Mental Health Association of Portland

Oregon's independent and impartial mental health advocate

First Person Singular: ‘Broke’ – memories of arriving at the Children’s Farm Home

Posted by Jenny on 13th February 2013

Editor’s Note: First Person Singular showcases personal stories related to mental health. Contributions via email are welcome though we don’t guarantee we’ll use every submission.  The following is a true story, in the form of creative non-fiction.  And yes, we do know it is not written in first person singular.  We think it fits just fine.


By Goldienne Campeau

Children's Farm Home School

Children’s Farm Home School

The year is 2002. The month is unclear– the weather outside is reminiscent of an oven. Those final moments when the temperature is turned to broiling to give that golden brown look that is indicative of being done. In Oregon, this can mean that it is anytime between August and October.

Dust clouds up like a tawny spectre around the white, State of Oregon car as it trundles down the dry and ruddy road. On her left is an assemblage of antiquated, crumbling and decayed plantation style school houses, an over-grown field and a down-trodden and wood rotted corral. She glances down at the brochure in her hand; if she uses her imagination she might be be able to envision the stately “Farm Home” that this place once was. Even so, she is not reminded of country life, simple and sweet. The image in her mind instead foreshadows tales of miserable servitude performed by cast out and long ago forgotten children.

Straight ahead she sees an entourage of clapboard houses peppered across the expanse of the tillage. Although they are not as dilapidated as their school-house brethren, they are…rustic. Certainly not representative of the “Family Style Cottages” described in her glossy pamphlet. Most unsettling are the myriad of spired, chain-link fences enshrouding the perimeter of these supposed cottages.

The car comes to a noiseless halt in front of an average and mundane office building. All of the pleasant hopes and expectations of a safe and loving haven, along with the fantasized days filled with horses, and kind, motherly, protectors softly speaking words of reassuring wisdom, while cuddling up on over-stuffed couches have absconded; quick as the flick of a riding crop.

She sits pale and dizzied, the warmth of hope replaced by the harsh and gangrenous gnaw of fear and futility. It sits like a lump of cud in her belly and rises up to her chest. There it will stay, releasing its insidious poison like a tick in the nape of a stallion.

Under normal circumstances, had she been a normal fifteen year old girl; it is likely that she would have found herself sprawled on the grass–or perhaps poolside, drinking in the last few drops of sunshine while idly flipping through some mindless periodical. Actually, those would have been abnormal circumstances for her. More accurately portrayed; she may have been perched in a tree somewhere, voraciously studying Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, or some copylefted zine, worn and tattered from being read and re-read on the school days she spent hiding out in bathroom stalls.

But this is not a normal circumstance. Not even for her. This goes far beyond even her comfort zone of slightly strange and peculiar. She has traversed the borderlands of peculiar and found her self shipwrecked in utterly unfamiliar and terrifying. The car door jerks open with an alarming click and a creak. She does not make eye contact with her chaperone, and for a split-second her body tenses as her instincts tell her to run from this place as fast as a race horse at the bang of a gunshot. Her momentary hesitation is met by a firm hand on her upper arm and her grandiose thoughts of escape are rescinded. She follows the unspoken orders of the state worker and steps cautiously out of the now dusty white, late 90’s model Ford.

The sunlight is startling and makes her appear even more severe than she is. Against the blue sky backdrop, the contrast of her raven-black hair and snow-white, fragile frame are more prominent than ever. She is led into a frigid and overly air conditioned reception area. Her chaperone approaches the desk and exchanges a few inaudible words with the desk clerk. She gathers by the look on her captors face that acquiescence is expected. She sits quietly in a metal framed chair that is obscenely masquerading as something more comfortable, with its cheap, floral upholstery.

The moments that she spends sitting in the waiting room with the bones of the chair pressing fiercely against her own spine, drawl by as slowly as an afternoon spent sipping sweet tea in a porch swing. The state worker shifts in her chair and then stands and crosses the small room, extending a hand shake to another woman who has just stepped out of an office. Another inaudible exchange occurs. The girl imagines it to be something like “One hundred dollar bid, now two, now two, will ya give me two? Two hundred dollar bid, now three, now three hundred, will ya give me three? Two hundred, two and a half, two fifty! How about two-fifty? Fifty? Fifty? Fifty? And SOLD to the Good Doctor! She’s green now, but once you break her, she’ll be a beaut!”  The Good Doctor greets her and she is herded back to an office with disorienting fluorescent lighting, more hard, metal framed chairs and an out of place Dali poster hanging on the stark, white wall.

