To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other's hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time. -Clara Ortega
“Relatively Criminal” is a loving, sometimes funny and often heartbreaking memoir that takes the reader inside the adult relationship between two siblings--along with a peek inside the justice system, drug addiction and more.
Living in the far north suburbs of Chicago, Donna is 31, divorced and alone with two young children, and hopes to re-establish a childhood family connection. Frank is 27 and up for parole, but has nowhere to go. She agrees to provide him with a home till he can get back on his feet.
It first becomes apparent that she doesn’t truly know her adult brother when the parole officer makes a home visit prior to Frank’s arrival.
“Do you know your brother’s criminal history?”
“I’m not sure what you mean by his ‘history’. I know he’s been in jail a couple times.”
Mr. Green chuckled and shook his head. “A couple times? Yes, that’s what I thought you might say. Listen, I want you to be completely aware of just what you’re getting into. Let me show you something.” he said, opening his briefcase and dramatically pulling out a very long, accordion-folded computer print-out.
“This is your brother’s record.”
She chooses to believe in her brother anyway, insisting she can help him. But while Donna is determined to see him find a normal job and live a normal life, Frank is struggling with a cocaine habit and a learned preference for stealing over work. The next twelve years prove to be a lesson in the dark side for Donna, as she learns more than she ever wanted to know about police, criminals, prison, the justice system, AIDs, and drug addiction. Yet through it all, there is love--unconditional love--between the siblings that makes the journey worth taking.
Says the author: "You can see the path Frank's life followed simply by looking in his eyes in these side-by-side photos above. Frankie at 9 years old, his face innocent and his eyes full of hope. And then Frank at 36, his face hardening, his eyes resigned - he was about to go to jail--again--only this time, for a crime he didn't commit.
I sincerely believe that my brother might have followed a different path with just a little guidance from caring parents - if we'd had them. I also long to see changes to our justice system, and real rehabilitation offered instead of just incarceration - especially for non-violent offenders."
I always loved the message of "Boy's Town" and what they stand for:
We have an unwavering belief in the inherent potential that exists in each child, no matter what their circumstances.
When society doesn't care enough to rehabilitate early, these stats from the Boy's Town website show what the price really is (not to mention the emotional price those of us who care for that person pay):
The price paid by society for not saving these children is staggering. Value of saving a high-risk youth at age 14:
(Cohen & Piquero, 2009)
Career criminal: $2.7 – $4.8 million
Heavy drug user: $840,000 – $1.1 million
Dropping out of high school: $390,000 – $580,00