“Your Other Son”
“There is no safety net that can bear the weight of human indifference, and I have yet to encounter a safety net of laws, rules regulation, and policies that was any stronger than a single, concerned and engaged person, standing shoulder to shoulder with a person, navigating the daily challenges of life in the community,” Clarence J. Sundram, Attorney At Law.
“Hello, Mr. Williams?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“It’s me, your son.”
“You know, your other son, John.”
This phone conversation took place one afternoon as the coordinator of citizen advocacy sat with Mac Williams discussing his relationship with John Allen, a teen-ager with a mental illness label. Mr. Williams was saying that he and John talked regularly when the phone rang and the coordinator saw the smile spread across Mr. Williams’ face. His tone of voice and encouraging words told the coordinator a bond was forming between these two, similar to the one between a father and son.
“It’s a little like having another kid, you know?’ said Mr. Williams when he hung up the phone. “I worry about him, especially when I don’t hear from him.”
But Mr. Williams did hear from him. Once John became comfortable in the relationship with Mr. Williams, he would call when he needed advice, when he was in trouble, or sometimes, like that day, just to talk. Just like Mr. Williams’ own son did.
Mr. Williams told the story of an afternoon when John called him, saying he felt anxious and confused. He needed a place to stay, so Mr. Williams invited John to stay in his home until they could find a place for him to live.
“He came over and ate something, and then he dozed off on the couch, sleeping all afternoon. I kept telling my daughter to be quiet and let him sleep.” John felt safe there, and Mr. Williams’ family welcomed him until in until they were able to find John a place of his own.
John eventually got into legal trouble, making poor decisions. He passed a bad check, and since this was a second offense, he went to Folkston prison. Partly because of his mental illness, John sometimes has trouble making good choices. And he gets into trouble. Even those who know him well don’t understand his choices. Although Mr. Williams was frustrated with John’s actions, he searched for solutions that did not involve incarceration. When John went to prison, he made it known to everyone that John was still important to him. He told relatives, attorneys, service workers, and John that while he did not condone John’s actions, he would support him in any way he could. Just like he would his own son.
Although John remains in prison, Mr. Williams has not forgotten him. The two stay in touch by phone, and Mr. Williams writes and sends pictures. They continue to strengthen the bond of their relationship, a relationship that may change the course of this young man’s life. Mr. Williams is making plans for John’s release, talking to people about a job and a place for him to live, hoping for a future for John that includes good things. Just like he does for his own son.
Seven Lies before the Truth
“There is no better ruler than Wisdom, no safer guardian than Justice, no stronger sword than Righteousness, no surer ally than the Truth.” —Islamic Tradition
It is said that Diogenes, the founder of The Cynics, a school of philosophy, walked around ancient Athens with a lamp looking for an honest man. Carrie Dixon might have felt like taking up the cause. She has long been searching for an honest person in her life.
Carrie has found herself in systems where honesty is not the top priority. As a child Carrie was taken from her mother and put in foster care. “They will love you like parents.” Lie #1. When Carrie quit school she was sent to an institution in Miami, far from her family home in Georgia. When she aged out of the institution, she was sent back to Georgia and put a state institution. When that closed, she received a waiver to live in the community. She moved into an apartment and had a job in Atlanta. “This will be your new home.” Lie #2
As time went on, Carrie learned that the people providing her services needed to be more cost efficient, so they moved her into a bigger place with the intent of having house mates, a group home. “You will be able to choose who lives with you.” Lie #3
Not too long after Carrie moved into this place, others moved in. While Carrie was asked if the others could live there, she felt that no one would listen to her if she said no.
When a disagreement over her property turned into a fight with one of the new resident of the house, Carrie, who had been labeled as having a history of violence (Lie #4), was taken to a mental institution. “This will be for about two weeks.” Lie #5
Carrie was three months into her two-week stay when she met the citizen advocacy coordinator, who asked her if she was interested in getting back to the group home. While she did not like it much, it was better than the ward. That same week some of the staff from the group home came by to see her. “You can come back as soon as you are ready. We will store all your belongings so they will be safe.” The group home closed within weeks, and no one seems to know what happened to Carrie’s belongings. Lie #6 and Lie # 7.
Albert Durney met Carrie not long after that and when he heard the lies, he understood how hard it must be for her to constantly hear them from the people supervising your life. Albert felt it was important to be honest with Carrie, and she is grateful for that honesty. Now Albert is along for the search, and he holds a bigger lamp—the lamp that comes from being valued in the community.
When someone asked that citizen advocacy coordinator why he seemed a bit skeptical about the way services work sometimes, he had to smile and say, “You should meet a woman I have come to know, Carrie Dixon, a modern day Diogenes.”