Columns 2006

A family tragedy

The story is one we are all sadly familiar with at this point.  Man steals truck, races madly through streets full of traffic, runs a red light and kills a father of three.  A tragic story with tragic consequences that leaves behind unbelievable pain and loss.

So it was with some interest that I read the lead story in the Anchorage Daily News on February 26 about this man, Kris Felber. And when I was done, I put my paper down and wondered why anyone ever thought he had a snowball’s chance in hell of his life turning out any differently than it did. He is a poster child for tragedy.  His family is the boilerplate for dysfunctional. And he is the sadly familiar result of bad parenting and a social services system that has yet to find a way to stop the train wreck it sees coming.

Let’s take a look at some of the quotes from his dad.  “Maybe I didn’t do enough for him, didn’t encourage his dreams enough.” Maybe not, especially since he ended up in a group home at 16 weighing about 70 lbs. It’s hard to dream when you haven’t had a decent meal in forever. Interestingly, when Kris went to jail for about two years, he grew almost a foot eating prison food.  So clearly that weight problem wasn’t metabolic or medical in origin.

In speaking of a period of time when Kris lived with his mother pretty much on the streets, the father says, “He was seeing some real seedy parts of the world.” Did he mean as opposed to the high-class world Kris saw when visiting his father while dad was in prison for attempted extortion?

Or this quote, “I was trying to kick his riffraff friends out of my house.  I apologized for it a million times.” What was he apologizing for?  Apparently he punched his son in the head and then kicked him in the face after he fell to the ground.  I guess he mistook his son for one of those riffraff.  Maybe he didn’t recognize Kris after he gained that weight.

Kris Felber grew up in a home wracked with violence and substance abuse.  He and his siblings were in and out of state custody their entire lives. His criminal record started when he was ten.  When he wasn’t in an abusive home situation, he was running the streets.  Kris disappeared into them for the first time at ten years old.  Can we even imagine what he might have experienced on the run as a young child who was small for his age?

His mother is an alcoholic street person; his father is a violent con man.  His siblings have their own criminal problems.  Neither Kris nor any of his seven sisters and brothers has finished high school. The intelligence a shelter worker noted in Kris remains unrealized potential.

I find myself wondering under what circumstances these children were returned again and again to these parents.  Under what circumstances could the state have looked at a 16 year old who weighed 70 lbs. and not come to the conclusion that there was something drastically wrong?

Kris is probably going to spend a lot of time in jail. He’ll get three meals a day and a guarantee of a bed and shelter at night. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that is probably more than he or his siblings ever got from their parents.

I wish I could tell you that this family had somehow slipped through the cracks of our social services safety net.  But they didn’t. They were as ensconced in that net as it is possible to be.  The Social Services system knew about them.  The Juvenile Justice system knew about them. The adult criminal justice system knew about them. Yet here we are, these many years later, with a father of three dead and a young man who’s potential will never be realized sitting in a jail cell waiting to hear how many more years of his life will become wasted time in the system.

There is just something wrong when, in this great country in this new century in this rich state, a young boy has to steal food to feed his family, or weigh 70 lbs. when he’s 16 years old or ever be returned to a family so violent and dysfunctional. 

Something is dreadfully broken if this is the end product of our social services safety net.  And we better fix it quickly, before the next person dies for our lack of solutions.