Why Doesn’t Disability Rights Law Apply To Homeschooled Children?

American Disability Rights law was written to include all disabled Americans. The Americans with Disabilities Act (commonly known as the ADA), ratified in 1990, states that:

The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment. 

If someone meets these definitions of “disabled”, that means that they are covered by disability rights law. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) (1975, 1990) stipulates that all disabled children who are part of a school district have the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).   From the U.S. Department of Education: 

“An appropriate education may comprise education in regular classes, education in regular classes with the use of related aids and services, or special education and related services in separate classrooms for all or portions of the school day. Special education may include specially designed instruction in classrooms, at home, or in private or public institutions, and may be accompanied by related services such as speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, psychological counseling, and medical diagnostic services necessary to the child’s education.”

A Free Appropriate Education involves many accommodations and services disabled children have a right to, including an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). 

An IEP is a plan developed by teachers, staff and parents that outlines the child’s disability or disabilities and what kind of accommodations are necessary for them to achieve. It outlines a plan for everyone involved in the child’s education to agree on and follow.

Another aspect of the IDEA is the right of a disabled child to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment. This means that disabled children have the right to be educated in the same classroom with non-disabled children, and that they should not be segregated from other children. Disabled children commonly used to be kept isolated and segregated in institutions. Now, we mainstream disabled children, ideally, as much as possible, and have accommodations and services in place in the school, such as teacher’s aids, speech pathologists, therapists, and so on. One of the problems with isolating and segregating marginalized people is that it leads to abuse and suffering, and the horrific conditions of these institutions spurred laws like the IDEA into existence.

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Image of Willowbrook State School, a former institution for the disabled, notorious for abuse. 

Along with the Least Restrictive Environment, the IDEA also requires that a child receive an Appropriate Evaluation. This section stipulates that there be an evaluation process that meets certain requirements and standards.

The IDEA has many sections that are comprehensive and important when it comes to the rights and education of disabled children. Other disability laws passed in the U.S., largely since the 1970s, outline specific rights for disabled children in public and even private schools. However, when it comes to homeschool, many states allow the parent or guardian to choose whether or not they would like their disabled child to have any of these rights and safeguards. Yes, that is correct- it becomes the choice of the parents whether to allow their child to have disability accommodations, therapies, or special education. If the parent wants, their homeschooled child will never have any accommodations like hearing aids, a wheelchair, speech pathology, a psychologist, and so on.

Non-disabled and disabled pupils (in this case a boy suffering from Down's syndrome) learn together in the same class.

Today, law mandates that disabled children be mainstreamed in schools. [image of child with hearing aids and down syndrome working on a school lesson with seemingly able bodied student]

I have maintained in this blog, as readers know, that not providing disabled children with disability accommodations and therapies should not be a choice, and it is abuse. Organizations like the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HLDA) have consistently pushed, since the 1980s, to remove as many regulations around homeschool as possible. The HLDA has also lobbied against the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), a comprehensive United Nations law on disability rights. If this convention were ratified in the U.S., there would be even more legal protections for disabled children, something which could affect homeschools. Ratification would mean that children in homeschools would have more rights around disability. The Republican homeschool lobby also effectively blocked the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), another convention that would give children more rights,  and one of the world’s most widely-ratified U.N. conventions. The Homeschool lobby is an arm of the well-funded Republican Christian Right, which seeks to have total control over children in homeschools. Every time there is a homeschool torture case, protests occur from this faction, decrying any regulation around homeschooling at all.

My question is, why do disabled children in homeschools not have the same rights as disabled children in public schools? Since when are civil rights a choice? Allowing the dominant class, in this case, adult parents, to have that kind of power over marginalized people defeats the entire purpose of civil and human rights. No one should have the power to choose whether a marginalized person has access to rights, and what we have increasingly seen in this country is how parents use this loophole to deprive, isolate and torture children under the cover of a homeschool.

Not giving disabled children access to disability accommodations and therapies leaves them vulnerable to victimization, not only as children in their own homes, but as they grow up and join their communities. Disability accommodations provide independence. Even if a parent is not directly abusing their child, it is negligent to not provide disability accommodations, and can cause the child pain and suffering, and set them back substantially in the course of their development.

Now, this dearth of disability rights protection is creating a new institution: the home. Like the institution or state school of old, a homeschool is an area where disabled children are frequently abused, murdered, isolated, neglected, and deprived.

Some might say that the horrific homeschool child abuse and homicide cases that seem to be a part of the news every month are anomalies. The reality is, disabled children are vulnerable to victimization more so than their able-bodied counterparts, and experience crime at higher rates. Disabled children should never have to exist in a crossroads of no disability rights, no oversight, and no regulation- that is what happened in institutions and the results were horrific. The civil and human rights of marginalized people are routinely violated, and that is why oversight, regulation and enforcement is necessary to protect vulnerable citizens. Victimizers of children look for and use loopholes like this one to exploit, abuse, torture and murder children. Because homeschool provides such a good cover, the worst child abuse torture and homicide cases are often found within a homeschool.

There is an intersection with disability rights being upheld and regulations in homeschools. When this area is better regulated and disability rights are ensured to all children, I expect that the astonishingly high rates of disability abuse and homicide will start to go down. The home cannot replace the institution as the new disability asylum, and civil rights should be ensured for all Americans, as the laws are written.

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Homeschooled, disabled homicide victim Erica Parsons

 

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Homeschooled torture and homicide victims, the Hart children; Devonte, far left, was disabled. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Disabled homeschool homicide victim, Hana Alemu 

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No Homeschool Oversight in California: Another Child Torture Case Is Discovered

This May, another homeschool torture case came to the attention of authorities, and has been covered by news outlets all over the country. This time, the alleged abuse took place in Fairfield, California, and occurred at the hands of parents Jonathan Allen, 29, and Ina Rogers, 31, who lived on the 2200 block of Fieldstone Court with their ten children, who range in age from six months to twelve years old.

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Ina Rogers and Jonathan Allen, who has face and neck tattoos, and the squalid conditions of their home. On the left is the bathroom, with feces all over the floor. On the right is a bedroom full of disarray and junk.

Police came to the home after responding to a call from Ina Rogers about the twelve-year-old, who had run away. When police arrived at the home on Fieldstone Court, they saw squalid conditions throughout the house, and witnessed the other nine children huddled together in fear in the living room. Police were able to locate the missing child, (he was sleeping under a neighbor’s bushes), but were alarmed at the filthy environment the children were living in, and the way the children were acting. Human and animal feces littered the house, an image of which appears in the above photo, along with garbage and disarray. Police indicated that the children were scared, and spoke with speech impediments, a sign of neglect.

As a result of the horrific environment discovered in the house, Solano County Child Welfare Services took the ten children into custody, and the parents were arrested. During the investigation, the children revealed to law enforcement that they had been subject to years of torture. The children were also homeschooled, but it does not seem as if they really were ever educated.

Prosecutors involved in the case allege that the children were shot with a BB gun, and waterboarded, among other things. From Time magazine:

“On a continuous basis the children were getting punched, strangled, bitten, shot with weapons such as crossbows and bb guns, hit with weapons such as sticks and bats, subjected to ‘waterboarding’ and having scalding water poured on them,” Solano County Deputy District Attorney Veronica Juarez wrote in the bail request.

Ina Rogers was charged with nine counts of felony child abuse and one count of child neglect pertaining to all ten children. Jonathan Allen was charged with nine counts of felony child abuse and seven counts of felony torture, which was later amended to twenty felony counts including four felonies for a lewd and lascivious act on a child under 14. It is not unusual to see child sexual abuse in such severe cases. Both Ina and Jonathan deny the charges and insist that they are good parents. Their friends even started a GoFundMe internet fundraising page to raise money for a lawyer to defend the couple, stating that they were unfairly targeted (the page has since been taken down). The children’s grandmother, however, has spoken out against the parents, saying that Jonathan was unrelentingly abusive and a Satanist. In the past, she reported the parents to child welfare services, although nothing came of it. Photographs of Jonathan’s “meditation room” reveal what appears to possibly be a Satanic altar. Police said that the children were abused for “sadistic reasons”, but did not elaborate. As we often see in these cases, ideology and religion can be a component of the abuse.

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Jonathan Allen’s meditation room altar with book “Awakening Lucifer”, Egyptian statue, purple velvet cloth, and knife.

The children were removed from the house on May 31st, 2018. Jonathan faces 5.2 million dollars bail, and Ina $495,000.

Ina told reporters that she homeschooled her children, but the home in Fairfield had never been registered with the state as a homeschool. Previous California residences where the family lived were also not registered as homeschools. Even if they had registered the school, it would not have been subject to oversight by the state of California, which has extremely lax homeschool regulations, and there would be no state assessments which could have lead to the abuse being discovered.

The Turpin Family

These lax regulations are evident with another recent California homeschool-torture case, one which I have touched briefly upon in previous blogs- the thirteen Turpin children, who were found shackled to furniture in their Perris, California home on January 14th, 2018, by authorities, after a seventeen-year-old member of the family escaped and alerted police. The father of the family, David Turpin, had registered the family’s various homes a few different times as homeschools with the state of California. However, no one had ever checked in on the children to make sure that they were actually being educated, because California, like many U.S. states, does not require it.

The Turpin children endured years of torture and starvation, which caused them to have stunted growth due to malnourishment. Authorities reported that the younger children were unaware of what police were, and had never heard of medication. The children were not taken to doctors or dentists, and did not have much experience outside of the home, having been subject to severe isolation. Neighbors said the children were pale, skittish, and rarely seen outdoors. They were so malnourished that police initially thought the seventeen-year-old child was ten, and other adult children also appeared to be much younger than they were. The children of David and Louise Turpin ranged in age from two to twenty-nine, with seven of them being over the age of eighteen. Police did not realize this at first, due to the stunted growth of the adult children, which made them appear to be minors. This type of undernourishment can lead to many different health problems and disabilities.

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Image of David and Louise Turpin renewing their vows in Vegas with their children, who are dressed in matching outfits, faces blurred out. Bottom of image: at left David Turpin mugshot, right Louise Turpin mugshot.

The Turpin family were religious Pentecostals and Quiverfull, adhering to the large-family, no birth control, strict gender binary, traditional gender role lifestyle and ideology which I have written about in this blog before. A part of this ideology involves homeschooling, and often it means eschewing modern medicine. Not everyone involved in this movement is abusive.

David and Louise Turpin were charged with twelve counts of torture, twelve counts of false imprisonment, seven counts of abuse on a dependent adult, and nine counts of child abuse. Independently of each other, David was charged with committing a lewd act on a child under 14 years old, and Louise was charged with felony assault. A judge approved a restraining order, prohibiting the parents from making contact with their children, in person or electronically. In May of this year, David was charged with perjury for lying to the California Department of Education about the children being homeschooled, as they clearly had not been educated.

Although David told the state that the children were in a full-time homeschool, incredibly lax regulations and zero oversight allowed he and Louise to severally torture and deprive their children for many years. The state does not require that homeschooled children see medical professionals to be checked for things like hearing loss and general health, nor does the state require that children ever be checked on by a mandatory reporter. There are no processes in place in California to assess educational progress made by homeschooled children, there are no tests children are required to pass.

Unlike Jonathan Allen and Ina Rogers, David and Louise Turpin told the state that they were educating their children, but in each situation, no one checked on the children, registered or not. It did not make any difference that the Turpins were registered and the Allen-Rogers home was unregistered; the same things occurred in each home: isolation, starvation, severe neglect and physical abuse, filthy environments, sexual abuse, and oppressive religious ideology.

The Role of Disability Rights 

Both of these examples highlight how disabilities can develop when children are severally neglected and not educated. It is unclear if any of the younger children or the adult children in either case were disabled prior to the abuse, but disabilities have either already occurred, or will likely occur, in each family as a result of the abuse. Neglect and abuse can lead to learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, speech and language delay, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many other disabilities. Neglect and abuse in childhood can cause emotional problems, physical problems, substance abuse, eating disorders, psychiatric disabilities, and leave a person vulnerable to future victimization.  

In previous blogs, readers learned about abuse of children who already had disabilities. In this post, we have read how abuse that is covered up in a homeschool can also cause disabilities. This is another example of how regulations around homeschool is a disability issue. As the children in these cases developed these disabilities from the mistreatment and environment, the disabilities were not addressed with education or accommodations, either, leading to a further level of suffering and vulnerability.

If children do not learn to communicate and have delayed speech and language, and are not taught any alternative forms of communication such as through technology or using sign language, it leaves those children limited in their ability to communicate the abuse that is happening to anyone outside the home. It causes them to be even more dependent and reliant on the abuser. It is the same thing with being in a situation that causes developmental or intellectual delays from neglect and abuse, or psychiatric and emotional disabilities. The parents are using the disabilities to further isolate, deprive, and victimize the children.

