law, lessons learned, psychology, true crime

More thoughts on the Turpin family…

Once again, I realize there are many topics I could write about this morning. The world is in a lot of turmoil, thanks to the pandemic. Europe, in particular, is going through upheavals as COVID-19 cases climb, and fed up Europeans take to the streets to protest new restrictions. I may write about that today or tomorrow, or maybe I’ll put it on the travel blog, which needs more love. But to be honest, what’s really on my mind is the 20/20 special about the Turpin family that Bill and I watched yesterday. I blogged about our initial thoughts yesterday, but now that we’ve had a day to discuss it, and I discovered a December 2019 book review I wrote about the case, I want to write more. The book review reminded me of some details I had forgotten, which weren’t covered in Diane Sawyer’s interview.

I’ll mention again what I wrote yesterday. I am extremely impressed by Jennifer and Jordan Turpin, and their brother, Joshua, who bravely took part in Diane Sawyer’s interview. I realize that what we saw of three of the Turpin children was heavily edited. We have no way of knowing what they are like when they’re not on camera. However, as someone who has a tendency to get very nervous on camera, I must reiterate that the adult children who did participate in the interview are astonishingly bright and resilient.

I was especially moved at the end of the interview, when Jordan and Jennifer mock interviewed each other, asking each other where they saw themselves in ten years. Jennifer Turpin said she wanted to own a house and a car, and write a book. She said she wanted to visit Paris and have tea cakes. I have no doubt she’ll be able to do that if she wants to, and I hope she does write a book.

Jordan strikes me as so very smart, motivated, and curious, and she’s clearly very courageous. She appears to be very extraverted and hungry for life. While I’m sure she’s had some tough times in the almost four years since she rescued her family, she comes across as someone victorious and inspiring. I think she will eventually be just fine.

I do wonder about the other siblings, who haven’t been identified. I don’t blame them for not participating in telling this story. The “fame” that would come from outing themselves might be very damaging. I hope they are doing well, but I am not naive enough to assume that they are.

One thing that I realized in 2018, and wrote about in my post about Elizabeth Smart’s comments regarding this family, is that their situation is more challenging than hers was, simply because the Turpin kids’ parents were the perpetrators of the abuse. Elizabeth Smart went through sheer hell, but her hellish experience lasted nine months, and she had family members, friends, church people, and really, the whole country, looking for her. The Turpin kids, by contrast, were living out their hellish experience and no one knew that they needed help. David and Louise Turpin are now in prison for the rest of their lives, and apparently no one else in the family has come forward to help the children. So they are pretty much on their own, and they don’t have the benefit of having connections with caring relatives or friends to help them navigate the world they have been abruptly thrust into.

Once those kids were finally rescued, after living so many years in that hell, the Turpins were reportedly let down by the authorities and child welfare. I alluded to that possibility in my 2018 post, too. While I haven’t worked in social work for years, I know something about the foster care system. I had a feeling that once the press coverage died down, those kids might end up on their own. In most foster care systems I’ve studied, once a child turns 18, they age out of the system. Some kids are more ready for that than others are, but when you consider that the Turpins knew almost nothing about the world when they were rescued, it becomes easier to realize why they would need more help than other foster children would. Some of the children were too old to be foster kids, anyway.

Oldest brother, Joshua, who was shown in a video that he made with his back to the camera, explains that he needed help with transportation and had asked his caseworker for assistance. She told him to “Google it”. I don’t know the qualifications of Vanessa Espinoza, the deputy public guardian who was charged with helping the six adult children, but it’s clear that she failed at her job. Espinoza also works in real estate, and apparently no longer works for Riverside County. I think that’s a good thing. She clearly didn’t care at all about her clients, and wasn’t interested in helping them. How someone could be involved with helping vulnerable adults, particularly adults from the high profile Turpin case, and let them down so egregiously is beyond my comprehension.

