The Wrong Lessons- My son’s time upstate left him distrustful and angry.

My son’s problems started in high school. My son had always done well at small schools but he wound up in a school with more than 3,000imagekids. There were too many kids getting into trouble and the school did too much policing. I knew from the beginning there was too much for my son to explore. I met with the principal, the parent coordinator, and the guidance counselor. They all assured me that my son would be fine. But pretty soon my son started getting in trouble.

One day, my son and two friends went up to another boy in the school and told him to give them $2. My son was suspended, and the dean called the cops. I thought my son would just have to talk to the cop handling the case, so I took him to the precinct myself. But at the precinct, they handcuffed my son.

It was horrible to see my son in handcuffs. I felt like I couldn’t do anything, like I was handcuffed myself.

From School to Handcuffs

In family court, his appointed lawyer said, “You have to plead guilty.”

I said, “Why does he have to plead?” By then, the school had dropped the suspension because of “insufficient findings.” It was clear on the school’s videotape that my son wasn’t being aggressive. He was just standing there.

The lawyer said, “I’m not your lawyer, I’m his lawyer.”

The way he spoke to me made me feel like I was a bad parent who’d raised a bad child. But my child is not a bad child, and none of my other children have ever had problems with the justice system. I was angry but powerless that my son and I were being treated like dirt.

My son pleaded guilty and the judge put him on probation. Something small had quickly turned into something big.

Far From Home

Some time later, my son was again hanging out with the wrong people. One of his friends beat up a kid and took his game from him. In court, the victim in the case testified that my son wasn’t involved in the robbery. But the judge decided to send my son to a facility anyway.

When I heard that my son was going upstate, I felt destroyed. My son needed a program that could help him stay busy in a positive way, not a prison term like he was already a criminal.

When we arrived the facility, it looked beautiful, just like a college campus. But in the first week, my son was jumped and robbed. Later he was robbed again. The staff didn’t do anything about it.

They also tried to medicate my son for ADHD, even though my son has never been diagnosed with any kind of disability. Over the phone, my son said, “They’re giving me some pills.”

“Don’t take them. You don’t know what they are,” I said.

When I called and told the psychiatrist that my son was never diagnosed with ADHD, he apologized and said it would never happen again. But another time they had a meeting about my son and neglected to invite me. I wanted to be involved in every aspect of my son’s life. After that, I called to remind them, “My son may be in the custody of the state but I’m still very much involved in his life.”

We Were Both Angry

During his time at the facility, my son seemed to lose more and more trust in adults, including me. At first, he would call and say, “Mommy, get me out of here.” But after a while he sounded angry with me, and started saying, “Why are you calling me?” I wanted to hold him and tell him it was going to be OK but I couldn’t.

When he came home a few months later, oh my God, he was angry. This was my son who I could hug at any time, who had always shown me a lot of respect. But suddenly he did not want me to hug him. He would yell at everybody, even his friends. He was not the same kid. It wasn’t long before he robbed someone and was sent upstate again.

I was disappointed with my son. I thought, “If you didn’t want to go upstate again, you should have changed your behavior.” But I was angrier at the system. I knew how much money went into sending him upstate, but incarceration hadn’t helped him learn from his mistakes and move forward. It had only made him worse.

Hopeful for the Future

This time, my son was sent to a different facility. There were some staff that seemed to use excessive force, but there were also some who cared. My son didn’t seem as angry. When I came to visit, he would let me hug him.

Just a few weeks ago, my son came home. He seems to be doing better than before. He is very excited about his summer job program. My son has always liked working and making money.

My son has a family that is there for him. I just hope we can find programs and other people who can help him see the way forward and who will listen without judging. I hope some of the good in my son will have a chance to come out again.

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