Locking up the mentally ill

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  April 3, 2014

Michael and his court-appointed attorney, Hank Hainke, are fighting the state’s petition. They and his foster parents believe that putting him back in prison would be very bad for him — and dangerous for people at the prison. If he is allowed to stay at Riverview, he hopes somehow, at some point, to receive a commutation of his sentence. Even if that happened, he couldn’t be released from DHHS custody until a judge agreed.

In the past state experts have expressed fears about what would happen if Michael were returned to prison — such as Ann LeBlanc, the forensic service director (“In prison he wouldn’t do well”). Now she is among those lining up to support the state’s petition at a Kennebec County
Superior Court hearing on April 10.

And, while she had previously written about Michael’s numerous, unprovoked rages, in a report supporting the petition she concludes that he chooses to be difficult. “He can assess and control his own behavior,” she writes.

CHILDHOOD OF SORROWS

When Michael was very young, social workers received many allegations that his biological mother, Robin James, physically abused him. She had given birth to him when she was 18; they lived alone; his father was never in the picture. DHHS took Michael away from Robin at two years old and placed him in a foster home.

 feat_babymichael_main

MICHAEL AS A CHILD In a home photo provided to the Phoenix.

Robin Dearborn (she has kept the name of her divorced second husband) lives in a worn house on a Lewiston back street. Now 49, she has deep lines under her eyes and a strident voice. From behind an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts, she described her own hard young life alone with a mother who drank heavily. She had periods in a foster home and at the Sweetser school for troubled kids in Saco. As an adult she worked in group homes for the mentally ill, but now is unemployed.

In an interview at her apartment, Robin denied harming Michael. She said the drugs and alcohol mentioned in the DHHS reports never “interfered” with her care of him. She had to give him up, she said, for financial reasons — she lost parental rights when he was eight. “My whole life was falling apart,” she said. Even now, “I can barely survive, myself.” She expressed concern for Michael and the “utmost respect” for Judy Labonte, his foster mom.

In contrast to Robin, Michael’s foster parents, Judy, 62, and her husband Larry Labonte, 64, of Pittston, present the picture of middle-class stability, having been married for 40 years. Michael feels close to them. He calls Judy his mom, and he phones her every day.

Interviewed in a Gardiner restaurant, Judy, who runs a home dog-grooming business, projects a grandmotherly friendliness. Larry is heavy-set, with a sober mien. He spent 28 years in the military. After his retirement, he worked at the veteran’s hospital at Togus, near Augusta, and now drives a school bus. They also had an occupation bringing up eight kids, five of whom, counting Michael, were foster children, including Brandi, 29, Michael’s half-sister, whom they adopted.

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