Turpin advocate, and Riverside County Director of Victim Services, Melissa Donaldson, reports that one of the children, who is now an adult, was told by a foster parent that they could understand why her parents chained her up. Some of the other children live in bad neighborhoods or are “couch surfing”. At least one of the minor Turpin children was in a foster home where there were allegations of child abuse and was a victim of said abuse. On the 20/20 special, which was taped in July of this year, Jordan Turpin says she doesn’t have a way to get food. At the time, Jordan had been released from the foster care system without warning, and no plans as to how she might access food, shelter, and healthcare. It was reported at the end of the special that Jordan was getting housing assistance and food stamps with help from the college where she is taking courses.

My guess is that Vanessa Espinoza is not a social worker, and was basically just working in her government job to collect a paycheck. Not to say that social workers are all benevolent and kind, but that field is literally about helping people find and navigate programs that can help them when they are in need, and pursue self-determination. Regrettably, social work, as a whole, doesn’t pay particularly well. The job is often stressful and, at times, can even be dangerous. It doesn’t always attract the best and brightest, and burn out is certainly an issue.

In any case, it sounds to me like the Turpins could use a social worker in their corner who acts as their advocate– and I mean a REAL social worker, not someone who is falsely given that title, but has never actually studied social work. In spite of what some people think, social work is an actual field that requires intensive study. My MSW program was 60 hours and required two internships. Had I continued in the field, I would have had to be supervised for two to three more years and sit for two national exams to get fully licensed.

I read a lot of comments from people who are outraged by how the Turpins have been let down by the system. I hope some of those people realize that social welfare programs are necessary and need government support. I’m sorry to bring politics into this, but the fact is, political parties that strip funding from social welfare agencies are partly to blame for situations like what the Turpins are facing. I suspect that California’s system is better than systems in “red” states, and obviously, that is not saying much. God only knows what would have happened to those children if they had been moved to Oklahoma, as was the plan. A lot of people think social work is “church work.” It’s not, and there are enough people who have been victimized by religion, as the Turpin children definitely have been, that my opinion will always be that welfare work, particularly as it pertains to children, should always be secular in nature.

Obviously, though, the Turpins have also run into some good people. Deputy Colace was a true hero to Jordan Turpin, and you can tell how grateful she still is to him. He’s an example of a really good police officer. And the 911 operator, Ms. Eckley, was also extremely helpful and kind to Jordan, as she called for help. It’s so fortunate that the dispatcher was calm and kind and didn’t assume Jordan was pulling a prank or something. As I listened to Jordan speak, and heard the outrageous story, I can understand how some operators might have thought she was lying. Even the deputy seemed to be skeptical of Jordan until she showed him the photos of her sisters in chains. The fact that Jordan thought to take those photos is incredible. She’s clearly a very bright young woman with a strong survival instinct.

And now… something else I want to bring up…

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I discovered a 2019 book review I wrote about the Turpin case. I had completely forgotten some of the backstory regarding the Turpins. It goes all the way back to the 1980s, in West Virginia, where David and Louise Turpin grew up.

Allow me to state upfront that I am not excusing Louise Turpin for her incredibly abusive behavior. She brutalized her children, and that is putting it mildly. There’s no excuse whatsoever for the condition her children were in when they were rescued. BUT… I had forgotten about Louise Turpin’s horrifying upbringing. She and her two sisters were basically prostituted by their mother, Phyllis. Phyllis was the daughter of John Taylor, a World War II “hero” and owner of a Shell gas station in Princeton, West Virginia. The gas station was the only place to get fuel for miles around, so Taylor made a lot of money.

Phyllis was sexually abused by John Taylor. It was so bad that she decided to get married very young, so she could escape her father’s perversions. However, her husband, Wayne Robinette, was a Pentecostal preacher, and didn’t make much money. John Taylor enjoyed “tight hugs” with his daughter and his granddaughters. So, when Phyllis needed money, she would bring her daughters over for a visit with “dear old dad”. He would get his “tight hugs”, and then hand Phyllis a wad of cash. Louise reportedly sometimes protected her younger sisters from the abuse by volunteering. John Taylor’s wife, Mary Louise, apparently either didn’t know about the abuse or turned a blind eye to it. She eventually divorced John when she caught him raping fourteen year old Louise Turpin. However, because she was worried about the family’s reputation and, I suspect, losing access to Taylor’s money, she never turned him in to the police.

