I sat in a court room this last week. I watched as 8 individuals were sentenced. Hearing about their lives and their crimes. It was a small peak into a world that had been previously unknown to me. The last person sentenced is the reason I was sitting in the courtroom. However, weirdly enough this sentencing wasn’t the one that was the hardest for me. The person before my son sat there looking very dejected. He sat alone in his jail uniform and hand and leg irons. He could not look at the judge or his lawyer as he tried to speak for himself. He stated that now that he knew he was a criminal he was afraid to leave his room at the homeless shelter. He was afraid of what he might do now that he knew he was a criminal. This statement was taken by the prosecution and the judge as disrespect. However, he was crying while he said it. He spoke very quietly. He was a very small man who could have been my sons twin. My son has FAS. My son had many members of both his birth family and his adoptive family in the courtroom. This boy had none.
The prosecutor began speaking of this boys history. He spent his whole childhood in and out of foster care finally aging out of the system. He was in special ed his whole life with an IQ of 63. He had no ties to anyone in the community as he was homeless and had never been able to secure a job. I listened and felt the tears start as I realized here was an undiagnosed FASD adult. He had just turned 19. He was sentenced to 17 years in the penitentiary.
When I left the courtroom after hearing my sons sentence I felt so sad. My son had gotten a fair sentence. I feel this is due to all of the people who spoke for him. We were able to provide his diagnoses and support of him. We were able to tell the judge why we felt he had done what he did and also how we could help him when he got out. No one spoke for this other boy. No one seemed to care. His file was put to the side as soon as his sentence was handed down. He was just another case and another inmate.
I could not sleep that night thinking of how hopeless he had looked and remembering his tears and pleas. I know that I cannot live in a world where we just let all of these people who need support fall through the cracks. I know that more than anything now I need to continue working toward a place that is safe and structured for FASD adults who need this. Then perhaps we could offer them more than just a jail cell. I have been told by some judges that they end up sentencing some offenders due to the fact that there is nowhere else for these individuals to go. So while they may not have normally been sent to prison or jail for their offenses they are if they don’t have anywhere else to go.
One of the statements made by my sons biological family is that he is not a throw away person. Well neither should have been that other boy.