This is Part 4 of a 5 part Blog series.

If you haven’t read the first three parts, click the links below:

Part 1 – In Spite of the Unfortunate Events

Part 2 – How I Became a Ward of the Court

Part 3 – How I Survived the Death of my Parents

The Call

It was 6:30am on December 3rd, 2013 when my phone rang. I looked and saw that it was my brother, Scott, so I knew something must be wrong. He never called that early in the morning.

When I picked up the phone he told me had some bad news… our brother, AJ, had been arrested.

I angrily said “for what!?” and he replied “armed robbery.”

My response: “I knew it!”

That sounds like a strange response, but the truth is I knew AJ had been spiraling and was bound to get into trouble.

I never would have guessed he would be in THIS sort of trouble… but, the night before I saw a news article online saying they were searching for suspects in an armed robbery near my home town.

My FIRST thought was “AJ!” – I instantly felt guilty for having that thought and shook it off as “he would never be that stupid” ← those were my exact thoughts. That sounds harsh, but I want to be real with you.

So, when Scott said armed robbery, it confirmed my intuitions from the night before.

Nonetheless, I began to sob. My heart felt shattered.

Backstory

 

My brother, AJ, and I have always had a complicated relationship. We butted heads a lot growing up, but we were also really close. We were either screaming at eachother or spilling our secrets to each other.

After my parents passed away it wasn’t very different, except for then I felt like I was the only who could try to keep him out of trouble. (That wasn’t necessarily the case, but it’s how I felt)

He struggled with depression, alcohol, drugs, and pseudo-seizures. He went from being on the straight and narrow and then back to his old ways several times. It felt like a cyclical event.

After my mom passed away AJ decided to stay in Michigan with friends. I don’t think any of member of my family thought that was a good idea, but we couldn’t talk him out of it. We knew if he stayed in Michigan he would be up to no good.

That would prove true pretty quickly when I discovered that he had taken all of the money from my mom’s bank account, which was technically social security money for me. When I confronted him about it, he denied it.

He eventually admitted it when I showed him proof from the bank statement, but he had already wasted all of the money on drugs and alcohol.

He stayed on this path for a while, and it created a wedge between us.

He began suffering from pseudo-seizures much more often, which put him in the hospital several times. I was the only family member in Michigan, so I was the only one there to visit him when he was admitted into the hospital.

The doctors kept saying they weren’t “real” seizures… they didn’t know what the cause was. It put me in such a strange place.

Was he faking them? How is that possible… They look so real! AJ would of course get pissed off at the insinuation, which would just cause a scene.

Eventually we would discover they were psych-induced, which made sense. He can’t control them, but they aren’t the same as a typical seizure.

I digress.

Eventually he started to get his act together and it brought us closer again.

He loved this amish cheese, so Deb bought him some for Christmas one year!

He even agreed to move to Florida to live with a family friend who had a job guaranteed for him. I gave him the money to go because I knew he needed to get out of our hometown.

He did so well when he moved there,  he even paid me back for the money I gave him! After a while he decided to move to Louisiana for a little while and live with my other two brothers, Scott and Boomer.

When Ben and I visited that year though, I could tell he was starting to show signs of falling off the wagon. He didn’t seem to even care that we were visiting.

When he came to Michigan for my wedding I knew he was messed up half of the time. I remember my Mother-in-law telling him it was my day and he better not screw it up. (Go Deb!)

After my wedding he went back to Louisiana, but he kept saying that he wanted to move back to Michigan. We got into it several times because I felt strongly that it would be a mistake.

But, he was right. I am not his mother. I couldn’t tell him what to do. He promised he would stay out of trouble though.

He came back to Michigan in September 2013.

I told myself to stay disconnected because I was struggling with bad anxiety at the time and I knew I would let it consume me if I let it. So, we only got together every now and then.

One night in October we had him over for dinner with our family friends, John & Dawn, and he specifically made it a point to tell me, “See, I told you I would stay out of trouble.”

It wasn’t but five weeks later that I received the call about his arrest.

