| From Strugglingteens.com|
Another Point of View
(This is a response to an essay by the same name published by Isabelle Zehnder, Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse, on her web site at http://www.caica.org/Escort%20or%20Abduction.htm. It was submitted last summer to Zehnder to provide a different perspective on the transport process, but was never published on Zehnder's site. Thus, in the spirit that sharing a wide variety of perspectives through free and open discussion our readers can make up their own minds, we are publishing it here along with a link to the original article so our readers can compare both perspectives. -Lon)
Jolene had been struggling with her son Jason for so long that some days she wondered whether their battles had actually begun back in utero. During her pregnancy, he'd kick so hard and often that she'd felt like his punching bag. As her husband Martin was immersed in making his fledgling business venture a success, Jolene was left to essentially single-parent their bright, high-energy but challenging young son. While there were times the family could barely make ends meet in those early years, in economic terms at least, things had worked out splendidly.
Jason was eight when Martin sold his company to a large multi-national for a hefty sum. Martin invested the windfall, and decided to take things easier and get reacquainted with his family. For several years, Jolene and Jason had been a team, and had developed a tight, intense bond which tempered their otherwise volatile relationship. Martin's return into their daily lives upset the delicate balance. Enamoured by his son's high energy and antics, Martin was critical of Jolene's rule-oriented parenting which he deemed inflexible and smothering. Eager to win his son's affections, Martin began buying Jason anything the boy wanted - after all, he could afford it now!
Though Jason was happy to have his dad around and even happier at first with all his action figures, video games and new sporting gear, he couldn't help but be confused by these two, very different parents. He slipped into testing their affections and playing them off against each other; deliberately provoking his mom while sweet-talking his dad into more goodies. While he'd brag to other kids about his latest expensive acquisitions, he seemed to perpetually give away, lose or break the very things he'd been flaunting.
When Martin decided the family should move to a bigger home in a new neighborhood, he placed Martin in a trendy private school which had high student expectations but provided little individual direction or support. Tensions built further. Jason had always found school easy before so had developed no real study habits, and was soon overwhelmed in the new system. His grades began slipping. Then other parents began calling to complain that Jason was shaking down younger kids for their lunch money. Martin just laughed them off. Jealous gossips, he'd tell himself, as if his son needed money for anything when he already had everything he wanted!
It soon became clear however, that things were not going well on the home front either. Jason went from being a high-maintenance yet endearing child to a downright obnoxious preteen. Terrible outbursts would erupt if Jolene denied any of his demands, no matter how minor. He would rage if she attempted to restrict privileges as a consequence, and lied blatantly when confronted with a misdeed, such as the cash that frequently was missing from her wallet. Jolene desperately tried to regain control of her son's behaviour. She tried monitoring his homework daily, employing tutors to help him study. She set a strict curfew, enrolled him in more sports and community activities, and insisted he begin doing household chores though he had done none in the past. Martin took another approach. True, he did not like his son's new attitude nor the older, tough-looking "friends" that called the house at all hours. But Martin would not agree to Jolene's rules, and in fact, decided that his wife was to blame for the "personality conflict" that had developed between mother and son. If she would just back off, let him be a teenage boy, test his wings and learn from his mistakes, concluded Martin, everything would settle down.
Racked with worry but feeling alone and unsupported, Jolene did just that. Things seemed better for a brief time, then suddenly got much, much worse. In the absence of rules, Jason seemed to spin completely out of control. Screaming, swearing, sexually vile obscenities and violent outbursts became regular occurrences, mostly directed at his mother. It was the second week of eighth grade when Jason shattered a mirror just above his mother's head by throwing his computer screen at it, after Jolene insisted he sign off MSN by midnight. Over the next few months, he punched holes in drywall, ripped phones from walls, smashed family portraits, kicked a dent in his mother's new sports car and twice trashed his own bedroom.
Jason's tone of voice changed too, from simply sarcastic or argumentative to overtly hostile, and finally to downright scary. He began telling his mother he wished her dead, sometimes describing how "he and his boys" had discussed how this might occur. His parents quickly found a therapist but Jason either skipped his appointments or refused to talk if he did show up. They felt as if they were walking on eggshells every day to avoid upsetting him - and he knew it.
