My Call to Action

It has been almost 2 weeks since we took our son to self-surrender for his probation violation at Yavapai County Jail, in Camp Verde and almost a week since his court hearing. And it has been an emotional time.

I was proud of my son for doing the right thing when he self-surrendered and I thought that doing the right thing would matter…….little did I know that doing the right thing would be the beginning of a nightmare for all of us.

We left the jail and had no idea what would be happening to our son or when we might be able to pick him up. That was hard. But even harder was the call I received later that night from my son, from the infirmary…..

He told me that despite having his prescriptions with him, the contracted medical staff told him he would NOT receive any medication while there in the Yavapai County Jail and would just have to withdraw. I could hear the fear in his voice. I felt the fear rising rapidly through my body……..

My son is on Methadone and the withdrawals are horrible, but that knowledge did not stop my breath…..it was knowing that he would not receive his Klonipin, the medication for his anxiety, a medication prescribed by a psychiatrist and one he has been taking for 13+ years…….a medication that when stopped suddenly can cause life threatening seizures. And we know all too well about those seizures, caused when doctors, who did not understand the dangers, would stop his medication.

So when he told me that the medical staff was refusing to give him his medication, I was in fear for my son’s life. How could that be legal? Surely this was not right? Other times that he had been in jail, he had received all of his meds……why was this different?

And then I remembered what had happened last fall and that this was the SAME jail where the nurse refused to give him his medication, even after the police had told her he needed them. And a few hours after his release, he had a seizure, prompting a 911 call and an ambulance to take him to the hospital.

Now, I was really scared and my anger began to grow. I knew I needed to do something and I needed to be at the court the next morning for my son’s initial appearance, to stand up for my son and make sure the judge had all the information needed to make an informed decision about my son.

I drove north early in the morning and more than 2 hours after I left home, I arrived at the courthouse. I checked with the information desk to find out which courtroom my son would be seen in and then I was informed he would not be seen at that courthouse because the judge for his case was not on the docket that day. Instead they were seeing him at the courthouse next to the jail. Crap! That was another hour away, I would NEVER make it in time. The clerk took mercy on me and gave me a number to call at the other court in order to find out information about my son and to get information to the judge.

I called. I talked to the clerk. She told me to call back after 9am to find out what the bond was set at. I told her about the medication situation and the dangers. She told me the judge couldn’t do anything about that as it was under the jails control to make that decision.

I should have known right then that there would be NO help, NO concern, NO caring.

I called after 9am. My son was seen and the judge set his bond at $25,000. It didn’t matter that my son was clean at this point. It didn’t matter that my son was to start treatment that afternoon. It didn’t matter that my son had never missed a court date. It didn’t matter that my son was being denied medication that was necessary for his physical and mental wellbeing. It didn’t matter that my son did the right thing…….it didn’t matter.

I immediately called the Yavapai County Public Defender’s office and I got the same response as last time—they can only talk to my son. But she took my name and number after I told her about the medication situation and my fear that my son would end up being taken to the emergency room or worse, lose his life. She said someone would call me.

And someone did. She listened to my concerns. She told me that the jail makes the decisions about medication based on their assessments. She said she would look into it.

I spent hours talking in person and on the phone with many people. And no one cared.

I started the process to see what we could do to get my son out on bond, could we use the house for collateral, because now it was my son’s life that was at stake. And I called attorneys that I could hire to see what it would cost and what they could do.

And then I drove more than 2 hours home. It was one of the longest, loneliest, saddest drives.

Later that night we heard back from a lawyer and decided to hire him. What was happening was beyond legal and was inhumane…..and we didn’t know the whole story yet.

I talked with my son many times that day, each call worse than the previous. He was suffering. I made sure he knew I was doing all that I could for him, that I was fighting to get him his meds or get him out of there. I was not going to stop fighting. I told him I didn’t know if we could get him out. And he understood. He took it all so well and his attitude stayed hopeful and positive. But he was suffering.

It was breaking my heart.

And then the public defender called me again. She told me that she had typed up a letter for the nurse at the jail and would go see my son in the morning to get him his meds.

I was hopeful. But in the conversation I could hear that she did not really understand what was going on or the dangers.

The next morning when my son called, he was worse….unable to keep food down now. I knew this preceded the seizures and was more worried. And I started making calls again.

Finally, we were able to find a bonds agency to bond our son out. And we headed out for the 3-hour drive. When my son called we told him we were on our way, but it would be a few hours. We arrived in the town where the jail was and waited to get him out. He called shortly after we arrived in town.

And that was when he told us he had had a seizure.

My heart stopped. I held my breath. I told him to hang in there, we are getting him out.

A couple of hours later we saw him walk out of the jail. Relief. He was alive. I immediately gave him his medication. And he hugged me….tight.

On the drive home he told us what had happened in the Yavapai County Jail, Camp Verde infirmary. After my son’s seizure, when he was aware of his surroundings again, the other inmates told him that as soon as his seizure started, they banged on the windows to get the guards. They told him the guards came rushing in, asking what they should do. And the nurse looked at the guards and told them to do nothing, that my son was okay.