She sits with her hands locked in her lap, clasped tight around each wrist. Knees drawn to chest so tightly that one might suppose she was hoping to collapse in on herself. Eyes drawn to floor, lips sealed. A guerrilla warrior in the army of self-preservation. The middle aged psychiatrist in the room sits staunchly, wearing her red, home-made sweater, with her bad, frazzled perm and her odor of drug store perfume. Pen poised, note pad at the ready. This girl won’t talk about herself, so the Good Doctor will decide who she is.

A few more minutes of awkward silence and unanswered questions go by. Finally the Good Doctor surmises that any further attempts at conversation will be futile. The girl is beckoned to follow the Good Doctor, it’s time she saw the “cottage”. She walks slowly and quietly, a few carefully calculated steps behind. A shade of black hair hangs in her face, serving as a way to mask her fear as well as a screen from the overbearing sun.

They arrive at a gate, she watches the Good Doctor nimbly punch a code into a keypad while shielding it from view with a purposefully placed hand. She walks across the threshold, the gate shuts behind her with an abrupt and cacophonous clang. That clang awakens in her a previously unknown awareness of the finality of this situation. Her ears are instantaneously aware of every sound, her body tensed at the ready to fend off any proverbial predator, or tear away in a mad gallop to safety.

She must remain calm. Calm on the outside. She cannot let the predator sense her overwhelming and ever-growing fear. Her front teeth close down on her bottom lip; the more pressure she applies, the more her fear dissipates. She bites until she tastes the acrid tang of her own blood, folds her delicate arms over her chest, as if giving herself the hug that she has come to realize she will never acquire so long as she is locked behind this gate, focuses her gaze hard on the ground in front of her and follows the Good Doctor through another door.

It’s almost as if she has gone through a portal. The scene that lies before her is nether-worldly. A tangle of smells forcefully attacks her nose. The stench of urine, the eroding sting of bleach; the salty, soft smell of playdough, spoiled milk, disinfectant. Kindergarten incarceration. Through the black curtain of her hair she sees a large room. A barrage of young boys from ages five to ten, are sprawled across the aged, brown carpets. They are engaged in innumerable activities.

Surrounding the chattering boys with their brightly hued legos, puzzle pieces and nubs of many colored crayons are couches and tables. Sitting amongst the worn and dingy furnishings there is a pack of teenage girls. A few are playing cards, or scrawling words in journals. Most are sitting alone. All are quiet, withdrawn, unresponsive. Disheartened; broken. The Good Doctor introduces her to a rotund and miserly woman. This, she is informed– will be her skills trainer. Her trainer will be giving her the grand tour of her confine. She turns to see that the Good Doctor has silently made her departure. With a short and stern grumble the Trainer directs her to follow along up the stairs, where she will be introduced to her quarters.

She begins to drift towards the steps when she is jolted back by a hair raising scream of distress. The Trainer makes a quick dash towards the origin of the mayhem. She retreats against a wall; her heart thundering. Is this the marauding entity that her gut had attempted to apprise her of? From the stairs she witnesses a heap of body parts; flailing and fighting, screeching and strained grunts– orders barked from trainers, pleas to stop from the lips of the apparent source of the commotion; a girl with long braids and wire framed glasses. She hears a sudden crack ricochet throughout the room. An anguished yelp from the captive. A river of crimson erupts from the wild-eyed face.

The trainers retreat into a room with their trainee. A large metal door slams shut behind them and there is a hollow, magnetic click. She is trapped here. Captive. They will break her like an unruly horse. She is no more than an animal in need of training. Here at The Children’s Farm Home, it is the children who are the livestock.

Tags: ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Renovation continues at Children’s Farm Home

Posted by CoffeeX3 on 27th November 2011

From The Corvallis Gazette Times, November 27, 2011

It was supposed to cost $4.5 million to renovate Old School at the Children’s Farm Home on Highway 20 between Albany and Corvallis, but an unanticipated septic system upgrade has bumped the cost up another million.

Now Trillium Family Services, which operates the Farm Home as a treatment center for children ages 5 to 18 with behavior and mental health challenges, is launching a capital campaign Monday to raise funds to finance the final phase of the project.

Trillium Family Services officials take a tour of Old School Tuesday morning. From left are Kim Scott, Kristi Cole, Mike Morse, Stan Sawicki and Cheri Galvin.

Trillium Family Services officials take a tour of Old School Tuesday morning. From left are Kim Scott, Kristi Cole, Mike Morse, Stan Sawicki and Cheri Galvin.

Previously, Dave and Penny Lowther of Philomath donated $2.8 million, and an anonymous donor contributed $1 million. The rest of the money collected so far has come from smaller donations.

“With an anonymous donor prepared to match new donations up to $500,000, we’ll just need to raise a half-million,” said Cheri Galvin, regional development director for Trillium. “My goal is to raise that by the end of January or by early February.”

Times are tough, she acknowledged, but if people can “give, say, $5 or $10 we’ll get that matched and the campaign will go quickly.”

Trillium’s annual Denim & Diamonds auction on Saturday, Jan. 28, is the event Galvin hopes will push the campaign over the top. It starts at 5 p.m. at the CH2M Hill Alumni Center in Corvallis. Tickets are $55 if purchased before Dec. 31, and $65 if bought by Jan. 18.

Those interested can keep track of how much Trillium has raised by checking a barometer that stands next to a 22-foot tall rocket in front of the school.

Once the $1 million is in hand, the work can be done in about five months, Galvin said.

Architect Bill Ryals of Modern Organic Architecture in Corvallis designed the improvements to Old School, assisted by Endex Engineering.

T. Gerding Construction Co. is overseeing the restoration of the 17,000-square-foot school built in 1925 by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Originally, the 300-acre farm home housed orphans, neglected children and children whose parents could not afford to care for them.

Several hundred students attended the school, and when they got older they transferred to Corvallis High School.

Proceeds from a cannery, dairy and slaughterhouse helped cover expenses, as did the sale of fruit, nuts, table grapes, pears and walnuts grown on the property.

The school closed in the 1980s.

Old School is located on Highway 20 east of Corvallis.

Old School is located on Highway 20 east of Corvallis.

When the renovation that began in the fall of 2008 is finished, the main floor will contain a grand entry, a banquet room, classrooms, a café, kitchen, administrative offices and a museum, all available to the public.

The downstairs will be devoted to children staying at Trillium, and areas will be available for them to meet privately with their families.

Contributions to Old School can be sent to Cheri Galvin, 4455 N.E. Highway 20, Corvallis, OR 97330. To make an online contribution or to purchase tickets to Denim & Diamonds, go to

Anyone wanting to donate memorabilia to Old School for the museum can contact Galvin at 541-758-5953.

“The Children’s Farm Home has a rich history of serving children and families most in need,” said Kim Scott, Trillium’s president and chief executive officer in Portland. He toured the school last week. “The Old School is a symbol of this work.”

Mike Morse of Corvallis, who is on the facilities committee also visited the building, showing off its new heating and cooling system along with the newly landscaped area in the back.

Stan Sawicki, the chief development officer, pointed out where various rooms will be.

Walls, finish work, plumbing and appliances have yet to be installed. Galvin said the kitchen appliances are coming from the former Waverly Children’s Home that Trillium operated in Portland until it was sold.

Contributions to Old School can be sent to Cheri Galvin, 4455 N.E. Highway 20, Corvallis, OR 97330. To make an online contribution or to purchase tickets to Denim & Diamonds, go to

Anyone wanting to donate memorabilia to Old School for the museum can contact Galvin at 541-758-5953.

Tags: , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Trillium receives $2 million donation

Posted by CoffeeX3 on 6th December 2006

From The Portland Business Journal, December 6, 2006

Trillium Family Services has received a $2 million donation that will jump-start renovations at the Trillium Children’s Farm Home campus in Corvallis.

The donation, from Dave and Penny Lowther of Philomath, is the second-largest gift in the agency’s 130-year history. The donation also serves as the lead gift in a fund-raising campaign to improve facilities on the campus and build a new residential treatment center for teenagers suffering with mental illness who formerly were relegated to the Oregon State Hospital.