As Rachel Coleman and Katheryn Brightbill wrote in this recent L.A. Times article, The Turpin child abuse story fits a widespread and disturbing homeschooling pattern:

“The solution is relatively easy: Force contact with mandatory reporters. States could require annual assessments by a certified teacher and annual doctor’s visits, creating at least two opportunities for a trained professional to recognize abuse.
Abuse in homeschool settings is all too common, even if it doesn’t always make international headlines. For families like the Turpins, mandatory reporter contact could mean the difference between death and rescue.”

Coleman is the director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education.   Brightbill is the Coalition’s legislative policy analyst. The CRHE also runs the site Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. 

A component of requiring children see a doctor would be the discovery and accommodation of disabilities. Law and policy need to go even further to ensure that American Disability Rights law covers children in homeschools. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is meant to cover anyone in the country who has a disability. This means that if someone is disabled, they have a right to disability accommodations and access, and they have civil rights around discrimination and mistreatment. Being in a homeschool does not, and should not, mean that a person is exempt from these rights. However, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association and their supporters have routinely blocked legislation that would regulate homeschools and protect disabled children, including the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities  (CRPD). 

The CRPD has been ratified in over 180 countries, meaning that this international convention has become part of that country’s domestic law. It is the most comprehensive and inclusive disability law ever written. The U.S., due to the conservative homeschool lobby, has routinely blocked this legislation, although Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama were in favor of it.

Clearly, a lack of homeschool regulations in the U.S. is causing serious problems, and many states have almost no regulations at all. Unchecked homeschools can be a cover for the most serious and heinous of crimes against children, and also cause disabled children to not have disability access, accommodations or therapies, which is another form of neglect and abuse. Often these two issues are concurrent-: torture and neglect intersect with disability in myriad ways.

It is interesting to note this juxtaposition between human rights, civil rights, and homeschool. We need to extend human rights and civil rights into homeschools and enforce mandatory reporting to try and eliminate child torture cases altogether, and to ensure that every child has disability rights protection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Homeschools Defraud the Government? Profiting Off the Adoption of Marginalized Children

In all of the homeschool homicide/abuse cases I have written about, a major factor was defrauding the government. Erica Parson’s adoptive parents were convicted on federal fraud charges for stealing substantial amounts of state and federal money meant for the little girl, and continuing to do so for years after they killed her, also claiming her on their taxes. In the case of Hana Alemu and her surviving adopted brother Immanuel, I am unsure if there were subsidies granted to the family or not, since it was an international adoption. However there are possible ways to receive subsidies for children like Hana due to her status as special needs. Recent developments in the case of the Hart family, written about in my last blog, indicate that parents Sarah and Jennifer received $2,000 a month from the state of Texas to help support their 5 adopted children.

At least one of the Hart children, Devonte, was disabled.

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Sarah and Jennifer Hart with four of their adopted children

Special Needs Children: A Category of Adoption

Adopting what are considered by the state to be “special needs” children, means more money for parents, and this is a good thing, as the money is helpful. However, it can be taken advantage of. Children of color fall under the special needs category when it comes to adoption, although this terminology is outdated when applied to disability, and I do not refer to disabled people as having “special needs”. In this context however, it is not only referring to disability, but to children who are from difficult backgrounds and/or are minorities.

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Disabled Ethiopian Adoptee, Hana Alemu Williams

From a research brief from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation: Children Adopted from Foster Care: Adoption Agreements, Adoption Subsidies, and Other Post-Adoption Supports:

“The percentage [of parents] receiving a subsidy is higher among non-Hispanic African American children than among non-Hispanic white children (85 percent compared with 69 percent). This is likely due to states definitions of special-needs adoption that frequently encompass children of color, as well as older children, sibling groups, and children with medical conditions or disabilities, as being harder to place for adoption (NACAC, 2008).”

Children adopted from foster care receive funding that can last until the child is 21.

“Subsidy payments are intended to assist parents in meeting the special needs of their adopted children and to encourage the adoption of children who would otherwise be difficult to place in adoptive homes.  States define criteria relating to special needs, but in addition to special health care needs typically include children from racial or ethnic minority groups, older children (with the definition of older varying by state) and sibling groups adopted together.”
“For the vast majority of children adopted from foster care who receive a subsidy (88 percent), their parents felt it was very likely or likely that they would have adopted without the subsidy. However, for a minority (12 percent), the parents reported it was not likely or very unlikely they would have adopted in the absence of the subsidy.”

The above statistic states that 12 percent of parents would not likely have adopted a marginalized child, but did so potentially because there was more money involved. This mentality proves to me that yet again, marginalized identities are often looked down on as burdens or being too much work, and not like other children. This is the mentality that can be prevalent in cases of abuse.  The intersection of adoption, homeschool, and disability needs to be understood as an area where children are susceptible not only to abuse, but to torture and homicide. 

It is a good thing that there are higher subsidies in place for children who have been abused and/or who are marginalized identities, because often those children need more services and support. However, this also creates an incentive for predatory types to exploit such children for money. Some families have been known to only adopt disabled children, for various reasons. Sometimes it is for money, sometimes it is to gain accolades and respect from their communities.

Adopting children can also give one a giant tax credit. From the Huffington Post article Adopting a Child Can Bring You Countless Rewards — and Tax Benefits:

“While the adoption credit is no longer refundable, you may still be eligible for a credit of up to $12,970 if you’ve adopted or are planning to adopt a child this year. Yes, you read correctly, an income tax credit of over twelve thousand dollars related to adoption costs — in addition to other benefits. Also, if there is one other true statement about adoption, it is typically a very expensive undertaking. So tax credits, potentially a big one, is often very well received and deserved. The adoption tax credit is available for adopted children who are under 18 years old and who are not the step-child of you or your spouse. The credit also applies to a child any age if they are physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves.”

Adoption is very expensive, yes, or it certainly can be, as raising children in general is. But in situations of abuse, this money is not going towards the children, it is providing and income for the parents. Erica Parson’s parents did not accommodate her disabilities, did not send her to school, and starved her. Hana’s parents did the same. These abused children are not seeing the benefits of the money.

