It’s now been a year since the Sandy Hook shooting, and Colorado just made the news again with another shooting of their own, a mere few miles from the one that started the media sensation with such events, Columbine. Numbers vary slightly, but roughly 30,000 people have been killed in the United States since Sandy Hook with guns, and that still seems to be the main point of discussion when it comes to the problem: Guns. Those claiming that guns are the problem are sure to leave out that about 60% of those gun deaths were actually suicides, which leaves those murdered by guns at around 14,000. To put that in contrast, in 2012, 34,080 people were killed in traffic accidents, yet there is no push to ban cars. In a third of those deaths, alcohol played a factor, including the deaths of 239 children, yet there is no call to ban alcohol. 16% of all fatalities were related to cell phone usage or other items that distract drivers. Strangely enough, a few states are actually addressing that, but nothing at the national level. Keep all that in perspective when trying to contemplate this number: 440,000. That’s the approximate number of yearly deaths attributed to cigarettes, and the discussion of banning those isn’t even a blip on the radar.
More than half of all gun deaths since Sandy Hook were suicides, more soldiers have committed suicide after returning from war than have died in actual combat, and since 2009 in the United States, suicide has become the most common form of death from injury, surpassing automobile accidents, which had held that title since 2000. Seems to me the real issue is that an increasing number of people just can’t stand to live with things the way they are, and I would guess that, if you were able to talk with the people killing others before taking their own lives, or having others do it for them, they would claim that they had tried to get help, tried to escape their situations, tried to do many things other than what they were about to do, but to no avail. There was no real help available, no one would really listen to them, and if they were truly honest about their intentions, rather than getting the help they wanted, they would just be locked up and forcibly medicated, with the real issue never being addressed. THEY would be labeled “the problem” instead of getting help facing whatever the actual problem was, and that is where we are as a country, and where the debate over guns has brought us: Arguing about something that, if the real problem were addressed and handled, would never even be an issue.
Now to my story. Chris Peters, by all accounts, looks, sounds, and usually behaves in what most people would consider a “usual” manner. It would be nice to be able to say that there is nothing usual about Chris’ story, but the sad truth is, millions share similar stories, and focusing on guns instead of the real issues is a slap in the face to every one of them. Chris was adopted at a very young age after nearly being killed at birth while being born to an underage mother. He suffered puncture wounds to his skull and neck, resulting in a staph infection, which left him in an incubator for the first 3 weeks of his life. He was supposed to have been adopted, but because they had to suspend it since there was a very real possibility of him dying, he was left in a grey area where no one was really looking out for what was best for him. The doctor was never sued, cognitive tests were never done to check for damage, and once it appeared as though he would actually live, he was handed off to his adopted parents, with seemingly no information about what had happened being conveyed. He was beaten, tortured, and neglected by those parents for most of the next 18 years. He was also severely bullied at school and around town, with the parents only getting involved if he actually tried to defend himself, at which point they would beat him for doing so. When he was 8 years old, he was violently raped by two older boys while they held a knife to his throat and threatened to kill him if he told anyone. He told his adopted mother about it anyway, but when her response to him was not to tell anyone else because he would be made fun of for it, he came to the realization, at that age, that he was all alone in his struggles. No one else was going to defend him. He was alone.
Eight years after that, Chris had gotten big enough that few people wanted to or could mess with him anymore. His parents hadn’t beaten him since about 4 years prior, when he had stood up to them when they tried to beat him with a 2×4 for something he hadn’t done, but they still wanted a way to control him. That was when his adopted mother, 8 years after being told, 8 years after ignoring the fact that her son had been raped, and 8 years after forcing him to continue going to the same school and same swimming pool where his rapists went, got the idea to call a psychiatrist and state that she thought Chris was suicidal because he had been raped, and asked that he be confined to a mental ward.
While she got her wish, and Chris was committed, the diagnosis was not what she had hoped for. This particular adoptive mother also happened to be a special education teacher, and was well versed in mental disorders, which was why she sought out a psychiatrist calling himself a bipolar expert when looking to have Chris institutionalized. Bipolar disorders are typically hereditary in nature, and could therefore not be attributed to the abuse Chris had suffered. The doctor granted her her wish, while listing family history as noncontributory to Chris’ condition, even after documenting the abuse in his office notes. Chris was prescribed a large dose of Lithium, which was forcibly administered, for 30 days while in the hospital, which was itself a very abusive place.
Chris didn’t find out until almost 18 years later, after years of mental struggles, run-ins with the law, failed relationships, frequent unemployment, and the desire to die, when he finally got his hospital records released, that while the doctor gave into his adopted mother’s wishes, the hospital itself had declared that Chris did not, in fact, have bipolar disorder. They had actually diagnosed him with PTSD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Things suddenly began to make sense to him, as he came to the realization this his entire life had been hijacked by an adoptive family who never should have been allowed to have kids, and the state that blindly had given him to that family and washed their hands of him afterwards, never questioning his situation with all the trouble he had been in when he was young. He started reading up on PTSD and his diagnoses, reaching out for help, and trying to come to terms with the hand he had been dealt.
