NO EASY FIX
NYPD Narcotics Detective Mom Finds Busted System Can’t Help Her Addict Son
She spent years arresting junkies. Then her son became one—and she saw the system from the other side.
She spent 14 years as an NYPD narcotics detective, but she can’t get any help for her 16-year-old drug-abusing son.
“Unless I have him arrested,” says Det. Patricia Jennings, a single mom from Riverdale who spent 22 years as a cop, most of them as a narcotics detective raiding crack houses, locking up pushers, mules, and junkies. “I have carried kids out of crack houses to get them into safe homes. But for my own son I have been to every court, rehab, specialized school and city agency you can think of trying to get my son help. I want him mandated to real, long-term rehab, and the officials all say the same thing: ‘If he hasn’t been arrested there’s nothing we can do. Except wait for your son to be arrested.’”
With a criminal record.
“A record that might follow him through life,” says Jennings, who asked that this story use her maiden name to help ensure it doesn’t become a rock tied for life to the search results for her son. “A record that will exclude him from many city, state, and federal jobs. And many other jobs in the private sector.”
As the gossip columns and TV tabloid shows continue to exploit the sad decline of drugged-out celebrities, we sometimes don’t want to admit that the disease of substance abuse at some time touches almost every family in America.
Even the kids of narcs.
“When I was out there busting people for drugs, I never thought it would happen in my own home,” says Jennings, of her son whom we will call Gary here. “Gary is actually my biological grandson—the child of my daughter who had her own set of different problems—and so I legally adopted him at 5. My divorced husband passed away several years ago so I have been Gary’s single mom much of his life, but for the past five years with my boyfriend who is also a retired detective.”
But even with two ex-cops at home, one a father figure, Jennings says she has been unable to stop Gary from graduating from marijuana to cocaine, crystal meth, Xanax, Oxycodone, and lately maybe even heroin. She’s not sure because although New York State law compels her to provide a home for her son, she is not privy to his confidential rehab drug testing results.
Which is nuts.
How can you be a guardian of a minor if you don’t know what you’re guarding against?
“It started when he was 5, with Gary complaining that his brain hurt,” Jennings says. “He said that inside his head it sounded like the TV was playing 10 channels at once. You have a child who says his brain hurts, hearing multiple voices, you bring him to the doctor. He was diagnosed with hyper tension and ADHD. The pediatrician prescribed Dexedrine, an upper, an amphetamine I used to bust adults for in the street. So Gary was on speed at 5, OK?”
Jennings says that as a teenager she’s placed Gary in about nine drug clinics and rehabs—some at a huge personal expense.
“Nothing worked,” she says. “The out-patient clinics are useless and short term in-patient rehabs do not work if you don’t want help. So unless he is mandated to a long-term rehab by the courts Gary knows he doesn’t even have to stay. If he says he wants to leave I must by law go and take him home.”
At 12, Gary told his mother that he was gay.
“I was glad he was honest and not trying to live a secret life in the closet,” Jennings says. “But he was bullied at a private school on Roosevelt Island so I removed him.”
By 13, Gary was smoking marijuana. “That bothered me a lot,” Jennings says. “Because I am completely anti-drug. I will not even take pain killers after a surgery. Gary was now in an expensive private special education school, Robert Louis Stevenson School on West 74th Street where they have random drug testing. It was a great school but Gary tested positive for weed. When he tested positive a second time they expelled him.”
Determined to nip her son’s drug problem in the bud, Jennings enrolled Gary in an outpatient drug program at a Manhattan hospital with counseling twice a week. After three months, Gary kept testing positive for marijuana and his counselor told the drug-cop mom that her son needed a high level of care, an in-patient drug rehab.
“The counselor arranged a bed for Gary in a facility upstate,” says Jennings. “I drove Gary up there. My GHI (health insurance) from NYPD covered 30 days. The next day I received a call from the rehab to come and take Gary home. I asked what the hell happened. Turns out Gary’s court-mandated roommate asked my son if he was gay. Gary said yes. The guy assaulted him. I had to get him out of there.”