Vulnerability of Adopted, Disabled Children

There is a clear intersection between adoption and disability. Adopted children, whether from foster care, directly adopted from the mother, or internationally adopted, often have experienced trauma and/or come from difficult backgrounds. Some of them, like Devonte Hart, were born addicted to drugs. Some, like Hana Alemu, have trauma related disabilities like PTSD. Others, like Erica Parsons, have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and hearing loss. Many of the situations these children came from were abusive and traumatic. If a child put up for adoption was not born disabled, there is still a possibility that a disability can occur later in life as a result of the trauma of losing their birth family or being abused while in care.

As we have seen in the Knox child torture report, which I have cited a few times in this blog, victims of torture are frequently not biological children. The Knox study proves that children who have been adopted or placed in “informal arrangements” are susceptible to torture, which is a severe, prolonged condition of abuse, and all of the adopted children I write about have gone through it. Erica Parsons did not go through the foster care system, but was adopted in a family arrangement. Erica’s adoptive parents received state money for her. A child does not have to come from the foster care system to be eligible for these benefits.

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Homicide victim Erica Parsons

As above statistics indicate, disabled and marginalized children are not the first pick of many people, but the higher subsidies they come with can be an incentive, and these subsidies can be available for different types of adoptions.

Studies show that there are many disabled children in foster care, and that these children are more likely to be abused.

From the National Council on Disability’s Youth with Disabilities in the Foster Care System: Barriers to Success and Proposed Policy Solutions:

“At any given point in time in the United States, approximately 500,000 youth are in the foster care system, although nearly 800,000 youth are served by this system per year. Separately, almost 13 percent of all youth ages 6 through 14 have at least one documented disability. Recent reports estimate that youth with disabilities are between 1.5 and 3.5 times more likely to have experienced abuse or neglect than youth without disabilities. Although determining the cause of a disability for an abused young person is often difficult, research has assessed that disabilities are often caused and/or exacerbated by abuse. At the same time, data suggests that youth born with disabilities are more often abused, and also more often relinquished to the child welfare system (either by choice or force).”

In cases of severe abuse and torture, children are often “homeschooled” and kept away from school and anyone else, such as a doctor or disability accommodations specialist, who might recognize and report signs of abuse. When abuse and starvation, which is also common among tortured children, become very severe, which can happen after it has gone on for many years, parents are more likely to pull the child out of school, and the situation can escalate to homicide.

Rising numbers of homeschooled, disabled children

From my law paper Homeschool, Disability and Homicide: The Relation Between Disability Accommodations and Abuse:

‘The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2003, 1,096,000 children were homeschooled in the United States. This is an increase from 1999 numbers. The top reason given by parents in 2003 for homeschooling their children, ages 5-17, or K-12 equivalent, was “Concern about environment of other schools”, with 31% of respondents citing this reason. The second highest reason, at 30%, was a desire to “provide religious or moral instruction”. “Child has a physical or mental health problem” came in at 7%, along with “Child has other special needs”, also at 7%. [1] The US Department of Education estimated in 2011 that 1,770,000 children in the US were homeschooled. Reasons parents have given in 2011 for homeschooling include, at the top of the list, “A desire to provide religious instruction”, with 64% of respondents stating so. 17% of parents said that the child having special needs was the reason, and 15% said the child having a “physical or mental health problem” caused them to homeschool. [2] As the numbers show, parents have increasingly cited disability and/or health of the child as a reason for homeschooling since 2003.’

It is certainly possible and not at all uncommon that a homeschool is a better option for a disabled child, and there are many homeschooled children who thrive. But that is not what this blog is about, this blog is about people who exploit the system. Statistics and evidence show that disabled children in general are more likely to be abused and murdered; there are high numbers of disabled children in foster care; disabled children are becoming homeschooled at higher rates every year; child torture is often covered by homeschool, and that tortured children are often not biological. 

Homeschool can be an excellent way for an abuser to cover their actions against children. Once abuse becomes very severe, it is likely that the abuser(s) will pull the child(ren) out of school. This is why homeschool needs to be looked at with extra scrutiny instead of being almost completely unregulated. It is also important to understand that adopted, disabled children are likely to end up in situations of homeschool torture, abuse, and homicide. If we as a society would like to reduce the numbers of murdered, abused children, and in particular the high numbers of victimized disabled and Deaf children, this is an area we need to examine and to regulate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the 2003 National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES).
[2] “Statistics About Non-Public Education in the United States.” US Department of Education. Office of Non-Public Education, 2012.

 

 

 

 

Exploitation of Marginalized Identities, Abuse and Torture: The Hart Children

It is a scenario readers of this blog are familiar with: intersections of homeschool, adoption, ideology, and homicide. 

Case Background

On March 27th, married couple Jennifer and Sarah Hart, both age 38, allegedly accelerated their SUV, with their six adopted children inside, off of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. Three of the children have been confirmed dead along with Sarah and Jennifer, and the other three children are missing and presumed dead. In the three days leading up to the crash, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services attempted to make contact with the Hart family to investigate claims of abuse and neglect. It appears possible that the family knew authorities were trying to investigate, and fled the area with the children, driving from Washington to California.

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The upside-down SUV crashed on the rocky banks of the Pacific

Authorities are treating the case as a homicide/suicide investigation. It appears that the SUV accelerated to 90 mph and drove off the cliff, and there are no skid marks or any evidence that the vehicle was trying to avoid crashing.  Heavy.com reports:

“19-year-old Markis Hart, 14-year-old Jeremiah Hart and 14-year-old Abigail Hart were recovered along with Jen and Sarah Hart. But 12-year-old Sierra Hart, 16-year-old Hannah Hart and 15-year-old Devonte Hart remain missing, police said.”

The family lived in Woodland, Washington, which is not far from Portland, Oregon. A neighbor had called authorities recently because the children appeared to be dangerously thin, and had come to their door claiming to be starving and abused. One of the children, Devonte, age 15, had come to the neighbors asking for food, and told them that he and his siblings were often not fed as a form of punishment. Neighbors reported that the children were small for their age and appeared malnourished. Neighbors also said that the children were homeschooled, and did not go outside much.

In 2011, Sarah Hart was charged with a misdemeanor domestic assault after teachers at a Minnesota public school, where the family then lived, noticed bruises on the back of one of the girls, Abigail, age 6 at the time. From Heavy.com:

“Later reports revealed more about what happened in 2010. During an interview with police, Abigail told a detective that Jennifer was the one who hit her (although Sarah was the one who ultimately pled guilty), Oregon Live reported. Abigail said that Jennifer was angry because a penny fell out of her pocket. She said Jennifer dragged her to the bathroom and submerged her head under cold water in the tub, then spanking her repeatedly with a closed fist. Abigail said she was grounded, and sometimes her punishment would include missing lunch.”

