It was almost exactly seven years ago — November 1, 2013. It was a Friday, I had the day off, and I had ridden my horse in the Wissahickon that morning. On the way to do afternoon errands, I …
It was almost exactly seven years ago — November 1, 2013. It was a Friday, I had the day off, and I had ridden my horse in the Wissahickon that morning. On the way to do afternoon errands, I saw that my friend Lizzie’s vehicle had slipped on wet leaves and that her truck and horse trailer (containing her horse, Larry) had skidded off the road. I got out and held Larry while Lizzie and some passersby helped to untangle the mess. Then Lizzie drove off, and I went home.
I remember all of these details vividly, as we often do when our lives are suddenly readjusted, when we go from normalcy to drama and when we recall the calm before the storm. My phone rang. It was the Vice Principal of Central High School, saying that our 15-year-old son had been arrested for selling drugs at school, was in Police Department custody and that we must wait for further instructions.
My first question was: “Is he getting kicked out of Central?” A question, which we soon realized, was the least of our worries. My husband and I phoned friends, lawyers and colleagues. Then we waited for the 3 a.m. call to pick up our son from the 39th Police District.
Our son had been an adventurous risk-taker since he could walk. He has always been smart, funny and never boring. When he was in eighth grade at Masterman Middle School, we knew he had begun to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana. We were not sure how much was normal experimentation and how much was the beginning of something more serious. We enrolled him in a support group, “Rehab After School,” and had him meet regularly with a therapist, where he was given (and passed) regular drug tests. That summer, we found out he was dealing as well as using drugs. So we checked his cell phone regularly, connected with other parents when he visited friends and did what we thought we should do to intervene.
Clearly, our “interventions” were not completely successful, but our family had three advantages in dealing with our son’s arrest. First, we had many friends and colleagues who could help us navigate the system, determine when we did or did not need a lawyer, etc. Secondly, we had the money for a lawyer, therapy and any other necessary interventions. Lastly, both my husband and I are in long-term recovery ourselves, so we could be empathetic and honest about our son’s disease and recovery (as well as scared and angry).
Our son was suspended from Central with the intention of being expelled. Jake Neff, who ran “Rehab After School,” suggested that he enroll in The Bridge Way School in Northeast Philly, at the time, Pennsylvania’s only college-prep recovery high school. Knowing that students who return to their regular schools have a greater chance of relapsing, we enrolled him at Bridge Way. I admit that I was very sad to say goodbye to Central, from which three generations of my male relatives had graduated.
Our son’s appearance in Family Court was intense. We sat through hours of adolescents’ cases, releases and re-sentencings. Judge Kevin Dougherty presided and was formidable. When our son was finally called to approach the bench, the judge asked him why a young man with so many gifts and opportunities chose to hang out with bottom feeders. Our son looked down and said he did not know. The judge sentenced him to six months of probation, providing that he attended Bridge Way and committed no other crimes.
I would love to say that it was all better and brighter from there — but it wasn’t. Our son relapsed in January of 2014 and spent the next five months at Caron Treatment Centers. While he was away, my husband and I submitted high school applications to five Philadelphia public schools and five private schools. None accepted our son. Some schools said that their current drug crisis would not be a good environment for him; some said they did not want our son introducing drugs to their school; some said they had a policy of not admitting youth with histories of drug abuse, and some simply did not return our letters or phone calls.
Our son returned to Bridge Way in June of 2014, and this is the really good part. He combined his junior and senior years and graduated a year early. He was admitted into every college to which he applied and will soon graduate from Temple University with a major in Business Administration and a minor in International Business.
But there’s more. Our son has been clean and sober for six and a half years and returned to our family as a wonderful young man who exemplifies humility, honesty and compassion. While he was at Caron and during one of his home visits, tears rolled down his cheeks as he said, “I just want to come home.” My biggest piece of advice to parents is this: You may not be able to control what does or does not happen to your son or daughter or what path they choose to take. Both are almost impossible. But plant the seeds of your family values early and often and be the loving family they want to return to.
I am immeasurably grateful for The Bridge Way School and have served as its Board President for several years.
On Friday, Nov. 6, the annual Bridge Way Community Breakfast will honor many characters in our family’s story of hope and recovery: Deputy Chief of Philadelphia Juvenile Probation Bennie E. Price, who was a tremendous source of information and comfort during our journey, Jake C. Neff, a Chestnut Hill therapist who has profoundly impacted multiple generations of young adults and parents, and Ben Peter, a 2015 Bridge Way graduate with over six years of recovery from drug and alcohol misuse.
Nancy Peter is a longtime resident of Mt Airy. For more information about the awards breakfast, call Rebecca Bonner at 267-564-5459. For more information about the Bridge Way School, visit thebridgewayschool.org