The Courts – Part Twelve – Conclusion

After our time on the stand, it was clear that my father prevailed. How could he have not, with all of the perjured testimony? I was left with no other alternative but to accept the label as a juvenile delinquent. Meanwhile, Jay’s win caused him to smile wide; his snowy white, straight teeth gleamed bright as freshly polished ivory, and his soul, as dark and dull as ebony. My poor mother, left with no paper towel to wring, sat on her hands, and stared blankly forward, as if numbed by what had just happened; unaware of her own victimization.

After some legal jargon between the judge and attorney, the judge spoke to me,“Young man, are you aware of the severity of your actions?”

Defeated, depressed, and drained, I replied, “Yes, sir.” And I really did. I knew right from wrong. I was stuck in the middle of having to do wrong in order to escape wrong; there’s got to be some good in that.

Some papers were shuffled, and again, the judge spoke.

“Now, it was my first choice to send you to another detention facility, but I can’t see how that will provide you the help you need. After reviewing the case further, and at the request of your social worker, Ms. Murphy, it is my ruling that you will reside at Charter Academy in Mobile. There, you will receive the counseling which will prove to be of the utmost importance to your success as an adult member of our society. You are to be packed and ready to check into the facility immediately,” he ordered.

And so it was, by the pounding of the fine wooden and brass gavel that destiny would alter the path of my life…in a good way, thanks to Lola Murphy.


The Courts – Part Eleven


Our court appearance seemed like an all-day affair. Just as we had arrived, Lola took me into her office and tried to pep-talk my unpeppy mind. I was terrified. Meanwhile, my parents were both ordered to take a psychoanalytical test, where they both passed with lying colors…I mean flying colors. This was in Jays plan, and he, and his carefully molded accomplice, aced it. My mother, to no one’s surprise, stood by her man’s word. More about this test later on in the story.

The courtroom must have used an acre of trees to garnish its walls, benches, and judges throne. It smelled lemony-fresh with wood cleaner. Otherwise, it was a large, official-looking room. An enormous Mississippi State Seal was the centerpiece of the room. There were several cases before ours, in fact, ours was the last case the judge heard. I sat with my parents and watched my mother’s frazzled nerves in action. She held a paper towel and wrung it through, and around her fingers so many times that it disintegrated into small balls of cotton that fell to the floor.

After hearing numerous cases of crimes committed by delinquents, it was our turn to face the judge. Two tables were set up. One table for the accused, in this case it was I who was the accused; Lola represented me, and the defenders; my parents and their lawyer.

Each of us were called to the stand to tell our side of the story. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have lied my ass off in certain circumstances, but in this most important of all the circumstances my life had seen at that time, it was pertinent that I told every last drop of the absolute truth…as hard as it was, I did just that. “You gotta do what you gotta do, and you gotta do it good, gurl!” I told of all of the torment, the abuse, the cruelty that my father had put me and my family through.

As I spoke, I glanced at Jay and saw the familiar laser beam eyes that burned my soul, I was sure I could tell what he was thinking, and it wasn’t pleasant. I avoided looking at my mother, it was just too painful. I quickly looked to Lola, where her soft smile, and approving nod of her head kept my lips moving to the tune of the truth. It was she who had my best interest as her priority, and no one else.

My father was called to the stand. He pulled off the concerned, loving father role as good as Harrison Ford pulled off his role as Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones, Jr. It was sickening, but the judge listened carefully. Jay put all of the blame on his criminal son, who had no respect for anyone in authority. He made me look like the bad apple that he so desperately wanted to make into apple sauce.. Numerous runaways, of which he left out the reason why I ran away…of course. Stealing. He brought up every delinquent-sounding action I had ever done. “We just don’t see why he behaves this way,” he said. ”We give him everything he needs to survive in this world.” He was a pro on the stand. My stomach turned.

