“There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate. I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots. Let’s get rid of this. This is not America.” – Dr. Janis Orlowski, MedStar Hospital, after treating gunshot victims of the Navy Yard massacre.
Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund, eloquently responded to Dr. Orlowski’s lament… What is it going to take to love and protect human life, especially children, more than guns? Is the doctor right that this is not America? Or is she calling for the America we must create together with urgency and persistence?
Corey sat in my office, appealing an administrative decision to terminate his placement in the agency’s therapeutic residential program because of contraband which was found in his clothing. Possession of any substance results in immediate discharge. During our exchange, I noticed that he appeared genuinely remorseful. He realized that he had made a really unacceptable choice. Staff from the program brought him to me, tentatively hoping for a different outcome. I was curious, and began to probe.
At the end of our session, I discovered that Corey did not trust any adults but wanted to stay because the agency was the best place he could remember. Separated from his family at five, he spent his childhood in an adoptive home where he was beaten with sticks until he turned into a teenager and fought back. His only juvenile charge. Nevertheless, he had been in and out of the juvenile services system for years for not complying with his parents. He never told anyone about the physical and emotional abuse. When he found the courage to track down his biological mother, in between her stints in jail due to drug addiction, she responded angrily to her son who never knew her, “How did you get this number?”
An intelligent, thoughtful youth who plans to join the Marines, Corey contracted with the team regarding the consequences for his behavior. As the agency administrator, I decided that punishment was not a solution for a young person who had been so long cruelly and secretively maltreated by his caregivers, and had been so profoundly rejected. Yet, minimizing his drug use would not convey our interest in helping him grow into a healthy, self sufficient young adult with a quality of life he deserves. What he needed was an opportunity to tell the truth about his life and to forgive others, reconnection with his siblings, and the requirement to give back to his community. He needed to experience being valued.
On Thursday, Corey read to two homeless little boys in the family shelter. The staff person supervising him reported that he read with great emphasis and wonderful expression. He taught the children what the words really meant. The energetic boys scrambled over him, excitedly asking him when he was coming back. Together, they agreed on the next Dr. Seuss book to read the next week. Staff asked Corey whether he ever considered becoming a teacher. He thanked
me for the second chance.
Dr. Orlowski, this is America. We are a country shaped by rugged individualism and manifest destiny. Clearly, there has come a time when we must reinvest in building a strong sense of community with its foundation built on humane and respectful connections. We must see and touch the children and young persons in our midst, and as an adult society provide what they need to transition positively into adulthood. Corey requires a safe place to live, tailored mental health treatment, educational and social stimulation, community supports, a way to give back, and most importantly, unconditional love.
This is the only way that this society will stop breeding killers.