David Turpin married Louise when she was extremely young, probably in an attempt to get away from her grandfather. Clearly, the cycle of abuse began again with their family. Seeing the body cam footage of the house they were living in when the authorities were finally called and hearing about Louise’s obsessions with buying toys, games, and children’s clothes, I am reminded of my husband’s former wife, who had a somewhat similar upbringing. While Ex is not nearly as bad as Louise Turpin was, there are definitely some similarities in her behaviors and Louise Turpin’s. I have noticed that a lot of people with sexual trauma in their pasts have issues with shopping addictions and extreme immaturity. They have a lot of children and treat them as possessions, rather than people in and of themselves. There’s also often religious abuse involved in these cases, as religion can make for an excellent manipulation tool, as well as a way to instill fear in the victims. I have noticed that sometimes in these situations, the perpetrators marry an obsession with childhood and childish things with extreme abuse. Michael Jackson comes to mind, too. He was obsessed with childhood and suffered horrific abuse himself, and he never quite outgrew childish obsessions. And he is also alleged to have been a child abuser.

Again, I am not excusing the Turpin parents at all… but I can sort of understand the origins of how this came about. Over the past twenty years or so, I have seen and heard similar stories from Bill about living with his ex wife. Ex, who was similarly abused as a child, is obsessed with Disney, Dr. Seuss, Peanuts, and Star Wars, among other things. She would buy mounds of crap with money they didn’t have. She forced Bill’s daughters to do the housework and raise her youngest child, who has severe autism. She refused to let her children interact with people in the world who could help them, like their fathers or grandparents. Those who escaped got no help from her, and she would do whatever she could to sabotage their efforts to become independent. Ex is not as bad as Louise Turpin, but she’s definitely on the spectrum, to use an autism term (Ex seems to have incorporated raising children with autism as part of her identity– she claims that three of her five children have autism).

This is, yet again, another reason why we as a society should be more willing to employ people who can help victims of sexual trauma so that they don’t become abusers themselves. There should be much less of a stigma about mental health care, and more money to pay for it. And social welfare programs should not be fobbed off on religious organizations. Abuse victims have enough trouble as it is, without having to deal with religious dogma and potential abuse from religious leaders, too.

Anyway… it’s heartbreaking to hear that the Turpin children are still struggling and haven’t been able to access donated money intended to help them launch. It’s very disheartening, but not surprising to me, to hear that some of the foster families entrusted with their care have turned out to be abusive. I know there are some wonderful foster parents out there, but unfortunately, there are also a lot of people who do foster care so they can collect a check from the state. And it’s especially upsetting to hear that a woman who was supposed to help the adult Turpin children learn how to function in society turned out to be a lazy, uncaring, incompetent jerk. Those kids deserve so much better!

But… I am very happy to see that the Turpin children who have come forward still have a spark and want to get beyond their tragic upbringings. They still need a lot of help, though. I truly hope the 20/20 special helps them get the assistance they clearly still need, so they can go on to enjoy the “wonderful lives” fellow victim Elizabeth Smart predicts they can have. A least a few of those kids are game to take life by the horns. And I hope that the special shines a light on America’s child welfare system. It obviously needs an overhaul.

And on a final note, kudos to Jaycee Dugard, who made headlines in 2009 after she escaped her captors, Phillip and Nancy Garrido, after 18 years of hell. Jaycee Dugard, like Elizabeth Smart, has turned her ordeal into a way to help other people. She has started a foundation called JAYC, and according to the 20/20 special, she’s vowed to help the Turpin children as they continue to heal from their ordeal and adjust to living life on their own terms. I only hope that the money JAYC is raising actually gets to the Turpin children.