What a crock of shit, but it seemed as though the judge was buying it. I mean, I guess I can’t blame him. There he would sit, day after day, listening to story after story of kids gone wrong, kids from a good family who just refused to submit to the lawful ways of society. But my story was so different. The judge did not know this. All he had to go by was the hours’ worth of testimony from a scared teenager and his halo-donning father. Oh yeah, the testimony of his mother, too.

It is still difficult, after all of these years, to close my eyes and think back on this occasion. I can remember, clear as day, as my mother was called to the stand. I had a glimmer of hope that she would break the silence and come to my rescue. Shortly, I would realize that the glimmer came from a piece of broken mirror, swept into an unassuming skeleton-filled closet.

“Mrs. Pruett, please raise you right hand to acknowledge your testimony before this court is true,” the judge asked.

My mother, without even looking at me did as she was instructed.

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

“I do, your honor.”

I sank into my chair as my mother lied, under oath, to protect Jay and to make me look like it was I who was the culprit responsible for making our fucked up family fucked up. Lola rubbed my knee. I wasn’t that surprised to hear her lie, but to actually hear it come out of her mouth hurt me more than I had expected. As God as her witness! It was an unimaginable feeling of defeat and betrayal.

As she spoke, I thought of the olive oil and speaking in tongues, I thought of the countless Sunday morning church services we attended, I thought of her praying…the prayer I was taught as a child….”Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take.”…I thought of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” The power, as it was, was Jay, not some Divine Being, looking down on a mess of a situation. Jay was the evil, and he tempted her into submission. A living, breathing, vile, devil, capable of dismissing a person’s faith to suit their own demented soul and its prime directive- To rule.

I held the hurt of my mother’s denial in my heart for many years, even though I understood why she did it. The hurt would follow me throughout my twenties, thirties, and a few of my forties, and would set the stage to all that made me an insatiable party boy.

The court session went on.


The Courts – Part Ten


Everything after that meeting seemed to have happened so very quickly, bringing with it a circus of events that would follow. Lola filed endangerment and abuse charges against my parents, and a court date was set. Life in our household during this time is such a blur, I can remember how terribly nervous my mother seemed, and how scared I was about the outcome. I never wanted her to have to endure the stress of such an ordeal, but it was my life we were dealing with here; my well-being. And I was a being that was not well, at all.

During this time, my father quit physically abusing me, instead, he used verbal and mental attacks against me to break the little bit of spirit Lola managed to provide me. He blamed me for tearing the family apart, and turned my sister and my mother against me. Even though both of them witnesses the abuse, and were abused themselves, they sided with Jay.

You see, my father was the kind of person who, if you didn’t agree with him, he made you feel guilty to the point of being exiled by ostracism. My mother and sister knew this and so they went along with anything that Jay said, fearing his disapproval. Disagreeing with him came with dire consequences. It was hard for me to take, but I was so used to it that it was an expected reaction.

My mother’s spirit had been broken years ago, she was an already molded piece of fucked up art, carefully shaped by a fucked up artist. I don’t think my sister was even aware that she had a spirit, hers was enthralled in school activities and friends. She smartly avoided as much of the drama as she could.

More closed door meetings occurred with my parents, where, I’m sure, my father was drilling my poor mother with psychological warfare and coaching her on what to say and how to react during our court appearance. He was determined to win this fight and would stop at nothing to succeed. I watched helplessly, as my mother’s mental state declined; that too was blamed on me. I’m sure she cried herself to sleep on many nights before and after the incident.

I had a few private meetings with Lola before the court date, during which she explained to me exactly what to expect. She knew, given previous history, that my mother would protect Jay, and had a plan to combat her denial. She told me about a facility in Mobile, Alabama called Charter Academy of Mobile, where I would be safe, and get the counseling that I needed. She went on to explain that I would live at the facility until my eighteenth birthday, making it legal for me to leave the poisonous environment Jay built, after I was released.

“So, it is a school?” I asked.