Several months back, naively hoping to strengthen family bonds, Jolene had become pregnant again. Now the couple decided to get away before the baby arrived, leaving Jason to stay at his uncle and aunt's home. But when Jolene felt unwell and they returned early, they found Jason and a group of unfamiliar older teens partying with drugs and alcohol by their backyard pool. Several couples were in compromising positions in the cabanas. Martin threw them all out unceremoniously, believing they were the source of the bad influence that had befallen his son. In a rage, Jason lunged at Jolene, knocking her backwards into the pool. When Jason jumped in after her and continued to pummel her while screaming obscenities, Martin called the police. It was two weeks before Jason's eighth grade graduation and Jolene was six months pregnant.
The police were sympathetic but couldn't do much given Jason's young age and the fact that he had calmed down shortly after they arrived. They did run a check on the license plates Martin had noted for two of the visitors' cars, and reported they belonged to teens known to the police who were "very bad news indeed".
Jolene began to panic. An unstructured summer stretched ahead. Jason was refusing to return to camp or go to the cottage. The baby would soon arrive, and Jason, who had not been invited back to his private school, was slated to enter the local high school where he would face even more academic and social challenges. Several months before, she had seen a talk show about so-called "brat camps" on television. Now she wondered if this was the solution for Jason. Feeling new pressure from Martin who begged her to "do something - anything - fast!", Jolene got on the Internet and began researching programs for troubled teens. With so many websites to choose from, her head was soon spinning. They all promised wonderful results for her son. How could she tell them apart?
Then Jolene remembered a woman she often saw at her hairdresser's, someone whose daughter sounded as angry and self-destructive as Jason. At their last appointment, the other mother had tearfully announced she was about to send her daughter off to a therapeutic wilderness program. Jolene wangled the phone number from the salon's receptionist. To her surprise, the woman who answered the phone was calm, cool and collected, unlike the fragile person Jolene remembered. The woman said her daughter was maturing, transforming even in this program. Her whole family was working on letter assignments and doing phone therapy sessions weekly, and their home life had vastly improved - even the dog was calmer! But Jolene's hopes crashed when she discovered the "miracle program" was only for girls. The woman gave Jolene the phone number of the Educational Consultant who had helped them get their daughter to help. "The real trick is the match" said the woman. "Our consultant told us we needed to watch out for the wild and crazy programs out there, or the ones that use blame and shame rather than therapy and support. But even with the model programs, the fit has to be right because these kids actually have very different needs. Call her - see what she recommends for your boy."
Jolene called the consultant's office reluctantly. This meant a consultant's hourly rate on top of very expensive tuition - shouldn't programs pay that fee themselves? And their situation with Jason seemed so urgent - how could they wait until the consultant reviewed their son's history and records? Wouldn't it be better just to pick something off the Internet that sounded reasonable? She soon found answers that reassured her. The consultant's assistant explained that experienced and ethical educational consultants were impartial and as such, had to remain at arms-length with programs they might recommend so fees must be paid by individual families rather than programs. Unfortunately, not all consultants honored that system and a few even took hidden kickbacks from the programs they referred to. She reminded Jolene that the seemingly countless questions about Jason, his educational, medical and psychological history and that of the whole family, his patterns of behaviors and what their goals were for him, was essential to a personalized consultation process, and far superior than doing one of the many "does your teen need our help?" questionnaires on line. "After all", the consultant's assistant had said, "you have known this boy all of his life and you are still figuring him out. Your educational consultant knows the ins and outs of various schools and programs very well, but is doing a crash course on your boy - so you need to help her out!"
After the "intake" process, the assistant told her that Jason sounded "at risk" given his young age and intensity and escalation of his behaviors. She would therefore email an "at/high risk" consultation package. Jolene gulped and blinked back tears but she knew in her heart the assistant had probably made the right call. When she opened the file, the information package staring back at her looked overwhelming. It requested a huge amount of material about her son, some going back to preschool years! She almost gave up in despair but Martin, who was rapidly coming on board, managed to pull everything together.