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book reviews

Repost: my review of Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Here’s another reposted Epinions review from April 2009. This one, posted as/is, may be of special interest to anyone involved in foster care or adoption.

Recently, there’s been some buzz about 24 year old Redmond O’Neal, son of Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal, being arrested for violating his parole on drug charges. The young man is now sitting in a Los Angeles jail while his mother battles anal cancer. Redmond O’Neal is just one of many young people in America who grew up privileged and turned out troubled. Thanks to CNN and FoxNews, we can read about cases like Redmond O’Neal’s all the time; yet we don’t as often hear about people like Ashley Rhodes-Courter, author of 2008’s Three Little Words: A Memoir. That’s a pity, since Rhodes-Courter’s story is so much more inspirational and uplifting. Perhaps it’s also much rarer as well. Wouldn’t it be nice if our media focused more on the positive rather than the disappointing?

Ashley Rhodes-Courter was born in South Carolina in 1985, the daughter of a seventeen year old girl named Lorraine. Ashley never knew her biological father when she was growing up. Her earliest memories of a father figure are of her mother’s abusive husband, Dusty. Ashley’s mother went on to have two more children before she turned 20, Tommy, who died of SIDS after 48 days of life, and Luke, Dusty’s son. Ashley writes that Dusty and her mother were neglectful drug abusers who apparently didn’t know the first thing about how to take care of children. She explains that her mother would carefully strap her into her carseat, but neglect to strap the carseat into the car.

One day, Ashley’s mother decided they needed to get a fresh start in a new location. They headed for Florida, where Lorraine hoped that Dusty would be able to find work. Everything changed when Dusty was pulled over for not having a license plate. The cop then arrested him for not having a license plate or a valid driver’s license. A couple of days later, the cops showed up at the duplex Lorraine and Dusty had rented and arrested Lorraine. That was how Ashley and her brother, Luke, ended up as foster children in the state of Florida.

What follows is Ashley’s harrowing story of her life in a series of foster homes and children’s shelters. Sometimes she was allowed to stay with her brother, but more often, they were separated. All the while, she wondered what had happened to her mother and when she would get to see her again. At one point, she and Luke were sent back to live in South Carolina with Lorraine’s alcoholic father and his live in girlfriend, Adele. Adele turned out to be a wonderful mother figure, but it soon became clear that Ashley’s grandfather was an unsuitable guardian. Moreover, no one in Florida had ever given permission for Ashley and Luke to move to South Carolina. They came back to Florida, plunged back into the system after tentatively bonding with Adele.

In all, Ashley Rhodes-Courter spent nine years in fourteen different foster homes. She was unable to bond with her caregivers or learn to trust them because she was constantly being shuffled around. One foster family turned out to be shockingly abusive, while another foster dad was later revealed to be a sex offender. Through the years, Ashley saw Lorraine a handful of times and was always left with hope that someday her mother would be able to reclaim her.  Sometimes Lorraine would be scheduled for a visit and fail to show up; sometimes Lorraine would show up with gifts, which would inevitably be lost as Ashley moved from home to home.  With each move, Ashley and her brother lost track of their few possessions.  I found myself imagining what it must have felt like to be constantly moved from one place to the next, unable to form attachments.

Ashley’s saving grace was her uncommon intelligence. She did very well in school and had impressive leadership qualities. She was also lucky enough to run into Mary Miller, a woman who acted as her guardian at litem and later helped Ashley and Luke escape the foster care system. Ashley’s mother finally lost her parental rights and Ashley was eventually adopted as a twelve year old, but it took a very long time for her to gain enough trust and stability to be able to say three little words to her adoptive parents.

My thoughts

Ashley Rhodes-Courter is an incredible young woman as evidenced in her memoir, Three Little Words. This book offers a rare first person glimpse of what it’s like to be a foster child. More than that, it shows readers how much children need stability in their lives. A good portion of this book focuses on Ashley’s life after her adoption and the adjustment issues she dealt with even after she found a loving forever family.

