Keep Out!
(of the Criminal Justice System)

by Diane Yee

My first instinct is always to keep our kids out of the hands of the criminal justice system if at all possible. If the system was tuned in to FAS/E, and if it could mete out consequences that were appropriate, instructive, and merciful, then I would have a different opinion because I think logical consequences work. However, since that is definitely not the case, I say do whatever it takes to get your son OUT of that system.

Having said that, I will also say that my son did learn a lesson from his brush with the law. He shoplifted sandwiches from a grocery store (1996). He purposely did it right in front of some store personnel who had rudely evicted him and his friend three weeks earlier (at 3 AM) when they had been doing nothing wrong. My son wanted these guys to see him stealing. It was his idea of "revenge."

Three store employees chased my son out of the store, across the parking lot (where my son dropped the sandwiches), across a street, and into an alley. My son turned to face them. He held up his 3" blade pocket knife and said, "Leave me alone! What do you want? I've given you back your stuff!" He never swiped out with the knife, nor verbally threatened to hurt anyone with it. The employees surrounded him. My son put his arms out to his sides, palms up, and surrendered. One employee took the knife from my son's hand. One grabbed him by the hair and forced him, face-down, into the gravel of the alley. Then, he bashed my son's face into the gravel five times. The third guy kicked him repeatedly in the back and ribs. All this, and he hadn't even resisted.

My son was arrested and charged with *Armed Robbery*. The prosecutor wanted to put him in prison for eight years.

Our first lawyer took about $6K and did nothing. I fired him. Our second lawyer suggested doing one squirrely defense after another. What I wanted to use for the defense was that my son has FAS and, therefore, lacks good judgment. The lawyer said "More than half the people in prison are mentally ill. Mental illness is not a good defense."

I told him that we were going to use the FAS defense because it was the truth, and the truth carries its own power. I built my son's defense over a nine-month period. I had character references from everyrone who had ever known him -- every friend, every parent, every doctor, therapist, counselor, specialist, every everyone. The University of Washington Fetal Alcohol & Drug Unit (FADU), which had diagnosed and worked with my son, provided tremendous support, everything from writing a letter about him to showing up in court for sentencing. Robin LaDue wrote a letter too. And, we had the most wonderful pre-sentencing probation officer in WA state, who tied this whole package, with its many disparate elements, together, and he added his own recommendations. (For handing this package to the judge, Lawyer #2 received $20,000.)

I was so nauseated with fear as I drove my son to the court for his sentencing hearing that the thought of fleeing the state with him crossed my mind. Very, very fortunately, my son was given two years of probation and about 200 hours of community service. The sentence might as well have been mine too because I was involved in every part of it. I drove my son to his appointments with his probation officer. Over and over again, I fought like crazy for the probation officer to come forth with community service assignments. (You wouldn't *believe* how difficult it was to find places to do community service.) I took my son to every worksite and I picked him up. I kept track of all his records, his hours, and his appointments. No FAS/E person would have been able, on their own, to keep on top of all the requirements for "getting through the system."

My son was also smoking pot in those days, so he had to have a UA (urinalysis) each time he went to see his probation officer and he had to be in outpatient treatment. He flunked the second UA he took in outpatient, so they kicked him out. There was a chance they were going to put him in jail for failing that UA, but I brought in more research, got the pre-sentencing probation officer and the Univ. of WA FADU involved again, and pleaded with the probation officer and the court to allow him to do neurobiofeedback to unhook him from his addiction, telling them that FAS kids don't do well with cognitive therapy.

I did all these things because my son did not belong in jail. He is gentle, not violent. He is easily influenced by his surroundings. He needs medication (antidepressant), which I didn't think they'd give him in jail, and therefore, he was at risk for serious depression and the trouble that can arise from that. I knew my son would get more help and have a far greater chance of being productive and normal if I cared for him at home. And I was right.

The combination of having lived with the fear of possibly going to prison and of having to cross every "t" and dot every "i" in order to get clear of the justice system taught him how serious and unforgiving the world will be if you break certain rules. Day in and day out for two years, we dealt with the schedule and the consequences of being on probation. It definitely left a lasting impression.

But that was not the only thing going on in those days, so I can't say that my son would not have improved even without this brush with the law. As our kids grow older, they have mental and emotional growth spurts that really help them. The input from the family is invaluable. It's a lot of work for the parent or parents. Parents have to grow up and set good examples, focus on doing no harm -- even when they're severely frustrated, teach lessons over and over again, and help their child see him or herself in light of the child's true nature and talents.

If my son had been sent to prison, it would have been a disaster. He already thought he was a loser. Prison would have confirmed that self-image. If he had gone to prison, I would have lost him. Today, at 25, he has a state massage therapy license and he is employed full time (not in massage though). He's thoughtful, hardworking, helpful, compassionate, bright, and interesting.

Just a few weeks ago, we were driving somewhere, just he and I in my car. He said to me, "You know mom, during those years when I had all that trouble with the law, I really thought I was nothing. Your belief in me and your constant love and support saved me. I wouldn't have made it without you."

Our steadfastness, our constancy, our insistence on seeing the good in them and repeatedly bringing it to their attention will save our kids. They will not do well in the hands of strangers who do not understand them or their disability, or worse, don't care.

Every child is different. This is what worked for mine.

Dianne Yee

Return to FAS Community Resource Center