READ – Renovation continues at Children’s Farm Home

Trillium Family Services is a nonprofit agency that provides children’s mental health care programs and services. The agency has operations in the Mid-Willamette Valley, Portland metro and Central Oregon regions. The Trillium Children’s Farm Home houses Trillium’s psychiatric residential treatment programs for the Mid-Willamette Valley and for children statewide.

The Old School on the Children’s Farm Home campus, built in 1925, once was a center of life for the campus, which was founded as an orphanage in 1922. The building saw some use through the 1980s, but in recent years it has sat idle and boarded up, a victim of age, modern building codes and a lack of funds to renovate it.

The Lowthers’ donation will allow Trillium to either renovate the Old School or rebuild it to reflect the original Georgian architecture. The building will become badly needed office space, freeing room elsewhere on campus for clinical uses. The new building will be named to honor Dave’s mother, Hazel V. Lowther, an ardent supporter of local children’s causes who died in August.

Trillium’s overall goal is to raise about $10 million to $15 million for improvements at the Corvallis campus. The agency completed work on renovations to two residential cottages, a new school and new playground in 2004-05. Construction could begin as early as this spring on improvements to the cafeteria and gymnasium and a new covered play area.

Another goal of the capital campaign is a new psychiatric treatment center designed specifically for teenagers once served at the decrepit Oregon State Hospital in Salem. The state closed its psychiatric program for adolescents in 2005 and transferred the program to Trillium’s Corvallis campus.

Tags: , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Closure of Adolescent Treatment Services at the Oregon State Hospital

Posted by CoffeeX3 on 31st January 2005

DATE: January 31, 2005

TO: Interested Persons

FROM: Robert E. Nikkel, MSW – Administrator

RE: Closure of Adolescent Treatment Services at the Oregon State Hospital

The Department of Human Services, Office of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OMHAS) has had a long-standing goal to develop community-based treatment alternatives to the Oregon State Hospital (OSH) for children and adolescents. In keeping with this goal, the Adolescent Treatment Services unit at OSH will close effective March 1, 2005. Until February 28, admissions to the OSH program will continue for adolescents whose treatment needs cannot be met in alternative environments.

A new program and additional alternative services will be implemented by March 1, 2005. Trillium Family Services will operate a new program called the Secure Adolescent Inpatient Program (SAIP) at the Children’s Farm Home campus in Corvallis. This program will provide for the specialized public safety and treatment needs of adolescents who were previously being served at OSH. The admission criteria, access and admission process will be unchanged. In addition to this program, OMHAS will develop additional capacity for enhanced treatment in current Psychiatric Residential Treatment Services programs. This service will increase the capacity to provide continuity of care for adolescents needing additional treatment and will serve as a discharge resource or an alternative to the SAIP services.

This change marks another step toward strengthening the intensive community-based treatments and supports for children, adolescents, and their families. Thank you for your continued interest and support of Oregon’s children’s mental health system. OMHAS staff who are working on the project are Ralph Summers (503) 945-9827, Bill Bouska (503) 945-9717, and Derek Wehr (503) 947-5527. Please contact Bill if you have program and system questions and contact Derek for adolescent specific questions.

READ – Closure of Adolescent Treatment Services at the Oregon State Hospital – 2005, original memo

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Nowhere to turn

Posted by CoffeeX3 on 25th October 1999

From The Oregonian, October 25, 1999, by Michelle Roberts

READ – Losing Christopher – a son out of control, October 24, 1999

On May 22, 1996, Sydney Putnam moved Christopher Hutchinson‘s folder to the top of her stack.

Putnam, a caseworker for the state Office for Services to Children and Families, was juggling the cases of two dozen of Lane County’s most troubled children, those whose mental or emotional problems were so severe they needed special services or residential psychiatric treatment.

For weeks, Putnam had hoped counseling would be enough for Chris. Now it was clear it would not.

Chris’ stepmother, Mary Hutchinson, had just called crying that the 11-year-old had broken into a house and pointed a gun at another child. Chris’ father, Casey, was at the end of his rope. Chris’ school called, too, worried because the child saw ghosts and felt imaginary bugs crawling on him.

