In case you missed Part 3
By Gretchen Rachel Hammond
After spending 766 days under the grip of the State of Illinois, Michelle and Isaiah were permanently reunited.
Michelle acknowledged that they might never have seen that day without the help of an army of advocates.
“There were so many people who were behind us; who were praying for Isaiah and me,” Michelle said. “I believe that’s how we made it through. There were horrible things that happened but there were so many wonderful people who took the time to read the facts and came to our aid.
Their joy was tempered as a new battle to pick up the pieces of a pair of lives DCFS had systematically devastated began.
“This changed mom and I,” Isaiah said. “I don’t talk about it. I know she doesn’t because it hurts her. I don’t even talk about it with my girlfriend. I bury it.”
“They destroyed our whole world,” Michelle said. “I was so angry at everything that had happened to my son while he was in DCFS custody. All that time, the judge knew about all of it and did nothing. They harmed him mentally, physically, emotionally all in the name of protection. They wanted to win at any cost. If I allow myself to think about their winning I get sad and depressed. I thought that we lived in the land of the free. I believed in the government. It changed everything that I thought was real. I felt cheated.”
Isaiah, who once dreamed of helping people through a medical career, has been robbed of his belief in healthcare providers.
“I never knew human beings could act this way; so selfishly, so without care for another person until this happened,” Isaiah said. “I don’t trust doctors. I don’t know if they have my best interests at heart. I don’t even like seeing doctors unless I really have to. I get anxiety before I see a doctor. It’s really bad. I’m 20 now and I don’t know if I want to have my own children. If I they had the same medical issues as m, I would be scared for that child. It sucks because I’m so scared that what happened to me will happen to him or her.”
Michelle seeks the kind of closure she may receive.
Two months prior to the onset of the Rider case, then-Illinois DCFS Director Arthur Bishop resigned after it was revealed he once faced federal theft charges. His interim replacement Bobbie Gregg left in 2015. At the time, Cook County Sherriff Tom Dart said that Gregg had inherited “an absolute train wreck.”
Her successor George Sheldon resigned in June, 2017 under an ethics probe and allegations of mismanagement. He was replaced later that month by Beverly “BJ” Walker who was recruited from the private sector.
“I want answers,” Michelle said. “Why did they target my family? Why did they not protect my son? Why did they allow my son to be harmed and why did they sweep it under the rug and cover up the crimes that were committed against him? How do they sleep at night knowing a child was harmed under their care?”
Far from addressing Michelle’s questions, the only comment Chicago Eagle received from DCFS was a reiteration of the case timeline.
“DCFS opened its case with this family on April 17, 2014 in response to concerns raised by doctor,” the agency wrote. “Every day investigators have to make very difficult decisions about the unpredictable dynamics of families and effects on children. The safety of the child is our paramount goal. The investigations in April of 2014 found evidence to support the allegation of risk of harm. This case was complicated by an out-of-state move. In some circumstances we retain custody after a youth turns 18. The case was closed by the court on May 9, 2016. We cannot discuss further details of the case because we are obligated to protect the privacy of this family.”
Although not LGBT themselves, Michelle and Isaiah fear for both gay and straight couples who take a child to a hospital like Lurie for help and suddenly find themselves catapulted into a hell they could never have imagined.
Michelle has left the medical field and is in search of ways to tell her story in order for it to become a learning tool.
“I would say be very careful about where you get your care and which hospitals you go to,” Michelle said. “Research the provider. If they truly have a child’s best interests at heart; if they truly want to help a child, they will want to work with a parent and not against a parent. But if something happens like in my situation, I would tell the parents to stay calm and contact an attorney immediately. That’s really all you can do.”
“Agencies like DCFS should do more research before they tear families apart,” Isaiah said. “You can’t imagine the cruelty and what this does to a child.”
Michelle and Isaiah drove for hours across Fiji to find the healing waters there.
According to Michelle, it wasn’t a wasted trip.
“I did experience healing in that river,” she said. “I was able to release a lot of the things I was carrying around that were making me physically ill. It’s a work in progress and it will take time. I feel like we were innocent and received a life sentence. In return, I will spend the rest of my life making sure people they can’t do this to anyone else.”
“I just don’t want to see it happen to anyone else,” Isaiah agreed. “If my speaking out stops that from happening to even one family, then it’s worth it.”
Lurie Children’s Hospital did not respond to a request for comment.