Jordan Brown will be spending another Christmas in lockup, and he should have been home months ago. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is continuing to play fast and loose not only with his constitutional rights, but with the laws that are on the books for the protection of all of Pennsylvania’s children.
My sense of shock and disbelief are all played out. There’s no more outrage left in me, only weary contempt. I have come to expect the worst from the Keystone State, where official dishonesty and corruption appear to be endemic.
Yesterday Chris Brown and I spent more than an hour on the phone catching up on where Jordan’s case stands now. I’ll tell you about the status of the case itself tomorrow, but today I want to tell you about the people involved and the toll official misconduct has taken on this family in the wake of a tragedy that none of them invited or had anything to do with causing.
We began our conversation talking about how Jordan is holding up, and how Chris and his mother are bearing up under the pressure, too.
The short answer is that all three of them have been enduring a living hell and—though each has been pushed beyond that point where most other people would have been crushed—each is somehow enduring the unendurable.
Jordan is sad and constantly fighting off depression. He has been locked up for more than a thousand days—1,032 to be exact—for a crime he didn’t commit, and all this time he has been denied any opportunity to prove his innocence. No court has examined the evidence in the case; Jordan is being held solely on the basis of misrepresentations by the police about what the evidence means—conclusions which, since those misrepresentations were made in court two-and-a-half years ago, have been disproven by the state’s own crime lab.
“He’s doing what he has to do to get by,” Chris said of his son. “Number one, he’s dealing with the institutionalism. When you’re dealing with all the kids who are there you have to cope with what’s going on around you. He has become somewhat institutionalized just to avoid conflict with the other kids who are much older than him, much more street-savvy, who have an extended history of violence… you know, it’s a shame. I see the change in him. You can see how he’s become a victim of the system. From the way he talks and some of the things he does, you can see that he’s picked up on the behavior and the ways that the street thugs he’s in there with act.
“He’s become depressed. He knows that the system has failed him. He knows that he’s innocent and he shouldn’t be there in the first place. He misses his friends, he misses his family, he misses his school, he misses playing sports, he misses his everyday life. He’s a child. He misses the childhood things. He’s lost a lot. Yet he isn’t bitter. He still remains confident that his attorneys are going to prove his innocence and bring him home. He’s just sad and depressed.”
Jordan would be in much worse shape were it not for Chris and his mother, who have been a lifeline for him. “Give or take a day here or a day there, since he was transferred to Erie in March of ’09 we have visited Jordan every day.”
This dedication to Jordan’s welfare has cost Chris everything—his life savings and virtually everything he’s owned.
“You figure that from my mother’s home where I now reside because of all this, it’s 210 to 215 miles roundtrip every day. On bad days with bad weather (and Erie is very notorious for unexpected bad snowfall amounts—many times we’ve become stranded up there), I’d take my truck and maybe get ten miles to a gallon. At an average of $3.60 or $3.70 a gallon (though right now we’re catching a break at $3.30 a gallon), it’s cost me more than $70 a day for gas alone,” Chris said. “My van gets about 15 miles a gallon, so that’s only about $50 a day in gas.”
I did a calculation, and the total cost for gas alone has to be more than $75,000 since this ordeal began.
“Erie’s pretty much the only place we go,” Chris said. “That’s our life. We leave at twelve noon, get there at two in the afternoon, we visit until four (sometimes five), and we drive home and return by six or seven in the evening. By the time that six-hour trip is over every day, you’re so beat you can only just eat supper and go to bed. You sleep in the next morning to rest your body from the previous day’s drive, get up and spend a couple hours getting done whatever business you need to get done, and then you’re back on the road again.”
The wear-and-tear on the family’s vehicles has been tremendous. “I’ve gone through two sets of tires on the van, a set of tires on my truck (and the tires are completely bald already), and a set of tires on my mother’s car (those are bald, too),” Chris said. “We have to do oil changes every two weeks rather than every three months because we put on 3,000 miles in a two-week period. I’ve had to change tie rod ends, ball joints, brake calipers and rotors—numerous sets—you’re talking 1,500 miles a week, 78,000 miles a year on top of the normal 15,000-20,000 miles a year for just local around-town driving. So you’re looking at 100,000 miles a year. Just before Jordan was arrested my van had just under 100,000 miles on it; today it has 248,000 miles on it. My truck had 90,000 miles on it last January, and today it has 140,000 miles on it in only eleven months—and I only drive the truck in bad weather or when I have to. My mother’s car is beat. We’ve gotten all the life out of it that we can, and her car is unrepairable at this point.”
