Driving back from another training where I was able to speak I always mull over the questions asked. Each audience is different but almost always in every speaking engagement I have ever done the one question that overlaps is when is someone going to put “these mothers” in jail. Okay to clarify. These mothers are anyone who happens to have a child who is prenatally exposed to alcohol or a child who ends up with FASD. So by this attitude we who are judging this are assuming (I am not in this group I hope although will admit was there once) that this person set out knowingly to cause physical and other harm to their child. For an act to be criminal they must have knowingly done this. Okay sorry I am so glad that through the years I have been educated by many people. These people include some great doctors, lawyers, social workers and other just great people and what they have in common is that they are birth parents to FASD children. They are brave people who are standing up and trying to educate that it is not criminals who are producing children who are prenatally exposed it is anyone who does not know, who may be dealing with an addiction or who is uninformed or misled.
We live in a society where we want to punish. We want to find who is to blame and by goodness someone has to pay. Well I am now watching my son who is FASD pay for being a brain injured person. He will pay and pay and pay. Well his mother who gave birth to him already did pay. She paid with her life. I was never able to meet this woman who gave birth to a child of my heart. I was able to get to know her through her diary years after her death. See she kept a journal/diary during each of her stays at rehab. She wrote of her love for her children. Her fears of her addictions. She wrote of her dreams of making it all right for both her children and herself. She had hoped to go to school to pull herself and her children out of the poverty she had known all her life. She hoped she could deal with her feelings and have them know that she never meant to cause them harm. I remember the first time I read these journals. I sat in a room reading all the files so that we could sign off we had read them all to finalize our sons adoption. All of a sudden out of the middle of the file fell these simple writings that were stapled together and written on the backs of different pieces of paper. It was so hard to read. To realize how she mourned the loss of her childrens health and childhoods. I had wanted all along to hate her but I read these pages and spent hours weeping for her and these losses. She died without ever seeing that her children were safe. She never knew that while her children were affected by her addictions they were still amazing. They were resilient and loved. I pray that somehow she is now at peace.
So this woman. Would jail have helped her? Would it have stopped the fact that she had addiction issues? Okay so if she belonged in jail or prison well then so do all of our FASD people. See this birthmother was also an FASD person. So if my child who is brain injured doesn’t belong there how do I pass that judgement on to this woman?
Alright now I am going to present this argument another way. Does our penal system solve crime now? Do we actually end murder, drug dealing, theft, etc by putting people in the prison system? I guess I don’t see that. So how would it stop FASD? If we could de-criminalize this disorder and start looking at ways to support and educate people wouldn’t we have more of a chance of making a difference?
I spent yesterday on Pine Ridge Reservation where my son grew up and where his mother grew up. I have been there before but for some reason this time going down thinking about FASD and the audience we would have that day it was a different experience to look around at the poverty. Yes there is poverty here and people who are struggling financially to survive. However, the one thing that people from the outside forget is that this is a culture that does not value “things”. So see we often look and see what is missing but we forget to see what isn’t. The thing that isn’t is a culture that values it’s children. If people would see that this society is trying to find ways to reteach their traditions and in doing so will begin to solve the addiction issue. I am so impressed with the youth there who are taking back control of their lives and educating themselves and others on the dangers of alcohol. These young people aren’t looking for who to blame. They are looking at what can they do to make changes. They are not just looking and talking they are doing.
So I am going to take what I learned from this and say we can all do this. We can all step out and make a change. I think if we stop looking for someone to “pay” we can start looking at who we could help or who we could partner with to make changes. The villain is the alcohol that is damaging. So if anyone should pay it is this substance.