Degrees of Responsibility

Whose ultimate responsibility is it when a child commits murder? Is it solely their own? The parents’? The teachers’? The community?

My brother, a minor, was charged with first degree murder. And these are only some of the questions that keep me awake at night.

Prior to this charge, I would look into his broken, tortured eyes and remember his younger self. Images of his sweet, happy face would haunt my mind. I could see him, aged somewhere between 5 and 8, gleefully trying his hardest to break dance in the middle of the living room. I remember the poems he wrote, beautiful. The songs he would write. The laughter. His smile. His face so innocent. So earnest. I, a child myself, was his primary caregiver until about 8. Life was difficult, but he hadn’t been completely broken yet.

Fast forward to his early teen years and the difference in his countenance was extreme. He’d continued to go through years of abuse and neglect even after I’d left. Our father was physically, verbally, and psychologically abusive to us all. Our mother was seemingly indifferent and asleep. It took me a couple of excruciating years to get my younger siblings removed from that place, placing them in my mother’s care. Then, in a devastating blow, my mother gave up on him and told him to go back and live with our father because she didn’t care anymore.

My brother lived with our father from then on, knowing that neither of his parents wanted him around. He felt so alone. His older brothers went off and developed drug addictions and criminal records and struggled with mental illness. As for me, his older sister, I struggled to cope with years of trauma and withdrew from everyone, in a sense, abandoning him as well.

At school, he was constantly in trouble or suspended or expelled. Teachers hated him. He lived to be accepted by his peers, a “rough” crowd. The more trouble he got in, the cooler he seemed to be with this crowd. He saw their acceptance as his only opportunity for a sense of belonging. Teachers and counselors should see these behaviors as cries for help. Yet, no one bothered. He failed classes. He got into drugs. He became addicted. He began stealing things for cash because his parents didn’t provide for him and the cash also helped his addiction.

There was a period of time where there were a slew of suicide attempts. Still, he received no help from anyone. More and more unimaginable trauma continued to stack up.

I begged our parents to get out of their own asses and do something. For the love of God. I researched programs. I called child protective services. I pleaded with them without success. I pleaded with my brother. He would just look at me with those sad, broken eyes. He would say something like “Why even try? What’s the point? I’m just worthless. And I don’t give a shit.” He’d say this with tears in his eyes, red-faced, but with a small, fake (defeated) smile.

So I don’t know if he committed the crime or not. I have no idea. There is no conviction at this time. I find myself going round-and-round in my mind trying to make sense of it all. The sweet, tender-hearted boy I know would not be capable. But he wasn’t that boy anymore. He was broken. Drug addicted. Beat down. Out of his mind and hopeless. Lost.

I know that none of that is an acceptable reason to take someone else’s life. And I am so completely horrified that this person is gone. That this family has suffered such a terrible loss. And that my brother could have had something to do with it. I am simply in such shock that I cannot even process the implications of this.

I’m just wondering aloud about the responsibility. This child, my brother, was raised under such horrendous circumstances. For the most part, without love and without guidance. Only beaten and broken, physically and psychologically. Is the blame solely his? What about the father who beat him? What about the mother who neglected his needs? What about the teacher that felt he wasn’t worth teaching? The brothers that left him in the dust and set terrible examples? The community that saw signs of abuse but didn’t report it? What about me? I knew he was on a destructive path, but I didn’t do everything in my power to intervene. Are we all responsible?

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31 responses to “Degrees of Responsibility

  1. It’s a very good question – I too have people that I love who could be wholly capable – I watch the news, thinking, is it them this time? I hope for his sake that he didn’t do this. Big hugs for you. It really hurts sometimes.

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  2. kat

    good question. maybe the answer is , yes, you all bear some responsibility and at the same time, no , none of you are responsible either, except the child.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sadly, laying the burden of responsibility on anyone won’t change what has happened. It won’t change the fact that your brother chose the path he took in life. Hopefully he will have a chance to change his path for the better.
    I am so sorry that you and siblings had such a difficult childhood – none of you deserved that.

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    • I agree with you that pointing a finger is pointless and does nothing to change the situation. That’s the reality. However, in my grief, I want to blame someone. Because it does not feel fair to me that if convicted, my young brother will spend life in prison. It feels like he shouldn’t be the only one with a sentence.

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Laiyla Lane

    In my opinion the blame lays on Society as a whole. There are plenty of people in his world who have bad or neglected home lives and they generally split into 2 groups.

    The 1st being those you manage to find the inner strength to fight for a better life, to not end up like their parents, to give their children a home life with love, attention and the required discipline.

    The 2nd being those who lose all hope and see themselves as worthless so they have no regard for their own life or anybody else’s.

    So when I say that the blame lays with society I mean that it lays with teachers, doctors and child protective services, whom if they had done their jobs correctly and recognised your brother was struggling, they could have removed him from his home and gotten him the help he needed to build up his confidence and sense of self worth so he would not have gone down the route he did.

