My brother’s life started as every life does, in the womb of a woman. She loved him so very much and she spent her whole life, from his birth until his death doing her best to protect him. Brad was born January 2, 1990, a millennial. According to the Social Security office (Security, n.d.), Brad was not a popular name of the 1990s. My mother wanted to name him Benjamin, which ranked #30 for the decade. My brother’s father wanted to name him Brad, so my mother did so. At the time, I had two step siblings who did like Benjamin; so, Brad Ryan it was. She called my great grampa to tell him Brad was here, and he suggested “David.” Grampa had 5 girls. I do not believe names suggest or guide the direction a life goes, that is something that we decide and our soul knows before we live it. Of course, this is just my opinion, and I believe in human only reincarnation.
I was seven when Brad was born, so I do not remember what he was like as a baby. We shared a family member that would abuse him as a baby. She would pinch him in the night, among other things. My mother stood up for him and after, her life and relationship with the family member were never the same. I do have some memories of Brad, the ones we all have with our siblings. Shared bath times, family trips, babysitting, dinners, and my teens years during his childhood. My bed was in the basement and his was on the second level. When I was about eleven, we moved far out of Louisville, about 45 minutes. I have more memories of him there.
Brad was raised by a loving mother and father. His father, throughout his childhood, was used alcohol. I have one memory of the night our mother decided to leave Brad’s father. It was a very frightening night and it changed the whole course of our lives for the better. My mother, for most of my life, was a single mother and for most of Brad’s, was married. Our mother is strong beyond comprehension. She raised two children with one job, she bought her own home, sent us both to Catholic schools and was still able to take us places here and there. The last big family trip I remember as a teen was Disney World and Coco Beach, Florida. I was 15, he was 8. We went the year our mother and his father divorced, or the year after. This was the second house that my mother would buy on her own as a single mother. She and I shared our own home before she met Brad’s dad. She did so much for us both, which only makes the end of Brad’s life more painful and tragic.
When I was 18, I made the biggest mistake of my life. I did not see it as a mistake until Brad’s death. I saw it as a life lesson and a huge time of personal growth. I married at 18 and moved to Japan for 3 years, from 2001-2004. I lived on an Air Force Base in Misawa, Japan. I loved most of it, yet it was a trying time in my life, and my teenage marriage ended at twenty-one, like most do. My mother was so sad before I left that she spent full days in her room. I don’t remember how Brad was feeling before I left. He was eleven at the time. When I returned home, Brad was fourteen and already moving towards what would cause his end.
When I returned home, my mother had remarried. The man had two children of his own and several adopted children. One of his children, who tried to seduce me, called himself a “tester.” He explained that his teeth were rotting because he would test the methamphetamine by rubbing it on his teeth. This was the first experience I had with someone with a history of substance use. I quickly moved out of my mother’s and into my grandparents, once again, leaving my brother alone.
As he grew older, he would have legal trouble, car accidents, substance related criminal charges, other types of charges and a hard life because of his substance use. At times, I was afraid of him and did not allow myself to be alone with him. Once, when picking him up from school, a bag of plastic-wrapped pills fell from his back pack onto my floorboard. Another time, he tricked me into thinking we were getting his jacket from a friend when he was really stealing someone’s marijuana plant. He was even so high once that he threatened my mother and I. I refused to leave for fear of her safety and he removed me from the house and punched the bricks right next to my face. After that, I stayed away from him as much as I could. This day would also result in my mother removing him from her home. He stayed in the neighborhood for a time but soon after, I asked a cousin if she would let him move in with her. She allowed it and he did. He was able to continue high school for a time and he was doing well. My mother was upset with me for doing that. It was January. Asking if he could stay with her was the only thing I could have done. Looking back, it was wrong and could have assisted in his addiction. Yet, another mistake I made.
My brother was kicked out of her home and moved back home with my mother after a while. He finished high school and started working. He was having a hard time, though. He was abusing substances, had anger issues, and the love of several young and beautiful ladies.
In 2007, my brother was in a very bad car accident. My mother had a scooter he would ride here and there. He was on it with a friend, on back when someone cut them off. Brad originally was driving but his friend wanted to drive. That decision caused Brad to fly off the scooter, hit the hood of her car and land on the street. While in a coma, with a broken vertebrae, and a broken jaw. Brad fought for his life. After two whole months in the hospital, he came home to a full house. Due to his traumatic brain injury, Brad required 24-hour supervision so my mother moved in with my grandparents and I. I believe we spent six months together. It was a hard time, yet we all got through it. Brad was never the same. He had circulation issues, pain, grief over the loss of his girlfriends, and sadness. He was so sad.
During that time, I took him to a Kentucky vs University of Louisville Basketball game. I spent over $500 for nearly nosebleed seats. He had such a great time. When we were leaving, he tried to get out of the car and run off with his friends. I have no idea how I managed to keep him from doing so. He tried this again another night when I took him to see a movie. One night, he took his pain medications and ran off. We were so worried for his safety. He got lost though a unsafe neighborhood and came back. Soon after, Mom and Brad moved back home. Brad would receive a great deal of money from that accident, and not even being twenty, it was all gone in a short amount of time with nothing to show for it. Once again, Brad found himself with no other place to go other than my mother’s.