The life is being beaten out of more than just the vehicles, but out of these people, too. Chris has not worked a job since the murder nearly three years ago. At first he was placed on medical leave due to stress, and he collected insurance until the benefits ran out last May. He has been able to pick up odd jobs along the way, but the demands of visiting Jordan have precluded his finding more regular work. At one point he thought he had a full-time job lined up, but it evaporated at the last minute because of the employer’s unwillingness to hire someone who had this legal distraction going on in his life. His mother receives a small pension, and they have been relying on that to get by.
Chris has had to sell almost everything he owns just to buy gas, keep the vehicles roadworthy, and see his son—his motorcycle, even his construction equipment and tools which provided a source of livelihood for the longest time. In other words, they’ve been eating the seed corn.
“That was just to cover the cost of getting there and back,” he reminded me. “There have been numerous times we’ve been stranded in Erie because of the weather and we have had to rent a motel room for $70 a night—and that’s a cheap motel for Erie. Then you’ve got food to eat out while you’re away from home. When we take pizza or other food in for Jordan, there’s a rule that you have to take in enough food for all the kids who are there. So that costs us something like $50 every time we do it. Jordan’s gotten a little older and more responsible, and I think he realizes how much it costs us. So he doesn’t ask as often now as he used to when he was younger.”
If it weren’t for the kindness of so many people, for financial contributions large and small, Chris and his mother wouldn’t still be standing. “Friends of mine, my family members, readers of your blog, visitors to Jordan’s website—I can’t thank those people enough, to express gratitude for what they have done. They have all made sure to send packages to Jordan—books, magic tricks, snacks, things like that. These people have all been tremendously helpful and helped lift the burden financially. Had it not been for them, I think I would have a lot sooner been in the position I am now financially.
“I have spent every penny that I’ve ever saved. We pinch pennies every month to do what we have to do. But it’s gotten to a point now where we’re out of options. We’re worrying. We have to pay our bills, but we have to be there for Jordan. We are his backbone. We are the main reason he has done as well as he has. We have to continue going there every day to see him. I’m afraid that if we don’t continue going there as we have, he’s going to slip into a deep depression.
“The way this case has been going, with the recent delay caused by the media, Jordan could remain locked up untreated—untreated—for several more years until this is resolved. Now he’s much older. He’s already sat there institutionalized for nearly three years untreated. What kind of damage has that done? You have a kid who is innocent, who didn’t do this, who’s gone through the system—the screwed-up system that it is—and he could be there for another two or three years before he is exonerated for something he did not do. He was an 11-year-old child when this started, and now he’s approaching 15. How do you replace that? How do you give that back to a child? You can’t,” Chris said.
“He was 4’5” when he went in, and he’s 5’11” now. He weighed 111 or 115 pounds when he went in, and he’s 180 pounds now. He’s gone through puberty. He’s got splotches of hair on his face. When he went in there he was wearing size 7 shoes, and he’s now wearing size 11 or 12. He’s two inches shorter than me, and his hands are the same size as mine—and I’m a very big man. He’s not obese, he’s very slim. He’s got the wide shoulders like I do. He’s fourteen years old but let’s face it: he’s still a kid.”
And yet ironically, since Jordan’s case was transferred back into the juvenile court, juvenile probation took over and came into the detention center and directed that Jordan is now to be treated just like any other kid that passes through the center for an average stay of 24 days. A lot of his “special treatment” as they call it has been taken away. He can no longer play with his Legos and his toys anymore, Chris and Jordan’s grandmother can’t take games in with them anymore.
“He doesn’t walk in the door like other kids knowing that he is going home 30 days later, or that he is going to be placed somewhere where his treatment is going to start, or where his education is going to get back to normal. Since juvenile probation took over, life there as Jordan knew it has changed drastically. In one sense it was a bad thing when he was charged as an adult, but now his life since he’s been charged as a juvenile has become much more miserable and harder on him, which has affected his moods, which has affected his depression, which has affected his spirits. It’s an ugly, horrible situation and our daily visits are now more important than ever.”
It is essential that we help Chris and his mother continue their visits to Jordan, especially now. They have held on so long, and it would be a tragedy if they were unable to continue their support of Jordan because of an empty gas tank.
As you will learn in tomorrow’s post, there is a chance that this will not go on forever. Yes, there is a glimmer of hope, a possibility, that we may see some relief in the foreseeable future. But in the meantime we must ensure that Chris and his mother can see this ordeal through to its resolution.
Will you please visit Jordan’s website at www.SaveJordanBrown.com (or go to it through the link in the menu bar at the top of this page) and make a contribution at this time? Please consider contributing an extra fill, or even a quarter of a tank, so Chris and Jordan can see this journey through to a happy destination.
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