Monday, November 10, 2008


Once when I was young and naive, I believed that social ills of society such as racism, poor parenting, etc., could be bred out of society. I felt that anyone could get himself or herself out of almost any situation if they had the willpower to do so. Now older and much wiser in the ways of the world, I understand that some people never had a chance. Donnie was one of those people.

Donnie was a classmate of mine and the son of a person the local dubbed "Wild Horses", so named for his method of trying to tame horse with chainsaws without chains. As the name suggests, I think the horses probably end up more wild than tame. I can't say this for sure as I never saw him with horses or a chainsaw. It might have even been one of those urban myths.

I did know Donnie and to some extent his older brother Paul who was a grade or four above me depending on the year and if the teachers had passed him or not. Paul would graduate in the grade above me but couldn't add two plus two or spell cat. He was mentally challenged as they refer to such people these days. Most teachers just passed him onto the next grade because no one knew what to do with him. Those that flunked him got him again the next year and didn't repeat their error. Thus he eventually graduated destined for a janitorial job for life.

Donnie and Paul came to school dressed in rags even from my childhood perspective, which tended to overlook such things. While most kids got new shoes to start off the school year, Donnie's parents would cut the toes off of last year's shoes and give him a pair of ratty wool socks to keep his toes warm during the winter months. His hair was always greasy and in tangled knots and streaks of dirt liberally applied to the rest of him. The only time I ever saw Donnie in a state that I would say was clean would be on special days like our Christmas pageant.

Donnie was a bright enough kid but his lack of parenting caught up with him and during our freshman or sophomore year, he flunked out of my grade. About the same time, got sent away to the state's custody and eventually some foster parents. To earn that honor, he pulled a gun on his drunken father, who was getting ready to whip Donnie, and pulled the trigger. Donnie and Wild Horses both new the gun was unloaded so it was more of an expression of Donnie's hatred towards his father and Donnie still came to school the next day covered in welts. Wild Horses must have got worried that next time the gun would be loaded and Donnie was hauled off one afternoon from school into state custody. He came back briefly a year later and told a tail of how he had stolen a car from his foster parents and had been involved in a multi county car chase that ended up with him boxed in by the law and ramming cars. He said it was the most fun he ever had in his life. I thought he was lucky he hadn't been shot.

His stay was brief for a day or two later, the police showed up at school and hauled off Donnie in handcuffs. I never saw him again and always wondered what happened to him. Then last week, I saw his name in the paper under the police blotter section.

Donnie evidently was living in his parent's home because the address is still the same. I drive by it on my way down to the farm and it is a shack of a building that appears as if it will fall over in a cloud of dust at a loud cough. According to the police report, Donnie was reported for firing several gunshots into the air. When police arrived, they found Donnie dazed and confused. A subsequent search of the property revealed a meth lab in a shack out back. He is now in jail pending more charges and a trial. I'm guessing he is going to be doing time and I doubt that it is his first. Donnie never had a chance.


R. Sherman said...

The "Nature/Nurture" conundrum is one which always presents difficulty. I think that there are those who, because of genetic disposition, are predisposed to antisocial, behavior. Thankfully, most of us are capable of learning. It's difficult to know whether Donnie's situation is based on inherited problems or a lack of guidance.

Ed Abbey said...

R. Sherman - I mostly believe in the Nurture side of things. Donnie was a smart kid and could have done great things if it weren't for his lack of guidance by his parents. That is why I thought he might escape the mold when I was younger but then realized he never had a chance.

The Real Mother Hen said...

You know, stories like that make me want to scream out loud and ask why! It also reminds me that I'm really a coward, for I can't see myself taking a troubled kid home yet, despite I really want to. Fear has always prevented me doing just that.

I don't give these people a chance, a new home, a new life. Many people are cowards like me I assume. So what else could they do?!

Ed Abbey said...

Mother Hen - Well in this case, Donnie was an asset to his father on taxes, welfare checks, and foodstamps. He wouldn't have allowed someone to take his kid strictly for monetary reasons. I've known a few people who have taken in troubled kids and in all these cases, they have always given the kids back. I think you have to devote enormous amounts of time to "fix" these kids and unless you can devote that time and effort, they are better left off to the pros. Sad but true.

sage said...

Heartbreaking story, Ed. Thanks for sharing. Unfortunately, by the time he was removed from his home it was too late. Having adopted an older child, I can tell you it's a lot of difficult work (and in our case, the child was 11, not 15 or 16!)

Murf said...

Sometimes I forget what an elitist you are, Ed.

Beau said...

Like R. I tend to look a the nature/nurture debate to frame context- and yet like you I usually see Nurture as pre-eminent. But I'm not willing to give up on our Greater Nature however- in that I believe every one of us has within the ability to do amazing things- and that we can create the life we desire.

Some people, for whatever reason, simply do not cope or grow in life, no matter the efforts of parents, teachers or society as a whole.

I know of a family whose four children range from prominent business owners to retired and active military leaders and... a lone hard-scrabbling ex-con who still does drugs and works odd-jobs for cash to stay alive. The children in that family had every advantage and absolute Nurture while growing up- yet still, the one, is much like Donnie.