Since I have a master’s degree in social work, I was also interested in reading about how the child welfare system served Ashley and her brother. As it turned out, the system did a very poor job looking after Ashley and others like her. Even though Ashley’s mother was irresponsible and abusive, some of Ashley’s licensed caregivers were just as bad. At best, Ashley generally spent a lot of time in overcrowded, impersonal conditions. At worst, Ashley was beaten with a slotted spoon, forced to drink hot sauce, subjected to grueling physical punishments, and exposed to pornography. It’s very clear by Ashley’s account that there are not enough caring people serving as foster parents and too many people who are in it just because the state pays them.

And yet, as someone who has been a social worker, I can also understand why these things happen. One of the reasons I don’t practice social work (besides the fact that I am now married to the military) is that it’s a thankless, low paying, stressful job. A lot of people go into social work because they want to help people. But the system makes it difficult for social workers to be as helpful as they should be and there aren’t enough families who are willing to take in foster kids. So I can see why some inappropriate couples were approved to be foster parents, even if I don’t condone it. Ashley seems to be doing her best to change the situation for foster kids.  Inspired by the film Erin Brockovich and helped by her adoptive parents, Ashley Rhodes-Courter went on to bring a class action suit against the foster parents who had abused her and so many other children.

One thing I noticed about Three Little Words is there’s a little plug for Wendy’s restaurants in it. Dave Thomas, the late founder of Wendy’s, was an adopted child and did a lot of work for the adoption cause. Ashley was also a fan of Wendy’s Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s story is amazing. She was able to channel her writing and public speaking talents into something very valuable for children. I am humbled by her courage and resolve to change the child welfare system.

I think Three Little Words is an excellent read for anyone who is interested in the child welfare system, as well as anyone who just likes an uplifting memoir. I was able to read this book in a matter of hours and I felt good when I finished it. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more from Ashley Rhodes-Courter in the coming years.

For more information: http://rhodes-courter.com

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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bad TV, obits, Police, true crime

A veritable smorgasbord of topics today…

Where do I even start? I kind of hate it when I wake up in the morning with a bunch of different things I want to discuss. I could write multiple posts, and I may very well do that, not that people will read more than one. Or I could try to cover everything in less depth in this one post. Well, I guess I’ll just get started and see where my fingers and brain take me.

First off, I was saddened but not terribly surprised to read about the death of Dustin Diamond, who famously played Screech on Saved By The Bell. Diamond was recently in the news because he’d been admitted to a Florida hospital, having been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I read yesterday that the lung cancer was actually secondary to a different, undisclosed cancer that had metastasized.

Cancer sucks. It can strike with incredible speed and cruelty. We lost our dog, Zane, a week after he was diagnosed with lymphoma. My cousin, Karen, died very quickly after a relapse of cancer. So did another cousin’s spouse, who announced that he had stage four liver cancer in September of last year and was gone by October. I suppose the one kindness that comes out of something like this happening is that the suffering that comes from being so sick is somewhat curtailed.

CNN’s take on Dustin Diamond’s demise.

I never cared much for the Screech character on SBTB. Even though that show was a guilty pleasure for me, it wasn’t the most impressive showcase of anyone’s talents. I read Dustin’s book, Behind the Bell, years ago. I remember I read it because I was writing book reviews on Epinions.com and took great pleasure in reading certain bad books so others wouldn’t have to. I didn’t like the book and distinctly remember getting rid of it right after I reviewed it. I also remember seeing Dustin on Celebrity Fit Club back in 2007, while Bill was deployed to Iraq. I thought he was a massive jerk on that show, although the featured pic today came in handy when some random dick on Facebook asked me for a photo.

