Copyright @ 2015 John C. Rubisch July 2015 ISBN-10: 162-2879-767 Published and Distributed by ISBN-13: 978-1622-879-76-2 Print First Edition Design Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1622-879-77-9 EBook P.O. Box 20217, Sarasota, FL 34276-3217
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Christopher’s Story: An Indictment of the American Mental Health System
This work is dedicated to the memory of Mateusz Bell. He did not have to die.
Table of Contents:
On Our Own
In and Out of Prison
The Mental Health System
This is the story of my son, Christopher J. Rubisch. I do not condone his behaviors. I am not writing this to elicit sympathy. Instead, I tell his story to call public attention to our failed mental health system in the united states. It is a story that is largely unknown. You can be angry with my son. You can also be angry with about the American mental health system.
The information in this book comes from multiple resources:
Tests: psychiatric, psychological, school, achievement. Chris was tested many, many times over the years
Records: from schools, mental health facilities, medical facilities, institutions, group homes, the legal system
Anecdotal Reports: At various times in raising Chris, I kept a journal of what occurred. Keeping a journal was helpful to myself as I could reference when events occurred. More importantly, it was a necessity in dealing with the mental health system. When I would ask mental health (MH) for help on an emergency basis, they would give me a tablet and ask me to write down everything that happened in the last month. If it didn’t happen in the last month it didn’t count. Once I learned this, I was happy to hand them my notes and say, “How many pages do you need?”
The names of Chris, Diane Bell, Mateusz Bell as well as the names of the police officers, the chief medical examiner, and the assistant attorney general from New Hampshire are a matter of public record. Other names of individuals who are mentioned in this book have been changed. Although the behavior of some, particularly the MH professionals, may be extremely questionable, the focus of this book is on the system at large.
On August 28, 2006 at 9 pm, I received “the call”. I always knew one day I would get “the call.” But I also thought it would be from someone telling me my son Christopher was dead or near dead.
Instead, it was from twenty-three year old Chris. Crying and difficult to understand, he was in Strafford County Prison in New Hampshire. He had been babysitting an infant. The baby started to cry and got on Chris’s nerves. He spanked the baby and then shook the baby. He said the baby was badly hurt. When the mother of the baby got back. He told her that the baby fell down the steps. The baby was taken to the hospital. Chris was saying that he did not deserve to live, he did not want a lawyer, and he did not want to talk to anyone. He was also on suicide watch. He gave me the name of a public defender to call. I suggested that he talk to a minister. I told him that I loved him, and he said that he loved me.
Although I had suspected something like this would occur for a long time, I was still devastated. I later learned the child my son abused was only eight months old. I was stunned as Chris’s biological father abused him when he was just seven months old. Twenty-three years later the repetition of violence had come full circle despite my attempts to help my son through medication, counseling, and therapeutic residential placements. This is Christopher’s story: an indictment of the American mental health system.
Christopher was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on October 23, 1982. His biological parents were a young, unwed couple. The mother was about age sixteen, reportedly of below average intelligence. She was pretty, skinny, with long brown hair which hung in her face.
Christopher’s father was a few years older. He was of average intelligence. At one point in his adolescence, he had been placed in an institutional setting due to family discord. He had an aversion to attending school.
Christopher was placed in foster care at age seven months. He was placed due to a broken clavicle. His father inflicted the injury. He had cigarette burns on his body also caused by his father. There was a burn scar on his chest reportedly caused by the spilling of hot tea. I once asked a caseworker about this. She said it was thought this might have been a case of abuse, but it could not be proved.
Chris stayed in the foster home until December of 1983 when he went to live with his maternal grandmother. He returned to his mother shortly thereafter. However, things had changed little, and he ended up back in foster care. He stayed with a working-class family for approximately eighteen months.
The rights of the birth parents were terminated, and Chris went to live in a home with a family that was to adopt him. They had a son that was two years older than Chris. However, they decided not to adopt him. My understanding was the mother had told the caseworker that she just “could not love” Chris.
He went back into foster care but not in the same home in which he had previously lived. In March of 1986 he was placed by an agency with my wife and me. He was three and a half at that time and had lived in six different family situations.
My wife and I had been married five years. She was older than I and was a widow with adult children from her previous marriage.
There were already signs in the early years of his life, before coming to live with us, that Chris had problems. When he was born his head circumference of 31.5 cm was small for the length of his body, 48.26 cm (19 in). At twenty-three months of age, and evaluation conducted by Polyclinic Hospital of Harrisburg indicated that he was behind in all areas of development with a high score of seventy-eight on fine motor behavior and a low score of fifty-two on personal social behavior. One hundred is considered average.
There was a follow-up audiological evaluation a month later. His receptive language skills were six months behind his chronological age. In the report it mentioned Chris was very moody and sensitive to discipline. He would frequently bang his head against the wall when he did not get his way.
Due to head banging, Chris was referred to Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia for an evaluation in October of 1984. This was seventeen months before he come to live with us. He was banging his head two to three times a day. He was also eating excessively to the point that he was vomiting. At the evaluation it was determined that he was small for his size. His height was at the 30th percentile, his weight at the 25th percentile, his head circumference was less than the 5th percentile (50th percentile is average). During the evaluation he demonstrated head titubation (the swaying of the head on an intermittent basis). This can be a sign of brain disease. Einstein’s final impression was that Chris’s problems were due to “familial delay with secondary emotional and social deprivation.” There is no indication that an X-Ray or MRI was done.
At the age of twenty-nine months, Chris was again seen at the Polyclinic Hospital. As judged by the Gesell Developmental Schedule, he was significantly behind in Adaptive Behavior, Gross Morot Behavior, Personal Social Behavior, and Language Skills. The latter was his lowest score. Fine motor behavior was slightly above average. An evaluation a year later found his scores in these areas to be essentially the same.
My wife and I found Chris to be loveable and not the least bit wary of his new environment. Perhaps he had moved so many times he was immune to another change. However, we also discovered he was strong-willed and resistant to discipline. For example, if I placed him in time-out he would simply walk away. He would have severe temper tantrums, and we found it best to avoid direct confrontation by distracting him or manipulating the situation. He was oppositional. In one situation in which he was screaming at me, I told him to continue to scream. He immediately stopped. We also noticed he would not cry. On one occasion he fell face first onto a driveway. He got up without uttering a sound. Perhaps this was because he could never count on having someone to comfort him.
There were also problems at the day care center where hew went during the day while we worked. At the age of three, he was biting other children and intentionally urinating on the floor. On one occasion he was caught choking another child.
Pennsylvania has educational organizations called Intermediate Units to assist special needs children. The Intermediate Unit saw Chris in September of 1986 for another evaluation. Again it was found he was delayed compared to norms for his age. Sequencing was difficult for him. Consequently, he was unable to use his imagination in play to develop a theme. Also, he was unable to speak in sequences longer than two words, unable to repeat sentence sequence repetitions that were spoken to him, and unable to listen to a sequenced story and answer questions.
Chris was adopted in October 24, 1986. Mostly because of the stress Chris brought into our lives, things were not good between my wife and me. My father had taught me one could just put his mind to something and get anything done. Although I tried to be Superman, I was not. Chris was crying and saying that he was going to lose another mommy. I told him that would not happen. We would still see Mommy, but before too long, my wife dropped out of the picture.
I thought I would get married again before too long. I wanted to be married. My belief was that women would look at me and see a compassionate man caring for his son. What they did see was I was part of a package deal, and the smaller package had big problems, which were only just emerging. I would never marry again.
At this point I thought Chris was the way he was because others had rejected him. It was my mother who would be the first to hypothesize that others rejected him because he was the was he was.
On Our Own
Being a single parent was something I never anticipated. I had figured I would be the secondary parent with a wife being the primary care provider. I was raised to be all those male words that start with “a”: aggressive, achieve, assert, advance, attack. I found what my four-year old son needed was for me to be there for him. I remember telling a friend I wish we could fast forward to the age of eight so we could play catch in the back yard.
My life was not turning out the way I envisioned it. I was living with a child with many problems in the middle of nowhere. Television and even radio reception was sporadic, and a weekly trip to the grocery store required some forethought. I remember waking up one Saturday morning and just sobbing in utter frustration.
I was a guidance counselor at Susquenita High School in Perry County north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We went to live in an apartment over a farmhouse a few miles from the school. During the day while I was at school, Chris went to a day care center. He was labeled as bad. He hit and bit. He did not conform to group activities and sometimes refused to participate. At times he walked out of time out.
In February 1987 at the age of four years and five months, the Intermediate Unit reevaluated him. In many areas he had improved markedly over the previous evaluation six months ago. He was able to name alphabet letters. Previously, he had been unable to do so. There was improvement in gross motor items, a finger-thumb opposition task (touching the tips of the fingers with the thumbs), and visual matching.
In other areas however, there was still need for improvement. Although he could rote count to at least twelve, he was unable to demonstrate meaningful counting greater than one. He refused letter and shape copying activities and a request to write his name. He had difficulty with block building tasks using more than three blocks.
At their recommendation we began play therapy at Polyclinic Hospital. The concept of play therapy is that young children, lacking the verbal skills to benefit from counseling, can express themselves through play. In this way play will be a therapeutic process.
The hospital had a playroom setup for this process. The child was able to select from a number of play alternatives such as toys, crayons, and dolls. We were to replicate this process at home. I would set up the kitchen with the play options we saw at the playroom. Chris would always select the same thing to do: pour water from one container to another. He would do this continuously without moving to another toy. As instructed I was to be with him but let him take the lead so as to not interfere with his natural inclinations. Perhaps I would talk to him about what he was doing, but I was never direct his play or move his attention to something else. In the end I fount the play therapy to be totally ineffective.
Play was a problem for Chris. He could not do it. As stated before, he was unable to do representational play. If I would play with him and construct a tale of his stuffed animals interacting with each other, he would enjoy it. However, if left to himself, he could not do the same. Instead, he would throw the toys around the room. As a single parent this had a great influence on the way we lived at home. As Chris was unable to entertain himself, I had to monitor him at home continuously. If I went to clean one room, he would be destroying another room. A favorite activity for Chris was to stand on his head on the sofa. Often this resulted in a lamp being knocked off an adjoining end table when he lost his balance.
Consequently, we spent a great deal of time away from home. In the summer we lived at the swimming pool. In the winter we would go to the movies and the Museum of Scientific Discovery. MSD was a hands-on museum for children, but for the most part, it served as an indoor playground for Chris. Playgrounds were very forgiving. In the winter despite the freezing temperatures, we would often be at a park.
I remember one day at the park that did not go well. Chris was playing with a boy and got into what appeared to me a fairly typical childhood squabble. The other boy’s mother appeared from seemingly nowhere and scooped him up. She said, in reference to Chris, that he was a boy whose parents obviously did not know how to raise him.
That remark set off all my parental inadequacy alarms, of which I had many, given all the problems inherent in raising Chris. My first thought was to fire an insult back at the woman, but seeing that Chris was crying, I knew the better thing was to console him.
In the few short months since my wife and I split, my life had changed immensely. Simple things became difficult or impossible. Once I wanted to buy a new stereo. I was unable to concentrate on what the salesperson was saying because Chris was pulling the knobs off television sets. Fairly simple errands would require me to leave him at the day care center or perhaps even get a baby sitter.