the lost children of rockdale county
frank: Amy's father talks about how his daughter's life began to change in middle school and, the downward spiral that followed.
navigation, see below for text
Tell me about raising Amy. What was she like as a young girl?

Young girl. You talkin' about grammar school...on up to to middle school. She was a just a pleasure, a real joy. And smart. Really involved in softball, she and I. And I coached her from the time she was seven, eight years old until she was 18 years old. All through those years. And we spent a lot of time together that way on the softball field. And I had a pretty active program here in the county for girls softball. I had a lot of kids playin' ball. But she, you know, during those years it was just it was great. I couldn't ask for a better kid.

You were close?

Yes. Probably not as close as we should be. But we was close.

Why do you say that?

. . . We would go to movies. We would go to the skatin' rink and I'd take her to the skatin' rink when she was younger -- nine, ten years old -- and sit there. And she would skate, and I would sit there and read and book while she skated. And then she got about 10, 12, 13 years old and she'd go to a movie and meet her friends and this type of thing just to get away. Not just to get away, but, I mean, she didn't want her parents around. And all, you know, teenagers do that. I understand that, and, you know, it's not a problem.

But. . . I guess we could of talked more about what she was doin' then and we didn't. You know, we didn't talk that much about what was happenin' when she was not with us. And some of the things that went on in her life in school and stuff like this. Just, you know, it was kind of heart- wrenching.

What kind of --

Well, her grades started dropping . . . The first traumatic type thing that really happened -- me and the wife went off for the weekend. And, when we came back, we found out there'd been this big party, okay. At the house here. Beer bottles was around and this type of thing. . . And that weekend I had gone upstairs, and I got a lock box in my closet that I had made, and had a lock, a padlock, on it. And had a gun in it. And it was broken into. And somebody stole my gun. I'm a police officer and it was a personal gun that I had in a locked box. And then, when we talked about it, it was still denied.

My own opinion is that the parents  cannot put as much pressure on them as the social pressure that's put on them [at school]. ... She didn't want to make the good grades because they would not accept her in the group. So we lost, I guess I lost a lot of trust in her, you know, during that time. And that was really the gut-wrenching type thing that really hurt the most. . . And in those years it's where, you know, it was really just hard. I probably tried to maintain too much control and I couldn't. . . When her friends changed, that's when she started changing. You noticed a difference in her. She was not a happy child any more. It was like every night, you know, what can I do to go to my friends. It wasn't like, you know, every night I come home and get my homework and I go to bed and go to school, and on weekends I go to movies and do what I can do. It was like every night goin' somewhere. She got involved with a group of friends and they smoked pot. That came to us when, well, she had gotten charged with it and they called us from the jail that they had her there. I had to go get her. And that's very very devastating to a father who's, you know, dotes on his children and [their] mother.

Did you try to talk to her then, ask her what was going on? Why was she needing to do these things?

Yeah, but, you know, those friends she met was something. . . We went through a pretty traumatic time there. She had gone off one weekend. And the next night, she had a vehicle, my truck. As a matter of fact I let her drive it to school as an extra car. And she came home one Saturday morning or Sunday morning, I forget which, and said the truck's been stolen. I said, Well what happened? 'Well I was at this party at this house and these guys got the key and took the truck.' And nobody got excited about it. I said, Did you report it? 'No, I didn't report it.' I said, We're gonna report it. So I called the police and we reported the truck stolen. . . She knew who had gotten it. But actually she wouldn't even call the name and say who done it. But, we found the truck ourselves parked off not far from the house, off on a power line road.

And the kids we talked to -- 'it ain't no big deal.' You know, it was just, the attitude was 'hey, it's no big deal.' Just wait a minute, That's my car. You're talkin' about a four thousand dollar truck and I'm supposed to go home and just forget it? I can't do that, you know. But that was the attitude. And it was really just, you know, upsetting to me.

Was that Amy's attitude?

At first it was kinda. But then she'd seen how upset I got about it. And I felt better about it then. But you know, yeah. It was. All of 'em's attitude about it was like, 'no big deal.' It's no big deal to you. But do you know how many hours, how long I have to work to make four thousand dollars? That's a lot of money. . . I think she probably realized that she was being used [by the gang], and the others being used, and that's when she started to -- she was very strong at one point. I'm tryin' to remember. All the time's runnin' together now--because that's when we went through a period of about three years of having to really just--that was all we could concentrate on and deal with.

For three years that was all you could concentrate on?

Yeah. It was very devastating. Work-- it probably affected my work to some degree. It obviously affected our home life to some degree, our family life. But yeah, it was a period of about three years. . .

You had described a night that Amy sort of disappeared. You went out looking for her. Can you tell us that story?