Submerging a child’s head under cold water, beating them hard enough to get a domestic assault charge, along with starving the child, all indicate to me that this was a severally abusive family, and these behaviors are often found among the worst child abuse cases. I would also not be surprised if the children were pulled from public school to hide the abuse and continue the isolation.

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The Hart Family, everyone smiling broadly. But is it genuine?

Themes

As readers may know from my previous blogs, child victims of torture are often not biological children. In the paper Child Torture as a Form of Child Abuse, which is based on a study of 28 child abuse and torture cases:

“We observed that 79 % of the primary abusers were not the child’s first degree relative; they included such caregivers as boyfriends, girlfriends, aunts, uncles, grandparents, adoptive parents, and stepparents.”

Readers may recall that homeschool homicide victims Erica Parsons and Hana Alemu were also adopted. Erica, Hana, and her adopted brother Immanuel were all starved and malnourished, as were the 13 Turpin children, another recent homeschool torture case that has been all over the news. The above cited paper also states that the tortured children in the study experienced having food withheld from them:

“Eighty-nine percent experienced food deprivation and 79 % were fluid restricted.”

Withholding food is common in severe abuse cases.

Isolation and deprivation are crucial to maintaining an environment where children are subjected to this specific type of torture. Keeping children in a public school could potentially expose the abuse and subject the parents to scrutiny and possible arrest by law enforcement. This is likely why the Hart family pulled the children out of school, and they most likely did so after Sarah Hart was arrested for domestic assault. This is also a reason that neighbors did not see the children very much. From the Knox child torture journal article cited above:

‘This social isolation typically involved preventing the child from attending school or daycare. Twenty-nine percent of school-age children were not allowed to attend school; two children, though previous enrolled, were dis-enrolled by their caregiver and received no further schooling. An additional 47 % who had been enrolled in school were removed under the auspice of “homeschooling.” This “homeschooling” appears to have been designed to further isolate the child and typically occurred after closure of a previously opened CPS case.’

Intersections

I am not sure about the other children, but sources indicate that Devonte was disabled.  Marginalized identities all have things in common, and one of those things is being objectified and pitied by the hegemony. Hana Alemu’s case highlighted the propensity for people to adopt children that they feel sorry for in order to appear like saviors and martyrs to their communities, in particular, white families adopting black children. It is hard not to look at the Hart case and perceive that this is a part of it. While the Hart family were not a part of the Christian Patriarchy, as Hana’s adoptive family was, they were a part of a community in the North West and went to festivals and attended rallies for Bernie Sanders. So they were part of a larger community of people with a certain ideology. An ideology can be liberal or conservative and still play a role in the reasons people abuse children. The Harts were using the children to gain respect and traction in the largely white liberal scene of the Pacific Northwest. Devonte, in particular, was known for his “Free Hugs” sign.

OR: Bernie Sanders Rally in Portland

Devonte Hart holds a sign during a Bernie Sanders campaign rally at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., on March 25, 2016, the day before the Washington caucuses. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy)

 

The Harts very likely gained accolades and attention from this community due to having adopted six children of color and “saving” them.

As a Deaf person who works in a disability rights field, I am constantly being approached by able-bodied and hearing people who are looking for “a disabled person” to include in a project they are doing to make them look more “inclusive”. Every marginalized identity has experienced being used in this way; to make a person from the dominant class seem more “down”, or like a better person for “including” marginalized people in their lives somehow.

It is not a stretch for me to see how someone with this mindset would could be objectifying and abusive behind closed doors, because false, biased notions of marginalized identity are based in a historical materialism of abuse and pain. These notions are predicated on a fantasy of what role marginalization plays within the enclave of white, able-bodied life, and how that role will benefit the dominant person. Objectifying an oppressed person and using them for your benefit aligns closely with reasons why victimizers abuse and torture other people, so it is not difficult to see how the two could overlap and even fuel each other.

In the public environment, the abuser is using the victim(s) to further their reputation and gain respect amongst a community of people; in the private environment of the home, the abuser is using the victim to satisfy their own sadistic or emotional urges. In the case of the Harts, Sarah and Jen were using the children, Devonte in particular, to gain traction and attention in a community with shared ideology and politics. In the context of the home, they were sadistically abusing and starving the children, which is another form of using them to feel whatever emotions the abuse would foster within the offenders. Overall, using the marginalized identities and backgrounds of the children to exploit and objectify them on a few different levels, all for their own gain, up until the final act of control was deployed: the murder of the entire family at the hands of the parents.

It is important to understand that abuse, torture and homicide of marginalized identities can happen for a different set of reasons than is always understood or discussed. Understanding the reasons behind identity-specific abuse, objectification, and homicide can help us to identify such cases in the future and have better insight into the minds of abusive people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erica Parsons: The Hallmarks of a Homeschool Child Torture Case

The story of Erica Parsons, the little North Carolina girl who was homeschooled, tortured and then missing for years, may seem like it has come to a close today as charges were finally brought against her adoptive parents for her 2011 murder. However, there is much to learn from the case, and Erica’s memory must continue to live on, especially as we near Disability Day of Mourning on March 1st, a day to remember disabled people who were killed by parents and caretakers.

Erica Parsons’ body has now been laid to rest in China Grove, North Carolina. Her remains were found by law enforcement in 2016. They were led to the site of her shallow grave by her adoptive father, Sandy Parsons, who, along with his wife Casey, disposed of the child’s body on his mother’s farm after the two of them murdered her when she was around 11 or 12 years old.

erica parsons funeral_07

Sandy and Casey, prior to these latest charges, had already been serving prison time for fraud, which they were both charged with for stealing disability and state money meant for Erica, even after she was deceased. Law enforcement and the judge in their fraud case have long suspected that they were responsible for Erica’s murder, although both Sandy and Casey Parsons went on TV many times to claim their innocence, even appearing on Dr. Phil.

More details about Erica’s story can be read here.

Autopsy reports indicate that after years of abuse, the little girl died from homicidal violence, and her body was dismembered and then buried in a shallow grave on Sandy’s mother’s rural property. Erica Parson’s life shows all the signs of child torture, and a medical examiner stated that was indeed what she had gone through.

