The New Jersey Black Boys Who Were Nearly Starved to Death Six Years Ago Are Thriving, Growing Up…and Are Loved
Remember this story? And at that time, people thought this was the worst that they had ever heard, way before Mitrice Richardson and little Shaniya Davis. This horrible tale has a happy ending. Some six and a half years after they were rescued in 2003, three brothers who were starving to death in a basement have affection and nourishment in equal measure from their new foster parents, James and Amber Parrish.
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It was in October of 2003 when a neighbor of the Jacksons (Raymond and Vanessa) called police to say someone was rummaging through a garbage can. There they found Bruce Jackson, the oldest of the adopted sons, hunting for food. At 19 years old, he weighed 45 pounds.
As police investigated further, they found his siblings equally emaciated. A 14-year-old weighed 38 pounds. Another brother, age 9, stood just 3-foot-1 and weighed 23 pounds. The youngest child, a 10-year-old, weighed only 28 pounds.
Authorities later learned the boys subsisted on a diet of uncooked pancake batter. One boy gnawed on a window sill to blunt his hunger.
“Under anyone’s definition of hell, they lived in it, truly,” said Michael Critchley, a lawyer who later represented Bruce Jackson without charge, winning him a $5 million settlement from the state. The other three boys were awarded a total of $7.5 million.
The case helped push through major reforms at the state Division of Youth and Family Services, which had placed the boys with the Jacksons and had been monitoring the family continually.
“It very well illustrated the human cost of a child welfare system that was essentially abandoning many of its children,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights Inc., a national advocacy group that had previously filed a class-action suit against the agency.
Today, Lowry said, the younger three boys are in good health with another adoptive family.
“They all look like healthy, attractive youngsters,” Lowry said. “They are doing marvelously.”
Critchley said Bruce Jackson would have no comment on Vanessa Jackson’s release.
“His position is that it’s part of his life that’s behind him, and that’s where he wants to leave it,” the lawyer said.
The external wounds have healed; but the young men remain undersized. Years of neglect and starvation have blunted what their true height might have been as men. And internal–really psychological–wounds will take a lifetime to get over, despite what they may say now. When something this catastrophic has occurred for years, there is always the possibility that they will repeat the behavior somewhere in their lives.
The Philadelphia Inquirer said yesterday:
Vanessa Jackson, who was convicted in a notorious child-starvation case in Camden County, is scheduled to be freed today from the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton, N.J.
Jackson, 54, will have served four years for endangering the welfare of four adopted brothers who were so emaciated they more than doubled their weight soon after they were taken from her. She could have served up to seven years under a sentence handed down in Superior Court.
The case came to light in 2003 when neighbors spotted a severely underweight Bruce Jackson, then 19, rummaging for food in garbage cans outside his Collingswood home. He now is in a state home for the developmentally disabled. (In another news account, Jackson, despite his physical infirmities, is attending college.)
Vanessa Jackson would have been eligible for parole after two years, but was denied early release on two occasions because she refused to “accept responsibility for her actions,” said Neal Buccino, parole board spokesman. “She still places blame on the children’s medical conditions.”
Jackson declined a request for an interview; one of the children said he hoped she would see a picture of him and realize that she was wrong.
“I think it’s good she’s getting out so she can see how we’re doing and what we look like,” said Terrell Parrish, now 16, and living with new adoptive parents and the two other boys who had lived in the Jackson home.
“I would like her to see that we put on good weight and have good clothes on, and to see how strong we are,” Parrish said. “She doesn’t have to apologize if she doesn’t want to, but it would be best for her to do that. What she did was very wrong, and how can you do that to someone?”
She doesn’t know that and feel that. Yet.
The boys definitely said what they needed to say at the sentencing of their former mother in 2006.
It is easy to say that Vanessa Jackson, like her husband who suffered a stroke when he realized that they were going to be indicted, is a very sick person. But this very sick couple were also called devout Christians. I think that Raymond Jackson was actually a minister or a elder. I know that they were very fundamentalist Christians as well.
There is nothing wrong with these extremely orthodox, rigid sects. However, as a closed society, they sometimes provide a means by which the psychologically damaged, under the guise of devotion, love, and care, can abuse others. Their sore points are fear of discovery and the disruption of rules. And sad to say, even the traditional family is a closed community in which domestic crimes like violence and abuse can be committed. Let’s face it. How many domestic abusers, serial rapists or seducers, and child molesters and beaters have been found within these sects? The children were supposedly “home-schooled,” thus eliminating the possibility of suspicious teachers intervening; they saw no doctors, therefore their claim of the boys suffering from eating disorders and the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome were found to be groundless.
It was also found that Vanessa Jackson in particular favored the girls above the boys (then why adopt boys?) so the daughters were given special treatment, food and vacations. The adult Jackson children who also lived in the home, and William Jackson, a brother of Raymond, were convinced that their parents and sibling were doing nothing wrong. Unfortunately, the Jacksons’ rented home was in arrears by $8,000, and their electricity and heating had been shut off almost six months before. This is how a few false steps or belief systems can create mini-Jonestowns in homes and in churches.
Particularly, in these churchgoing communities, it’s a very thin line between discipline and child abuse. In certain situations, parent(s) can go too far, as did the Jacksons, who seem to have been working out their problems, real or imagined, on the boys. This came from an Inquirer article a few weeks after the initial horror was uncovered. Raymond and Vanessa Jackson even sought to stigmatize Bruce Jackson for his life-saving actions and drive a wedge between him and the two younger boys. In other words, they tried to further cover up their abuse by shifting responsibility. If you’ve forgotten, check out what was the condition of the boys when they were rescued:
Medicaid records confirm that once the Jacksons adopted the boys, the Collingswood couple stopped taking them to doctors.
And in the two weeks between the removal of their children and their arrest, prosecutors said, the parents sought to convince their younger sons that 19-year-old Bruce was “evil” and the reason their family had been ripped apart.
The parents “believe Bruce is an evil person,” Sarubbi said. “They blame Bruce for the breakup of their family. My conclusion is that they will wage psychological warfare against the children.”
Sarubbi said the state’s case had “become more compelling” since the brothers were removed from their home. Bruce, who has received two blood transfusions, remains hospitalized; the three others live in foster homes.
Accusing the Jacksons of “a systemic pattern of neglect and malnutrition,” the prosecutor pointed to the brothers’ condition when they arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center.
They had lice in their hair, and one had a mass, or inedible object, in his stomach, Sarubbi said.
When authorities searched the Jackson home, he said, they found an alarm on the refrigerator and a lock on the kitchen door.
Although the parents had access to free medical care through Medicaid, they stopped taking the brothers to doctors after adopting them, Sarubbi said. Authorities researched Medicaid files and found that Bruce, Keith and Tyrone last saw doctors in 1996 and that Michael’s last medical visit was in 1995.
Bruce “will have to have each and every tooth pulled from his mouth and have dental implants,” Sarubbi said, adding that the brothers did not see a dentist after their adoption.
Bruce Jackson’s 3-inch growth, making him 4-foot-3, surprised several expert who have followed the case but are not involved. The weight gain, even 30 pounds, is not highly unusual, said Andrew Sirotnak, director of the child-protection team at the Children’s Hospital in Denver.
Remember that Bruce Jackson was 19 years old. If you have 19-year-old male children, friends and relatives, except for the fact of their parents, you know how tall they are supposed to be.
Now imagine a 19-year-old boy–not a midget or little person–the size of a five-year-old or seven-year-old child.
There is a particular young man that I sometimes see on the bus going towards Madison College, the two-year technical college in Madison. He too is developmentally disabled and has a motorized wheelchair. He is fragile and thin, and his legs and arms and fingers are sometimes at cross purposes, but he too is going to school and has a job.
Imagine Bruce Jackson in that chair. Bruce Jackson wasn’t born developmentally-challenged as the young Madison College boy was. Bruce Jackson was made that way. He is now about 23 or 24-years-old.
Remember all this as a warning about strange behavior among your friends and family members.
Vanessa Jackson, now 54, has never apologized for her actions to the state or to the boys under her care–one of the main reasons why she did not receive early parole from a seven-year jail term. She served the minimum out of the term. She refused to see reason or to accept reality. In other words, she is remorseless. For her, the state intervened and destroyed her motherhood. Nothing was wrong until Bruce Jackson scavenged for food in garbage cans, and a neighbor reported it to the police. People like that cannot even think of salvation or inner peace. Their right is the only right. It’s god and them alone. She’s going to have to live with her definition of god for quite a while. I doubt whether the God of the Christians is like this at all.
Something went wrong with this woman a long time ago. Let it end and die with her.
Most all of her other children were adopted, and they were sent to live with other families in the wake of the controversy, and some are now grown or nearly so. I don’t know what her life will be like in the future, but I hope that New Jersey–a state that also possesses a broken social services system–or any other state never gives her any more children to care for again under any name. I think there should be a national website set up for incidents like these so that they don’t happen again.
If you ever see something, or if you know something, do something about it. Don’t let spare the rod and spoil the child blind you to some realities. Let’s not condemn our children to a tragic future.