On his last visit, Robert wanted to tour around town checking out the many changes over 20 years. He especially wanted to go back to where it all started – Central State Mental Hospital.
Stripped of Family at Age 8
When Robert was 8, his parents’ rights were terminated due to their abuse of their first born child and he became a ward of the state. He was placed in foster homes which were not a good fit. He exhausted every placement and reached the end of the road when he was about 14. They put him away at Central State Mental Hospital. When you are taken from the only home and family you have ever known, you act out. I would not be surprised if much of his developmental challenges were as a result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his parents. He was not mentally ill. He was a child who was abused and neglected by every means imaginable. He had no one to call family. There was no one telling him they loved him. He had no one to give him a hug. He had no one to celebrate his birthday. Christmas was a heart wrenching time as there was no family, friends, gifts or tree. Try to imagine…
Teddy Bear at 41
Always Called a Loser
He has always been called retarded. He was told he would never amount to anything. His own mother said he was trouble from the day he was born. His most recent boss called him a looooser. People always made fun of him for being dumb, slow and stupid. He was always left out and called the crazy one.
The only thing not taken from him was his dream. He always wanted to drive a truck.
Trucks and Country Music
He drove me crazy talking about trucks and listening to country music. I could not stand either one. I believed in him though. At the time, I felt invincible and had enough money to make a lot of things happen. I loved to teach. I tutored the Special Ed kids throughout my school years and worked with developmentally challenged and mentally ill adults in college. In later years I was an independent living coach for adults with developmental disabilities. Robert deserved to soar. He deserved every open door. He deserved to feel important. He deserved someone to believe in him. He deserved a family who would love on him, celebrate his birthday and give thanks and gifts at Christmas. And with all this, if he could somehow pass his driver’s test, then he deserved to drive.
Twenty years ago, I had two regrets about Robert. After he did get his license, I realized he did not have the judgement and reaction time to be safe on the road. I had enough wrecked vehicles to prove this point. I have agonized for years thinking I had done a great disservice to many by helping him get a license. My second regret is that he chose to leave the protection of my home and venture out into the world on his own. He had a burning desire to see his biological family. He needed to see if they were as bad as the State of Indiana proclaimed.
Imagine my surprise to reconnect 20 years later and find Robert making a good living as a commercial truck driver. “Mom it was the hardest thing I ever did passing that CDL test. There are three sections, general knowledge, combination vehicles and air brakes. Fourteen times I flunked air brakes because of all the math. You know mom how much problem I have with math. You never could get me to figure out how to calculate a tip when we went out to eat. But mom, I wanted this license so bad, I just kept at it. I also had to work a long time practicing how to drive and park. Mom, do you know you can actually parallel park a semi.”
Documentary on Central State Mental Hospital
We watched a documentary on Central State Hospital and midway through I had to turn it off it was so disturbing. Every time the video showed someone being tied to a chair, Robert said they did that to him. When the video showed a patient restrained in bed with arm and leg restraints, Robert said he experienced that as well. “Mom, once the police were called and they had to use tear gas on a group of us boys.” The hospital was closed in 1996 shortly after I took Robert in. The video exposed the deaths of several patients and Robert remembered. He told me several that died were located on the floor above his and they froze to death as there was no heat. He reminded me that I took on the head nurse of his unit and while I don’t remember the details, I was always going to bat for that kid against the system. He was then moved to LaRue Carter Mental Hospital until we were able to get him out of the system and into some independent living programs.
Stopped all Those Drugs
Robert remembers he was diagnosed as manic depressive and paranoid schizophrenic with mild mental retardation. He also had anger issues. And I ask, who wouldn’t have anger issues under these conditions. They pumped him full of psychotropic drugs. “Mom, fourteen years ago I stopped all those drugs. Can you believe at age 26, I actually had a stroke and had to fight my way back from being wheel chair bound. Mom, I started driving a wrecker and then they moved me up to a semi truck wrecker and helped me get my CDL. I proved to the State of Florida that I could support myself and I told them they did not have to send me that disability check anymore.”
Are you Listening??
Did you get that??? This kid who had the medical rap sheet of a psycho who was justifiably on disability payments decided he wanted to make it in the world as NORMAL. He had to convince the State of Florida, he did not need their money, he could make it on his own! When has this EVER happened?