Back to the Day of Arrest

 

I hung up with Scott and called Dawn (the same family friend we had dinner with the month before). I don’t know what made me call her, but she was the first person I thought of.

She has always been there for me when I needed her and she lived really close so it was easy to get together. She offered to leave work and come get me for lunch later so I didn’t have to be alone.

This is Dawn and I a year or two after AJ’s arrest

I then called my inlaws and my other family members that needed to be in the know.

I called my friend, Tina, who by no surprise came over right away to be with me. She is always by my side at my toughest moments!

I know a lot of you might know someone who has been arrested, or is in jail or prison, and for some of you it might be someone really close to you. Maybe it was for something small, or maybe something big. But, I don’t think it’s ever easy to hear someone you know or love has been taken into custody.

For me it was an unspeakable heart ache. My brother was facing serious time for an armed robbery, and he was the one holding the gun. I knew this wasn’t going to just go away.

I can’t fully explain the emotions I was feeling. I couldn’t even put into words what I was thinking when he called me that morning from jail.

When he called he didn’t even sound like he cared that much; looking back I don’t think he fully registered everything that had happened yet.

I remember asking him “what were you thinking?” and he said “I wasn’t f*cking thinking.” and all I could say to him through my tears was “My. Heart. Is. Broken.”

I literally felt like I had just lost my brother. I had already lost my parents, and now I was going to have to grieve my brother.

Trial and Sentencing

My brother Scott came up right after the arrest to visit him in jail and help figure some things out regarding AJ’s belongings, etc. He could only stay a few days before heading back to Louisiana.

So, I was once again the only family member in Michigan left to support him through this. I was the one who went to all of the court proceedings and had countless conversations with his public defender.

We certainly could not afford a private attorney, and even if we could I don’t think we would have gotten one. That sounds harsh, but my dad always said, “you do the crime, you do the time.” and I felt he deserved to do the time. He knew he messed up.

What we didn’t know is HOW MUCH time the state of Michigan would want to give him.

11 years.

No one was physically injured during the crime, thank goodness… and the money that was stolen was returned.

But they still wanted to put my brother away for eleven whole years! I couldn’t believe it.

After I hung up the phone with his attorney after hearing that length of sentence I went straight to my bed and collapsed in despair. I cried into my pillow until I felt like I didn’t have a single tear left.

I remember Ben being so mad at AJ for putting me through that kind of pain.

I knew that AJ was dealing with his own demons and wasn’t TRYING to hurt me. But, it didn’t change the fact that I was hurting more than I thought possible.

When our family members are doing bad things, it doesn’t mean they are bad people or that they are trying to hurt us. So many times I think they are self sabotaging more than anything. They don’t think they deserve a good life with good things and good people in it.

If they don’t think they deserve those things, then why would they try to be better or do better?

That fact hit me, and I knew regardless of the pain I was going through, I had to be there for him. I couldn’t abandon him when he needed me, or he would never rise above and be better.

In the end he ended up pleading guilty for a lesser sentence of 7 years. He would later get 2 years added for a case he caught while in prison during his second year in. Since that case he has a clean prison record.

He started in a level 4 facility due to the violent nature of his crime, but he has worked his way down to a level 1, lowest security. He still has nearly 4 years left.

3 Lessons I’ve Learned

1) I have to take care of myself first

I learned that I can’t always put other people before myself.

I can’t blame myself for the actions of my brother (or anyone, really), and I refuse to let guilt bully me into a depression.

I spoke my truth, and I let it be known. There is not much more than that I could have done without sacrificing my own emotional well being.

This entire ordeal has taught me that I am only responsible for my own actions, and I can choose to put distance between myself and the people or things that cause me anxiety and NOT feel guilty for that.

In the end, self care is vital to a healthy emotional well being… And that means if I need to cry it out while listening to Adele on repeat in the shower, then I will let myself do that. (I know I’m not the only one who has done this!?)

Meme Credit to BuzzFeed.com

Keeping our emotions locked inside is not healthy… not for us, and not for anyone around us!