Putnam had to act fast. There was a real chance that Chris would hurt someone or that his frazzled father might snap and hurt him.

This wouldn’t be easy. A 10-year veteran, Putnam knew how to work the system. But it was overcrowded and poorly equipped to handle the sickest kids. The boy who beat his mother unconscious with a broomstick. The 12-year-old girl who kept running away to have sex for drug money. Another child who, out of the blue, smeared feces on the walls and urinated on the carpet. The ones who posed the most danger to themselves and others.

Putnam faced a confusing and fragmented mental health system that was born out of a national movement in the 1960s to treat the mentally ill in their communities, away from the cold, isolating state-run institutions in which they’d been housed.

Individual Oregon counties run some services. Others are private but contract with county and state agencies. Small and rural counties generally have fewer services. And most programs offer only counseling.

Community-based programs serve many people and work for most. But they aren’t tailored for the sickest people, those who need intense medical attention and containment.

Putnam immediately determined that Chris — who had chased his sisters with knives and threatened to cut a teacher’s unborn child from her womb — was too violent for a foster home. Emergency shelters operated by nonprofit organizations were available, but every one she contacted was full.

Meanwhile, Chris got worse and complained that he was hearing voices telling him to “do things.” So Lane County Mental Health Services committed Chris to Providence Portland Medical Center. This hospital, with a crisis team trained to quickly evaluate mental breakdowns and a lock-down unit for children, was available for only the most urgent cases.

Providence doctors examined Chris. A psychiatrist held up Rorschach inkblots, and the boy saw nothing but blood, decapitation and death in the black-and-white images. Also alarming was the gruesome violence in Chris’ stories and how the boy threw his head back and laughed out loud when he told them.

Based on his potential for violence, Providence doctors recommended that Chris be placed in long-term residential psychiatric care. But there was a six-month waiting list for those programs, leaving Putnam to scramble for a place that could contain Chris until something opened up.

Looking Glass Evaluation and Treatment Center in Eugene agreed to take him temporarily.

The nonprofit program designed to stabilize destructive children often used group therapy to treat the dozen or so 11- to 17-year-olds in its care.

But Chris, the youngest child there, couldn’t sit still for therapy. He created so much chaos kicking, screaming and making animal noises that entire rooms of kids were cleared to isolate him. Two months later, Looking Glass officials asked Putnam to move him.

The Jasper Mountain SAFE Center in Marcola, northeast of Springfield, treated the same disturbances as Looking Glass, only in younger children. Putnam got a bed for Chris, but he hit, kicked and bit staff members. The center wasn’t able to deal with his frenzied aggression, and staff members couldn’t hold him by the arms 24 hours a day. After a few weeks, this center, too, asked for Chris to be moved.

“We were holding our breath and hoping no one else would get hurt until we could get him somewhere else,” Putnam said.

On a typical day in the summer of 1996, Putnam got to work before 7 a.m. and by 10, she’d called several programs.

One wouldn’t take Chris because he had started fires. Another wouldn’t take him because it gave priority to kids in its own county. Another wouldn’t take him because he required restraint and they didn’t do that to children. An additional complication was that Chris needed to be near his family, which eliminated most programs in Portland, two hours away, where more-intensive mental health services were available.

Putnam left her disheveled desk 13 hours later, exhausted and frustrated.

Some places agreed to at least consider Chris, so she spent as many as three days carefully typing a detailed account of his life and treatment history. While her family was home eating supper, she was at the office making copies.

The Children’s Farm Home in Corvallis, a former orphanage that serves 100 of the state’s most emotionally troubled youths, contacted Putnam and agreed to put Chris on a waiting list.

For the next four months, Putnam pursued the Farm Home relentlessly. Administrators had worked with her and knew she wouldn’t be so persistent unless her back was against a wall. She persuaded them to take Chris ahead of several other children who needed help almost as badly.

“We were optimistic,” Putnam said. “For what’s available, it seemed like the best place for Chris.”

The Farm Home is approved to use everything from medication to physical restraint. The only place more restrictive was the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

Casey and Mary watched helplessly as Putnam steered Chris from program to program. He didn’t seem to be getting better.

Casey had been there when, during a counseling session at the Jasper Mountain SAFE Center, the boy refused to stay seated and swore at the therapist.