It wasn’t until he did this that Chris came to understand that, while his abuse scarred him in many ways, it was the act of being raped, and his adopted mother’s subsequent covering up of the crime, that more than anything determined the course of his life. He started a book about his life, went to school, graduated, and tried to overcome what had happened to him. All things considered, he was doing alright, and was looking to restart his life as a productive citizen. One of the main obstacles holding him back was a felony conviction stemming from when he was 18 years old and still living in the abusive home he was raised in. He hadn’t been in any trouble for years, was a college graduate, and spent a lot of time volunteering. He thought he would be a shoe-in for a pardon, so he applied for one, and was granted a hearing for it.
The pardons board was comprised of the state’s governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, and they seemed to be receptive to his request. Chris had sat there and listened to the people before him. Drug charges, attempted murder charges, aggravated burglary charges, all pardoned for people without Chris’ accomplishments. When it was his turn, and he was asked why he got in trouble, Chris, armed with the knowledge of what his diagnoses meant, the brain changes that typically occur in people with them, and the national statistics of how many children are abused and how they act out because of it, was feeling confident about his chances. However, after only a few words trying to detail for the board the situation he grew up in, he was cut off, told he wasn’t accepting responsibility for his actions, and denied a pardon. The secretary of state went so far as to say that he didn’t believe Chris because, if he had really had things that bad, someone would have done something about it. That was exactly Chris’ point: Someone should have.
Chris changed that day. I was there when he walked out of that hearing, and the expression on his face was something I had never seen before or since. We were telling him that it would be alright, he could try again, it’s not the end of the world; all the things you would be expected to tell a friend in that situation, but he didn’t acknowledge any of it. Finally, after appearing frozen for what seemed like an eternity, Chris just blurted out “I was raped!”
I found out later that his statement was completely involuntary, and it was the first time he had ever publicly disclosed that fact. He would describe the moments leading up to it as shear mental chaos. A million thoughts were racing through his head all at the same time, and he couldn’t control or focus on any of them. He heard what we had said, but it was muted in comparison to what was racing through his mind. All he can surmise of the event is that his brain was trying to rationalize what had just happened to him, and it all came back to a single traumatic event as being the central cause of it all, and that was the event he yelled out right before he seemed to come back to us.
Fast forward about 3 years, and Chris will tell you that he is broken. Of his 4 friends that were there that day, I am the only one that still talks to him. He has written nothing else in his book, has not been able to work, and rarely leaves his house. It took 18 months, but he was finally declared disabled and given social security and Medicaid. His therapist has reconfirmed the PTSD diagnosis, and stated as part of the 5 axis diagnosis that Chris is a moderate to severe risk to himself and others. Chris was violent when he was younger, but had it under control for years. That seems to have all gone away now, and Chris truly feels that he cannot control himself in certain situations, though he can’t always identify what those situations are.
Here’s the really disturbing part of this: The federal government, through its Center for Disease Control and Prevention, states that child abuse is an epidemic in this country. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, the most comprehensive study of its kind, is quoted extensively on the CDC website and details many of the effects that abuse can have on someone, complete with videos, statistics, and facts about the physical and biological changes that can come about from being abused. However, our governmental officials, those with the power to make or destroy someone like Chris’ life, still refuse to accept that being abused as a child can, in fact, determine the way in which one behaves. And in this case, in doing just that, they have all but destroyed one of the best people I know.
Now here is the really sick and twisted part of this story, and the part that should detail, more than anything else, what we should really be talking about. Chris has now had Medicaid for 10 months. The first 2 doctors he was sent to did not speak or understand any English. The third won’t prescribe the medication that he needs. The specialist that would prescribe it, the only one they say they can find, is an hour and a half away. The kicker is, that for a guy who was given Medicaid for a mental disorder, his Medicaid provider is unable to find him a psychiatrist.
Two and a half years ago, a therapist determined that Chris shouldn’t be forced to go out in public. A year and a half later, the federal government, through a social security judge, agreed with the therapist and found Chris disabled based on PTSD and the fact the he has issues with blind rage and claims that he can’t control, or remember, going off on people, which isn’t uncommon in PTSD. They agreed with the therapist’s conclusion that Chris was a moderate to severe risk to himself and to others. Ten months later, knowing full well why he has Medicaid, full well what the issues are, full well what the statistics say about someone like Chris, his Medicaid provider has been unable to find him a psychiatrist who will see him, help him, and give him some hope. On the contrary, the seeming incompetence of the government to get him the help they themselves have determined he needs has only made his situation worse, and driven him closer to the edge.
I want to help my friend, but I can’t. Not really. I want to tell him that things will get better, but they won’t, because we won’t talk about, deal with, or demand changes of the real issue. I don’t want my friend to become a statistic, but honestly, I hate to see him in the pain he is in, and see no indication that things will get any better for him. He has no family, only a couple close friends who all have their own lives, and I can’t blame him at all for not putting any faith in the government, because it is the same government that put him in the home where he spent two decades being abused, and now preaches to him about accepting responsibility, while they accept none. I don’t blame my friend for wanting to die, but I do blame all of society for driving him to it, for not having the backbone to talk about the real issue, and for not forcing our politicians to deal with the real issue instead of politicizing these calls for help that manifest themselves as shootings in order to further their own agendas. Our children should be everyone’s FIRST agenda. There is no excuse for anything less.