“Well, kind of,” she replied, and went on, “Charter is a psychiatric facility with experts who are there to help at-risk kids get the help they need, but it is set up as a school. Think of it as a boarding school, pretty neat, huh?”

“Well I don’t understand why I have to go away to some psycho ward,” I said, disappointed.

“Shawn, if your mother protects your father, which we both know she will do, the courts will deem you a delinquent. It will be your word against theirs, and you have had a recent history of delinquent behaviors. The judge could send you to a jail-like environment, where you do not belong. Charter is a very nice psychiatric facility, where you will be amongst other kids who have similar issues and problems. There are counselors who will help you understand the reasons your father treats you the way that he does, and they will help you make the transition from the unhealthy life you’ve lived into one that is happy and livable.”

“So it will be me going to a mental hospital when it should be my father?” I asked, realizing the unfairness this whole thing might bring.

“Well, Shawn, we both know who the one that needs to go is, but it isn’t up to us, it will be up to the judge. All we can do is to tell the truth and the cards will fall as they do.”

“I’m not crazy though, Lola.”

“Shawn, you have to trust me. I would not recommend sending you somewhere if I wasn’t one-hundred percent sure that it was in your best interest,” she told me with a sincere look about her face. “We both know you aren’t crazy, but this place is our only alternative to boot camp, or worse…and trust me, you don’t want to go to either! You have been mistreated for a long time, this place will help you get to the root of the problem, and will guide you in a direction that will help you maintain a productive adult life.”

At this crossroads of my life, it is my father who I thought should be made to pay for all of the years of torment he brought to our family, but my hands were tied; I was vulnerable. I had to accept the situation as it was.

In just a short period of time, I would be the one who would wind up exiled and ostracized. The court date loomed, as a vulture waiting for a car-struck armadillo to finally die.


The Courts – Part Nine


A cordial introduction welcomed the two of us into her office. Lola’s strong, firm presence prevailed her petite structure. She was in control as she spoke:

“Mr. Pruett, do you know why I asked for this meeting to take place today?” She asked my father, as his forced smile began to dissipate into a stern look of power.

“Shawn has been telling you lies, and you want me to defend myself and my actions towards my son,” he responded, changing the position in his chair and crossing his arms.

“Well, Mr. Pruett, let’s talk about your actions towards your son,” she pushed, as she scribbled something onto a lined pad of yellow paper.

“And what actions do you speak of, Miss Murphy?” He spoke in a sarcastic tone.

I was still as fruit in a painting, trying my hardest to become an unnoticeable piece of décor; a fly on the wall, even. I was aware that it was inevitable that I would have to speak at some point. I did not want to be there, but I was.

She went on to describe some of the behavior I had confided in her about daily life under his roof.

My father looked at me before he spoke, “He is embellishing these stories and is not being truthful to you.”

And then, the moment I tried to hide from came.

“Shawn, will you tell me the story of what happened the night you spent with your neighbor?” She peeled my response from me, causing my still life painting to turn into a surreal one. I went on to recant the incident, as she nodded her head to me in protect. I looked at the floor as I spoke.

“Well he didn’t tell you that he stole a pack of cigarettes from me, did he, Miss Murphy?” He unfolded his arms and repositioned himself in his chair again. The tension was tight in the small office. He went on, “He didn’t tell you that he skipped school again, did he now, Miss Murphy?”

“Mr. Pruett, physical punishment is not an acceptable means of correcting this sort, or any sort, for that matter, of behavior from your son,” she told him.

“I never laid a hand on that boy,” he lied.

“Shawn, will you take a seat in the waiting area, please?” Lola asked, excusing me from what I knew would be a toxic environment soon.

I had to walk right by my father. Like I had before, I felt his searing stare burn a hole in the fragile protective covering Lola provided me as I left her office. I made myself to the small waiting area and sat, nervously, on the plastic molded seating. On one hand I was relieved not to be sitting in that office, on the other, I knew that in no time I would be faced, in the confines of a moving vehicle, with my father and his fury.

After only a short period of time, I heard the quiet of the waiting area change into a verbal commotion coming from Lola’s office. The sound waves moved as an oil pump, with the upside a loud, muffled argument, and quiet lulls on the down. Serious business was being played out between the aggressor and the protector.

The meeting ended quickly, with my father bursting from the office door. Lola followed him, yelling out, “Mr. Pruett, this meeting is not finished!” She tried to stop him.

“Watch it be,” he responded, “Let’s go, boy,” he told me, as he walked briskly by me without a glance.

I looked at Lola afraid. I would rather have been booked into the detention facility again, than go with Jay. “Go on, Shawn,” she told me, “and mind your P’s and Q’s, I will see you soon. We’re gonna get to the bottom of this mess, I promise you that.”

“Shawn, let’s go!” My father called out as he walked out of the building.

The eye of the storm had passed, short as it was, and the stage was set for the next phase. It would start with yet another long ride home.


The Courts – Part Eight


Tensions mounted as the time drew nearer for my father’s meeting with Lola. Other than closed door talks with my mother, and bully-like looks from him, Jay left me alone. Very few words were exchanged between us during the passing of the several days before the session. It was the quiet before the storm.

I was well aware that Jay would be questioned about his behavior towards me, and knew that his reaction would be denial and accusations, with the possibility of a complete meltdown. I figured he would hand the big blob of blame sitting in front of him, to me, as he so often did. He had painted me guilty for years, conveniently leaving his a clean, blank canvas. I also figured he would reason that I deserved to be punished for the things I had done…and, in his eyes, continued to do. Lola was not fooled. By this time, she had been a witness to the abuse.

I knew Jay well enough to know that once he was sitting behind the desk of a court-ordered social worker, who happened to be a female, and who was questioning his actions and authority, he would not have the self-control to pull off a sweet, fatherly demeanor. This meeting would not become a catalyst for a new and improved version of a relationship that had already been tainted. It would turn out to be something, though-

The day of the meeting arrived. I was picked up from school and driven to the facility by my father. The drive to Lola’s office was somber, yet filled with thickness.

“Do you realize the trouble you are bringing to this family?” My father asked me, looking straight ahead.

Out of all of the things I truly wanted to say, like how he was the one who brought and had been bringing the trouble, all I could mutter were the forbidden words, “I don’t know.”


The Courts – Part Seven

Jay had been addicted to prescription drugs for several years. He had injured his knees in high school, playing football and contracted gout, which caused him great pain. He used these injuries as a cover to swindle his doctors into giving him droves of pain pills, of which he used to ease the pain and feed his addiction. At one point he worked night security at Keesler Air Force Bases’ Hospital, where he was able to snatch many strong medications undetected.

It surprises me that I haven’t mentioned this part of the problem until now. It had been going on for some time, and was definitely a player in the problems we all faced with Jay. As children, he would send me and my sister into the medicine cabinets of neighbor’s homes to look for the bottles with the red stickers with the sleepy eyes on them. If it had the sticker, he would order us to take several of the pills, leaving only a few left in the bottle.

When he mixed the pain meds with alcohol, as he regularly did, I knew my day would turn out badly. He became like a rabid hyena towards me, and many times towards my mother. Blaming me for all of the trouble I brought his way. Accusing me of ruining the family. He did everything in his power to make me and my mother take on the guilt he must have felt. He would ask me questions that no matter what the answer, he would become enraged and physically attack me. It was worse if ever I said “I don’t know”, like I told you about already.

I was a seventeen year old young man, who surely possessed the strength to overpower a drunken pill popping man, but still, I was afraid of him; like a child. My mother had faith in the Lord and blindly put everything in His hands, denying the severity of the problem.