They were given an appointment a week after sending in the information. The educational consultant, Kitty, seemed very pleasant though quite concerned by Jason's situation. Her presentation was thorough and organized, and she reviewed all the alternatives they might consider, from doing nothing and hoping he'd mature on his own, to continuing existing home supports, perhaps changing schools locally or applying to a standard boarding school. With regret, they all agreed that none of these seemed workable or even remotely likely to succeed. Finally she focused on residential therapeutic or therapeutic wilderness placements that also offered an accredited educational component.
Kitty gave Jason's parents names and websites of several "model" programs which might be potentially good matches for their son, but gently reminded them that as parents, they would have the final say as to which they preferred and not her, and that no program could absolutely guarantee its success. The best they could hope for was to substantially improve Jason's odds of getting his life back on track and to rebuild their shattered family relationship. Given the alternatives, Martin and Jolene informed Kitty that they wished to consider moving in this direction and provided her with a retainer fee so she could initiate inquiries on their behalf.
Within 72 hours, Jolene had received three packets containing beautiful glossy brochures and CDs plus names and numbers for parent references, all from American programs halfway across the continent. She did not want to send Jason so far from home, though her intuition told her this might be her only chance to get him help before things broke down irreparably. Kitty explained that starting a short-term term program this summer would prevent him from getting into further trouble at home, would not disrupt his schooling and most importantly, could provide medical, psychological and educational testing results that could allow them to better understand his longer-term needs. (Jason had refused to undergo testing at home at the same time he'd spurned counseling.) Though part of her understood the urgency, Jolene's pregnancy was also triggering memories of happier days with just her and Jason, when things were good - or at least not bad, if a bit tiring. Jolene wanted her little boy back. What if sending Jason away alienated him forever? Besides, the idea made her feel like a public failure as a mother. When Jolene confessed to stalling rather than completing the lengthy applications, Kitty surprisingly agreed. Unless both parents were truly ready, said Kitty, they should not proceed further. Otherwise, Jason could split them, manipulate to get himself pulled from the program prematurely, and things would only get worse.
But the very next week, Jolene called Kitty back. She was in tears, but newly resolved to move forward. Apparently some of Jason's pool party buddies had gotten into a car accident while joyriding that weekend. Two died on the scene. The driver of the other car, a 26-year-old pregnant mother of a toddler, died en route to hospital. The teenager driving survived, but would face charges of dangerous driving, driving while impaired and perhaps even manslaughter once he recovered. When Jason learned of the accident, he had become overwhelmed, threatened to kill himself and was taken to hospital. However, the hospital had discharged him within hours, saying his problems were "behavioural" and recommended family counseling and limit-setting.
While Jolene didn't think Jason would actually harm himself, she no longer knew her son well enough to judge. And counseling was still out of the question according to Jason. As Kitty took more notes, Jolene's head began to spin. Things seemed to have gone from worries about slipping grades one moment, to violent and suicidal behaviors the next. What was yet to come - especially as Jason was not yet 14! So Jolene agreed it was time to send Jason to a program - one that was 3,000 miles from home. Kitty said it was an excellent match and it had the soonest available space.
Kitty told Jolene it would be best if Jason were transported there by a teen escort service. Jolene really did not want him transported by strangers. Martin overheard the conversation and said he felt this was best given Jolene's condition and Jason's erratic, aggressive behavior. She asked Martin to take Jason himself, but he refused, pointing out past struggles to get Jason to a doctor or dentist appointment, let alone a therapeutic program cross-continent. Yet Jolene still felt uncertain - this seemed like an awfully expensive and elaborate extra step. So when Kitty suggested she make contact with other families who had experienced something similar, she called immediately. After chatting with two families extensively including one dad who put his daughter (now home from her program) onto the phone, her anxiety had settled again. She told Kitty and Martin that she felt ready to proceed once again.