She'd gone over to someone's house. And she didn't come home. . . Called some of her friends. They don't know. Finally somebody, this is like 1--2:00 in the morning or so, said that she's in somewhere in [another] county. We finally found a house, you know. I probably woke up a lot of parents, made a lot of folks mad. And we went up and staked out this house. . . staked it out until the next morning. Me and the wife sat across the road and watched it until about 8 o'clock daylight on Sunday morning. . . I went up and knocked on the door and it was a rat hole. Finally got somebody to the door and walked in and told him who I was. And he says, 'No we ain't got nobody here.' Well, I probably could of been shot or somethin' . . . but I walked on back in the back part of the house and there was all these kids. Amy and her boyfriend was laying up on the floor and on pallets and they'd been there all night. And in the living room when I came back out in there, I just got Amy up and drove her out. . . She came with us. Of course I don't think that that helped my and her relationship.

What was it like for you emotionally to walk in there?

It was very devastating. I asked the guy who was actually who rented the house who lived there does he know how old these kids are? 'No, I don't know how old they are.' You know. He was obviously 19, 20 years old. And I said, Well, I know she's 15. Her boyfriend there with her's 14.

. . . I don't want to compare this with the death of a family member. And I'm not gonna do that. But you go through some of the same emotions. You hear about the death of a close person to you. Your gut just wrenches and your heart just grips . . . I'm a police officer, and I've heard about people going in and just going totally berserk and start shooting folks. And I hope I got enough control about me and enough control of my emotions that I wouldn't do that. But I can see how people could do it. It's a very, very wrenching to go in there and see your daughter laid up in a drug house There's no tellin' what they was into. I don't know. It's just very devastating.

What was the most. . .

Amy when she turned 17, she told us she was movin' out because she couldn't deal with the pressure that we was putting on her to stay away from those gangs and her friends. She couldn't deal with it. So she did move out. Well, she stayed out. And she was gone to live with a friend of hers for a couple of weeks, a week or so. . .

Did you ever give up on Amy?

No. I didn't give up on nobody. I can't-- you can't give up on it. . . No, but what I say was give up--give up control. . . It was like you know you pour a gallon of water on the table. Try to keep any of it from spillin'. Eventually some of it's gonna go off, you know. So, when Amy went to Charter I said it was good for her, but it was also good for us. They had this group that we participated in. And the parents there was going through some of the same frustrations and same problems with their kids. You could see people just changing as they stayed in the group longer. And some of 'em had been in the group several years. We was in there for over a year. And it was somethin' we really looked forward to. Once a week we'd go there--once a week, once a month.

Was Amy addicted to drugs, do you think?

I don't know. It's very hard to say. My own opinion is that, you know, the parents cannot put as much pressure on them as the social pressure that's put on them [at school]. . . . Amy, like I said before, she was very smart. She had good grades in school. And she won't tell you this. But I think she kind of dumbed herself down. What I mean is she didn't want to study in school. She didn't want to make the good grades because they would not accept her in the group. . . You got to be accepted somewhere.

What about sexual activity? What in your mind was happening to Amy as she became sexually active? What were you aware of at the time?

Well, that's something as a family that we did not just sit around and talk about. And I don't know if her mother and her talked about it or not. It's not something that I felt comfortable talking about. And I probably should of made the effort and talked about it. But we didn't. I didn't do it with either one of my daughters. My oldest daughter -- either one. And I knew it was possible that it was happening, that she was sexually active. But we didn't sit down and talk about the diseases and the dangers of of that either.

And I know it's there. . . Any parent this day and time that has daughters and sons have got to realize that's takin' place. Not that you agree with it. Not that you approve of it. But what can you do about it? You can't lock a kid in a closet. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old. No, they don't want their parents to go with 'em and their friends. And you gotta understand that. You just gotta hope that you instilled the kind of values in 'em or that you taught 'em the kind of values, what is important. And when they get that old they will respect that. And I think Amy possibly did. And she knew that. And that was probably something that was really tearing her apart in that she knew how we felt and the pressure that we put on her. But then to be accepted, you know, it had to be just tearing her apart. And I understand that. I don't know if she knew how it was tearing us apart. . . . Most of the kids, some of the kids probably had real good parents out there. . .

I'm wondering if it was frustrating for you because it was like you reached the limits of your power as a father. Do you ever feel that?

Yeah. I just feel 'you're helpless.' I know everybody probably has an idea in their mind what they want their kids to be and it certainly didn't involve anything like that . . . You get to the point where you see this happening and you are helpless. No matter what I would say or do you can't you can't lock a kid in a closet. You can't chain 'em to the bed, you know. You can't make 'em stay there and and beat it into their heads. Sometime I felt like I'd just like to open up that brain and pour this information in there. And you can't do that. And it's hard for me. I'm not an educator. And I don't know how, I didn't know how to get to her. Like I said when we carried her to the Charter that was probably the best we done for her during that period to to for her to realize what she was doing to herself. . .