One night, I feared for my life. Jay was on a rampage and I was in his sights. I thought my own father was going to kill me that night. I ran from him as he chased me to my neighbor’s house. I had no other place to go for refuge. I pounded the door hard, as one might do if they were being chased by a crazed man in the middle of the night. My neighbor opened the door just in time, and I barged in and locked the door behind me. My father screamed obscenities at me through the safety of the dead-bolted door. My neighbor was rattled, but other than offer me the safety of their home for the night, did nothing.

The next day, upon realization of what he had done, he pulled out the roses. He always did that. My mom fell for it hook-line-and-sinker every single time, and I used to, but not now. No sir-E bob! I played along, having him believe that what he had done was water under the bridge…water under the bridge. My mom used to say that phrase when I tried to reason with her about the abuse. “Oh Shawn, that’s water under the bridge,” she would say. Pure denial. When there is a bridge and you are submerged in water, take the bridge, stay dry!

This time though, I was in a paddle boat paddling my ass off under the bridge and as far away from Jay as the current would carry me. The current finally landed me and my mother on the other side of Lola’s desk. After relaying the story of what had happened, Lola asked my mother about it. My mothers’ instinctual fear of her husband left her protecting and covering for him, while I lay wounded in the trenches with no one to tend to me. She always had and she always would. That is one of the scarier parts of domestic violence. When you’ve controlled someone for so long, as Jay did her, they will do anything for you. And she did, as God as her witness.

Lola saw that there was a reason to bring Jay in for a session and scheduled it. This meeting would change my life forever.


The Courts – Part Six

After my stint at the detention facility, I was released into my parents’ custody. Jay had a satisfied look about him, as one may have after winning the biggest prize at the carnival, when they arrived to pick me up. It gave him great pleasure to know I was troubled. I do not know why, but it did.

The court ordered two monthly meetings with Lola. Generally, my mother would take me. Jay wanted nothing to do with it. During these visits, we would discuss life issues, and such things. As usual, the first few weeks spent with my father was bearable and I had nothing derogatory to say about him. Of course, you should realize that Jay knew our family life would be under a microscope while the courts had their finger in the pie and was on his best behavior. Luckily for me, his best behavior wouldn’t last very long at all.

During one of these meetings I was scheduled to see a psychologist, where I was diagnosed with acute and severe depression, self-esteem issues, and suicidal tendencies. I don’t believe this was a surprise to anyone.

Noting this, Lola recommended me to be a participant in an upcoming study. Jay signed the consent form, I’m sure the pen moved against his will, but he signed it, none-the-less. It was a trip for at-risk adolescents with esteem issues, and was funded by a Mississippi university. The group was headed by a professor of psychology and her team of students. There was a mix-match of subjects, six of us, if my memory suits me, all having and dealing with their own issues.

We could tell, right off the bat, that this was going to be a fun trip and quickly became a unit. To my elation, Lola was one of the social workers on the team. We were on our way to Tennessee to go camping, where we would participate in some esteem-boosting exercises. We drove a large white van, with a trailer holding all of our camping gear. During this trip “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, by Bobby McFerrin, was a hit that we quickly owned. When the song played on the radio, the volume was turned up, and we sang it out loud. It sounds so tacky these days, but it is how it was.

It is through this study where I would climb a mountain and repel off of the same mountain once I reached the top. Yup, little ‘ol me climbing a mountain. Take that to the bank and cash it, will ya! We also went spelunking during this trip. My memories are happy of these times and my main memory is that climbing the mountain was easy, but I froze when it came time to repel, though. I can still hear the calls from my camaraderie’s:

“C’mon Shawn, you can do it!”

“But I’m afraid I’ll fall!” I cried out in fear.

“We won’t let you fall!”

“You’re safe!”

“C’mon down!”

“Just take the first step, don’t look down, just do it!”


“We know you can do it or we wouldn’t have brought you all this way, c’mon Shawn!”

I finally made it down the mountain, and to the awaiting praises from all of my peers; my friends. If you are dealing with your own esteem issues, go climb a mountain!

The trip came to an end and my life resumed, somehow better.