As Robert and I discussed the important influences that turned him around, he told me about the two pastors who took an interest in him when he was at Central State. Both were Army chaplains who had to “do time” in a mental facility for an internship. The first pastor took him home for the weekends. There he learned skills and the ability to develop positive interpersonal relationships. When this pastor completed his internship, he introduced Robert to the next pastor (Jack Russell the one who looked like Tom Cruise) the pastor at the church next door to my house. Jack and his wife Kelly took Robert home with them on weekends. Jack let Robert learn to drive a stick shift on the church grounds. When Jack and Kelly were transferred to Alaska, they wanted to enlist another mentor for Robert. This is when they sent Robert next door to our house. Ultimately it was God’s magnificent plan and His saving Grace that brought Robert to the place he is today. God bestowed that same saving Grace on me and transformed us both to unrecognizable from our former selves.
She Has No Experience With Kids
Twenty books could be written about my five years with Robert. My self appointed job was advocate, teacher, parent and system fighter. When Robert went to Florida to find his parents, his mom asked about Miss Polly. Robert summed me up by saying “she had no experience with kids, she saved me from a mental hospital, she taught me how to leave a tip and she taught me how to drive.” His mother asked him why he did not stay with me. Robert replied “you are my mother, you need to step up to the plate.” Needless to say he was sorely disappointed. Robert has a brother who is three years younger. He is in jail and has fathered 10 children. Robert has a half-sister he had never met until he returned to FL when he was 21. She is 12 years younger and has 4 children and she is dying of cancer. Both Robert’s siblings were removed from the home. Robert said his mother got the other two back but she never came for him. I say “Thank God for that!” Robert is the only one who graduated from high school. He is the only one who does not smoke, has no drug and alcohol addiction and he is certainly the only one with a commercial driver’s license! He also has a real mother who would move heaven and earth for him and does it daily.
Just One Look
Now that he is back, we are right back to practicing everything good. All it takes is a look from me and he is on “self-correct.” When he blurts out “I ain’t got no…” I just look over and he says “I haven’t got any.” It is in there, all of it. All the grammar correction, all the manners, all the right from wrong. It stuck with him and after all those years and with a little guidance it comes back as primary.
Walker Texas Ranger
On the last night of his visit he said he wanted to watch a movie. I could have never dreamed there were so many semi truck driving action adventure movies. But the one that did me in was an episode of Walker Texas Ranger. He has every one of those episodes ever produced. He said “Mom, I want you to watch this one. It is about a boy like me who was taken in by a foster mother like you. The foster mother was killed.” “And Robert why exactly do you think I would enjoy watching a story like that?” He said “you will see.” So I watched as the story unfolded. A wealthy couple who had no children of their own took in a boy who was developmentally challenged. He worked around their ranch. The foster mother and the foster son were reminiscing about the foster father who had recently passed away. An outlaw that was later revealed to be the young man’s relative came to the ranch and killed the foster mother in order to steal valuables. Everyone in the town judged the young man guilty with no facts. No one gave him a chance or believed in him. As Walker Texas Ranger protected the young man and saved him from being hanged and quietly talked to him, Robert said “now that is how someone like me should be treated. That is how you and Paul treated me. They called that boy ‘slow-in-the-head’ and while I don’t think I was as bad as he was, that is what I have put up with all my life. You believed in me and protected me and stood up for me.” I was in tears. Would I do it all again. Oh yes. Every gray hair is worth it. I am so proud of him. I can honestly say I love this kid.
Prayers for Children
This morning on my way to work, I tuned in to a prayer line that is put on by a group of powerful ladies who are local prayer warriors. As the host was praying for all the families, she specifically prayed that we would love on those children who were not our own children. I was thunderstruck. There are so many young people who face significant challenges, feel disconnected from others and lack positive examples of how to change their lives. They crave positive, stable mentors to listen to them without judgement, love them unconditionally, help them rise to the challenges they face.
Won’t you give a bit of yourself to help build confidence, connection, character and faith as a Life Mentor to a young person who needs a guiding hand. Meet a young person where they are, form a positive relationship with them and use those relationships to model and instruct positive behavior. When we focus on the heart and love first, lives are transformed for both the giver and the recipient.
Raw and Uncut
Polly Riddell writing as G. Polly Jordan is a storyteller connecting people and the stories they tell.
Twenty years before this series was written I took Robert in and taught him to drive and made all his dreams come true. He is the cause of my gray hair and he also was on the scene throughout both of my divorces, hmm.
He resurfaced twenty years later to give me a glimpse of the impact we had. It was a lot of impact.