    I see absolutely no point in blaming yourself or your siblings as you are all must be damaged in some way from your upbringing, and the fact that you tried to find help for your brother shows that you cared, that you did your best to fight for him.

    You do not know whether or not your brother did commit this crime, and I do hope he didn’t.

    He could still get help in the way of psychotherapy and and cognitive behavioural therapy – It is not too late for him.

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    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I can’t help but feel like the bulk of the blame lies with the parents (and of course, the individual). And if the parents are terrible, the community acts as the safety net. Wouldn’t that be nice?

      I mean, if you decide to be a parent, shouldn’t you assume responsibility to do the best you can to provide the basics: food, shelter, healthcare (including mental health), and love? And if you shuck those responsibilities, shouldn’t there be consequences (for the parent)?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am broken for life due to specific circumstances during my childhood, and at first I was so angry I kept holding my parents responsible for my chronic illnesses. But then I realized that by doing this I wasn’t going to change the progression of my conditions. It is important to wonder about the past, and to try to discuss it constructively in order to make sense of our lives, but ultimately we need to focus on the future and what in fact we can change now. I wish you lots and lots of peace.

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    • Thank you, escharae. I’m sorry to hear of your struggles. But it sounds like you’ve developed a lot of wisdom through your trials and I’m grateful that you’ve shared it with me. I hope that I can find a similar path to acceptance and healing.

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  6. It breaks me to read stories like this. As much as i’d like to believe things like this don’t happen, i know they do. I pray the path straightens for your brother (it’s never too late).

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  7. Just Plain Ol' Vic

    I have to respectfully disagree with Laiyla Lane.

    As a parent of two children, I feel that I am responsible for my children’s actions until they turn 18 and can legally be on their own.

    I am responsible for recognizing damaging behavior. I am responsible for getting treatment. I am responsible for loving my children unconditionally but yet never backing down from the expectations I have for them.

    The reality is that not all parents feel or act that way, thus the need for social programs. However it is not ultimately the fault of these programs if a child slips through the cracks, it is all on the parents for not doing their primary job…to parent/guide their children.

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    • I agree with you. The parents are ultimately responsible. But when they fail like in this case, what happens then? Nothing that I see. Our parents don’t even have to worry about lawyers fees – that’s what public defenders are for. Shouldn’t they have to face some kind of consequence? It seems unjust to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m in a similar situation with my brother, although I haven’t yet delved into it on my blog. It hurts me so much to remember how sweet and happy he was, and how his face would crumple when my dad yelled at him for laughing “too loudly”. My mother tried so hard – she’s one of the strongest people I know – but by the time she was in a position to leave, the damage was already done.

    My baby brother – no eyebrows and the biggest blue eyes you’ve ever seen. He’s such an angry and broken man today. I don’t know how to reach him – what to do that my mother and I haven’t already tried – and it’s just so sad to live with this on our consciences. I know that, as far as my family goes, we all feel the blame for what’s happened/happening.

    I hope our brothers and families find peace. I hope we find peace. ❤

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    • I’m so sorry that you had to experience that with your brother. I hope that we all find peace one day soon. It’s a special kind of pain we feel for our baby brothers – it’s weird. I look forward to reading more of your story on your blog. 🙂

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  9. Your story broke my heart and I wish one day you could answer those questions.
    Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  10. La Panzona {Pahn.So.Nuh}

    Hola Lulufille. Thank you for the follow. I haven’t experienced the pain that you and your siblings have but I can relate to being the daughter of a mentally ill parent (most likely undiagnosed bipolar). Now as a parent dealing with the challenges of living with Bipolar 2 I would like to highlight that yes as parents we ARE 100% responsible for teaching/guiding our children by giving them tons of opportunities to grow and develop, by setting boundaries and then giving them logical/natural consequences so they can learn (in a peaceful, respectful manner) without the threat of abuse.

    “The work of neuroscientists like Peter Huttenlocher…have shown that the frontal cortex of human beings matures relatively late in a child’s life.”

    “As the prefrontal cortex matures, teenagers can reason better, develop more control over impulses and make judgments better. In fact, this part of the brain has been dubbed ‘the area of sober second thought’.”

    source:http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/work/adolescent.html

    There is the “normal” course of brain development and then there is the sick brain. Abusive parents often have some form of mental illness. This is not a statement of a “get-out-of-jail-free-and-don’t-pass-GO”, but when one is ravaged with depression, anxiety, or in a state of extreme agitation the lines between abuse and “survival” are grossly blurred. When in certain states of mind, children’s unfavourable behaviour can be a huge trigger, actually it IS a huge trigger. I speak from experience. I don’t beat my kids. But I do yell at them. And I feel guilty about this all the time.

    Unlike our parents’ generation, there’s a lot more resources available, help available to support families struggling with mental illness. I have drawn upon these resources and it’s an immense help.

    So in a perfect world when you and your siblings were very little, if your parents had some formal help, resources, medication, psychiatry, counselling, I would argue that your brother, bless him, might very well not be facing this current nightmare.