Later that day, she received a phone call from the empathetic, seasoned escort coordinator. Once again, there were many questions to answer and more forms to complete. Some questions puzzled her, like Jason's favorite foods, interests and music styles, though Jolene later learned that good escorts go out of their way to provide their young charges with "comfort objects" to ease the stress of the journey. Others made more sense but were worrisome nonetheless: Did he carry drugs or a weapon on his person, and if so, where did he stash his stuff at night? Jolene described Jason's Swiss Army knife, the empty ziplock baggies and wrapping papers she'd picked out of his trash, and how his knapsack went into bed with him each night, even going along to the bathroom! What time did he arrive home most nights? Was he a streetwise kid, a hider or a runner? Did he bring home friends unannounced for sleepovers? Jolene did her best to answer everything.
They informed her that timing for travel was flexible, but short notice on pick-ups usually meant higher airfares. By this point, Jolene was determined to move very fast, yet last-minute flights were indeed astronomical. The escort coordinator suggested they consider driving instead; with an extra staff member, they wouldn't need to overnight en route and could make good time despite the long distance. Surprisingly, this was more affordable than flying, and Jolene remembered the girl with whom she'd just spoken, who had said that driving allowed her time to regain her composure, "chill", and even bond with her escorts, who then took time to answer her questions about the program, etc. She even corresponded with them during her treatment stay - and went on to request "her team" when she was moved to an emotional growth boarding school later on.
Kitty had warned Jolene and Martin that most experienced escorts recommend a pickup in the wee hours, when the child is sure to be home and most likely asleep. Jolene had been outraged at first, until Kitty explained that children in her son's condition tended to resist as they typically could not see how badly they needed help. She then explained that restraints like handcuffs were almost never needed with overnight pickups. On the other hand, a daytime pickup would put undue stress on the entire family by allowing Jason to escalate, run or to alert his friends, which could be more dangerous for all concerned. By now, Jolene had come to trust both Kitty and the escort coordinator, who between them had years of experience and successes dealing with challenging children and stressed families. She swallowed hard and told herself everything would be fine.
They faxed a pile of forms, she and Martin signed them, and before she knew it, arrangements had been made for pick-up four days later. The next few days were difficult; at times she wondered if she was over-reacting, and then whether she'd waited too long to take this step. She tried talking to Martin, but he dismissed her as usual, saying this was obviously the best route and what was she fussing about. Jason would be in good hands and get the help he so obviously needed but wasn't accepting at home, and they would get some respite as the new baby arrived. Jolene secretly agreed, yet she still bristled at his breezy manner and focus on the new baby to Jason's exclusion. She reminded Martin they would be kept busy with assignments and phone therapy, not to mention the family visit and reunion near the end of Jason's program, so they weren't really getting rid of their problems.
At the escorts' suggestion, she busied herself writing a "transport letter" to Jason, agonizing over how to describe what led her and Martin to this difficult decision, how scared and worried they were about his recent activities and behaviors, and most of all how much they loved him and wanted to improve their family's communication. Kitty helped her with the wording wherever she got stuck. She made several copies of the letter as the escorts instructed, just in case Jason destroyed the first few.
The afternoon before the pick-up, Jolene and Martin met up with Jason's escorts at a nearby hotel coffee shop. A petite, attractive young woman introduced herself as "lead" escort, and was accompanied by two men with intimidating physiques yet kind eyes and warm smiles. The couple was surprised to learn that professional escorts often arrive many hours before pickup to connect with parents and exchange information in advance, as well as catch some shut-eye to be rested up before a long trip. They delivered Jason's travel ID and luggage, and Jolene's hand shook a bit as she wrote out a $3000 cheque to virtual strangers. Then she remembered Kitty's words: there were plenty of cheaper escorts out there, but this team was known for being methodical and compassionate, as well as their perfect track record, which made them well worth the price.
The parents and escorts then reviewed the evening's pick up plan. Upon arrival, they would all go to Jason's bedroom together while Mom woke Jason. No point having Jason startled awake by strangers, perhaps panicking thinking he was a victim of a home invasion or ransom kidnapping. Parents would have a very few moments to tell their blurry-eyed son that he needed help, that they loved him and these people were here at their request to help him travel to the help safely. Jason could ask them anything he wanted once they got underway, but for now he should simply follow their directions. Then Martin and Jolene were to leave the room and wait outside in their car, so Jason and the escorts could get on the road with minimal fuss. Somehow, having this discussion over coffee and brownies made the whole surreal scenario more reassuring, and the escorts no longer seemed like strangers. This time it was Jolene who assured Martin that everything would be fine.
