living situation because they are fearful. Henry’s lack of experience with normal, nurturing homes makes it possible that he has put himself into a dangerous situation. The department of social services should assess this home.

Alternatively, there is no evidence to support improvement in the family’s functioning should Henry return home. His strengths are his interests in mechanics and construction. He is not currently using drugs. He is handsome and funny. He has no criminal record. He wants to support himself.

Impressed with Henry’s courage, I sat and listened to and loved the child no one else had loved, hearing tales of abuse, of staring at the wall for hours, of beatings and bruises, with his not knowing those were wrong. He had no idea that life could be different, and he never wondered if the little boy sitting beside him at school went home to hugs, milk, and cookies.

After Henry left, I completed my report. Reminding God of these broken lives, my hurting patients, my sorrow-filled parents, I questioned him again: Are you watching this Lord? What are you doing to make it better?

I heard this answer: Ask parents in labor and delivery, If you aren’t going to feed this child, hold this child, and protect him, can we find him another family?

And so many of my families, knowing their broken lives, would answer, “Yes, take this child. Have someone else raise him, because I can’t. But I’d like to visit. Can I?”

Why can’t we answer, “Yes, that’s possible? Open adoption is a possibility for this child.”

Three years later, I was interviewed by a state attorney seeking mitigation for Henry, against the death penalty. Henry and his cousin were incarcerated for killing a policeman. They were robbing a convenience store when a policeman surprised them and the cousin shot him. Henry told them, “I didn’t even have a gun.”

While reviewing his history with the attorney, and knowing that his mother could not feed him or love him, that his father beat him for bed-wetting, I said, “Henry failed first grade once and eighth grade twice, and never learned to read.”

“Yes,” said the lawyer, “abuse is a mitigating factor. But did he also have a head injury? Is he mentally retarded?”

Finally, someone was paying attention. It must have felt good to Henry that his lawyer was trying to help, even though his primary goal was to defeat the death penalty, not assist Henry.

barb wires barbed wire barrier blur
  • I didn’t cry when I was notified of his sentence—life in prison. By then, it was too late for me, too. I’d been working at White Pines for four years, and the numbness of my secondary trauma had taken roots. Shutting down my emotions in an effort to survive every day had become a tool in my repertoire, too.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: