By Josie Byzek.
Josie Byzek works for the Pennsylvania Coalition of People with Disabilities. She writes frequently about disability rights issues.
Dear fellow citizens who so naively believe that parents of disabled kids struggle with challenges the rest of us cannot possibly understand that you tell us not to judge Richard and Dawn Kelso for reaching the end of their rope and abandoning their severely disabled 10-year-old Steven at a hospital in another state:
Go to hell.
Even if the Kelsos didn't have matching BMWs; even if Richard Kelso weren't a high ranking executive in a $560 million dollar company; even if the adult Kelsos did not regularly receive 20-hour-a-day service for their son, Steven; even if the Kelsos truly did act out of what they believed to be best for their son; even if every able-bodied person in this country believes that this was a desperate act: I don't care. Go to hell.
Steven, an only child of well-off parents, was dumped in a hospital on Christmas Eve with his toys and meds with a note from Mom.
My God! What must he be going through?
I've been trying to imagine how it went down that day, what it was exactly that snapped and made them decide to throw away their only child. Was it a drunken screaming match between Mom and Dad that eventually wound around to "that crippled, drooling child that makes me sick just looking at him. Dawn, I want him out of here. If you care about our marriage at all, get that retard gone!"
Is that how it went down?
What did Steven think? Could he hear it from his room?
Or was it quieter?
"Richard, its time."
"Oh, right. I'll get my coat."
Did Steven realize his parents were taking him across the state line to dump him like a pillow-sacked kitten into a cold river?
I spent a day not too long ago with some disability rights advocates in Erie, PA, who were testifying at a hearing to get people out of one of our remaining state institutions. Steve Clark, Mark Boczko and Marge Warner and I sat around and talked about where we were going, and why.
Steve Clark talked about how he was dropped off at Western State Hospital when he was two months old. He finally got out when he was an adult, but it was a struggle.
Marge Warner's father remarried when her mother died. Her stepmother beat her savagely, raising ugly red welts and leaving deep scars. I wonder if Marge's stepmother's friends thought Stepmom a "saint" for "taking care of that man's handicapped daughter?"
When Marge was 13 her stepmother put her in Pennsylvania's Warren State Hospital. From there she was shipped to the Polk institution. Finally, at age 38 with her stepmother dead, she went to Polk administrators and demanded that she be allowed to leave.
Mark Boczko spoke openly about how he had been raped at Polk. Twice.
Conversation wound around to why our parents put us in these places. They say it's to "protect us."
We're not that stupid.
We tried to figure out the truth. One said our parents had had no other services back then, that they did what they thought was best for their child. Julie Prough, a drop-dead blonde as smart as she is beautiful, said, "That's not why. Our parents are ashamed of us. They don't want us."
I hope she's wrong. But I think she's at least partly right.
One of my first memories of my parents fighting was when my brother was just a baby. My dad was chasing my mom around the living room, and my grandmother was screaming at him. The reason? My brother's six-month baby picture. My brother has a visual impairment, and my dad thought he looked too "handicapped" in the picture. (I've never figured out what he meant by that.) He was trying to find out where my mother and grandmother had hidden the picture so he could destroy it.
My college years were spent trying to get sober -- and get through a bad depression that I had been in and out of since I was in grade school. Twice I was told I should be "committed." Twice I talked them out of it.
During those years I had a nightmare. In the nightmare, my mother had committed me to an institution. I cried hysterically, begging her to let me come home. But she walked out, and I was left behind.
It was only a dream, thank God. But like many of us who have been disabled since childhood, I have always known it could be a reality. For Steven Kelso, Steve, Marge and Mark, it has been their reality.
Others of us just have the good sense to be afraid.
The Kelsos threw their child away because of a lack of services? I don't think so. To believe that is to insult all the good parents who manage to keep their children at home -- with far fewer than 20 hours of help a day.
And it is even more of an insult to their children, who deserve to be loved and treasured.
I think Prough is right about the Kelsos: they were ashamed of their son.
Steven Kelso will likely pay double for his parents' shame: First abandoned by his mother, he will now likely also end up in some institution, serving time for his parents' hate crime -- while they drive off into the sunset in their matching BMWs, crying crocodile tears to a gullible press.
The story that wouldn't die
Who will speak for Steven
Back to table of contents