For the past eight years I have received a phone call every month or so from Brandon.
The calls come in “collect” via the auspices of an organization called Zeroplus Dialing, Inc., and they are timed at ten minutes and cost me $3.50 per call.
The calls come mostly in the afternoons, on weekdays or weekends without distinction, which is when Brandon gets yard time, and apparently there are pay phones where he can spend this precious time.
Brandon is in prison, and is a former client of mine from the Wilson Center, a residential facility in Tacoma for foster care kids. Back in 2001 and 2001, I worked there as a psychotherapist and “Independent Living Skills” counselor.”
Brandon calls because he doesn’t have too many people to reach out to – there’s an old girl friend named April from Yakima that he met just before his arrest at 18 years old for armed robbery of an AM-PM gas station on Union Ave in Tacoma. Brandon fell in love with this young woman while he was on a foster-care-sponsored Americorps training program in her town, in which Brandon was able to engage for a few months before he got kicked out for fighting.
There’s another employee from the Wilson Center named Dana that Brandon calls occasionally, and two former foster parents named Mike and Dixie. These latter two folks are the best foster parents in this county from all accounts I’ve ever heard, and I’m here to tell ya that there are a bunch of former-troubled-kids-now-grown-up who still dearly love ol’ Mike and Dixie. Along those lines, I’ve met a ton o’ foster parents and I’ve found most lack the skills needed to take care of tough kids like Brandon.
But that’s it. We’re all Brandon’s got in life, as far as I can tell.
Brandon picked up his gun on his fateful night because, as he told me, “I had to pay the rent,” to the crew he was running with after foster care kicked him out at the age of eighteen. As the youngest, he held the gun because if caught he would get the least jail time. He was snitched-out by the gang leader’s mother, who was a druggie at the time and in her own trouble with the law. As a result, Brandon got caught and was sentenced to eight years, while the mother got some charges dropped as Brandon tells it.
Now, Brandon’s getting out in twelve months, and the corrections people are beginning to give him classes on how to re-enter society. One of the tasks they’re working on is building connections in life and having some place to land upon release from prison.
Brandon says that Dana will let him stay with her and her family, which I hope happens. Dana is a sharp gal and I always loved working with her, and I hope she is up for the daunting task that is coming her way.
As for me, I live in an 18-foot RV trailer on a friend’s land and this is simply not an option for receiving an ex-felon. He needs more stability than I can provide while also offering some flexibility in his coming and going.
Nevertheless, Brandon has asked me to perform a very important job: can I help him find his mother?
Her name is Catherine Ann Brown Pritchett, and I’ve looked for her in the past, combing the Internet and Googling the bejeesus out of Cathys and Pritchetts.
To my way of thinking there should be a social worker somewhere in Brandon’s life doing this; after all, DSHS has a lot more access to foster care data records and federal registries, such as Social Security.
But Brandon tells me he just gets a run-around from the MSWs at the Department of Corrections, and no matter the truth of it bureaucratically the bottom line is that Brandon’s still ain’t got no mom.
I don’t know if she’s still alive; tragically, she too was a druggie Brandon says, and gawd-knows-what-her-life-has-been. I’ve never met her, although I was close. I worked with Brandon when he was fifteen and sixteen, and he hadn’t seen his mom since he was eleven. Her last known whereabouts was on the Kitsap Peninsula.
When I was Brandon’s therapist I never had the time to go looking for his mom – I was too busy trying to get him to do his homework and to calm him down and stop fighting with his house brothers. I must say that when the clouds parted and Brandon saw the light, the times he would sit down with me at the big table in the kitchen and read a book out loud to me so he could move past his third-grade reading level were some of the most rewarding moments I ever spent in my sixteen-year clinical career. Brandon was a handful but he did deliver on occasion.
Now, tonight, Brandon called. It was his first call at night in a long time and I wondered if his schedule has been changed because he’s in some new, more severe confinement.
Nevertheless, we strategized where to go with his desire to re-connect with family and he mentioned for the first time that I’ve heard that he has a brother named Eugene.
Brandon says that Eugene is eight years older and the last time he saw him was when Brandon was a little kid. Eugene supposedly knows most everyone in Brandon’s family, such as grandmothers and uncles and such, so now the focus is on Eugene.
Brandon thinks that Eugene may be in the Renton area, and now that Facebook is the biggest thing in the world we’ve added that to the search.
Here’s the deal: I’m worried about violating confidentialities. However, tough situations call for extraordinary efforts, so, if you’re interested in helping please use this information judiciously.
Brandon’s last name is Pritchett, and I believe his brother uses the same family name. If you have any leads, please call me at (360) 832-6248, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll pass on the info to Brandon in a letter.
Now, let me explain why I’m taking a chance for this kid.
Brandon and his house brothers at Wilson were templates for a novel I wrote about eight years ago. The book is called, “The Men of Honor of Unity House,” and I’ll be posting excerpts from it in the days to come.
When I wrote it I envisioned it being a guide for how really tough kids could be helped if they had a few caring, compassionate and competent adults in their lives – the “3-Cs” as we called them in the social service biz. So, in a sense I’m living what I wrote about a bunch of years ago.
The book is also a projection of the best qualities of the kids I knew at Wilson, and it illustrates how life could be for them if the optimum occurred, such as what could transpire if they had adults around with the 3-Cs no matter what happened in the world, and in my novel it’s a suitcase nuke terrorist attack that blows up Tacoma.
When I wrote it, I thought I should get permission from the guys to publish because they were the ones who gave me the guts of the story. I tried to make contact with them through official channels, but the walls of confidentiality and bureaucracy were too dense to cross through. Nevertheless, a chance meeting with “Matt” led to Brandon and others. I wrote to them and most wrote back. Brandon started calling after that, and even asked for some visits.
Over the years of his incarceration I’ve seen him in two of his many prisons – Walla Walla and Cedar Creek. He put a smile on my face at Cedar Creek when he confessed that when his cell mates, his “cellies,” saw me crossing the yard to enter the visiting hall, they asked Brandon who I was and he told them I was his uncle. I guess identifying me as a former-therapist-who-wrote-a-book-about-me is a bit too much. So now, I guess I’m feeling kind of “uncle-ish.”
So, if you’ve got the 3-Cs, Brandon and I could use your help. Welcome aboard.
Be warned. Brandon is saying all the right things about wanting to walk the straight and narrow and lead a productive life when he gets out. But I can hear in his voice that he is damn scared, and so am I. He knows how crime is his best short-term option and how hard it will be to create something else.
So, I’m rolling the dice and taking a chance on really aggravating somebody who wants to stay private and is legally entitled to it. But I got a kid who wants another chance, and I’ll try everything I know to give him one.
May the love of God fill us all in this endeavor and keep us steady and true.
© 2011 The Mountain News – WA