She'd thought about taking Jason out for ice cream that evening, but he didn't arrive home when promised. She wanted so badly to tell her son what was about to happen but feared he'd become violent, and would surely run to his older friends if he even suspected anything was up. She held back tears as she pictured the two of them eating ice cream cones together, and longed for the days when it was just her and Jason. She questioned her decision yet again, asking for a sign she was doing the right thing.
Just after 1 a.m., a very drunk, angry and disheveled Jason arrived home by taxi. "Like, my friends have no f***ing car to drive me places anymore, remember? You're lucky I f***ing came home at all, b**ch!" he raged as he stomped up the stairs. Ice cream was clearly not an option. Instead, Jolene went to pay the driver. "Lady," the cabdriver said in soft, accented English, "this no my business, yes? But the boy, he still little, but he one real big screw up! Why you no send him going Brat Camp like on the T.V., yes?" Jolene gulped in disbelief. She had received her sign.
Later, she crept into Jason's room. Jolene had wanted to tuck him in or stroke his cheek like when he was little but didn't dare, so she just watched him sleep. Thoughts rushed through her head: waking him now, getting in the car, and the two of them escaping from it all. Then she glanced at the bulge at the end of his bed - it was that infernal knapsack wedged under the covers, crammed with things that were helping him slowly but surely destroy not only their relationship, but his future.
Neither she nor Martin got any sleep that night. At 3:00 a.m., right on time, there was a quiet knock at the door. Tears welled into her eyes as she escorted everyone to her son's bedroom. The first part went as planned, but once Jolene told Jason what was happening, he began swearing and lashing out. He grabbed for his backpack, but one of the escorts was sitting on it. Martin took Jolene's hand, and they left the room quickly as instructed. Despite instructions to the contrary, they stopped in the hall, straining to hear what would happen next. Jolene heard Jason yell, then firm murmurs from the escorts in response, more yelling and swearing from Jason followed by a loud crash (Jason had thrown a lamp at the female escort, who neatly dodged it). Then he was silent, but for a few quiet sobs. What did that mean, she wondered? Was he actually cooperating as they said he would? Or did those people do something to intimidate or even hurt him?
Jolene and Martin retreated to the darkened car and waited anxiously. Just then she saw them - the lead female moving rapidly to ready the van, followed by two very large men on either side of one small boy, who was clutching his I-Pod in one hand and dragging his down comforter in the other. She looked hard and realized her son was actually talking with the larger man, though still wiping his eyes. She heard Jason ask how long was this stupid trip anyway, and could they grab a couple of breakfast burritos and maybe a hot chocolate on the way 'cuz he was hungry?
Then Jason's head turned and their eyes met. He looked hard at her and Martin, and said in the cold, menacing tone they'd come to dread, "This is the worst mistake you two could have made. I've told 'my boys' that if I disappear, they should come after you both - and the baby too!" Jolene inhaled sharply, one hand instinctively going to her belly. She gathered her strength to respond. "Jason, you were once my baby and my little boy. You loved me unconditionally and made me feel complete. It's that positive memory of you that gave me strength to find you help - help for all of us actually - instead of kicking you out or letting you destroy yourself. I love you but I hate what you are becoming." Jason looked like he was about to cry again - or lunge out. His face reddened and he clenched his fists. The escorts' firm hands directed him into the van. He was sobbing again loudly as they pulled away.
And as quickly as they came they were gone.
Jolene had never experienced a calm like she experienced that night. No matter what Martin had said to her in the past, his words could never quell her concerns about their son. She had spent months fearing something horrible would happen to Jason - and now he was finally safe, and on his way to help.
Then she started thinking about what had transpired over the past few years. It was not her parenting style alone that had caused Jason's issues, but Martin's persistent undermining of her, his over-indulgences of material goods and denial of Jason's earlier problems were also to blame. She felt a deep resentment arise toward her husband as he lay there sound asleep, seemingly unaffected by the events that had just gone on in their home. How could he be so insensitive, she thought? Her mind would not let her rest. She began to think about where Jason was going and how ironic it seemed that she could be so calm, hopeful even, about sending her son to a place she'd never visited to be with people she had never even met, while feel so enraged at her life partner at the same time.