Brad would go on to have other issues as well. Law trouble, women trouble, and soon a son, maybe a second and spoke of a daughter. I would pick him up occasionally to take him places. He had a few girlfriends and was using substances on a very regular basis.
I met and moved in with the man who would become my husband and that year at Christmas, we both got to see what Brad was like when he was high. It was then I understood how he really was. The hiding began, the truth was hidden from me and most of the family. Everyone knew he had a substance issue but the frequency of his overdoses was kept from everyone. My mother was always at his aid. I refused to ever visit Brad while he was in jail or prison. The one time I tried, they did not let us see him. He had been moved and his visitation days had changed. I took that as a sign. I never wanted that memory of Brad on a TV screen or behind a window, talking to me on a phone.
Instead, I would have the memory of finding his body, touching him in his casket and watching his childhood friend and some family carry him to his resting place.
My mother brought Brad a trailer. Brad had managed to get on Social Security disability due to his previous injuries and did have enough money each month to pay his bills yet he would still need a job to pay for car insurance and food. One morning, very early, my mother called me. It wasn’t even 6 AM. She hadn’t heard from Brad and she wanted to check the trailer. I met her there. It was the first time I was to go. It was dark inside his trailer. We didn’t have a key so I climbed in an already broken window that I was sure he had used to get in before. There was no power in the trailer. As I stepped into his front bedroom, I realized why I was there. I remember thinking, “I’m going to find Brad’s body. Better me than mom.” I used my phone flashlight on my phone. For the most part, the trailer was clean. I did not let mom in until I looked around first. We did not find him that morning, yet I did find other things that told me the truth of his addiction. Later, Mom got a call from Brad’s lawyer, telling her that he was in jail.
Let’s move forward. This is hard and I am growing tired of telling the story. After years of standing and falling, years of struggles, living with friends, girlfriends, alone, and in his Jeep at times, Brad found himself in his own apartment trying to help a woman get clean. I believed that he was clean and had been for several months. In July of 2021, Brad called me to pick him up from the hospital. He had overdosed outside his apartment and someone saved his life. Soon after, he was evicted from his apartment. After renting somewhere else and being removed for his substance use, he lived in his Jeep for a time before my mother put him up in a local hotel. The state had been trying to shut down this hotel for some time. It has a high death rate, with a history of residents selling and using drugs. They were unable to close the hotel because there was residence there. Brad stayed there for a time. He was on suboxone. His room was number forty-eight. In the very back of the property and at the very end of the balcony. Here is where we reflect on the worst day of my life.
On September 20th, 2021, I was working for a local substance abuse treatment program. I created an Occupational Therapy program for recovering from substance use, trauma, mental illness, and homelessness. It was my life’s dream. It was going well. I was with a client when my mother called. It was about an hour before I was to finish for the day, I knew something was wrong. While sitting with my client, Brad came to mind. I looked him up on the local law enforcement website to see if he was in jail. He was not. I had not talked with Brad in about two months. The last time I did, I cried and told him we would talk when he was clean for a year. Another mistake, Al Anon was the inspiration for that one. I was not attending but I had reviewed the material and it stated that boundaries were needed. As I said, I knew something was wrong. She told me that she had not heard from Brad in two days and was on her way to check on him. I knew then, he was gone. My client heard the whole conversation on my side. He said, “I know that place. I dealt there.” He told me where he would be and he was right.
I got to the hotel after my mom, she wasn’t able to get into the room but had to leave to find a bathroom. I called the police for a welfare check. The dispatcher required me to yell his name and bang on the door. We had a key to his room but it was locked. We could open it just a little. While I was yelling his name, people who lived behind the hotel came out to watch me. I stopped and waited for the police. Mom was still trying to find a bathroom, Covid times. There was a McDonalds in front of the hotel yet there was a shoot-out there just days before and the lobby was closed. The police had the owner open the door. There were about 7 officers. One waited outside as the others drew their weapons and went in yelling. Some came out. I was ignored. Finally, after about six minutes, I started to yell at them. Two of them came over, one said. “There is a man in there and he is deceased.” I frantically tried to pull up a picture.
Once I did, what I had already known was confirmed. My brother, at the age of 31, died of an overdose. Alone, sitting on the floor of a shitty hotel because the bed was just nasty. He died. I screamed and cried. Mom still wasn’t there. I called her, didn’t tell her but just told her to get here as soon as she could. A firefighter made me go with him down stairs while they removed the substance paraphernalia. At the time, my mother came around the building and I did not see her. The firefighter assured me we would see her. Instead, I heard her scream. Upstairs, one officer had stayed behind to keep the room clear and prevent us from entering. Mom cried and I made phone calls and texted family members. I asked my husband to meet us at home. Her husband did not come to help her find him, so it was just the three of us, just like I always remembered. Just the three of us: Mom, Brad, and I. It seemed right and fitting.
The cries and comments my mother said that day will haunt me. I was made to promise not to repeat what she had said the next day, yet I had already told someone so very special to me. Pain, resentment, anger and a great deal of self-hate started to rise in my body. That was, and will always be, the worst day of my life.
