In 1996, Judge Tommy Greer delivered the follow speech that describes the need and importance of Alice’s House in Carroll County.
Every year the Department of Family and Children Services coordinates a Christmas party for the children in this county who are in foster care, having been removed from the custody of their parents for either child abuse or neglect. The Department always seeks a sponsor for this Christmas party. It is a touching and heart warming event to participate in and to observe. One year I convinced a small church in Mt. Zion at which I worked to sponsor this Christmas party. At the Christmas party this particular year, the kids were all wearing t-shirts which read “I know I’m okay—cause God don’t make no junk.” I remember thinking how absolutely true that is. However, I also could not help but think that what we have allowed to happen to an entire generation of children is worse than what we would allow to happen to junk that accumulates in our basement.
A Country singer by the name of K.D. Lang wrote a song about this nation of abused children called “no place to stand.” One verse in that song goes as follows:
“See it’s a family tradition that covers this land where what’s right and what’s wrong is the back of a hand. It turns young girls to women and a boy to a man for the rights of the children have no place to stand.”
It’s easy to listen to that and say that it’s just words to a song, but after twenty years of involvement in the Juvenile Court system as both and attorney and a judge, I have accumulated certain memories which make those lines more than a song. I have memories of a police report of an eight-year-old child chained to a clothes line for three days and three nights and fed dog food as a method of punishment. I have memories of a police report of a father found on the square here in Carrollton late at night trying to sell his children for 50 dollars each. The children were suffering from advanced malnutrition. I have memories of a hospital report about a mother who used Cocaine during the prenatal period and gave birth to an infant with no hands and brain damage.
I have memories of a twelve-year-old girl who was molested by her stepfather. That is not even the bad news. Once the case came to court and the mother was confronted with clear evidence that the stepfather had sexually abused her daughter, the mother was told that she would have to choose between having custody of the child and living with this sexual abuser. With the child present she chose the stepfather and abandoned the child. The really bad news is that this same choice is made by mothers 70 to 80 percent of the time. You can imagine the damage that is done when a child is sexually molested by someone residing in her home who she trusts. However, I don’t think any of us can imagine the horror of having to stand there and watch your own flesh and blood, your mother choose the molester over the child.
Have you heard enough? The truth is that you haven’t heard anything. In 1979 when I started doing this work, there was an average of 20 to 25 cases per month involving abused, neglected or troubled children. When I resigned as Juvenile Court Judge in December 1995, we were up to 85 to 90 cases per month. I should emphasize that these are not cases. They are children—children with a story. Individually, their stories will put a dent in your heart. Collectively, their stories would shatter your heart into a million pieces. I can remember often on Juvenile Court hearing day riding by Maple Street School on my way back to court from lunch simply to remind myself that there were still places where children could laugh.
Who is responsible for this? Who is responsible for this nation of children with no place to stand? One could say that the parents are responsible, and to a degree, that would be true. However, that answer is too easy. In many cases parents are simply teaching that which they learned. More importantly I will tell you unequivocally that the most difficult job in this country today is to be a single parent in a home with limited economic resources. The task of that parent is virtually impossible.
One could say that government is responsible, and that would be true to an even larger degree. I have always resented the fact that we live in a state that was willing to spend $900 million for a domed stadium so professional football could be watched without fans being subjected to extreme weather, and yet Juvenile Court judges throughout the state, including myself, are forced repeatedly to go begging to churches and civic clubs for $30 to rent a motel room for one night to protect a battered family because the State does not provide adequate facilities.
Would you like to know who I feel is really responsible? It is my opinion that anybody who doesn’t care is responsible. Anybody who knows about all of this and does nothing is responsible. If you know that this problem exists and do nothing about it, then you are responsible. A writer named Dante once said:
“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis choose to remain neutral.”
What’s happening to this generation of children is a great moral crisis and, unfortunately, a majority of this country has chosen to remain neutral.
My point is that the problem is huge. It is so big that there is no one solution. Certainly no one can do at all, but my question has always been, not can you do it all, but can you know that this exists and be comfortable doing nothing?
A few years ago I asked that question and the still small voice of Evelyn Parrish answered “No, I can’t be comfortable knowing this and doing nothing.” Frank Jones and fellow members of a Civic Club answered that question “No, we can’t be comfortable knowing this and doing nothing.” Finally others of you joined those voices and answered “No, we can’t be comfortable knowing this exists and doing nothing.” And so here we are today.
While I miss being Juvenile Court Judge, one of the advantages of no longer being a Government official is that I don’t have to avoid notions of separation of Church and State. That leaves me free to make references to the scripture without fear of being sued for it. There is a passage in Hebrews 13:2 which provides in effect that we should always be mindful of how we conduct ourselves because there are times when we entertain angels unawares. For the rest of my life I will believe that that scripture describes Evelyn Parrish and this Board that has refused to be denied on this tremendous undertaking. When I am in your presence, I am in the presence of angels.
I have been asked what can this children’s home mean, how much can you expect to accomplish when it seems like such a small number of beds? That questions is easily answered because this children’s home is much more than that. While the beds may seem few, over the life of this home those beds will be used by hundreds, if not thousands, of abused children. It will constitute “a place to stand” for mothers and children who have had no place to stand for most of their lives. It will constitute a safe place to sleep for a few nights, something you and I take for granted, something that many children never have. The home will reach hundreds and possibly thousands because the beds will be “turned over,” that is, utilized by a family until that family situation can be stabilized and then utilized by different families.
Most importantly, you could understand the value of this home if you could talk to these kids and ask them what they want. You see our kids, when asked what they want, ask for cars, telephones in their rooms, VCRs, trips to Six-Flags or Disney World. These abused and neglected children would enjoy those things, but if you ask them what they really want and what they want most, they would tell you the following: (1) They very much want to live in the same place for more than three or four weeks at a time. (2) They want somebody to care whether they live or die. (3) They want somebody to take a few minutes and explain to them how their lives got like this. (4) Believe it or not, they want somebody to convince them it’s not their fault because many of them believe they actually caused their own circumstances. (6) They want somebody to understand that all they really want is a chance.
John Denver wrote a song called “I Want to Live” which also talks about this nation of forgotten children, and in singing about their wants he said as follows:
“I want to live, I want to grow, I want to see, I want to know, I want to share what I can give, I want to be, I want to live.”
That’s what these children really want. How does this home accomplish that? First it gives them a glimmer, a glimpse of how life can be. Secondly, my favorite scripture involves a conversation that took place between Christ and Peter in which Christ asked Peter three separate times “Peter, do you love me?” Each time Peter answered yes, and each time Christ said to Peter “If you love me, then feed my sheep.” Translated that means “If you would do my will, then feed my sheep.”
This children’s home for decades to come will “feed his sheep,” his most precious sheep. Because not only does this home provide a place for these children to stand, it provides a place where they can lay their heads and close their eyes knowing that no harm will come to them. It is a place where they know they can wake up surrounded by love and the healing power of love. Finally, it is a place where they will be surrounded by people who understand that all they really want is a chance to live. God bless you all. In the twenty years that I have been involved in this kind of work, this is the strongest blow that has been struck for children in this county. I pray to God that it will be a beacon to other communities to gather in their own and to provide for this nation of children a place to stand. Thank you.