Updated: Aug 2, 2019
When Brandon entered this world, my life was forever changed. The fierce and unconditional love that I had for my child was like no other human connection I had ever felt. I was in total awe of this new experience called motherhood and nothing could have ever completely prepared me for this amazing journey.
Throughout Brandon’s years, he was a light in our family’s life. He had a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous grin that melted the hearts of many. Brandon was an active child who played every sport the school district had to offer. He excelled academically and received recognition for his achievements as a student. By the time Brandon entered sixth grade, he was the proud older brother to three younger brothers: Mason, Owen, and Kohl. If you asked my other three sons today how they would best describe their older brother, Brandon, they would all echo that he was the most loyal and protective older brother a younger brother could ever have.
From review of all the accounts, Brandon was headed for a bright and successful future. From an outside prospective, Brandon had what many would consider a “normal” or “healthy” childhood. He lived in a low-crime, suburban, middle class, two-parent household with his brothers. He attended a well-respected school district, was well-liked by his peers, and very much loved and supported by a large and extended family. However, despite all the above, my son, Brandon, became addicted to heroin. Addiction has no mercy. It does not care about where you are from, how much money you have, your life goals, how many trophies line your shelves, or your family structure.
Addiction is a disease, not a moral shortcoming, and as long as members of our society believe otherwise, the opioid epidemic will continue to steal our loved ones and raise havoc on our communities.
Allow me to be clear – life as Brandon’s parent was not always perfect and/or easy. My son pushed limits, questioned boundaries, tested authority, and engaged in risky behaviors as a teenager and young adult. In those years, we tried to gain control over Brandon’s addiction, but much to our dismay and despite various interventions, we only watched his disease gain momentum. Addiction single-handedly destroyed Brandon’s life and stripped him of everything that he had worked so hard to achieve.
Once active in his addiction, we observed and became victims to all the typical symptoms and behaviors of his disease. Brandon lied, cheated, and stole from his beloved family members
and friends. Although painfully difficult, all those who loved Brandon stepped back to allow him to face the natural consequences of his addictive behaviors. As his mother and greatest
fan, this part of our journey was excruciating. Detaching from my son seemed unnatural and cruel. I struggled with this task daily.
Ultimately, Brandon was arrested for the criminal acts he committed to support his addiction. He remained in the county jail until he was sentenced to the State Intermediate Punishment (“SIP”) program. At that time, Brandon’s attorney explained that the SIP program was our criminal justice system’s best attempt at a recovery program. Many family members, including the victims of Brandon’s crimes, wrote letters to the judge requesting that he receive treatment during his time of incarceration. Our letters all supported the same sentiment; if it were not for the disease of addiction, Brandon would not have been arrested, incarcerated, or entangled in the criminal justice system. Brandon was a person with the disease of addiction before he became a felon!
After serving the required state prison time, Brandon was transferred to a rehabilitation program at ADDAPT in Reading, Pennsylvania. He successfully completed ADDAPT’s program and thereafter, he was transferred to the Wernersville Community Corrections Center (“CCC”) which is where my son’s story tragically ends. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015, Brandon fatally overdosed in the bathroom stall of a halfway house run by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
In sharing my story today, I hope to bring a greater community understanding of the disease of addiction and those it is affecting in Berks County. It is time to treat those who are struggling with addiction with dignity and to provide the needed support and empathy as if it was your loved one fighting for his/her life.
Although my love story with Brandon, at least here on earth, has prematurely ended, this does not have to be the ending to your story. If you are reading this article and you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, please contact the Council On Chemical Abuse at 610-376-8669 to ask for help. People can and do recover from this life-threatening disease.
These are our Sons, Not Statistics
As proof that substance abuse disorder lives in every neighborhood, the next three articles offer the heartbreaking perspective of mothers who struggled with children suffering from substance abuse. The wisdom and words provided by these strong women teaches us all that, like any disease, addiction can hit closer to home than any of us imagine.
As a community we all need to remember that those suffering from substance abuse are not statistics, they are our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers; they are our siblings, they are our neighbors and our colleagues, they served our country and learned in our schools. On behalf of The Response and SOS Berks, we whole-heartedly thank these mothers for having the strength to share their stories. We acknowledge that these are ever changing stories and wish the families well in their recovery journeys.