WHAT?? I was livid. How could anyone, especially a medical professional, behave in such a manner and with such disregard for another human?

And then he told me the rest of what was happening….how NONE of the inmates in the infirmary were receiving their prescribed medications from the contracted health company. Not the individual who was on high blood pressure meds, he was just told to lie down and drink water. Not the man who had been laying in a bed in the infirmary who suffers from severe neuropathy and was denied his non-narcotic and narcotic pain medications….this man could not walk because of his pain. NO ONE was given medication in this jail.

I am appalled that this is allowed to happen, that no one has stopped this. And I am taking action.

The medical staff and the contracted health agency for the Yavapai County Jail, did not count on my son having a family who cared about him and about others. My heart breaks for those who are still there and I worry that someone will lose their life in that infirmary.

I am taking action, through my letters to local, state and federal politicians, my letters and calls to organizations who help and advocate for the mentally ill and addicted, and through my calls to the ACLU. I will not stop until those held in that jail are treated humanely.

My son is still working through the justice system in Yavapai County and in ours. He had his hearing this past week and when his lawyer told us that the prosecution wants him to spend a week to two weeks back in that jail, my heart stopped…..I couldn’t breathe. And I told the lawyer that my son would not survive that. So, he listened and heard us and decided we needed some more time and had the hearing delayed until next month.

A month in which my son will have more time in treatment. A month in which my son will have more clean drug tests. And a month in which we can breathe just a little.

And a month that I can spend working on behalf of those still suffering in that jail, at the hands of the contracted medical staff.

This is my call to action.

What if…….

I can’t breathe…….

The regret, guilt and the What ifs are weighing heavy on my chest, threatening to keep me from ever breathing again……..

What if I had fought harder for my son to get help when he was a young child?

What if I had known my family medical history before becoming a parent?

What if I had forced my son into some sort of treatment program when he was still under our care?

What if I had known then, what I know now, how would that have changed the events that led to today?

What if I had never encouraged my son to move here, hoping it would help him to get on track in life?

What if……..I could run those what if’s through my mind until my head explodes…….the guilt, the regret, the what if’s are overshadowing all that is good in our life……coloring the joy………and keeping us stuck in the guilt……

These past few days the what ifs have really been running through my mind. But regret does not change the past, guilt does not correct the wrongs, and what ifs won’t change the outcome.

I have shared that my son suffers from mental illnesses and is an addict. I have shared the struggles and challenges of living with and loving someone with his illnesses. And it is hard. His most recent bottom, though, had brought us some hope.

He finally was seeking help. He had an intake last week for an outpatient program and tomorrow he was to start intensive outpatient treatment…….

He has been off of drugs since his last arrest in March…….

He passed a random drug test…….

Over the past almost two months I have watched as my son emerged from his addiction and became “my” son again. He was laughing with us, talking with us, taking care of his cats, going places with us, and taking care of himself. He was doing everything he needed to do to get his life on track and get clean.

And then the system stepped in…….and the county where he was arrested last fall revoked his probation. He was going to have to go back to jail.

We were all surprised because it came about suddenly, after saying they would not do this. But the justice system can change its mind. And my son did violate the terms of his probation by being arrested again…….

I was scared that this news would send my son into a tailspin back down that awful path……

But he took it in stride, accepted what would be happening and continued to do the things he needed to do to get himself healthy.

And then today, we had to do one of the hardest things a parent should ever have to do…..when our son asked us to take him north to turn himself in and face the consequences of his probation violation, he was so brave. He wanted to do the right thing. He wanted to do what was necessary to continue his positive progress.

This morning we drove our son the 2 hours to the jail……..and I was having a hard time just breathing……

But I drew strength from my son’s courage.

When we arrived, my son bravely walked into the jail lobby and self-surrendered. I was so proud of how he handled himself, of the courage he showed and his attitude.

We waited 2 ½ hours for them to come and get him…….and watching the officer walk up to my son and take him through the door…………..THAT was awful…….and if it was so awful for me, I can only imagine how hard this is on my son, yet he didn’t show it.

Now we wait……..and pray that the court and the judge will see his progress now, and see that he is finally ready. I pray that the judge will see that punishment will not benefit my son as much as treatment and counseling will. I pray that God will protect my son while he is in the jail and that all the forward progress he has made will not be for nothing or be too late.

At what point, do we as a society, start to treat addiction as the disease it is? At what point do we, as a society, start to look for ways to heal those afflicted with mental illnesses rather than locking them away for punishment? It really is time to start acting, not just talking. Drug addiction is the one crime where the perpetrator is also the victim, and yet we punish them rather than get the addict REAL help. Yes, there are consequences for our choices, but addiction is different, it is an illness and throwing an addict in jail does not get them help, not for the long run. Instead, the punishment continues the cycle and continues the stigma that surrounds addicts. When are we going to stand up and change this? When will we do the right thing for addicts and start saving lives?

I am starting now, with this blog post and with the many letters I will be sending out to my local politicians….it is time I do more than talk, it is time I take action! For my son, for my family and for the many others I know who are dealing with these same issues.

And I will be praying while I try to breathe…….just breathe…….

What if…….we as a society committed to REAL change instead of just talking?