Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fictional Friday: Carlton

Carlton was expelled from high school his senior year after a series of altercations with other students. He is a magnet for trouble, seemingly to always attract the wrong people into his life. Carlton is now twenty years old, and currently resides in the local county jail.

About a year ago, Carlton's aunt brought him to my agency to inquire about services. Carlton's aunt explained that Carlton's father had passed away when he was only three. His biological mother lives in a large metropolitan city in an adjacent state, and dropped Carlton and his sister off with the aunt when they were nine and ten years old, respectively. This was supposedly a temporary arrangement (a few weeks) so their mother could get her 'life straightened out.' In the meanwhile, Carlton's mother's phone was disconnected, and had moved from the public housing apartment in which they had lived. Carlton's aunt eventually filed for guardianship when the mother failed to return for them after several months and couldn't be located.

Carlton has a moderate intellectual disability. He has significant difficulties with basic math, reading and writing. Carlton had struggled through school, exhibiting learning and emotional difficulties. And there was the occasional anger outbursts that would sometimes result in aggression towards his sister and students in the classroom setting. Carlton has difficulty with impulse control, possesses a low frustration threshold and has limited coping skills.  His aunt hinted that Carlton's mother had used street drugs and alcohol during pregnancy. She explained that she tried her best to keep on top of Carlton's issues, but during his adolescent years he become increasingly difficult to manage. It is important for Carlton to fit in and find acceptance. Carlton seemed to gravitate towards older boys who would often exploit him. Carlton naively thought of them as genuine friends, and often failed to see he was being taken advantage.

After expulsion from high school, Carlton rebelled and would often leave his aunt's home for hours or even a couple of days at a time after an argument. He was over the age of eighteen, and police advised his aunt she had limited options unless she pursed legal guardianship. They had limited financial resources, but his aunt began the process of obtaining guardianship.

We assisted Carlton with applying for the Medicaid waiver, but since he failed to complete high school he is ineligible for a priority waiver. Carlton will not be targeted to receive services for a few years. He would  have obviously benefited from being in a structured setting with positive mentors, supports and services.

In the meanwhile, Carlton was 'befriended' by a couple of young men. Carlton desperately sought their approval and friendship. A few weeks later, on a summer morning in a rough part of town, Carlton was found in an abandoned house, duck-taped to a chair. He had been beaten and burned with cigarette butts. The details are still somewhat murky, but as best as can be determined, Carlton was involved in delivering illegal substances for his new friends but he had failed to secure the entire 'payment.' Carlton's new friends had tortured him, figuring he had betrayed them or had perhaps taken their money. He was hospitalized and later released, and he eventually healed and recuperated from his injuries. Carlton refused to name his attackers.

Carlton is like a lot of young men with disabilities: he has limitations that may or may not be readily apparent, but his street smarts are just enough to get himself into trouble.  Recently, Carlton was in a passenger in a vehicle (with 'friends') that was pulled over by police. Carlton had prescription pain medication in his pocket for which he did not have a prescription. Perhaps conjecture on my part, but it seems to be a forgone conclusion that the authorities will fully prosecute Carlton, his limitations and vulnerabilities notwithstanding. He sits in jail, awaiting his court appearance. Carlton's aunt does not have the money to bail him out, and worries about his future. He obviously has difficulties making sound and wise choices. If services and supports were available, Carlton might have had a different outcome. Hopefully, someday, Carlton will connect with the right kinds of people. At worse, maybe he can survive his bad decisions.  


Note:   Carlton is a fictional character, based on a composite of real individuals. Composite characters who appear in my "Fictional Friday" posts are based on people with real stories, with particular details, names, and certain specific circumstances changed so as to protect privacy.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Go to the Back of the Bus

The actual bus Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955 in
Montgomery, Alabama, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The bus now sits at
the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. (Picture courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)
Segregation. Seclusion. Isolation. Physical restraint. Exclusion. These are words that often bring to mind an unhappy segment of our past. Segregation is a lamentable piece of American history, something from a by-gone era. The idea of an entire group of citizens excluded from the rights, protections, and liberties afforded by the U.S. Constitution is something most people today would find aberrant   

Fast-forward to last week at the Indiana General Assembly. Senate Bill 345 is amended and passed out of the Senate Education Committee. The bill proposes the creation of commission that would develop a model policy for schools regarding the use of restraint and seclusion of students. School corporations would be required to have a restraint and seclusion plan designed to protect all students. This week there will be further discussion on amending this bill. Hopefully it will not die or be watered down to a powerless and meaningless law that has no teeth. 

Last month in Fredrick, Maryland, Robert Ethan Saylor, a young man with Down syndrome, died while in police custody. He was accused of refusing to leave a movie theater. The police were called, and he died from asphyxia after being cuffed and restrained. The death has been ruled a homicide by the Fredrick's County Sheriff's Department.  

In 2012, the Ohio State Dept. of Education re-convened a task force created in 2009 to examine how schools use restraint and 'seclusion rooms' after the discovery of their inappropriate use were made public by news media.  The Columbus Dispatch wrote a series of news articles last summer exposing the routine misuse of seclusion rooms and physical restraint of students in Ohio public schools.  

Many years ago I started out working in my field of occupation at a nursing facility for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in East-Central Indiana. The folks I worked with lived together in a two-wing building with the typical sanitized atmosphere and usual assortment of smells of a nursing facility. They were mostly isolated from their neighbors and community. When we would venture into the community, it was readily apparent the guys I worked with were not 'accepted' by the rest of the town. Most people would stare, but would never engage in conversation or typical small-town niceties with them. 

Much to my embarrassment now, I remember one particular incident in which I took a small group from the facility to Sunday services at a local church. The group I brought were regular attendees, although this was the first time I had taken them. I remember the members of the church were affluent and services were orderly, structured and well-orchestrated.  There was little to no interaction between my group and church members. When we had first entered the church,  I was advised by the usher that our group had reserved seating. In the last row of seats, in the balcony. 

Today, as one who helps advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, I still observe occasions in which people with disabilities are marginalized, segregated, ridiculed, and often excluded from having meaningful participation in their neighborhoods, schools, communities, places of employment, and sometimes even within their own families. 

I want to think that today, ALL people in our country are believed to be created equal and have access to the same rights (and treated with the same respect) as anyone else. We once excluded an entire race of people from the privileges and rights entitled only to people with white skin. All of our fellow citizens should be free from discrimination. However, it is obvious there is still a segment of our population who are not always provided the same respect, dignity, common courtesy and full range of rights that people without disabilities are typically given.

Yes, there are still folks in 2013 who are told (metaphorically) to 'go to the back of the bus.'  We need to advocate for progress and encourage our society to be big enough to allow everyone the right to pursue meaningful lives and participation in their communities without being excluded, disrespected, unnecessarily secluded, and forcefully restrained (or worse).  We are better than that. 


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About Me

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I work for a Community-Based, Not-for-Profit agency. I have worked in the disability field for over twenty-five years. I am the father of two boys, and have been married to my teenage sweet-heart for 23 years. I live and work in the same town where I was born & raised.
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