Your family retained our firm to represent your son during an extremely difficult time in his life. Over a two-year period, I was fortunate to know him. He was original and charismatic. He was an artist and a super cool person to be around. When his court date was on my calendar, I always looked forward to seeing him. He made me laugh with his spontaneous observations. It’s easy to understand why so many people mourn his passing. I’m certain he made an everlasting impression on everyone he met.
I won’t lie and tell you that I remember him every day, but I do think of him often. Sometimes I think of your son when I see someone who looks like him, or who makes me laugh the way he did. Again he had such a clever sense of humor. He left us way too soon.
The truth is that I think about your son at least once a week. Every week, parents retain us to represent their children. Each mom and dad who walk through our doors love their children as much as you loved your son. I wish I could introduce you all, so you could help them by sharing your story. I also understand how unrealistic this is. You lost your son recently. That pain has not lessened. Perhaps, one day, the time will come when you are ready to help others.
I write this to try and let you know that from my experience, and in my opinion, his death was not your fault.
We are fighting an epidemic of monstrous proportions. The nature of our legal business gives us a unique perspective on this war on drugs. I call them “drugs,” but there must be a more accurate word for what they are. The killers on our streets today are sophisticated, lethal substances, with unpronounceable names. They are more sinister and evil than the word “drugs” denotes.
Since we represent people accused of either possessing, selling, or distributing these illegal poisons, we receive the full “briefing” on each client’s life. We learn everything about their upbringing. 90% of the clients we represented came from stable, loving homes. Nothing about the manner in which their parents raised them would have explained their addiction. And the 10% who didn’t come from stable and loving homes, attribute their addiction to peer pressure, bad influences, or something other than their parents. In sum, the addicted person never blamed their mother or father for their addiction.
You see, each time a family retains us to help their child, they share their desperation and confusion. Mothers and fathers ransack their subconscious frantically searching for “causes” that would explain the choices their child made. Their shock is so horrific, and their disbelief is so overwhelming, that they cannot understand a thing. There is no room for logic or reason or common sense in these times.
Each set of parents provide us with a detailed explanation of how they raised their children. They go back to day one and tell us everything. We learn everything about their child’s academic records and achievements. If their son/daughter won a gold ribbon in third-grade, we know about it. If their child took first place in a swim meet, marathon, or photography competition, we also know about it.
Parents show us pictures of every important event in their kid’s lives. With each picture of a birthday party, family vacation, middle-school/high school/college graduation, parents express both pride and shame in their countenance. It’s as if they are asking, “How did we go from this to this? We did all of these things right, where did we go wrong? It's our fault right?”
Unfortunately, it takes time to learn that regardless of their victim’s race, religion, or socio-economic background, these killers do not discriminate. Addiction has one mission, and one mission only: to kill. Through our work, we’ve met people of all shapes and sizes who have fallen to this epidemic. We’ve been doing this for years, and still, we cannot figure it out. It’s never a question of willpower or moral inferiority. The foe is simply too conniving and overpowering for mere mortals to defeat on their own. Help is necessary. But even then, oftentimes it is not enough.
Parents blame themselves in two ways. They take responsibility for their child’s decisions because they believe they did not do more to prevent their child’s addiction, OR they blame themselves for not ending it. They torment themselves unfairly.
Our clients are made up of juveniles, soccer moms, surgeons, elementary school teachers, stockbrokers, computer programmers, personal trainers, bodybuilders, senior citizens and every type of person you can think of. Each addict confirms what we eventually learn. They had great parents, AND their parents were not to blame for their addiction.
During our representation, clients have honestly told me (and I believed them) that they felt like they woke up in someone else’s nightmare. The drug world they were living in was not the life they ever wanted to live. As if, in a short period and after a “few” bad choices, they now found themselves in the grips of an all-powerful monster. They shared how grateful they were for having parents who provided a privileged childhood. They shared their dreams and aspirations. They insisted that they were not criminals and I agreed that they weren’t. Simply being charged with a crime does not make anyone a criminal.
I’d love to tell you that most of our “drug” clients received the help they needed and beat their addiction. I would like nothing more than to tell you that after they avoided prison and successfully complied with their terms of probation, that they moved on to enjoy a happy life. It would be a pleasure to write about how a client “saw the light,” was born again, and dedicated his/her life to helping others. Unfortunately, the majority of these stories end tragically. Clients either end up incarcerated, homeless, hospitalized, or die.
As I write this, I don’t know how many of our clients are no longer with us. I remember every funeral I attended (far too many), and I remember feeling the hairs on my arms rise as immediate family members of the deceased violently mourned. I can still hear each mother’s shrieking cries as she lay over her child’s casket. These images will never leave me.
I’m not a therapist. I will never be so foolish as to give you advice on how to mourn. However, my line of work does bring me into your world. In all of my years working with families in situations similar to yours, I did learn one thing. I want to share it with you.
I learned that you are not to blame for your child’s addiction. You did the best you could, with the tools you had, and no one can demand any different. Just for today, be gentle with yourself and know that you are not alone.
From the heart,
About the Author
Mr. Peyrouton is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Bergen County, NJ.