PLEASE FIRST READ PART 1 of JUSTICE FOR HENRY
Henry, six months before his death at age 18
In the two months leading up to Henry’s emergency hospitalization on April 27, 2010, it was clear to our entire family that his drug abuse was rapidly escalating. In February or early March, he came to me and told me that he had begun shooting up opiate pain pills (I am not clear what the process is for converting the pills to liquid). He told me that he was scared and that he needed to get out of Knoxville in order to try to kick his habit.
Since early 2010, Henry had been dating a teenage girl one year older than he was. His girlfriend was a Bearden High graduate and comes from a well-known and prominent Knoxville family. Henry was nuts about her, and she seemed to feel the same way. It was clear to me the first time I met her that she, too, was a drug addict. When I questioned Henry about this, he didn’t deny it. He told me that they were both desperately attempting to get clean, and that they planned to support one another in their efforts. Despite this, I saw no evidence that either one of them were doing anything concrete to kick the drugs.
For the several months they were together, Henry and his girlfriend stayed with her family until they were kicked out, and then alternately stayed with friends and with Henry’s grandparents, who allowed them to live there. They were drifting, and very sick with the drugs. I was desperately worried every second of every day. Henry’s grandparents continued to pay for a cell phone for him, and he and I spoke just about every day, texted often, and saw one another regularly for lunch or a walk together. All I did when we were together was beg him to allow us to get help for him. He told me that he didn’t want to go back to drug treatment, even though he admitted he was very sick and wanted to stop. Because he had turned 18 a few months earlier, his father and I had absolutely no legal authority to force him to do anything against his will. It was a terrible, helpless feeling.
Henry was arrested for the first and only time in late February or early March. I can’t recall exactly when. He and his girlfriend were apparently parked in a West Knoxville subdivision, doing what teenagers do, when a police officer happened on them. Henry’s girlfriend was arrested for pot possession and possibly something else. I am not sure. This was not her first arrest. Henry was charged with public intoxication, public indecency, and possession of a controlled substance. I never was able to get a clear answer from anyone – Henry or police – as to what the drug was, but it actually wasn’t pain pills, benzodiazapenes or an illegal drug. It was some kind of prescribed antidepressant or something for which he had no prescription.
When I found out late that night that Henry was in jail, I was both terrified and hopeful. I believed that this could be the chance we had been looking for to force him back into drug treatment. His father and I agreed that we would not bail him out under any circumstances, and we asked other family members whom we knew he would ask to refrain from bailing him out either. They agreed.
I began working with my brother in law, a local attorney, to get the judge to require drug treatment as a condition of Henry’s release. My brother in law was working toward that goal when I got a call only a few days after Henry had been arrested letting me know that he had been released without my knowledge because the jail was crowded, and he was a first time, non-violent offender. I was horrified and heartbroken.
His girlfriend stayed in a few more days because she had a record, but she was released as well. Both were required to show up for court within the next few weeks. At Henry’s court date about a week (??) later, he was ordered to complete community service over the next few months and also complete some minimal outpatient therapy program. They told him he would have a clear record if he took care of these.
The next week, he came to me and asked if he and his girlfriend could try living with us. I said absolutely yes, as long as the two of them would agree to attend daily Narcotics Anonymous meetings, plus observe curfew, maintain employment, etc. I had grown very fond of his sweet, completely lost girlfriend by this time. She seemed totally grateful and relieved that I was suggesting an arrangement in which she would be required to get help and be accountable.
That evening, I drove both of them to an NA meeting. They went, and I picked them up after. They ate supper with us, and went to bed in separate bedrooms (that was a condition of them staying with us, given the fact that we have younger children at home and had enough ambiguity to explain to them about Henry without delving in to romantic issues).
For the next two days, they stayed with us, went to meetings, and I got to enjoy my child’s company, as well as his girlfriend’s. After those two days, however, Henry told me that if he wanted to have any hope whatsoever of getting off the pills, he needed to get out of Knoxville. He said that as long as he remained here, there was no chance he could kick the pills. He told me that he wanted to go to Bell Buckle – my hometown in middle TN – and stay with his Uncles in order to go thru the physical withdrawals that would come. After that, he wanted to get a job there and try to get his life together. He said that his girlfriend wanted to go too, for the same reasons. I asked her if that was really what she wanted, and she said yes.
That evening, I fixed my son the last meal I would ever prepare for him – a stir fry with curry. He and his girlfriend and his 12 year old brother E and I ate together on our front porch. Everyone was in good spirits, and after they ate, E and Henry got out their ripsticks and played on them on our front walkway. Henry’s girlfriend and I watched on the porch. It was a beautiful early spring evening.
Before dark, Henry’s friend picked him and his girlfriend up to take them to Bell Buckle. I hugged them both goodbye.
Over the next two or three (??) weeks, I spoke to Henry just about every day while he was in Bell Buckle. He and his girlfriend stayed with my family members. The first week was hell, as they experienced the uniquely awful physical withdrawal symptoms that come with kicking any kind of opiates, whether that’s pain pills or heroin. We were all hopeful. But after only a brief period, Henry told me by phone that he and his girlfriend had to return to Knoxville immediately because they had realized that her court date was imminent. Somehow, they found a ride back. I didn’t see either of them in the first days after they returned, but on the day his girlfriend went to court – with Henry accompanying her – she was taken into immediate custody for missing a previous court date. She handed Henry her cell phone and was led off.
Henry got in touch with me that day, hysterically upset and begging me to try to get her out of jail. I had never heard him so upset. I told him that we needed to talk with an attorney, and with her parents, but that maybe jail could help her get clean once and for all. As a besotted teenage boy, Henry was unable to accept this, and told me he HAD to figure out how to get her out of jail.
Henry and I texted over the next few days. I was frantically worried about him. On April 26th, he texted me that he was having a really rough day.
In the late afternoon/early evening of April 26th, Henry called me at my number. I didn’t get the call. According to his phone records, he next tried his stepdad’s number – within only a minute of calling my number. As it turns out – and I did not find this out until 6 months after Henry died – Henry’s little brother happened to be carrying my husband’s phone that day, so it was E who answered. Henry apparently asked his little brother if Mom was with him. E explained that he was on his way to lacrosse practice, and that Mom wasn’t there. Henry told him to please let Mom know that he REALLY needed to talk to her, and that I should call him.
That was the last time anyone in our family spoke to him before his fatal brain injury. I will never, ever be able to forgive myself for missing his calls. The fact that he called his stepdad’s # right after trying mine – something he only did when there was an emergency and couldn’t reach me – tells me that he knew he was in danger and wanted me to come get him. But he never got the chance to tell me that, and I didn’t find out I’d missed his call(s) until later.
PREVIOUSLY: Justice for Henry – Part 1