By Owen Hudson October 2007
It was a feeling of homecoming when we arrived back in Arkansas. I now considered this to be my home and I had no reason to live in Illinois. As far as I was concerned my parents no longer existed. Tom was my only friend in Illinois, but I hadn't known him very long. Chicago is a wonderful city; however my life before my escape to Arkansas was a living hell. I had no fond memories from my past. My future was here, and hopefully that future involved Mason.
Mason dropped me off at my trailer before going on home. As soon as George saw me arrive he walked from his house to my trailer as fast as his arthritic knees would carry him. He gave me a big hug and said, "Son, I'm so glad you're back. I've missed you."
"I'm glad to be back home, Grandpa," I said as I returned his hug. "I missed you too."
"How was your trip? Tell me all about it. Did you see your parents?
"Come inside and I'll make us some coffee, and I'll tell you all about it."
George couldn't wait for the coffee to be ready and insisted that I tell him about the trip. I began telling him about the trip to Illinois and he listened patiently, but I could tell he wanted me to get to the good stuff. I then told him about going to the house and how I had knocked my dad to the floor. He of course got a good laugh out of that. I told him about finding Tom and staying with his family.
"You should invite Tom down here for a visit," George suggested.
"That's a good idea. Maybe he can come for a few days when school is out."
"You do know that he can stay at my place? In fact I don't know why you don't just move in with me."
"Thank you Grandpa, but this has been my home since I came here. Besides when Mason spends the night our activities might be embarrassing to you."
George laughed and said, "I know how horny you young people get. Believe it or not, but I was young once. I do understand that you like your independence."
"Have you had dinner? I've eaten already, but I can go get you a carryout dinner."
"Thank you, but Mason and I stopped in Rogers and ate."
I spend the weekend doing laundry, and just resting up before going back to school and work on Monday. I also spent some time with Mason. I was looking forward to getting back into my routine normal routine. Mason wanted for us to go out with some friends, but I was still emotionally and physically tired from the trip.
"Jeff, could I see you in my office? Steve asked as soon as Mason and I arrived at work after school a few days later.
"Sure, do you want to see Mason too?" I asked as I tried to guess what was up.
"Sure, bring him along if you want," Steve said. Still, his demeanor gave me no hint of what he wanted to talk to me about.
"Have a seat," Steve said as he pointed at the small conference table in his office. "I'm going to call Roy because I think he needs be in on this."
Roy apparently knew of the meeting and arrived within seconds of Steve's call. "Hi guys, how was your trip?"
"It was okay," I said as I was still worried about the gist of this meeting.
"Jeff, I've been reading your journal," Steve said as he sat with my journal in hand. "I hope you don't mind, but I had Roy read it also." Before I could answer, he continued, "We both think you should sue your parents?"
"Why, it would just be a waste of time and money?" I asked. "I doubt they have any money since they stay drunk most of the time."
"You're wrong," Roy said. "I practiced law in Chicago for a few years and still have friends in the firm where I practiced. I talked to Bruce Grabowski, a friend of my who is still with the firm, and he discovered that your parents own their house free and clear. Also, your dad's truck is paid for. He estimates that the value of both would be in the $250,000 range."
"I don't have any money to hire an attorney there," I said.
"Jeff, you work for this firm," Roy said. "When I told Bruce the circumstances of why you left home and some of the content of your journal his words were, 'Let's nail the son-of-bitches.' All he wants to charge is his expenses. That can be paid out of your settlement by the court."
"But, there's the expense of travel to and from Chicago and lodging while there," I argued.
"I have it covered," Roy said. "I'll fly us up in my plane. Bruce said that he has plenty of room and we could stay there. Besides, after reading your journal I want to make your parents pay for what they did to you."
"I don't know if I can go through with this," I said. "Anyway, I don't feel comfortable letting you do this. I'd feel like I was taking charity."
"Damn it Jeff, you don't always have to be so goddamn independent," Mason shouted.
"He's right, you know," Steve said. "You're family now and family takes care of each other."
"Okay, I'll agree on one condition," I offered. "You let me pay attorney fees out of any award I may get."
"Okay, this is what we're going to do," Steve said. We will only charge you for our expenses, and there will be no argument about it."
"What about school?" I asked. "I don't want to miss school going to court."
"We'll petition the court to schedule the case after you're out of school," Steve said. "That's just a little over two months. I doubt that the case would be scheduled before then anyway."
"With Bruce being in Chicago, we can have him handle most everything from his end," Roy said. "Did anyone ever see either of your parents hit you?"
"Yes, my friend Tom saw my mom hit me with a beer bottle," I said as the memory of that day came to mind.
"We also have your journal that is very graphic and gives specific dates," Steve said. "They may say that it was fabricated."
"Isn't your dad a truck driver?" Mason asked, but continued since he knew the answer to his own question. "He would have a log book showing what days he was on the road. Matching that with Jeff's journal would show his dad didn't abuse him when he was on the road."
"Good idea, Mason," Roy said. "I'll have Bruce subpoena his log books."
"We'll get all the paperwork ready for you to sign by tomorrow," Roy said.
"I have it done already," Steve said. "We'll have Jeff sign these and send them to Bruce tomorrow."
After signing the documents I began to wonder if I'd done the right thing, then I recalled the sixteen years of abuse and unhappiness. I decided that I was doing the right thing. Mason must have noticed that this was bothering me and said, "You had to do it. You can't let them get away with what they did."
I know you're right, but I don't thank any amount of money could ever take away the pain that my parents dealt me," I said.
Approximately two weeks later Steve called me to his office and informed me that my case against my parents was scheduled for two weeks after Mason and I graduated from high school. We talked for a few minutes about the case and then Steve said, "There's something else I need to talk to you about." He must have seen the questioning look on my face when he continued. "The Phillips' case for permanent custody of David is next week."
"Oh, good," I said. "I hope they win."
"This is a bit unusual, but David wants you to be there," Steve said. "The judge has approved his request. I know that you'd have to miss school that day, but I think it's important for David that you are there."
"Of course I'll be there," I answered without hesitation.
David came running toward me as we entered the waiting area of the court room. "I'm glad you're here he said."
"I' wouldn't miss this for anything, Buddy," I said.
"We have a few minutes until we are ready to start," Steve said. "Jeff, why don't you keep David company while I go over a few things with Marsha and Larry."
"I'm afraid that I'll have to go back to my mom and dad," David said as we sat on a bench in the hall outside of the courtroom.
I moved over to David and put my arm around him and said, "Look Kiddo, Steve said that this judge will do what's best for you. Now you just have to tell him how you feel. Most of all, you have to tell him the truth."
"What will he ask me?" David asked.
"He might ask if you're old parents ever disciplined you, and if he does, what would you say?" I asked.
"I'd tell him yes," David said.
"Then he might ask how," I said. "What would you tell him then?"
"I'd tell him how my Daddy beat me with a belt, and one time he locked me in a closet all night," David said.
"Is that the truth?" I asked.
"Yes," he answered.
"What if he asked if he asks if Larry or Marsha ever disciplined you, what would you say?"
"I'd tell him no," David said as he hung his head.
"Is that the truth?" I asked David.
"I want to live with them forever," David said as he began to cry.
"But, is it the truth?" I asked again.
"No," he quietly admitted.
"How do they punish you?" I asked.
"They send me to my room and don't let me watch TV," he said with a smile as he seemed to see the difference in punishment. "They never hit me."
I then noticed that our conversation had drawn and audience and said, "Then, in that case you were punished but not abused. There is a difference. Now, just tell the judge what you told me." I saw that those who were listening to our conversation either smile or nod an agreement.
David and I chatted while waiting for Steve, Larry and Marsha Phillips to return. I was amazed at how intelligent and mature he was for his age. I had the inkling that he would do fine when the judge interviewed him. Shortly Steve came and told us it was time to go into the courtroom. I assured David that everything would work out for him. I just hoped that I was right.
I had never been in a courtroom before and I found the proceedings to be interested. The bailiff called the court to order, sited the case and gave the name of the presiding judge, Jerry Wilcox. Judge Wilcox announced that there were two issues to be dealt with. The first issue was to determine the termination of parental rights of Karl and Tina Lawson, the biological parents of the minor child, David P. Lawson. The second issue would determine the custody of said minor child by Larry and Marsha Phillips.
The attorney for the Lawsons only called one witness, who was a coworker of Jerry Lawson. He stated that he thought the Lawsons were wonderful parents and often bragged about their son. However, when Steve cross examined him, he confessed that he had never seen David before.
When Steve cross examined Jerry Lawson, he asked if David had ever had any fractured bones. "Of course not," Jerry proclaimed.
"Could you tell me why this x-ray report states that he has old fractures of his left tibia and his right radius?"
Of course Jerry Lawson was unable to explain the fractures and said, "I don't believe there are any such fractures."
Steve then entered the radiographs, the radiologist report, and the attending physician's report as evidence. The Lawsons' attorney had no further witnesses. Steve then began his case. He called Sally Abbott, the case worker who investigated the original report of David's teacher of suspected child abuse. She reported that her investigation showed that there was evidence that David was often left unsupervised for several hours at a time. The house was filthy, and there was little food in the house. Sally also reported that David had been sleeping on a quilt on the floor with only one thin blanket. Most of his clothes were much too small for him and all were dirty.
Judge Wilcox called for a recess while he interviewed David in his chambers. I could tell that David was nervous and when he looked at me I gave him an encouraging smile. The judge kept David in his chambers for more than an hour. When they did return to the courtroom, I could tell that David was much more relaxed. Judge Wilcox announced that he would make his ruling in one week and in the meantime, David would remain in the custody of Larry and Marsha Phillips. There would be no visitation rights by the biological parents.
"One never knows how the judge will rule," Steve said as he chatted with us after the case. "The fact that Judge Wilcox didn't allow visitation by the parents is a positive sign for us."
"He was nice," David proclaimed. "He asked me some of the same questions Jeff asked me, and I didn't lie either."
The news a week later was indeed positive. Judge Wilcox ordered the termination of the parental rights of David's biological parents. He further ordered permanent custody by Larry and Marsha Phillips. "The next step will be to file for adoption," Steve said following the announcement.
I was happy for my little friend, David. I guess I felt a kinship toward him. We both had suffered from abuse by the parents who gave birth to us, and we both had survived somewhat intact. He was now in a safe happy environment with new parents who loved him. I shudder to think what the rest of his life would have been like had his teacher not cared enough to report her suspected abuse.