Looking back on it, do you feel that you did anything as parents that contributed to this? Is there anything that you feel you would do differently if you could do it again?

If I did anything to contribute to--it's possible. Like I said, I probably wanted to have too much control... I was full of advice. You know I give 'em advice and probably advice they didn't wanna hear. And to do it differently I would probably be more open to listen to what was going through their heads. Cause what'd be goin' through my mind then was, 'Look, how can we correct this, you know? ' And certainly, then I'd give 'em advice, rather than listening to the problem. I would attack the immediate problem, not what was happening.

What about time with them? Do you feel that you and your wife spent enough time with them?

I think so. We was a very close family. Still are. When they was younger. But when they got up--they would go out with their friends by themselves and didn't want parents around and this kind of thing. We probably spent enough time. We spent time together. And a lot of the time I'm not really--it's very hard for me. I would have a very hard time settin' down talkin' to Amy about sex. That's not somethin' that I grew up with. You know, people didn't do it then. You knew it wasn't accepted and you was just a terrible person and I couldn't feel comfortable about doin' it. I don't know if I recognized--I would probably be more ready and looking for signs of problems. Although we can see them. You don't have to really look. They're gonna jump up and hit you. And when the kid's making As and Bs in school and all of a sudden Cs and Ds and she's proud of it. Something's wrong. It just jumps up and slaps you in the face.

I'm not a George Bush fan, but when he talked about the family unit and the [disintegration] of a family unit, that's the way it is. And as much--I do as much to destroy it as anybody else. We got TV's in every room of the house. I watch my programs. My wife watches her programs in another room in the house, you know. The kids watch it or play on their their Ataris, the video games. You mentioned a while ago about the time we spent together. Yeah. We would spend time together. But much of the time we had in the house together was not together. Our supper meal was a big meal when the girls were comin' up--and we'd always sit down to supper and had our meals. Until they got old enough and they'd come grab somethin' and run out the door and they'd go. . .

In terms of Amy now, how do you feel about where she is now in her life?

I feel real good about it. Amy is it again is she's probably not gonna be what I would want her to be. And that's fine. Amy--she has managed, she had made the turn-around and and gained that trust. We don't--we didn't trust her. . . Now I think she's responsible enough. She seems to be responsible and she's making decisions based on what is good for Amy. What is good, you know, for her situation, where she's at. And I don't really have a problem. I don't think Amy's gonna make the kind of decision now where there's that kind of thing just going to be with her the rest of her life. Like I said, something you cannot, you cannot live with. Something that's gonna follow you the rest of your life. She'll make responsible decisions now. And when she does she has to accept the consequences. . .

What kind of positive things about Amy do you feel?

Well, she's got my blood runnin' through her veins. No--Amy's like I told you a while ago, she is a loving child. She is a very loving child . . . She's smart. That was another thing that probably devastated me, both my kids. They was both smart. I'm not just saying this as a doting father although I am. They could of done what they wanted to as far as being smart in school, the books, and going to college or anything else.

Amy's going to college now. And that's another thing I'm very proud of her. She's sticking with it. She's probably not doing as well as she's capable of doing, but then she's got a lot of other pressures again that's dividing her time. You don't stop lovin' 'em. And I haven't stopped lovin' Amy. My older daughter either. Yeah, they do some things some time I'd like to strap and pinch their head, you know --Why, can't you listen to this, you know? But you don't stop lovin' 'em. You do the kind of things that you have to do.

When we carried Amy to Charter, the most heart-wrenching thing--Amy cried, when she found out that she's gonna stay there. She didn't wanna stay there. And the woman said, 'you don't understand. You're not goin' home tonight.' You know. Well, Amy was cryin'. Well that kind of emotion and tears came into my eyes and certainly my wife's eyes and we all just had a good cry. It was a hard thing.

Kids grow up and they get out on their own and they're responsible, they're their own adults. But they're still your kids, your daughter. Now that sounds kind of corny don't it?

Not a bit. Not a bit.

I believe that. I truly believe that . . .

home | discussion | is this story isolated? | interviews | the syphilis outbreak
more about rockdale county | resources for teens and parents
tapes & transcripts | synopsis | press

FRONTLINE | pbs online | wgbh

New Content Copyright © 1999 PBS Online and WGBH/FRONTLINE

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS
../video/ ../video/producers.html ../outbreak/ ../interviews/ ../isolated/ ../talk/ ../