Gary returned home, kept using drugs, and in January 2014 Jennings placed Gary into yet another rehab, this one a six-month program about two and a half hours north of the city.
“Gary lasted one day,” Jennings says. “Because he tested positive for coke. I told her it was snowing and hours away. They said come pick him up. I had to drive up in a storm, get a hotel, spend the night, and drive him home the next day. Gary knows that if he’s not mandated by the courts, all he has to do is refuse to obey the rules and I have to come get him. Without a Person In Need of Supervision Warrant, I have no leverage as a parent. The way the system works I am basically powerless to save my kid from drugs.”
She took her son home to her apartment on West End Avenue where she’d lived for eight years. In February 2014, worried that Gary was plunging into the sub-basement of drug hell, Jennings placed Gary in a Pennsylvania program that cost $15,600 for 30 days.
“It was out of network so my insurance would not cover it,” says Jennings. “I borrowed the money. I was willing to do anything to save my son. The first day the counselor called to say Gary refused to speak at group sessions. Day 2 they called to say Gary refused to speak openly about his biological mother and father. Day 3 they called to say this was not a good program for Gary because he refused to say the Serenity Prayer. I pleaded with them to give him more time. On Day 10, the counselor told me to come take Gary home.”
Back in the city, Gary settled for an out-patient program near Union Square. “He would go a few times a week but I knew that he was still getting high,” Jennings says. “But they were strictly forbidden by the state confidentiality law to tell me what he was using. This is madness, a deep flaw in the broken system. Street-smart teens on drugs know how to game the system without consequence. When he refused to urinate in front of a counselor he was dishcharged.”
Jennings went back to Manhattan Family Court where she was referred to the Family Assessment Program, or FAP, a diversion program where a counselor visited the family’s home once a week to talk to mother and son and ask Gary for a urine sample. “Gary tested positive for weed, cocaine, and mollies—street name for Ecstasy—at least 10 times,” Jennings says. “But if he was using something stronger that he didn’t want me know about he just refused to test.”
In April 2015 Jennings opened her apartment door to a loud knock to find a narcotics detective saying he had received a complaint that Gary was selling drugs in the building. “It was embarrassing and awkward for me because I used to work with this detective,” Jennings says. “I assured him that Gary was not a dealer, just a juvenile user.”
The management company said they had security videos of Gary hiding drugs in the community room and were going to file for eviction. “I said I didn’t want that on my unblemished credit record,” Jennings says. “To please give me the time to find another place. They agreed.”
In May, Jennings placed Gary in another upstate rehab. “I was assured that because my son was openly gay that he’d be kept in a separate and secure section,” says Jennings. “That didn’t happen. He was given a roommate who assaulted him when he learned he was gay, screaming, ‘I got a faggot in here! I got a faggot in here!’”
Someone hurled a brick through Gary’s window.
“The local sheriff refused to file a hate crime report,” Jennings says. “He charged the assaulter with harassment. I took Gary home. Again.”
In July, Jennings had to again borrow thousands of dollars to relocate to the Bronx.
In September, Jennings enrolled Gary in the Harvey Milk School, a city high school with a predominantly LGBT population. “It is truly a great school,” says Jennings. “A Godsend. Absolutely no bullying tolerated. Lots of clubs, tutoring, AIDS counseling, counselors for every teenage and LGBT issue. Gary did very well socially and academically in the first semester.”
But by the second semester, Jennings would later learn, Gary was abusing Xanax and injecting crystal meth.
“I clean his bedroom all the time and one day I found a hypodermic needle,” she says. “That truly freaked me out because I knew he could die of an overdose or AIDS.”
In February 2016 she applied again at the Bronx Family Court for a PINS warrant.