    I sincerely hope you don’t see this response as a defense of your parents’ choices, because it’s not. I’m just highlighting a very common pattern, that is being addressed more today.

    I wish you and your brother peace and healing.

    Saludos,

    La Panzona {Pahn.So.Nuh}

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    • Hi La Panzona. I sincerely thank you for expressing your thoughts here. I appreciate the different perspective and I can definitely see where you’re coming from. We’re lucky to have the resources we do today. And I hope that can continue to grow and the stigma diminish. We’d all benefit from it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • La Sabrosona

        Hi Lulufille. I changed my persona. It’s La Sabrosona now I’m happy to hear that my thoughts were warmly received. Be well. 🙂

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  11. Speaking from experience of having been charged with second degree murder and been given a very truthful sentence of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI)…and then spending 12 years in a mental institution…I spent a lot of time with women who were headed to the penitentiary. Only like 1% plead NGRI and out of those, only like 1% actually get it, so I know I’m the exception and not the rule; however, I have also in my time met many people getting out of the pen for doing horrible crimes and not to sound like I’m heartless or anything, but even in the pen, people can still grow…

    So even if it does turn out he’s guilty, think of it this way- he has you. And one of the best feelings in the world when you’re locked up is to receive a letter from someone who cares….The way I’ve learned to view life as well as my own circumstances is that humans do not have control and the only one in control is God or the Great Spirit….yet, you shake your head and ask how could God allow such a tragedy?

    I once asked the same question (and for many years): the why question…why? why did this have to happen? why didn’t God intervene in some way?

    One thing to remember is that according to the Bible (and something most people miss) is the fact that God created the Devil….so who’s responsible? Does it matter? Sometimes I think it is best to not ask why anymore and just to accept and try to learn along the way.

    But I do understand your wish to point and try to place blame somewhere…I once pointed the finger at my self and my life choices and karma and my parents and my lover and my cat…

    OK- maybe not the cat…but hopefully you understand my meaning. I will keep your brother in my prayers as your family embraces this challenging time…(hope I didn’t offend you in anyway)
    Sincerely, LaVancia

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    • Thanks for sharing your experience, LaVancia. I agree with you – “why” can be the most pointless question to ask. I think what I wanted to capture here was my fickle humanity. Because even though I feel certain in my faith in God and my beliefs, tragedy hit and in my weakness, I questioned my belief. I’m not proud of it, but I faltered. My immense anger led me to believe that pointing the finger at someone else (not just my brother) would make me feel better somehow. Human emotion can be so complex.

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      • Complex-that’s just the half of it…try not to be so hard on yourself. You are human and you have the right to feel and express your emotions. I think your blogging is an excellent way to vent. I know it has helped me. Hugs, LaVancia

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  12. Pingback: Magnetic | lulufille

  13. sjkennedy618

    I’m so sorry that you’ve had such a rough life. I had a rough childhood as well, but I still can’t imagine what you went through and what you are still going through. If your brother did do what he is accused of, it’s my opinion that he isn’t solely to blame. It sounds like he made some bad choices, but it also sounds like some of those choices were the result of how he was raised. Childhood is when we are the most vulnerable and malleable. Our parents often have more influence on us than anyone else. I’m not saying that what he may have done was right by any means, but he may have turned out differently if he had grown up in a different environment. I know thus must be an unimaginably hard time for you and I really hope that you are doing okay.

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    • I think so too. I have so much anger that I seem to be looking for more people to spread it around. It’s a phase I’m going though. I hope it will pass soon. Thanks for caring!

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  14. I was broken down, beaten, shouted at, told I’d never amount to anything. I was an angry young man. Ultimately, I acted out by setting fires. I ended up serving three years in state prison off a plea agreement. Today, I am in recovery. I turned out to be a true garbage head, getting high on virtually anything. I am bipolar and have an anxiety disorder. A lot of what happened to me is not my fault. It has to do with how I was raised. I do believe, however, that I am responsible for my own recovery. Once I understand what happened and why, I have to engage in treatment. Do the work. Accept who I am and become comfortable with my past. It is sad that your brother wasn’t able to do that. Perhaps he didn’t have enough of a comprehensive diagnosis early enough for him to cooperate with therapy. I can tell by your writing that he is scared and alone and broken. Thank you for sharing his story with us. I am deeply moved by his circumstances.

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    • I love what you said – that you’re responsible for your own recovery. That’s so true. We have to be responsible for our own recovery as adults. And it’s incredibly heartbreaking to me that my baby brother didn’t get the chance. Thank you for sharing.

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  15. My heart goes out to you and all your siblings, including your brother, as well as to the family who lost their child to murder.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. The world today has a lot to answer for..I have been reading your story and I can think of a few people here in Australia that I know and have known. My life has been full of trouble, so I support what you write..My blog is written just from the heart and my life instances that I have been in and I have been in a few

    Liked by 1 person

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