2) He didn’t intend to hurt me; this wasn’t about me. It was about him.

I remember when Ben would get upset about how distraught I was, I would say, “this isn’t about me.”

What I meant by that was that even though I was heartbroken and an emotional mess over what was happening, my brother didn’t make the decision to commit armed robbery because of me.

He chose to do that because he was fighting his own demons (alcohol, drugs, depression, etc.).

I WAS HURT. There was no denying that. But, when it came to supporting him through the court proceedings and his prison stay, it wasn’t about MY HURT, it was about HIS.

It was about showing him that he wasn’t alone, and that whatever lead him to where he was, it didn’t define him. Good people do bad things.

If I simply chose to not be by his side, then how could I ever expect him to heal and be better when all was said and done?

3) Sometimes we just have to love each other without question, even when we are so fundamentally different.

AJ and I are SO different. We always have been. He never cared about school, he was always into trouble growing up, he was into drugs, alcohol, and sleeping around…

I wasn’t like that. I LOVED school, I stayed out of trouble (for the most part – aside from typical teenager sneaking out, etc.), I never did drugs, rarely drank, I’ve only ever slept with one person…

He’s a hot head, will pick a fight over anything, and is definitely a blue collar man.

I’m impatient but can keep my cool, I do not like confrontation, and I am a white collar girl.

At the end of the day, none of those things matter. He’s my brother, and I love him not just because of that. I love him because when all is said and done, he would do anything for me, and I for him.

I may not agree with his choices, and I may not even always like him (some days I don’t), but no matter what, I will always love him without question.

4 Reasons I am Grateful

He has been in several different facilities, ranging from a 5.5 hour drive to 1 hour. The past couple of years he has been within an hour of where we live so I try to visit once a month.

It breaks my heart every time I go see him.

I wish he wasn’t there. I wish he never did what he did. I wish I didn’t have to hear about things that happen in prison. I wish I didn’t have to spend one of my days off driving to a prison. I wish he could meet my son. I wish he could just be my brother.

I could wish my life away with all of the things that I WISH were different.

BUT, then I take the time to remember there are things I am grateful for:

1) He is alive & clean from alcohol and drugs

If he had never been arrested, I am not sure that he would have ever gotten clean. I like to think it’s possible, but I think this made it happen sooner than it would have.

2) He is safe

Aside from the typical worries of having a family member in prison, I don’t have to worry where my brother is. When I hear sirens in the distance I don’t have to worry if it’s him getting in trouble, or worse, if he’s hurt and headed to the hospital.

3) He is getting medical attention he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise

While I think the system needs some major reforming, I am grateful that AJ has been able to see a psychiatrist and get the medications he needs for both his mental health and his seizures. He has also been able to have a lot of dental work done that was desperately needed.

4) He has plenty of time to reflect on his life and things he wants to do differently

I can’t imagine being in prison. The isolation terrifies me.

Thankfully he is now in a level 1 facility which means he has the opportunity for more interaction (this also means more opportunity to be negatively influenced, but I won’t go into that).

By the time he gets out of prison he will have spent 9 years of his life in there. He will be 34 years old. That’s more than a quarter of his life.

That is a LOT of time for him to think about what he’s done with his life and how he can make a change for the better. He dreams about things he wants to do in the future, and I am thankful for his continued hope.

Visiting when I was pregnant with Ellis

Visiting for Christmas

Conclusion

I miss my brother. I see him once a month, but it’s not the same as if we could just spend time together out in the real world. I hate what he did, but I love him without hesitation.

For a long time I was ashamed to admit that my brother was in prison and for what put him there. But now, I believe it’s just part of his story and it shouldn’t define who he is.

If you have someone in your life who has been trouble before…

I challenge you to consider what got them there in the first place. Try to remember that they didn’t intend to hurt you. And also remember that their actions are not an indication that you failed them.

Take care of yourself. Don’t hold the blame for their choices, but also don’t abandon them in their time of struggle. 

For part 5 of this series head on over here.

 

Always, Maria

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