That all being said, at 44, Dustin Diamond was much too young to die, and I wouldn’t wish cancer on almost anyone. I think I can understand why Dustin seemed to be such a jerk as he aged out of childhood roles. He probably hated being Screech, the butt of everyone’s jokes. I mean, Saved By The Bell was kind of a shitty show, anyway. The character, Zack Morris (played by Mark Paul Gosselaar) was depicted as “cool”, but he was actually a massive jackass who was constantly looking for ways to screw over other people.

And poor Dustin, who was well paid for his work, was always the one getting dumped on. The writers on that show never let him be “normal”. He was always the one being made into a fool, while the other characters were “cool” and kind of “slumming” by being his friend. I wouldn’t say they really treated the Screech character like a friend. It’s not easy to always be the asshole.

I think having to play Screech would give anyone a complex. He was like a teenaged Weird Al Yankovic, but once that show was done, life got real. I think Dustin never really had a chance to be a normal person during his developmental years, and that probably made it much harder for him when he was an adult. Anyway… he’s out of pain now. I hope he’s in a better place. My good thoughts go out to his friends and loved ones.

Moving on…

Like a lot of other people, I happened to see the videos of the Rochester Police Department handcuffing and pepper spraying a nine year old child who was freaking out during a snowstorm. I certainly think what happened to that child is reprehensible. It looks to me like she was failed by many people, particularly her mom. I watched both body cam videos, which were included in the Washington Post article I linked. In the first one, you see the cop just trying to talk to the girl, who is running away from him. He seems to be trying to keep his cool, but she isn’t respecting his authority.

Then the mom comes out and starts yelling at the girl, using very abusive language which makes me think that things must be especially rough when the cops aren’t around. The girl starts to melt down, screaming. Next thing you know, she’s in handcuffs and the cops are trying to force her into the backseat of police cruiser. She finally gets pepper sprayed by a cop who has just had it with her and seems exasperated and impatient. I guess I can understand why the cop was impatient. It was freezing cold outside, and the girl was not cooperating. But if one of her parents or teachers had sprayed her with pepper spray, there would absolutely be hell to pay.

I’m not totally sure what led up to these events. There was something about the girl saying her mom stabbed her father. Her mom says the blood she saw was her blood, not her dad’s. And she refuses to cooperate with the police because she insists on seeing her dad. In the first video, her mom screams that she has custody and she is HER child and she will carry her ass into the house and deal with whatever’s coming. I felt very sad for that girl… especially when the cop tells her she’s acting like a child and she quite correctly points out that she IS a child!

I was impressed by how articulate and this girl was as she was screaming at the cop. She was also courageous. When I was her age, I know I would not have spoken to a cop the way she did. I would not have thought to demand anything, nor do I think I would have thought to tell the cop that I was a child when he accused me of “acting like a child”. I think I would have been scared out of my wits, not just because of the cop, but because I know my dad would have probably knocked the hell out of me for getting in trouble. Also, she appeared to be quite big for a nine year old. But, I will admit, it’s been a long time since I’ve been around children. Maybe nine year olds aren’t as small or shy as they were in my day.

This really went bad quickly. This is the second of two videos. I recommend watching both. Personally, I think the mother should have been arrested, but I base that only on what I saw in the videos.

Anyway, I hope that girl gets the help she clearly needs. I wish the police hadn’t treated her the way they did, although something did have to be done. I think there should definitely be some reform. However, I also realize that being a police officer isn’t easy. They never know what they’re going to face on any shift. And sadly, people can be very dangerous, even when they’re super young. That doesn’t mean I think she should have been pepper sprayed, though. I think she needs some real, competent, support from someone who knows how to help kids like her. Many people were calling for social workers. Maybe a social worker could have helped, but again, speaking from experience, I will say that just like cops, social workers can be a mixed bag. No matter what, she needs some adults in her life who won’t fail her again.

The final topic I’m kind of inspired to address this morning is one that probably deserves its own post, as well as my undivided attention. Maybe I’ll get to it today. Maybe I won’t. For now, I just hope the weather gets better soon. This gray, cold, depressing rainy shit we have is beyond a drag.

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