Preparing My Son For Prison

We received a call from Drew’s attorney saying The Supreme Court of Virginia has denied the last request to hear Drew’s appeal. They didn’t find a “procedural error.” Early this coming week he is required to go to the courthouse and turn himself over to serve his sentence.

I’ve been told I need to begin preparing my son for prison. I can’t even make sense of that statement. How does a mother “prepare” her kind-hearted, innocent son who has an autism spectrum disorder for such a bright-lighted, loud, chaotic, cruel and inhumane place?

Since he was born I have been preparing him for the changes and challenges life brings. When he reached an age old enough to begin having friends over I prepared him to share his toys. When he was three I prepared him for pre-school, listening to the teacher and following her instructions.

I taught him that it’s not okay to say, “Yuck, I’m not eating that”, when someone placed something green in front of him to eat. I even added a little green food coloring to his scrambled eggs after we read the book, Green Eggs and Ham together. He became accepting of “green food” and transitioned to green beans and broccoli. I am so grateful for these sweet memories.

When it came time for kindergarten there were more preparations. We shopped, he picked out a book bag, new shoes and clothes, boxes of brightly colored crayons and other supplies. It was fun but also the kind of change that is bittersweet and leaves a mom with an ache in her heart. You wonder if he’ll be okay, if he will adjust to 5 days a week being gone all day. With time he adjusted, but still bounded off the school bus each day with amazing energy and enthusiasm, because at last he had returned to his favorite place in the world…a place that rivaled Disney World. He had returned home. Home, his favorite place of all. If you’re unfamiliar with characteristics of an autism spectrum disorder, one common trait is the desire to be home; familiar and controllable for the most part.

Over the years I prepared him for sleepovers, cub scouts, riding the bus, middle school, high school, visiting relatives, baseball and soccer when he much preferred Nintendo, picking out gifts for birthday parties, learning to swim…especially jumping off of the diving board, looking at people when they are talking to you, asking a girl to the prom, driving a car, eating a variety of foods, dealing with a broken heart, speaking up when someone makes you feel uncomfortable, working his first summer job, and the overwhelming changes that came with preparing to leave home for college, and then more overwhelming-withdrawing from college to return home.

I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot of preparations and changes but right now I find it difficult to even form sentences. I feel limp, numb and confused as to HOW a mother prepares her son for prison…prison! Everything I’ve ever taught him about being polite, taking turns, taking care of his pet hamster, Earl; holding the door for strangers, and random acts of kindness. I’m now told that if he’s too nice in prison he’ll be taken advantage of. If he’s aggressive then he risks having years added to his sentence. So, if he is picked on for being too nice and then defends himself for being bullied or punched he will have to serve more years? I am told that happens frequently. How do I prepare him for an environment that makes no sense? How do I prepare him for cruelty?

He experienced enough of this type of behavior when he was put in jail after being arrested in 2012. Then in 2014 when the judge convicted him he spent two weeks in a maximum security jail pod. He came home gaunt and easily frightened. Within months he began to show symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in addition to the anxiety that is typical of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Mere weeks changed my son so drastically, making him fear things he was never afraid of before.

If you’ve read my blog posts from beginning to end then you are fully aware of the ridiculousness of this conviction and sentence in the first place. If you haven’t read it, please do! I have heard from so many of you who can’t believe this can happen in our country, that an obviously innocent young man can receive a conviction and such draconian punishment. It does and it did. And like I’ve said before, if this can happen to our family it can happen to yours.

We must make changes; demand better laws that actually protect people as opposed to making arrests to meet a daily arrest quota, convicting people because the prosecutor earns more if they “get the win”, and if you believe “for profit” jails and prisons are a good idea then God forbid someone you love ever ends up in one. Since they are paid for every day they can keep the person in there; one of their goals is to do just that…keep them as long as possible. Cha-ching cha-ching! There are many changes that must be made.

But for now, I have to prepare my son for prison.

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