The Plant Man: A Parent’s Lament


“And go ’round and ’round and ’round in the circle game.” –Joni Mitchell


By Steve Kawaratani.
By Steve Kawaratani.

Change and transition are part of life.  Family and friends become ill, and sometimes a chapter closes in our lives. Many of my contemporaries are talking about collecting their first Social Security checks and being eligible for Medicare. Did I say contemporaries?

But what if you have not planned for a stress free retirement, you’re over three decades away from sharing in the government safety net, you’re unemployable and only one missed rent payment from taking it to the streets?

It has been over a decade without peace for my stepson, diagnosed bipolar and schizophrenic and incarcerated again at the Orange County Jail due to a parole violation. The system treats his legal issues first, his medical health second. As long as that is policy, he will never be free.

I can’t imagine what my son has endured. He cannot rest without hearing voices, which are not warm and reassuring but full of delusions and hopelessness. I have somehow failed him, but so has the legal system.

He served time in jail or prison, six years out of seven, where there was absolutely no possibility of rehabilitation or mental health care. He is no longer a criminal; he is mentally ill. But his retirement plan is more likely incarceration, than not.

Reverend Colin Henderson dreamt that those in need shouldn’t have to sleep on the streets.  The simple act of kindness, no matter how small, could provide comfort and a measure of certainty in a world full of vagaries.

His dream became the Friendship Shelter and Alternate Sleeping Location in Laguna, which provides safe, nurturing venues and an opportunity to change one’s life, if he or she choose to do so.

My son lived at both for nearly nine months, a time when he attempted to piece his life back together after prison.  He received individual and group counseling, medical assistance and a safe place to live.

Once he left, his life deteriorated for many reasons, none the fault of the programs. I thank both staffs for their care of him and so many others.  It is a debt that my son and I will never be able to fully repay.

I counsel my son that his bad dreams will someday become better dreams.  That he has a chance to live fully, love, and enjoy a productive life.  It is not a stigma to be mentally ill, no more than having high blood pressure.  But he has to accept that only through therapy and medication will he have a chance to be free.

Our dog, Buster, has been in retirement for nearly six years.  He keeps his days simple. If he can’t eat or play with something, he just pees on it and walks away.  Someday, I plan to do the same myself.  See you next time.


Steve Kawaratani has lived in Laguna for 61 years.  He can be reached at 949.494.5141 or [email protected]

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