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When jail is the safest place: A parent’s story

  • Opioid Task Force co-founder John Merrigan responds during the task force's fourth and final community forum in an emotional night at GCC Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon—



Recorder Staff
Thursday, June 08, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: To protect the identity of her child and grandchild, the Greenfield Recorder honored the request of a woman who asked that her last name be kept private.

GREENFIELD — As she told her story, the faces of some panel members started to tear up. They listened to a mother tell the story of her daughter and grandson.

“I am a mom of a heroin addict,” she began. “She was once an honor roll student. She received the superintendent’s award from her high school and she was enrolled here at GCC.”

Tammy, who would prefer to keep her last name private, continued, fighting through her own tears at the fourth and final Opioid Task Force Community Forum, this one held at Greenfield Community College Thursday night.

“I received custody of my 10 month old grandson last July and then I’ve been in a nightmare ever since,” she said 11 months later.

The story continued on: Tammy tried to get her daughter to safety, but to no success.

“I don’t feel I’m getting the help that I need for my daughter because I can only do so much,” Tammy said. “She won’t listen to me. I know I’m an enemy because I have her son. So I feel like I can’t be the mom I need to be for her because I have this beautiful baby boy that I need to take care of.”

Tammy has tried to turn in her daughter to the police to send her to jail – to jail for safety and to jail to seek sobriety.

“I wish she was in jail because right now today I don’t know where she is,” Tammy said. “I don’t know if she’s safe. I don’t know if she’s dead in a ditch. I haven’t seen her since Easter and it’s not fair to her grandson. I need help for her.”

The measure sounds extreme: Turn in your child to the police, with an active warrant for their arrest.

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh said after the community forum that this happens more frequently than people think.

Parents will come to the police to notify them of where their child live in an effort to save their lives and the lives of those around them.

“Usually by the time (parents) get to us, all their other options are out,” Haigh said. “Unfortunately there’s a lot of last options out there.”

He said it’s useful to the police when the community trusts them and is able to relay pertinent information.

In the case of Tammy, it was evident how much her story meant to the police chief as he sat at the panel, along with other community leaders. Later on he got up during the forum and went over to talk to Tammy, who he has known for nearly 20 years through his service in the area. He checked in with the Deerfield police, since that was the last place Tammy’s daughter was seen.

Haigh said it can be difficult to find people when an address is provided because often times that is a temporary address that can no longer be relevant or useful by the time the police get there to pursue a warrant arrest.

John Merrigan, Franklin County Register of Probate and co-founder of the Opioid Task Force, was clearly moved by Tammy’s story. He spoke after she addressed the panel, acknowledging difficulties with the court system as well and how a judge was not useful in helping her daughter seek sufficient help.

“We’ve tried to adjust (at the court to the opioid epidemic) and there are judges who are very motivated and committed and there are judges that are still learning the ups and downs and a big part of it is evidence,” Merrigan said.

Franklin County Sheriff Chris Donelan also addressed the manner: “I want to make sure you know that you’re stories are so many other people’s stories. Just want you to know that you are not alone.”

It comes at a time when the court continues to see an influx of grandparents continuing to seek custody of their grandchildren because the mother or father of the child is battling opioid addiction.

Numerous other topics were discussed Thursday night at the community forum, which had the biggest turnout of the four meetings. The panel included representatives of elected officials, like Director of Governor Scott Baker’s western Massachusetts office Michael Knapik.

There were conversations of Narcan availability, urging for it to be over the counter and be a part of training like first aid or CPR. There were conversations of the fear over the confirmed reports of carafentanil, a synthetic drug most notably known as elephant tranquilizer, that has been found in eastern Massachusetts.

And there were success stories, with people sharing how they have been years sober and have found solace in peer-to-peer programs and programs out of the jail.

When stepping outside of the college Thursday night the sun was setting over the mountain ridge. Reds and oranges had painted the sky on a night approaching summer’s solstice and for many leaving the forum, they continued to hope and work toward a sense of recovery in the air.