Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Impunity

I'm convinced — despite the self-serving politicians and the colossally stupid knuckleheads, both of which abound in this city — that most people in Trenton are decent, kind, honest people. We just don't pay them enough attention. I include myself in that statement, and since I have an outlet, I want to acknowledge the good people here today.

Last night, the West Ward exploded with gunfire, and we witnessed an oddity here on the East side, in an idling car, from which a super-genetically modified, hulking, thug was ejected, and proceeded to scream obscenities, right in front of our house. It's hard to see the news about bullets flying and GM-knuckleheads screaming outside your shrubs and still have faith in humanity, but I do. Last night, while all of that (and more) was going on, most folks all over this city were curled up on the couch, or maybe reading, or playing with a puppy, or talking with their families, or even sleeping.

And today, on this rainy morning, most folks are at work, or, failing that, are at least not shooting off guns and/or screaming obscenities in front of someone else's house. The guy next door to me has his music too loud, which is overpowering the current "calm" selection I have playing on my computer's iTunes, which seemed appropriate for my mood today. I want to note that we live in a single-family dwelling, not a rowhome, or duplex. But next door, it's celebratory Latino music, causing my floor, a good 10 feet from the neighbor's floor, to vibrate with complete disregard to the soothing chords coming from my speakers. I know celebratory Latino music drives some people crazy, but I find it infectious (even when I'm in the mood for calm), and am so grateful that of all the musical genres my neighbors could be playing too loud, at least they're playing something that makes me feel happy.

Anyway, everyone is off at work, or more-or-less minding their own business (some, by playing their music too loud), except for one of my neighbors, Johnny Bridges, and his family, who will be heading off to a DYFS* hearing in a short while. Maybe you saw their story in yesterday's Trentonian, or caught the story on Channel 3's news last night. In short, they were named guardians of little baby Jonasia in November when she was born, and on Friday, DYFS took the baby away, claiming JB (as we call him around here) didn't make enough money to support the baby and the rest of his family. The baby, for the record, is not related by blood to the Bridges. They love her anyway.

Something the Trentonian didn't mention, was that the Bridges lost their daughter, Jamika, two Januarys ago. She was 20, and died as a result of a degenerative condition which caused her kidneys to fail. Her funeral was so, so sad, and I will never forget the wails of her family.

Glen and I, too, have lost a daughter, under totally different circumstances; nonetheless, Catherine's inexplicable death does give us some insight into the Bridges' broken heart, their inconsolable pain. We know that baby Jonasia did not replace Jamika, but the little girl proves the power of the heart: that it can be ripped in two, and yet, overflow with love. Jonasia brought that family so much needed joy and happiness and healing, and we deeply suspect that the mismanaged and ineffective DYFS has stepped in needlessly and ruined a bunch of lives.

I know most of my neighbors are decent, and I give nearly everyone that benefit of doubt, even if their situations don't conform with what society deems normal. The Bridges, however, are more than decent; and they are really pretty suburban, in our little urban community. JB and Jeannette Bridges have been married for about 20 years, and have lived here in our neighborhood for nearly all of those years, in a home they own, and maintain. They've raised children. JB runs his own contracting business, and even if his paychecks are erratic, he makes and saves enough to get through the dry spells. And really, how many people are truly financially prepared to care for a child, anyway? The thing of it is, though, humans are resourceful, and they're fiercely devoted to their children, so they find a way. They find a way. And JB has been finding a way to provide for this new life, one he was driven to protect and nurture, despite the lack of common markers in their DNA. "DNA does not make a family," Jeannette Bridges said yesterday, but DNA can provide us with the motivation to care for the young, even if they're not related to us by blood. The Bridges have the right stuff in their DNA.

I have a very hard time believing that baby Jonasia can be in a better situation now than she was last week. JB told us last night the baby's mother and biological family have not asked for her, which leaves us wondering why DYFS was so hellbent on getting her out of the Bridges' home. We all know the failings of DYFS, and remember the story of the starving children in Collingswood a few years ago – this is not a state agency that evokes a sense of trust. They reek of corruption at worst, and disinterest at best. Maybe a caseworker at DYFS knows someone who wanted a pretty baby girl, and hadn't expected the fight from the Bridges, given that they weren't related by blood?

I'm sure that DYFS is not all bad, but it is full of rot. And yet, this agency is able to continue to operate with impunity. Why? Glen and I suspect that DYFS is taking advantage of some very good people, who have gone about quietly living their lives, unaware of this monster, this horrible system, all these years. They have no experience upon which to draw to help them through this, which is why I'm writing about them today. If you know anyone who can help this family fight for baby Jonasia, or have some insight as to how to appeal successfully to DYFS, please let me know — we'll pass the info along to the Bridges.

Governor Corzine has been looking at some hardcore ways to get NJ's finances under control. Maybe he should just cut DYFS down to the roots, and take better care in the future, so that we don't again wind up with this wretched, diseased plant.


______________
* I know you Canadians are reading this, so a quick explanation. DYFS stands for Division of Youth and Family Services, which, based on the content of this piece, you prolly surmised. We in New Jersey don't say "D-Y-F-S" when referring to the agency (I mean, COME ON, who has time for that?); it's known lovingly as "Die-fuss" here.

1 comment:

Irving Bertrand Clean said...

Thanks for some excellent perspective, that was either lacking or just not well phrased, in the newspaper account I read today.

My mom used to pronounce "DYFS" as "Dreyfuss." Like in Richard. Please kill me.