Updated: Nov 3
A lifetime ago, a wound-tight 12-year-old boy finally came unraveled.
The accidental offspring of a fling between a high school junior and her older band leader
boyfriend, he had spent far too long overhearing his parents’ shouting matches. And he also
could not fathom his mother’s use of what she called her “crazy clean” solution of Lysol and
other disinfectants to clean everything, including him and his 8-year-old brother and baby sister.
But the worst of it was the blame he felt for “ruining” his father’s life by being born.
He didn’t want to live anymore, as his behaviors soon betrayed. Having his stomach pumped
after swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills did not produce the desired outcome of showing his
mommy and daddy the depth of his pain, nor did his repeated threats to “kill” himself if they
didn’t stop fighting.
Life held no joy; it only seemed to get worse.
His father finally made good his years of threatening to “move out.” Abandonment confirmed
the boy’s sense of worthlessness and being unlovable. Now his existence was ruining everybody’s life. That’s when the pimple-faced seventh-grader finally came undone.
In an attempt to save her son, his unstable but loving mother contacted Lutheran Social Services and arranged to have him placed at the Tressler Lutheran Home. She knew the longer he remained in an unhealthy family environment, the more emotionally ill he would become.
Her selfless attempt to rescue her lost son backfired, though, when administrators at the Lutheran Home misconstrued his confused behaviors and endless tears as signs that he was not a good fit for their program.
Did they really expect him to accept his new status as “orphan” with open arms?
First his daddy, and then his mommy, had decided to be rid of him. Or at least that’s how his
immature mind saw it. Now, even an orphanage didn’t want him.
After less than two weeks, the director of the home phoned the boy’s mother to inform her that
her son was “anti-social” and there was nothing they could do for him.
This rejection by child welfare “experts” was a lost opportunity to insulate him from the source
of his problems. Their patient understanding of a scared young boy’s tears of loss could have
saved him from his eventual free-fall into hell. Instead, he was sent back to the milieu that was
Consequently, he endured a string of failures and placements that fueled his growing sense of
rejection and worthlessness, further compounding his emotional problems and complicating his
Eighth grade special education certainly did not prepare him for 9 th grade college preparatory classes. Nor did his rebellious and aggressive behaviors in school and in the community escape the police. The court adjudicated him “a delinquent youth in need of the care of this court” just before he flunked his freshman year.
After running away early that summer, off-duty cops took him to the hospital for a “check-up,”
where he flipped out, ended up in the psych ward and, after three days of attacking anyone who entered his padded cell, the court sent him to the state hospital for diagnosis.
For 77 mind-boggling days, psychiatrists plumbed his fractured 15-year-old brain. They labeled him “schizoid,” “schizophrenic,” “neurotic” and “autistic,” stating further that he had a
“guarded” prognosis and should remain at the state hospital “indefinitely.”
A poor decision by a child welfare decision-maker nearly condemned him to the mental health
and criminal justice systems. It took the wisdom of a seasoned probation officer and the structure of a juvenile institution to reclaim him.
But all of this could have been avoided, had he remained at the Lutheran Home throughout his
adolescence. Of this, he has no doubt.*
*Adapted from our book: The Other Side of Delinquency