“I had to sit for four hours again filling out the same paperwork I’d filled out twice before,” she says. “And was again sent to FAP. I pleaded with the counselors to let me see a judge who could mandate Gary to long-term rehab because my son was using needles. They said if Gary was not a chronic truant, hadn’t been arrested, there was nothing they could offer but FAP counseling.”
So counselors came to the new Bronx apartment three times a week, doing drug testing which showed Gary was abusing Xanax, marijuana, cocaine, and crystal meth. “He refused to tell me where he got the money to buy these drugs,” Jennings says. “Then one day he left his Gmail open on his computer and I saw that he’d been communicating with an older man in New Jersey about sex.”
The retired detective used the GPS tracker on her son’s cell phone to tail Gary to a man’s house in New Jersey. “I staked out the block and saw them leaving a house together. I confronted the 70-year-old man,” she says. “I told him he was a dirty old pervert. My son was embarrassed and furious. I contacted the sex crimes detectives to report this old guy. They told me that the age of consent in New Jersey was 16, that there was nothing they could do if they didn’t witness a money transaction. But now I knew that Gary was selling himself for drug money, which broke my heart.”
The counselor advised that every time Gary got high that Jennings should take away something of value like his cell phone.
“When I did that Gary wrecked my apartment in a stoned rage,” Jennings says.
But then last June, Jennings saw Gary walking into her bathroom with a half-cup of water. “I knew from my narcotics days he was using that to go cook and shoot up,” she says. “I called the counselor and said my son is selling himself, using needles, and I need help. Do we have to wait until he dies to prove he’s in danger? I need to see a judge. I need a PINS warrant. I need him mandated into a long-term rehab he can’t leave. She said FAP wouldn’t recommend that.”
When Gary came out of the bathroom she said she could see he was high. “He put on a long sleeve shirt on a 90 degree day,” Jennings says. “Like junkies always do. The next day I confronted him and checked his arms. I found track marks on his left arm. He insisted it was old. I knew better.”
On a Friday night at the end of July, Jennings’s credit cards, and debit card went missing. “I confronted Gary,” she says. “I told him I had only $20 in cash to my name. He could have that if he gave me back the cards. He denied having them. But he’d withdrawn $400 in cash and charged $200 on the credit cards.”
That Sunday Jennings and her boyfriend caught Gary hauling the small bedroom safe where she keeps checks and important papers out of the apartment. “My boyfriend wrestled it off him,” Jennings says. “He tried to run out but I blockaded the front door with my body. He bit my right forearm and the crook of my left arm and I fell in a way that dislocated my knee.”
Finally, Jennings did what she had avoided for three years—she called the police on her own son.
“I only had Gary charged with menacing, a misdemeanor,” she says. “Not the credit card theft. Not the assault. Those are felonies. I had tried to avoid this for years. But I had reached the end of my rope. I needed to have him arrested to try to save my son’s life.”
This time Jennings saw a judge. “He gave me an order of protection against Gary,” she says. “My son was given a court appointed attorney who said this was his first offense and convinced the judge not to issue a PINS warrant.”
Then another Catch-22 of the crazy system kicked in.
“I was told that since I was his mother and Gary was a minor I was responsible to provide him with a home even though I had an order of protection against him,” she says. “If I didn’t I’d be arrested for neglect. So I had to go back into court to have my order of protection modified so that I could take my son home again. Without a PINS warrant. With no way of getting my son who shoots up drugs into a long term court mandated drug rehab.”
Det. Patricia Jennings takes a long deep breath and breaks into soft sobs.
“I spent 14 years making drug arrests in this city thinking I was making a difference,” she said. “I am angry that the same city I served and protected is denying my request to mandate my own son. The system is broken. Parents no longer have rights. I cannot seem to do anything to help my son. He’s smart, sweet, loving, mixed up. He got violent only once when he was stoned. He’s also a great student and very talented and wants to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology for design. But I don’t know if he’ll ever get there. I’m afraid he is going to kill himself with drugs first.
“And no matter how hard I try the system prevents me from helping to save him.”