When he was ordered back to his bunk, Chris’s face contorted and he jumped on the windowsill, clinging like a cat trying to avoid bath water.

Two staff members peeled him off the window, but Chris jerked away, scooted under a conference table and wrapped his body around a table leg. He began to hiss and growl and bite at the air.

“Eeeech! Eeeech! Eeeech!” he screeched like a hawk.

The sounds were so realistic the hair stood up on Casey’s neck.

“That bothered me worse than anything that had happened up to that point,” Casey said. “You’re sitting there, and they’re trying to drag your son out, and he’s fighting, kicking and staring at me for help. That’s still Chris. That’s still my son.

“I felt like I was losing him.”

When Chris was transferred to the Children’s Farm Home, Casey and Mary held their hope in check. The program had reached some pretty tough kids, Putnam reassured them.

Casey and Mary drove an hour each way for family therapy. When Casey got a job managing a video store in Klamath Falls, the couple drove their 1973 Chrysler four hours each way through the Cascade Mountains.

“We were committed,” Casey said. “We drove through snowstorms. One time, our car blew up. We still made it to his treatment.”

But their newfound optimism soon dissolved.

“We’d go there, and they’d tell us, ‘He takes all of our time. He’s a difficult child. He needs one-on-one,’ ” Casey said.

During one visit, a staff member told Casey and Mary that Chris had kicked him in the groin and face and knocked him down the stairs.

Another time, Chris acted like a beaver, gnawing everything from bedposts to doorknobs so fiercely that Farm Home workers feared he would crack his teeth.

Then, seven months after Chris had been admitted to the Farm Home, Casey took a call that left him wailing in Mary’s arms. Chris had announced he was a woodpecker and banged his head against the wall. He gnawed large chunks of flesh out of his arms trying to sever his veins.

It was time to try the state hospital.

Putnam had placed one girl there after the child tried to strangle a Farm Home staff member.

To be admitted, a child usually must be homicidal, suicidal or psychotic. Chris appeared to be all three.

Casey’s hand trembled in June 1997 as he signed the paperwork to commit his son.

“I have not been responsible,” Chris said. “I’ve been making animal noises and thinking like I was an animal.”

Although he’d arrived in a straitjacket, Chris was polite and cooperative for his admission interview two days later. He spoke rapidly but in a monotone. His expression was flat from heavy medication.

Chris celebrated his 13th birthday in the dim, hollow halls of the children’s ward.

The last state-run mental institution in Oregon, the state hospital is reserved for the criminally insane and the most severely mentally ill.

Only 20 beds are available statewide for children as young as Chris. To be admitted, a child usually must have failed a federally accredited residential program such as the Farm Home.

Casey and Mary found visiting Chris almost unbearable.

Mary shivered when the doors locked behind them. The paint was chipped, and the furniture was sparse, drab and uncomfortable. A sticker on a child’s bulletin board read, “You’re just jealous because the voices talk to me.”

They found Chris almost catatonic, sitting in a robe drooling in front of a big-screen television. Mary called to complain that Chris’ medications must be too strong.

“He was like a vegetable,” Mary said. “It was very depressing.”

As weeks turned into months, Chris morphed into someone almost unrecognizable. He put on 75 pounds because of his medications. He was bloated and pale. The child they knew was gone. They wanted him better, but they weren’t sure this was the answer. It was so draining, they didn’t visit as often as they knew they should.

When Chris could speak coherently, he cried. “I want to go home. I’ll be good, I promise.”

“I want you home, too,” Casey would say, rubbing Chris’ head. “But we gotta have you ready.”

Chris had been in residential psychiatric programs almost two years. But after all the time and effort from pediatricians, psychiatrists and psychologists, still no one could say with certainty what was wrong with him — or what to do about it.

Mental illnesses can be convoluted and intertwined and therefore difficult to diagnose. Children are especially difficult because they are ever-changing. Puberty and its hormonal changes often cause emotional stress that complicates diagnosis and treatment.

At Looking Glass, Chris continually scrubbed the dollar bills in his wallet with soap and water, so his therapist, Jana Freed, thought he might suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. He also began talking with an imaginary puppet friend he called Eddie, continuing evidence of psychoses.

Chris said he missed and loved his mother, who left when he was 2, and he singled out women staff members for extra defiant behavior. That led Freed to think he might have an attachment disorder.

He confessed that as punishment when he was 5, a woman caretaker had put his penis into a vacuum cleaner and turned it on, so that added post-traumatic stress disorder, which is similar to shell shock or battle fatigue. Children often suffer the disorder after rape and abuse.

Chris’ inability to sit still was chalked up to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He ate stuffing out of a couch and paint off the walls at the Farm Home, evidence of pica, a craving for nonfood items often found in people with psychiatric disturbances. Doctors suspected his animal noises were tics, possibly Tourette’s syndrome.

Therapists also said he had other behavioral and conduct disorders that made him willfully defiant and capable of hurting others without remorse.

Several doctors suspected organic problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome and drug exposure. But Chris’ biological mother, Cherie Toombs of Ontario, denied that was possible.

Such a complex array of diagnoses made Chris even more difficult to treat. For example, his attention deficit disorder made it impossible for him to sit still long enough for therapy discussions.

And medications for one illness would mask symptoms of another. Further complicating things, Chris sometimes recanted symptoms, making it almost impossible for doctors to distinguish between truth, hallucination and manipulation.

After months of observation, state hospital psychiatrists diagnosed Chris with bipolar disorder, or manic depression.

Doctors tried lithium, a mood-stabilizing drug often used to treat bipolar disorder, and risperidone, most often used to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

“He was much calmer, much less intrusive, was able to follow staff directions,” noted Dr. Michael Duran, Chris’ psychiatrist.

Chris began doing normal things. Lying on his hospital bed, he wrote a flurry of letters, including a fan letter to actor Jim Carrey, whom he admired for his realistic impersonations. He stopped acting up in the hospital classroom and dove into mystery novels. A fifth-grader, Chris read at a seventh-grade level. Where once he had been cruel, Chris was kind to younger children in the ward, telling them not to be afraid of the shadowy halls after lights-out.

“With the medication, Chris was getting better and better and better,” Casey said. “We didn’t expect him to come home perfect, but he wasn’t being restrained. Things were looking good.”

Casey and Mary were cautious but hopeful in February 1998, when they got word Chris would soon be released. Chris had not lived with them for almost two years, and they didn’t know what to expect.

“I don’t have any problems now,” Chris said during a session with his new psychiatrist two days after his release.

But his parents weren’t so sure. The boy’s medications calmed him, but outside the structured hospital setting, he had no idea how to stay inside the boundaries Casey and Mary set.

And there was a new problem.

Chris, now 13, was making sexual gestures at home and in public. He seemed oblivious to how inappropriate his actions were, even making sexual comments in front of his grandmother.

The Hutchinsons had moved to Coos Bay after Casey got a job managing a wholesale furniture warehouse.

Dr. Richard Staggenborg, director of Coos County Mental Health Services, was assigned to administer Chris’ psychiatric care.

“I don’t know if he’s going to make it at home,” Mary told Staggenborg. “I don’t think he’s ready to be in the community.”

Chris interrupted: “I agree with the lady when she said I shouldn’t be in the community, but I paid my toll.”

Staggenborg was concerned but wrote that Chris “does not appear to be an imminent danger to himself or others.”

“Judging from his history, this could easily change, however.”

Casey and Mary tried to enroll Chris in the Coos Bay School District in February 1998, but administrators didn’t want him.

A string of school shootings had recently terrified the nation. In Kentucky, a 14-year-old freshman calmly shot eight students in a crowded school lobby after an informal prayer meeting. Three died.

Before that, a Mississippi teen walked into the school commons, took a hunting rifle from beneath his coat and shot nine classmates, killing two.

Coos Bay superintendent Giles Parker was going to make sure it didn’t happen in his district.

“You hate to sound so callous, but you don’t want a dangerous kid in school,” said Parker, who wouldn’t speak specifically about Chris.

All schools are bound by federal law to educate disabled students — even those who are mentally ill and potentially dangerous — so Chris, a sixth-grader, was enrolled in the Responsible Behavior Program for at-risk students at Millicoma Middle School. He was allowed on school grounds for only one hour each day.