Torture is prolonged, severe abuse, and often includes starvation, isolation, and deprivation, among other abusive behaviors. Erica was starved and malnourished, had stunted growth, and her body showed many signs of severe abuse which had occurred over the years. The abuse was so bad that it was difficult for the coroner to say what finally killed her. It could have been strangulation, suffocation, or blunt force trauma. The final report indicated that homicidal violence of some kind is what ended her life. With a case like this, the abuse is so severe and ongoing that it is not difficult to understand how any number of abusive acts could have been the one that led to her death. The fact that Erica’s body was undiscovered for almost six years after her passing also made the autopsy difficult.

Patterns

Many aspects of Erica’s case are common among child torture cases. Torture and severe abuse often is carried out by the mother . From Time Magazine:

Elizabeth Skowron, a professor of counseling psychology and a research scientist at the University of Oregon’s Prevention Science Institute, says that in her group’s work, mothers are very often both the perpetrators and initiators of abuse. The NCANDS [National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System] data backs that up, with 70% of victims mistreated by the mother, the large majority of those times without the participation of the father.

In Erica’s case, both parents participated in the abuse, but it was masterminded and especially cruel at the hands of her adoptive mother. Mothers, stepmothers and adoptive mothers make up large numbers of those found to have been torturing children. According to the journal article Child Torture as a Form of Child Abuse :

-Typically both adult caregivers are involved in the torture to some
extent
-Women figure much more prominently as perpetrators of torture than in other forms of physical abuse
-Siblings are aware of and may be coerced to participate in the abuse, and also may be abused to a lesser degree

In Erica’s case, both adults tortured her, with the mother figure being dominant. Casey Parsons also encouraged the other children in the home to gang up on and abuse Erica, even making her adoptive brother Jamie break her arm, as he testified to during the fraud trial.

Another characteristic of child torture cases is that the victim has been placed in the home of extended family members in an “informal arrangement”. According to a study of child torture cases performed by the researchers in the above mentioned article Child Torture As a Form of Child Abuse:

Several children came into the torturing households through informal family arrangements. We observed that 79 % of the primary abusers were not the child’s first degree relative; they included such caregivers as boyfriends, girlfriends, aunts, uncles, grandparents, adoptive parents, and stepparents.

Erica was placed in the Parsons home through an adoption which occurred between her biological mother, Carolyn, with Sandy and Casey, as Carolyn was unable to care for Erica, and Erica’s father was a severe addict who was always in trouble with the law. Sandy Parsons was Carolyn’s former brother in law. Casey Parsons reportedly was not enthused about adopting Erica and took out her anger at Carolyn on the little girl.

Another aspect of Erica’s situation which needs further research in these specific types of cases is the fact that she was disabled. Readers of this blog know that disabled children are at greater risk of being abused. More research needs to be done on numbers of disabled children who are tortured, because there are differences in the psychology and manifestations behind torture than there are with other child abuse cases.

Erica had intellectual disability, and people with intellectual disability are at high risk of being victimized. Erica also had hearing loss, and deaf and hard of hearing people are also at a much higher risk of being victimized. Whether that victimization specifically turns into these types of torture cases needs to be better understood. However, according to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE)’s database of homeschool child torture cases, Homeschooling’s Invisible Children, many victims were disabled.

Homeschool plays a vital part in child torture, since it allows the abuse to be covered and continue to escalate to extreme levels when the child is not around other adults who may figure out what is happening in their home, such as a teacher, principal or counselor. In one of California’s worst child abuse cases, outlined in the book A Child Called It, the autobiography of David Pelzer, David’s abuse at the hands of his mother was discovered only because he was in public school. That was in the early 1970s. Since that time, teachers and the public in general has become more intuned to child abuse and there has been better education about it. Although David was not disabled, he became so after the abuse.

Rising numbers of disabled children are being homeschooled, according to preliminary data, and numbers of homeschooled children in the U.S. continue to grow.

Erica’s story is extremely tragic, especially since no educational authorities ever checked up on her due to lax homeschool regulations. If they had, her story may have turned out more like David Pelzer’s, who was placed in a caring foster home and protected by authorities after his teachers, school nurse, and princepal figured out that something was seriously wrong. Like Erica, young David was starved, beaten and subjected to cruel torture at the hands of his mother for several years. He knew it would only be a matter of time before she killed him. The end results of torture cases is often homicide.

A perpetrator in a case like David’s or Erica’s will do whatever they can to continue the abuse, since they are gratified in some way by it. They do not have an intention of stopping, and will go to extremes to cover the abuse. In a torture case, that often means keeping the child out of school, and that is where homeschool comes in. Homeschool can provide a long-term cover for pepetrators involved in the most serious of child abuse crimes. Abusers know this, and are not above defrauding the state and everyone else to continue the torture.

This Disability Day of Mourning, let’s take time to remember Erica and every other disabled abuse victim who was murdered by a parent or caretaker and take concrete, evidence-based steps to end it, including more research in some much needed areas that sit in the intersections of disability and homicide.

Isolation, Deprivation, Torture, and Disability in Homeschools

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The Turpin parents, shown in the courtroom.

Homeschool can play a vital role in one of the key elements of child torture: isolation. Isolation is necessary to sustain the type of environment where child abuse can escalate to the level of torture.

A uniform definition of child abuse torture has not been officially established, and torture previously has been defined largely in a political or state context, such as by the United Nations. Torture is consistently stated by researchers to be prolonged suffering inflicted on a victim or victims in order to for the perpetrator(s) to meet some kind of need. This need can be political; it can also be emotional. Torture in any context is long-term, severe abuse that can include several elements, such as deprivation, starvation, psychological manipulation, and neglect of medical problems. A major component necessary to continue torturing someone is the total isolation and confinement of that victim. Only in isolation can a perpetrator continue to get away with this level of mistreatment.

Without total isolation, a child or children undergoing severe abuse and maltreatment would certainly arouse suspicion from people outside the home who could potentially put an end to it, such as teachers and doctors. Homeschool is a way for a perpetrator to remove themselves and their victims from environments where the suspicion of authorities might be incurred. Homeschool also allows a victimizer to keep a child confined in a home all of the time. In many of these cases, very little education is really happening, and homeschool is being used as a cover for abuse. The abuse has primacy; everything else is situational, and an unregulated area of the law is being used to provide a cover. It can be quite easy to start a homeschool in many U.S. states, and there is no oversight or regulation involved, something which has been consistently pushed for by organizations like the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, a well-funded arm of the Republican Christian Right.

In every homeschool story I have written about in this blog, isolation is an important detail. The Naugler children were isolated in the woods. Erica Parsons was kept away from society in her rural home, Hana and Immanuel Williams lived in a rural, gated, insular religious community, and before that, they were kept segregated from society in an orphanage, and now, the thirteen Turpin children, who were chained in their house and “homeschooled” shows how it is possible to isolate, torture and deprive 13 humans even in a suburban neighborhood with neighbors close by. Many people have responded to the Turpin story by asking incredulously how it is that neighbors did not notice anything was wrong, and never called police. Neighbors should not be the ones relied upon to make these kinds of reports, and child abuse cases regularly indicate that neighbors do not really know what is happening inside another home in their neighborhood, even if they have suspicions that something is off. It is important to remember that victimizers of children will go to great lengths to not be found out, and it can be difficult to tell just by looking at a child from across the street or driveway that a severe level of abuse is occurring within their home. The optimal type of person to identify and report child maltreatment is found in a professional environment, such as a doctor, teacher, or disability support professional.

Disability and Torture

There is a further element of isolation and deprivation which occurs in a torture case when the child has a disability. Erica Parsons had hearing loss and intellectual disability, Hana Williams had PTSD, Immanuel was Deaf. When a person is Deaf, it can be tremendously isolating in and of itself if there is no sign language, closed-captioning, or capable people around to facilitate communication, let alone in an abuse situation, which compounds the isolation and deprivation that can come with deafness. Not providing access to deaf and disabled children is a form of neglect already.

Deaf children may not be able to speak clearly enough for hearing adults to understand, sometimes because they are too young, sometimes because those children were purposely prevented from receiving speech therapy or any instruction or support around communicating with the outside world. Adults who victimize deaf children are aware of this fact, and it actually benefits the abusers, as this story about a school for the Deaf in England, where many children were abused for decades, demonstrates. Not providing disability accommodations or language to a child keeps them isolated, deprived and unable to ask for help. This is consciously done on the part of an abuser, and needs to be understood within the criminal justice system as being particularly reprehensible, and a further level of victimization.

Another element of torture is neglect. Parents who commit child torture do not take their children to the doctor regularly, if ever; they do not get them disability related services or ongoing accommodations, they do not keep them in public school consistently or at all. The Turpin children rarely saw doctors, with some of the children reportedly not knowing what medications or doctors even were. Some may say this was a religious preference, others may say keeping the children from medical professionals, teachers, and other services was vital to maintaining an environment where torture could continue. Total deprivation, isolation, neglect and confinement are of substantial benefit to someone who is committing child torture. It is important to recognize how isolating children in a homeschool can allow all of these elements to occur, and to occur for a prolonged time until the victim dies or is close to death.

In many homeschool cases, the only time anyone found out what had been going on was after a homicide had happened, sometimes years after the homicide occurred. Erica Parsons was missing for three years before law enforcement had been contacted, and no one in the community was aware that she was missing. Keeping Erica isolated in a rural home, registered as a homeschool in name only, allowed Casey and Sandy Parsons to torture the child for many years.

The Role of Disability Law and Criminal Justice

If disability law is extended to cover homeschools in every state, homeschool abuse cases can be potentially found out and prevented. It is not acceptable to allow a disabled child to go without accommodations and access, no matter what your religious beliefs may be. It is neglect, plain and simple, and can cause physical pain and suffering to the child, and allow them to be vulnerable to victimization not just by their parents, but by many people, and keep them from gaining independence.

In the case of abuse, the presence of disability elevates and heightens the terror and pain felt by the victim.

The rights of disabled children to have disability access trumps the desire by parents to isolate, neglect, deprive, and abuse them. This means that the rights of children are more important than a religious philosophy, more important than any “off the grid living” mentality, and more important than upholding lax homeschool regulations. Disability rights are a fundamental human right. And ensuring that human rights are adequately enforced provides a way to potentially crack down on an area where many homicides of children, both able bodied and disabled occur: homeschools.

If a disabled child has the appropriate therapies, access, and medical treatment, this can alleviate stress on the parent or parents of the child. Parents of disabled children need support, and a disabled child needs to learn independence. Mobility aids, hearing aids, sign language, and a disability-rights based education can allow this to happen.

Of course, in the case of severe abuse, control, and deprivation, it is not part of the plan to provide a child or children with any support or assistance. The abused child is being used in a way that benefits the parents. It is not about the child’s rights or access at all. Requiring and enforcing disability access in all schools, not just public schools, is a potential way to catch perpetrators, and it is also a way to catch the absolute worst perpetrators, the ones who torture children.

Disabled children are often selected on purpose to enter into situations of abuse due to a variety of ableist and complex factors, and once in any number of situations, like a home or a school, they are more likely than able-bodied children to be abused. Hana and Immanuel were selected by the Williamses for adoption because they were disabled and it was considered more “Godly” and self-sacrificing on the part of the parents to adopt such children. Once in the home, the reality of having disabled children paired with parents who were already volatile and problematic contributed to the situation escalating to homicide. In the case of Erica Parsons, she was born with disability, and this most likely was a deciding factor in her being placed for adoption with her relatives, Sandy and Casey Parsons.

In the case of the Turpins, it is also likely that the deprivation, starvation and neglect the children endured caused psychiatric, emotional and physical disabilities, even if there were no disabilities present before the onset of the severe abuse. The timeline so far of the case is not entirely clear.

Disability needs to be understood as an element of child torture; something that is used by a perpetrator to further victimize, isolate, and deprive a child, and also as a characteristic that makes a child vulnerable to becoming ensnared in a case of severe abuse in the first place.

Both of these factors necessitate further regulation and law around homeschools, and better understanding of the role that disability plays in child torture and mistreatment.

 

turpin-family-children-california-907439

The Turpin family’s California home, and [inset] a photo of the parents and their children. [image description: photo of taupe colored suburban home with van parked out front, in dry desert climate. Inset shows 13 children in matching t-shirts from Dr. Seuss’s “Cat in the Hat”, each designating a child as “Thing 1”, “Thing 2”, going up to higher numbers. They are smiling and posing together in a group. Faces of the children are blurred for anonymity.]

Far Away Across the Field, the Tolling of the Iron Bell; On Mental Illness and Grief

“Very hard to explain why you’re mad. Even if you’re not mad.” -Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon 
I had been packing my things, ready to move into a new house, and I came across a diary from 2014, my first year of graduate school, and the year I had a psychiatric breakdown and was committed to Upstate, which I have written about here in past blogs. This is from that diary. My cousin Matthew Doran died in 2012, at age 31, and the entry is about him.

The week before cousin Seamus’ wedding to his fiancee Mara, I woke up on Thursday morning; I had to go to campus. I felt like listening to Breathe on Dark Side of the Moon, by Pink Floyd. I haven’t heard it in so long. So I put my record on, and cranked the volume. Later on, I went with Diane to Sangha. Our meditation leader put on a DVD of Thich Nat Hanh, who spoke (Diane always interprets the videos in sign language) about the importance of breathing. Breathe. Diane kept signing. Breathe.

The next day, I called the hotel in Canfield, Ohio, where we were staying for Seamus’ wedding, to make reservations. I was put on hold and while waiting, I was texting with Seamus’ mother, Margi, and was on Facebook messenger with his brother Ryan, in Ireland. Seamus and Ryan are Matthew’s brothers, and Margi his mother. The muzak version of Breathe started playing over the phone. “That’s odd,” I typed to Ryan, since I had just listened to it. I remembered then, that the last time I had really played that record, blasted it over the speakers and really enjoyed it, was when I was 18, the day I moved into my first apartment in Utica, with Matthew. My father was there, too, helping me move in. I put on Breathe after we had hooked up the record player. “This is a great album,” Dad said.

Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care
Leave, but don’t leave me
Look around and choose your own ground
For long you’ll live, and high you’ll fly
And smiles you’ll give
and tears you’ll cry
and all you touch and all you see
is all your life will ever be

When I got home from Sangha that night, I played Dark Side of the Moon again, and I cried. I cried and cried. I felt the pain, the pain of Matt dying. I allowed myself to feel it. I never let myself do that; I am too afraid. I am too afraid to feel.

The next day, I was messaging on my phone outside on the porch with cousin Anne about financial troubles. I heard, coming from the house next door, Money, from Dark Side of the Moon, being played. I had to laugh. I haven’t heard these songs in ages. Seemed like Matt’s sense of humor coming through. I texted Margi and told her. The wedding of Matt’s brother Seamus was coming so soon. We were all sad that Matt would not be there.

I had been thinking so much about capitalism around this time. The system, and how as a mentally ill and disabled person I cannot do it, I cannot fit in. Matt was on disability, and money was always tight. Capitalism does not favor the disabled, it teaches that we have value only if we are productive within the system of money. Capitalism and disability have long been at odds. Money is really a joke, and Irish humor always finds a way to laugh at the grim aspects of life.

Margi told me that Matt had been communicating with her through music around this time as well. “His ringtone was Stairway to Heaven,” she said. Margi had been hearing the song play at points throughout the weeks leading up to Seamus’ wedding.

I never said I was afraid to die. I’m not afraid to die. Anytime is fine with me. We all gotta go sometime.

The wedding was wonderful, it came and went, and was a memorable time. Then last night was Sangha again. I met Diane, as I do every Thursday, at 6pm at Hoople, her office. As we left to walk to the parking garage, she pointed out the full moon in the dark night sky. The upstate night sky, the dark black clouds outlined in gray alternately obscuring and revealing the white moon. The sky was so black. Bells began ringing from the nearby Setnor School of Music. I thought of A Christmas Carol, the bells that ring at night to signal to Scrooge that another ghost is coming. Life. Death. Past, present and future. “I think those bells are playing a Chanukah song,” Diane said. I looked up at the moon. “Ah, that is why I have been feeling this way,” I said, because I have been having very vivid dreams. The full moon always affects me. It had been almost a year since I last spoke to Matt.

If your head explodes with dark forebodings too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon. 

Diane and I walked to the parking garage. Earlier in the day, my room mate Jennifer mentioned that the crows had returned to Syracuse. Diane and I were on the fourth floor of the garage, and she was putting things in the back of the car. The sky had turned purple. I could see it through the long, open area where there is a window in the concrete. Suddenly, a murder of crows flew by. There were so many of them. “The crows!”I exclaimed, and ran to the edge of the window to watch them fill the sky. I could see that Diane smiled. I wondered to myself where the crows went and thought about how I must try to find them, to perhaps befriend them. Of course, they are my ancestral bird. Corbett comes from the Latin, corvo, for crow or raven. There is a raven on our family crest and the motto is God feeds the ravens. Black hair runs in the Corbett family. Raven-haired. Diane and I got in the car, and as we drove to Sangha, I saw that some of the crows had settled in a small grassy area, in trees, between two buildings. The buildings of the nearby psychiatric center.

We got to Sangha and Goethe’s poem To the Moon came to me. I asked our meditation leader if I could read it aloud. We started Sangha with the poem: Bush and vale thou fill’st again/With thy misty ray, And my spirit’s heavy chain/Castest far away. Thou dost o’er my fields extend/Thy sweet soothing eye, Watching like a gentle friend, O’er my destiny. Vanish’d days of bliss and woe/ Haunt me with their tone, Joy and grief in turns I know, As I stray alone.

Then the talk by Thich Nat Han. It was about learning to feel your suffering. To embrace it and care for it. Not to run away from it. Not to distract yourself from feeling it. Feel your suffering, do not be afraid of it. You can lessen the suffering of others, but you can only heal it in yourself.

During Dharma sharing, I spoke of how I had fallen into the pain and suffering I have felt over the loss of Matthew, and how I have been trying to feel it more. And as I have, my dreams are changing. I am no longer a victim, as Thich said. I am no longer running. I am fighting back and taking control. I was often trapped in my dreams, and now I am breaking free and escaping. I have been so wary of the full moon because it brings everything to light. And it is hard. The moon illuminates all things. Now I am embracing the full moon. I am welcoming it.

For nothing hidden will not become manifest, and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered. All things are plain in the sight of heaven.- Jesus, from the Gospel of Thomas

That was the end of the diary entry.

Dark Side of the Moon is about life and death and madness, particularly the madness of former band member Syd Barrett, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, as was my cousin Matt. Matthew taught me so much about mental health, as I too, have mental illness. I told him once, “I have been wanting to tell you for many years that I hallucinate, too. I know what it’s like.” I had been too shy to bring it up before. Matt was never one to mince words. “Yeah,” he replied genuinely. “It’s hard.” That was the last time I saw him before he died. It was Christmas Eve, 2011. Matt died the following Spring.

Consider the work of God, For who is able to straighten what He has bent? What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? -Ecclesiastes 7:13

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