John M. Simmons, author of "The Marvelous Journey Home", 2008 winner of the Utah Best of State Awards- Fiction category is also an adoptive parent of five Russian children. I asked Mr. Simmons about his feelings regarding the Russian ban on international adoption. Here are some of his thoughts on the issue.
The cases vary wildly and so do the sentences [regarding the Russian murder cases]. To me it is quite ironic that the Russians are calling the anti-Magnitsky law the “Dima Yakolev” law after Dmitry Yakolev (whose adoptive U.S. parents re-named Chase Harrison). The little boy’s adoptive father evidently forgot that he was supposed to be dropping his son off at daycare on the way to work. The child died from being left for hours in the hot car. When Harrison (the father) found out and went out to the car, he fainted from shock. Everything indicated that the bewildered and despondent father made a horrific mistake that he regretted dearly. I don’t have a problem with the father being acquitted in this case.
The Russians had far better cases to make an issue out of. On November 30th, 2001, Luke Evans, who was one-and-a-half years-old died of massive head injuries, shaken baby syndrome and poor nutrition. Evan’s mother was found “not guilty” of murder, battery and neglect of a dependent after a doctor for the defense convinced a jury that Luke could have had bleeding in his brain for days prior to the day he was found unresponsive in his crib. Fabian Evans, the mother, received no punishment what-so-ever. To me, this is an outrageous case with an outrageous outcome. In a case like this, I have to side with the Russians saying that there was no reasonable punishment and that the U.S. system allowed the abuse and murder of a Russian citizen to happen without consequence. The cases are all different and the sentences are also wildly different. They range from serving a couple of years, to some parents with thirty year sentences who are still incarcerated. I have to agree with the Russians on this point too. There is no logic or consistency to the punishments.
Why did the deaths happen? Why does any parent kill their child? Usually they are out of control. Drunk? High? Mentally ill? There is an argument that some of these children were difficult; perhaps, very difficult. Unfortunately, there is a huge problem in our own social system. We have someone shoot a bunch of people in a movie theater. Then we have someone shoot twenty children and six teachers in a school. They say we need more gun laws and I can’t disagree. We have people shoving strangers to their deaths on subway tracks in front of trains in New York. Perhaps we need more train laws. In Wyoming, there was recently a young man who walked into a college classroom and shot his father (the professor) through the head with a bow and arrow. It is possible we need more bow and arrow laws. One thing is certain, though; it is far too difficult to get help for people who are having mental difficulties.
While I do not justify the abuse or murder of these adopted Russian children, I suspect that in many cases the parents couldn’t get help with kids who were out of control. I believe that when the parents couldn’t get help, they digressed to the point where they couldn’t control themselves. My wife and I were in the process of adopting two little girls and an unrelated little boy from Russia when we learned that our new daughters had three older biological sisters who were still in Russian orphanages. It took another year and a half to find and adopt Emily, who was fifteen and Annie, who was fourteen. Lydia, who was eleven, had been abused by her birth mother to the point where she was simply too damaged to be removed from an institution. Lydia remains in Russia. Soon after Emily’s arrival at our home, she became the horror story of Russian adoptions. She was threatening to murder the other children. She was threatening to murder us parents. She was attacking the little siblings and we could never be more than a few steps away from her when the little ones were around. Emily was hiding knives around the house.
The Trouble with Finding Services
When we finally saw that nothing we did helped, we contacted DCFS. At first they told us they could help us get Emily into a place where she could get the help she needed. After several weeks, though, we were denied help. When I asked for a reason, the man told me that I couldn’t bring Russia’s problems to the U.S. and make them his problems. I told him that Emily was a U.S. citizen and he was legally obligated to help. He said: “I’m not denying that, Mr. Simmons. I’m simply telling you I won’t do it.” I told him I would sue him and he said:“No, Mr. Simmons. You’ll sue the State of Utah. You can’t touch me. And by the time you are done with your suit, you’ll have spent a bunch of money and this whole situation will be over without you getting anything.” I told him that if I dropped off Emily at his office, he would have to deal with the situation. He said: “That is true. But I can promise you that if you abandon one of your children, it will have serious implications with your other ones.” I hung up the phone, helpless. Later a detective spoke to me behind the scenes and told me that if Emily was her daughter, she would prosecute her for a felony and that would get her into the system. Eventually, that’s what we did. It was heartbreaking. For several years Emily continued to have severe behavior problems. But about a year and a half ago things began to get much better. Since that time, Emily (who has an IQ in the mid-fifties) has shown remarkable progress. We see her once a week and even have her in the home once a month. When Emily finally got the help she needed in the massive quantities that her case required, she finally began to progress. Far too many people who need help don’t get it because they are kept from the systems and programs that they have a legal right to have.
Are Some Children Not Suited for Family Life Due to Severe Abuse and Neglect?
That is a very tough question with a very difficult but obvious answer. Some children are too damaged to take out of an institution. Lydia is a case-in-point. According to Emily, their birth-mother, during fits of drunken rage, would grab their hair and beat their heads on the ground (there was no floor in the wooden shack where they lived). Emily claims that Lydia wasn’t mentally challenged before one such beating. Now Lydia is like a cornered wild animal. She couldn’t survive outside an institution. The difficulty is where to draw the line. Who gets a chance and who doesn’t? Should Emily, with all the horror and pain she brought to our family have been left behind? If she had, at sixteen she would have been turned out in the street. In all likelihood, she would be dead, now. It goes without saying that now, since she is doing better, we did the right thing. I still have to say though, that on the worst day, we believed we had done the right thing. Emily was the hardest thing our family ever did. She is also the greatest accomplishment we have ever been a part of.
Another article by John M. Simmons: