DEAD BOY WALKING by Crystal Burks

When a mother's heard she's having her first son, it's a joyous event. I'd talk to my in-utero infant all day expecting his arrival in early 2000. He was a millennium baby — healthy pregnancy, healthy birth and hit all his milestones. He didn't even have any terrible two's. But about four, something happened. Something took my happy, charismatic, easy-going child and left a haunted, tortured, angry little boy.

We all know the next steps: intake, psych evaluation, diagnosis, prescriptions. It seemed to work for a while but it was intake after intake, drug after drug, and he was finally given the labels of ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and the missing daddy syndrome (not a DSM5 diagnosis but, in the world of social work, a label for majority of low income boys).

I had no family and four children by the time my son was eight. At that point, he was so out of control I'd have to restrain him. He was kicked out of schools, daycares, and play groups and kids constantly taunted him. Then there were the voices. The voices told him to steal, climb through  windows, and beat on his sister. More drugs.

By the summer of 2008, my son was so dangerous to himself and his siblings, he was taken to a group home. Worst choice.  There, he was physically and emotionally abused. I yanked him out and off the countless drugs they had him on.

Fast forward to 2014. He began smoking cigarettes and marijuana, and stealing to get the money for his habits. He became abusive to his siblings. I continued to report this to the various agencies yet all they could say was, "He isn't dangerous enough to remove. However, if something happens to his siblings, you will be charged with failing to protect them."

I was told, if I wanted him removed, to call CPS. So I did, and they laughed at me and opened a case against me for neglect. I had a total of four open cases against me due to his behavior, yet he still wasn't dangerous enough. He was arrested for domestic violence against his little brother and was sent back home two days later. My two younger children were terrified of him at six-feet-three-inches and 350 pounds . He threatened to burn his sister with cigarettes, to kill his family, and slice my throat, and still he wasn't dangerous enough. My daughter now suffers from depression, anxiety, and low self esteem from the emotional abuse she's endured.

My son was arrested six times for possession and theft and all the system did was hand me a court date. It basically told my son that he was above the law and that if I or his step-dad attempted to physically discipline him, he should call the police. I was told by the court that he had to get enough arrests or seriously hurt someone before law enforcement would step in. This monster-sized kid, with a really bad anger problem, was shown that he could do what he wanted and face no consequences.

Finally, in March of last year, my teenage boy was recognized as needing services. He'd refused his medications and had a psychotic break. I admitted him to an emergency stabilization unit in town and then he was sent to a psychiatric hospital, and then to an inpatient facility for two months. In the meantime, I'd lost countless jobs, dropped out of college five times in six years, and fell deep into debt and depression. All the while, the law and therapists threatened me that I'd be liable for anything that happened.

He went through the first round of treatment only to come home and return to his same ways. He smashed a two-foot-by-two-foot hole through his bedroom wall. He went back for treatment to an expensive group home that gave him unlimited food and activities — basically, a vacation. He returned home and started misbehaving again. He refused his medication, got high and abused his siblings. I lost another job because of depression. Back to a high-priced group home with food, cable games, and outings. A home where somebody thinks two months of playtime is rehabilitation. A home where somebody thinks that's enough time to undo all the damage.

My son will be 18 in less than a year. As it stands, he has no high school credits, no real job history, and no motivation to do anything but drink, get high, and run around with drug dealers. Everything I've tried has been a waste of time and money. Had somebody listened to me years ago, had the system used less stringent criteria for the removal of an at-risk youth, had the funding been in the right place instead of on ball parks, my son may have a had a chance. They may have been able to help him and he may have had a future. But no, the system created a monster who lives by no rules, and has to answer to no one including me.  Everyday, I worry I'll get a call from either the police or the hospital. Everyday, I worry I'll come home to my son's suicide because he stopped his meds and drank too much, or worse, did a different drug he knew nothing about.

My son's a dead boy walking. It's too late, now, thanks to a system that cares more about quota than quality of care. The saddest part is there are thousands of people in this situation and yet the powers that be keep taking resources away. My heart hurts for anyone who suffers these terrible disorders and is ignored. I was asked, once, if I had one wish what would it be. I replied, "To heal all the ugliness, disease, and horror from every heart in this world." It's possible, but it will take a miracle. God bless. 💙