Dead Wrong About Frank

Frank was an angry, violent 9-year-old on his way to becoming a sociopath. Jim Holland saw something else.

And part of who he was was an institutionalized kid. "He would ask if he could go to the bathroom," Jim says. "I would tell him, 'Frank, you just go when you need to -- you don't have to ask.' After dinner, he would ask if he could take his tray up. He had no idea that you cooked food in a kitchen and then washed dishes afterwards."

Then there was the minefield of Frank's memory to traverse. One day Jim mentioned a Thanksgiving tradition, in some adoptive families, of giving thanks for the birth mother. Frank started to cry. "To keep himself from crying, he pounded his legs with his fist to turn the grief into something else and to shut himself up," Jim recalls. "He was not going to feel that, and if he hit himself hard enough in the legs, he would stop feeling that. I told him it was OK to be sad about that and that he didn't have to stuff those feelings. He didn't respond to that. He has a lot of grieving to do."

In August, Jim moved to a two-bedroom apartment in University City so that Frank could have his own room when he came for overnight visits. The first time Frank stepped into the apartment, he told Jim, "My belly is tingling."

Jim Holland says Frank had "the look of someone who is really trying to keep moving and stay busy to keep from feeling."
Jennifer Silverberg
Jim Holland says Frank had "the look of someone who is really trying to keep moving and stay busy to keep from feeling."

"It was kind of endearing," Jim says. "It was something a little kid would say. He didn't interpret the body sensation as a feeling by saying, 'I am excited.' He described the sensation. I felt pretty grateful to make his belly tingle." That weekend, the two went to Wal-Mart. "We spent $300 and bought Pokémon sheets, some posters and a lamp," Jim says. "It made it very real. It was the beginning of putting his needs before mine."

While the adoption process crept along through the system, Jim and Frank had settled into a routine of overnight visits four times a week. For a 29-year-old single man used to a life of books, coffeehouses and playing dominoes, the adjustment wasn't easy. "He would just never stop chattering," Jim says. "Hours on end of 'Come do this' or 'Come look at this.' I would just be panic-stricken. I would be so emotionally overwhelmed by his need that I would just lie in bed and think, 'Oh my God, what have I done? I don't know if I can do this.'"

Frank, for his part, was making some adjustments. "I was trying really hard," he says, "because I really wanted to go home with Jim. I had my own bedroom over there, and my own toys."

But Frank was still in residential treatment. Jim wanted him to come home permanently. On Nov. 27, he wrote another letter to Judge Block. "Without your intervention, Frank may have a full beard by the time I have navigated DFS's obstacle course," Jim wrote. "Frank's case should have been transferred to the adoption unit at DFS months ago.... I am grateful to DFS for bringing Frank back to St. Louis from Kansas City, and his foster-care worker, Carolyn Kirk, has been helpful and interested. Other than those two positives, the best DFS has done has been to stay out from under my feet as I've worked to bring Frank home." He asked Block to expedite matters.

Less than a month later and three days before Christmas, Frank moved into Jim's apartment for good. "It was really fun," Frank says. "It was the first time I got to decorate a tree almost by myself. Me and Jim put the lights up together." On Christmas Day, they opened presents. "He got another bicycle," Jim says. "He wanted a mountain bike. He thought it would be easier to ride. He got a GameBoy and games. I wanted to get him some cool rites-of-passage things, so I got him a watch and a wallet." Frank got Jim a glass cat. "He had two cats, so I thought he would like a glass one," Frank says. "And I got him a pen because he writes a lot of stuff."

Not everything was picture-perfect. One day in January, Jim got a call at work from Litzsinger School: Frank was acting out. He was out of control. He had hit his teachers and kicked a nurse. "I walked in the door, and he gave me one of those 'Fuck you' smiles. Everybody was getting that smile. He was being real aggressive and just kind of nasty."

Jim gathered Frank's things and said, "Frank, come on -- it's time to go."

"I'm not going anywhere with you," Frank said. "I'm not leaving with you."

"I was at a loss," Jim says. "I didn't expect that at all. I didn't know what to do. I was kind of in that place of 'Fuck this -- if he wants to be a badass, he can deal with the cops.'" Two hours later, Jim found himself wearily following a police car as it took Frank to juvenile detention.

The police tried again to get Frank to go home. Frank refused. "I figured I would let him sit in detention and think about it," Jim says. He numbly walked out the door. "Maybe this is it," he thought when he got home. "Maybe he is going to say he doesn't want to come back here. I can't do this if Frank doesn't want to be here." That evening, Jim went back to the detention center under the guise of taking Frank his medication. They brought Frank out. "Frank, you can stay here if you want," Jim said, "or you can come home with me." The detention center was serving meatloaf for dinner. Frank only ate chicken. He wanted to come home.

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