My mother had parked in a no parking zone. I went to move it and hotel security tried to tell me to leave the property. I yelled to him from across the parking lot, “We just found my brother’s body.” He did not hear me. I yelled again. He apologized and I returned to my mother.
As we waited for the coroner, I watched my mother, helped her, and listened to her end of her phone calls. Resentment continued to build. The security guard came up the stairs and asked if he could talk to me. “Get the fuck away from me,” I said. I wanted to throw him over the railing and watch him fall to the ground. We were 3 levels up. He might have had some broken bones. He approached my mother and asked if he could speak to her. It took every bone in my body to not hurt him. He told my mother that Brad gave all his food to a homeless person. I was sure that the person he gave all his food to was not homeless. They had seen him walking by with it and took advantage of him. There was a man pacing the staircase that I was sure had sold Brad his life-ending drugs. I fought the urge to throw him down the concrete staircase. After two hours, the coroner came. They put Brad in the black body bag, gave us his things, and tried to talk us out of seeing him. We refused to let him talk us down. We entered the room. He was resting in the bag, foam on the right side of his mouth, with an odor about the room. The security guard had left. It was good that he had. I was ready to explode.
We cleaned his things from his room. Some new clothes, a full gallon of chocolate milk, a loaf of bread, and a jar of peanut butter. I searched the room for anything that he would be hiding. It was then I understood why he was found sitting on the floor, leaning against the bed. The mattress was nasty, so disgusting that I almost puked just because of it. We had all his things. Mom was able to get the money she had paid for the rest of the month and October refunded and we headed to my home to meet my family.
Her husband soon followed. They live about an hour and fifth-teen minutes out of town. He had waited for his nephew to come to drive him down so that he would be able to drive Mom’s car home. I wanted to clean the room Brad died in, repaint it and buy new furniture for it. I never did that.
That night, I unblocked his number and found voicemails of him crying and begging me to call him. I tore through the space under our bed looking for the letters he wrote me during the year he spent in jail. I wrote to him every day for a year. On his body was a pair of cheap earrings that I kept. That is all I have, his letters, his earrings, some things from his storage units, desperate voicemails, pain, self-hate, and resentment.
Please enjoy this song by Seal.
I do not own the rights so I have attached this like to YouTube.
Sometimes, life is lived and other times, life causes death.
They call the Kentucky State Reformatory the “Middle finger of justice.” This is so because one of the first building built is very tall and sticks out above the rest of the prison. As you enter you pass through the guard shake between the parking lot and a pathway that takes you to the entrance of the prison. You walk up about 20 steps before walking through the first key locked door and a guard waiting to let people in and out; this includes visitors, employees, inmates and volunteers. You provide that guard with your driver’s license and he provides you with a badge. You sign in on paper and log the badge into a computer. After you are signed in you walk through another key locked door to the area where they check your person and your belongs. There is a scanner you see at the airport when you go to put your belonging through. Depending on the sex of guard on duty you may or may not get hand body searched or scanned by hand yet if need; it is accommodated... After you are cleared you pass through 2 power locked gates, get keys and a radio and walk through the building to the yard. I held my classes in the chapel which is about a 10-minute walk from the last locked gate to the chapel. As you can imagine there are inmates roaming freely in the yard no matter what the weather. As you walk to the chapel you pass baseball fields, a fenced in seating area, the chow hall and I think the medication pass building. There are various inmate housing facilities as well but they are off in the distance. I have only been inside one. The reformatory is a medical prison so there is a medical and mental health unit that serves various medical and mental conditions. You pass those building as well. As you pass building from the front part of the yard you can see very thin windows that open cells to the outside. The dorms were all built at separate times so there are a few different window types. Walking the yard at first was very intimidating but I walked it with a very close friend in the beginning. Although it was intimidating, I was not afraid. I kept my head up, watched the men watch me and walked at the same pace as my colleague. The walk isn’t that bed and after a while you get used to the surrounds which is something you are told not to do as it makes you complacent to those arounds you but you can’t help it from happening as times goes by.
The chapel is wheel chair assessable so you walk up a ramp. When you enter, you enter the office area where there is a volunteer inmate manning a desk and talking to other inmates just coming in to chat. There are two offices where there is a Chaplin and an assist Chaplin and the chapel off to the left. As you can imagine the chapel is just like any other chapel you enter. There is a pulpit, chairs, areas for music and seating for the congregation. This chapel serves all religions even some you may find surprising like the Nordic religion that worships Oden, the god from Thor. They support all forms of Christianity, pagan religions like Wicca. They support Judaism, Islam, the Mormonism, the Sevan Day Adventist, and Jehovah Witnesses and so on. The Chaplin has to be opened minded and cannot discriminate against request for material or other means of worship as long as it is safe and promoted respectfully. The Chaplin’s duties include funeral planning, contacting family, supplying cards, worships and worship group organizations that are run by inmates, schedules of chapel time, providing material requested within reason and individual support when needed and appropriate. I love the chapel. It felt neutral and safe.
I’d like to add that I will never not have I ever violated anyone of my class members in any of my work.