His teachers were told to keep a close eye on him and pay attention to any violence in his writings.

Within a month, Chris didn’t get off the school bus one afternoon.

Mary called police, but Chris finally skipped up the driveway several hours later. He admitted forging Mary’s name on a note telling the bus driver it was OK to drop him off downtown.

He had sneaked into an adult bookstore and flipped through pornographic magazines until the store clerk chased him off.

Another afternoon, he bragged that a bum had given him a cigarette and a swig of whiskey.

Making matters worse, Chris refused to take his medication. When Casey and Mary tried forcing him to swallow his pills, he’d swear and run out the door.

Despite Chris’ continued disruptions and poor grades, his teachers named him to the honor roll in April 1998.

“This could really boost Christopher’s confidence,” his teacher told Casey. “Maybe it would help if he had a little self-esteem.”

“Confidence is not his problem,” Casey said.

He and Mary felt like victims of a cruel joke when they received a bumper sticker that read: “I’m a proud parent of a Millicoma honor student.”

Two weeks later, Chris was expelled when he turned in the following writing assignment: “Chris had the lead in the play, King Lear. But his medication, lithanate, was intoxicating his body. He stared at a woman he wanted constly (constantly). He bought a gun that could blow a hole through someones stomach. One day when he was going to the play he had already drank 20, 40 oz. and was drunker than a skunk. Chris came dressed in a ski mask, black pants and the gun he bought. The audience thought he was part of the play so they clapped. But when the audience saw him cock the gun they stopped clapping and started screaming. Chris killed over 500 people that night but no one was alive to tell.”

A month after Chris’ expulsion, May 21, 1998, 15-year-old Kipland P. Kinkel opened fire in the crowded cafeteria at Thurston High School in Springfield, killing two students and injuring 22. Kinkel had killed his parents the night before.

Chris sat riveted to the TV news accounts. Melissa, Chris’ older sister, had been a classmate and a friend of Kinkel’s when the family lived in Springfield.

A few days later, Casey was in the garage when he overheard Chris talking about getting a gun from a neighbor.

“Yeah. We’re going to trade him something for it,” Casey heard Chris say. “He’s got a pistol.”

“No, you’re not,” Casey said, startling Chris and a friend. “Stay the hell away from him.”

The Hutchinsons decided that if they could channel Christopher’s gun fascination, maybe they could gain some control. Casey bought a plastic BB gun for $18.99 at Wal-Mart and set some rules.

But when Casey and Mary were at work, Chris broke into their room and stole the gun. He couldn’t find the BBs, so he loaded it with small rocks and shot at stray cats. Once he held the gun in a kitten’s ear and pulled the trigger.

Casey and Mary called the Coos County branch of the state Office for Services to Children and Families and begged them to find a place for Chris.

But this office had never heard of the Hutchinsons and called Lane County to get Chris’ file. The new caseworker, too, concluded that Chris was too violent for the services SCF provided. And now that he was a teen-ager, he was too old for most programs that contract with the agency. His sexual behavior eliminated him from even more.

“Kids like Christopher fall through the cracks,” explained Beth Vaagen, the Coos County SCF branch manager who oversaw Chris’ case. “We’re forced to leave them in the community until they do something that will elevate them enough to get resources from the juvenile department or Oregon Youth Authority.

“That means committing a crime.”

The caseworker told the Hutchinsons to call the police every time Chris did something, in order to build a record on him. SCF also called the Coos County Juvenile Department and asked it to hold Chris accountable for his actions.

“They were telling us, ‘When Chris commits a felony, we’ll have the resources and a place to put him,’ ” Casey said. “I told them, ‘Jesus, this is wrong.’ ”

Furious, he drove Chris to the juvenile department and marched the boy up to the front desk.

Nervous, Chris squeaked like a dolphin.

“I’ve got a young man named Chris Hutchinson,” Casey told a receptionist, who quickly called a caseworker. “I’m going to drop him off for you guys, because if he stays with us I’m going to beat him.”

“We’ll just bring him back to your house,” the caseworker said.

“If you don’t take him, I’ll throw him through the window,” Casey said. He argued until the caseworker threatened to call security.

Finally defeated, Casey drove Chris home.

The Hutchinsons were right back where they had started.

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »