Drew’s Letter To The Judge
While going over all of the legal paperwork I read the letter Drew had written to the judge who convicted him, sentenced him, and had the opportunity March 2nd to grant him home incarceration in leu of prison. The letter is heartbreaking to say the least. But, it is truth. Truth can be heartbreaking when injustice is so apparent.
I’ve decided that a good blog post for today is to let you all read the letter Drew wrote. His attorney submitted it to the judge. The judge indicated that he had read all of the letters submitted by Drew’s attorney. Many of the letters were from professionals working with Drew, or from organizations that wanted the judge to consider how horrific incarceration is for someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
In Drew’s letter he refers to the horror of jail. He had not yet experienced prison.
As with past posts I only use Drew’s name. So, the only changes I have made to his original letter to the judge is to replace names, other than Drew’s, with XXX.
We are working hard to get Drew released from prison to in-home incarceration. True justice would be a pardon from a lifetime of being a registered sex offender and a convicted felon.
As always, thank you for your continued support. We can also see from analytics that support for Drew is consistently growing. You are hopefully making a difference for Drew’s future. We know that at least for now, you make a difference just by being here, reading and supporting him.
The photo for today’s post feels most appropriate. You will understand when you read Drew’s letter below. When Drew was in elementary school during a teachers work day he helped me participate in a fund raiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a charity we have always supported. Ironically this particular fund raiser involved allowing ourselves to be “locked up in jail” while we called family and friends to “bail us out” by donating to St. Jude. My job was to make the phone calls. Drew wrote down the names and donations. You can’t make this stuff up.
Dear Honorable XXX,
Ever since I was diagnosed as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder I have been working very hard in my therapy with Dr. XXX, Dr. XXX and my psychiatrist, Dr. XXX. A central focal point of this therapy has been an emphasis on appropriate communication with others. I’m told this is difficult for people who have Asperger’s Syndrome. The term “Asperger’s Syndrome” is often used to characterize the presentation of how Autism manifests in individuals on the spectrum.
For the past two-and-a-half years I have been living with the ever-increasing fear of going back to jail/prison. Unless I’m distracted by something immediate, these fears are always running in the back (or front) of my mind. I think about this when I am trying to go to sleep. When I’m sleeping I often have nightmares that are so intense it makes me afraid and resistant to trying to sleep at all. When I do sleep, it’s not unusual for me to awaken with my mom and dad rushing into the room. They do this because I scream myself awake.
Environment overstimulation is a challenge for many on the Autism Spectrum. This issue is prominent with me. During the day I jump or go into anxiety attacks when loud, sudden thuds or noises remind me of Riverside. When it gets dark at night I am frightened by headlights in the driveway, always worried that police are coming to take me away (it’s usually just my brother). Sometimes the GPS monitoring equipment can be faulty or prone to errors. When this happens it often makes loud alarms that make me panic. When this kind of thing happens, I worry that I’ll get the wrong P.O. on the wrong night that they will send a unit out when in reality, I bend over backwards to always ensure the GPS unit is fully charged and has a good vantage point for maintaining maximum signal strength.
I have been going to all of my scheduled visits with my probation officer, Ms.XXX. I have made it a point to follow all of my bond conditions and adhere to being a model probationer. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for not continuing to require the 20-hour a week structured activity requirement. I do believe that this bond condition was well-intentioned, but it proved extremely distressing. I tried to take classes at John Tyler (where I already have an Associate’s Degree) but they disenrolled me because I’m on the sex offender registry. I made the campus clear that I was on the registry prior to signing up for classes, but I got a phone call from the Dean regardless. While I was disappointed, I reached out to the possibility of taking online classes, but John Tyler would not allow that either. That one in particular was a shock to Ms. XXX. Finding any type of employment was proving immensely challenging (my local Goodwill would not allow me to even volunteer) so I decided to try something more creative.
I have a Twitch channel online where I live-stream a variety of different video games for the entertainment of a live audience. I had done charity campaigns through this means in the past, so I figured I had a good idea when Twitch struck a partnership with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital to make all donations go directly to their hospital. I raised $250 in less than two days. I was proud of what I can accomplish and was excited to share the news with Ms. XXX. While she thought it was great, one of her superiors did not and said I could not do this because the charity involved children. I think what surprised me the most wasn’t the rigidity of the rules, but the suspicious look in their eyes as if I had some kind of under-handed motive to gain access to children.
Eventually, I found volunteer work through a connection with the Autism Society of Central Virginia. That was going smoothly for a while, but Ms. XXX got a random call from someone in the Police asking questions about why I was there. Ms. XXX told the officer that I would unregister the volunteer work and abstain from going again. I followed her advice and did just that. As she said to me, “I’ve seen these things escalate before and it’s best not to push it.”
I’m trying not to over-focus on the 20-hour aspect of the bond agreement, but I feel that that experience alone could help illustrate the pain, shame, rejection, and challenge I face on an almost daily basis wherever I try to go, or whatever I try to do.
I take medication to help reduce and manage my anxiety. It’s called Ativan and it helps me. I have been taking this medication for the bulk of my 20’s, but Riverside doesn’t allow this particular medication (as well as others I take). I experienced excruciatingly painful withdrawal when I was taken off of medications much quicker than what is medically recommended. It’s bad enough to go through it at home or in a hospital, but going through it at Riverside was a living Hell. When I finally arranged a sit-down with Riverside’s grievance counselor the man looked at me and said, “It’s just a pill.”
The loud barrage of sounds from every direction in Riverside is very painful for me to endure. This goes on daily until about 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. when inmates finally start falling asleep. The bright lights are always on. I feel their intensity and can even hear them humming. You were kind enough to grant me a freedom bond and I will never forget that.
I hope I’m being effective in explaining how very badly I feel I have been punished and that the ongoing stress, fear, anxiety, and reality of being a registered sex offender and felon for the rest of my life is an immensely painful weight to carry around. Please consider allowing me to serve any remaining active time on home incarceration. This will allow me to stay in therapy. Without the fear of going to prison I will be able to move forward and use this experience to make my life better. My parents and I have even talked about how I can help other young men who have autism.
I have been punished and I am not a threat to anyone. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Drew J. Harrison