Several hours into the transport, the lead female escort called Jason's parents things were going well and that Jason had eaten some fast food. He was this moment bragging to the male escorts about how his father wouldn't let him stay away from home more than a day or two, and this would no doubt blow over as quickly as it had arisen. The escort called again to inform Jolene they had reached their destination safely, and that Jason had made the transition reasonably well. However, he had become agitated seeing how the program's base camp was "so far from civilization". This meant he couldn't "take off for the city if I hate it". The lead escort chuckled. "I told him that was the whole idea."
Jolene had a momentary twinge when she remembered she could not hear from Jason himself that he was okay, but then she remembered the context of their last conversation. She realized they were not yet ready to speak to each other and felt secretly relieved she wouldn't have to deal with his abuse and anger quite yet. When the Parent Liaison from the therapeutic wilderness program they had chosen called later that day, she assured Jolene that Jason was alright. "He hasn't decided to trust us quite yet", she said, "and threw all his gear in the stream. When it barely got wet because of the waterproof pack though, he seemed relieved." The PL promised to call Jolene the moment Jason cracked his first smile, but warned that might take a few days.
...And rest assured, Jason did start smiling - mostly when he was building shelters, or making objects like spoons, necklaces and dream catchers (he was proving very good with his hands and a natural craftsman). His first letters home were chock-full of angry diatribes though, to his parents for abandoning him, for over-reacting to "normal" teenage rebellion, etc. According to Jason, the food sucked; the weather was intolerable; the other kids were hard-nosed criminals and the staff were tyrants. But within a week or so, a note of wonder, even awe about his natural surroundings, could be seen creeping in between the negatives. His next letters practically gushed over the huge moon and inky blanket of stars he saw every night; the unusual birds, insects, reptiles and plant life he was encountering, and the "cool" field staff who seemed to know everything there was to know about survival and self-reliance. He wrote about his pride at busting the fastest fire from scratch, and being chosen best cook in his group. Even his therapist was "okay for a shrink" said Jason, since he brought chocolate donuts along with the mail at every visit. Their therapy sessions, Jason reported with some amazement, were conducted sprawled under a shady tree, dangling their feet in a stream, or even on a mossy cluster of rocks in a darkened cave. And although he still avoided responsibility and was demanding toward his parents at times, he began apologizing for much of his old behaviour and seemed to be reaching out to them for forgiveness and affection.
Eventually, after many months of hard work, tears, assignments, phone therapy sessions and more tears and a few laughs, Jolene was beginning to feel she was starting - at least somewhat - to get her little boy back.
But that is a longer story for another time.
This piece is dedicated to Mitch, Mark, Mandy, David and David; Ben, Brendan, Rob and Brad; Zack, Troy, Tony, Jon and Adam; Morgan, Philip and Jacob; Kayleigh, Carrie, Keeley, Carly and Kevin; the Big and Little Kyles; Gina, Jenna, Jesse and Jackie; Dana, Lianne, Lauren and Rena, and the many other young people who are for the most part, far better off than they would otherwise have been had their families lacked the foresight and fortitude to see this process through.
January 25, 2007
This was a great article! It will probably come in handy to forward to parents who are struggling with a placement themselves. You guys are great!!
Vice President of Marketing
Elk River Wilderness Challenge/The Pinnacle Schools
January 25, 2007
Excellent article (yes, a little long)! It describes the process parents go through very well. In fact, just last night at my support group for parents we were talking about this exact thing... their experiences with using an escort for their child. Unanimously, they all agreed it was "the hardest day of my life," yet the best thing they ever did! I'm copying the article to keep for parents who are undecided or who have heard the "kidnapping" myth from others.
Michigan & Florida
January 25, 2007
This was a fabulous article and i'm so glad you printed it. as a parent of a prior struggling teen, I can totally relate to almost every detail. When things are totally out of control in your life, there is nothing like receiving the help you need...a professional,competent and compassionate consultant and escorts!! The article describes why this is absolutely necessary for some kids and the appropriate way things should be addressed.
Have a great day!
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