Dec. 16, 2009
In one of the most unique stories we’ve ever encountered, police in Chattanooga, Tennessee, had their hands full in dealing with a drunk 4-year-old boy who, beer in hand, was found wandering the streets of his neighborhood in the middle of the night stealing Christmas presents from neighbors. Aside from the strangeness of this incident, the sad story behind it is a lesson to us all.
The child, Hayden Wright, was found at around 1:45 in the morning on a Tuesday, wandering the streets in his neighborhood. According to police reports, when officers found the lad, he was wearing a little girl’s dress and drinking a beer.
The boy’s mother, April Wright, says she awoke at 1:45 a.m. that night and discovered that Hayden was missing. Somehow the boy was able to break a child-proofing safety device off the doorknob to escape the house, which April says she had installed on all the doors for precisely this reason: to ensure the kids couldn’t get out and wander off.
Once outside, he apparently retrieved a 12-ounce can of beer from his grandfather’s cooler in the back of the house. Beer in hand, he set off on his miniature crime spree. The report from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office says Hayden first rang the doorbell a few houses down. The neighbor answered, finding the child holding a partially consumed 12-ounce beer. He apparently then moved on, somehow sneaking into another neighbor’s house through an unlocked front door, where he stole 5 wrapped Christmas presents. One of them was the brown dress that he was wearing when police found him.
After receiving a call from her neighbor, April rushed over to find her preschooler drunk with a half-empty can of beer. Hayden was then taken to the hospital and treated for alcohol poisoning, where he had his stomach pumped. Though the precise timeline of events is somewhat sketchy, that’s the gist of it.
What prompted this little boy’s rebellious behavior is the true theme of this story, and a tragic one. As is so often the case, this little boy was struggling to deal with unresolved family issues. Hayden’s dad is currently in jail on drug and theft charges. Aggravating the situation, April and the boy’s father are in the middle of a divorce. She says these factors are what’s prompting his behavior:
“He runs away trying to find his father,” she says. “He wants to get in trouble so he can go to jail because that’s where his daddy is.” She states that after he got out of the house, Hayden pretty much followed his father’s footsteps and was found on Blue Spruce Road, drinking, just like his Daddy would do.
Hayden’s heartbreaking tale serves as an example of the toll that can be exacted by two of the most neglected child traumas: divorce and parental incarceration. Both of these issues are regularly brushed off and generally ignored by society. Yet both are routinely more hurtful and traumatizing for the children who endure them than conventional forms of maltreatment, such as physical or sexual abuse. Divorce is the implosion of a child’s family; the rupture of a child’s most basic foundation for life. One that brings about substantial anxiety, stress, conflict, internal torment and upheaval to their life. And while America seems enamored with its prisons and jails, housing more people in them than any other nation, we tend to forget that this comes at a severe human cost … in this case, a father who was loved and is desperately missed by his son. This type of parental separation is commonly more traumatic and harmful to kids than most conventional forms of child abuse. It’s certainly been traumatic for Hayden. And while Hayden’s dad certainly shares culpability for putting himself in that position, we should think of this little boy, and the 2 million other kids like him, before imagining that harsh sentences and a ballooning prison population is anything to celebrate or be happy about.
CPS temporarily took custody of the boy, but he was soon returned to his mother. April described the incident as “very embarrassing” and says it makes her feel like a failure. “Kids do things like this and it’s out of your control, you can do the best you can as a mother, everyone makes mistakes, it was an honest mistake.” She describes the incident as frightening and promises not to let it happen again. She said she was very concerned about “him being out there, getting kidnapped, getting run over, the alcohol,having to have his stomach pumped.” Of course, these things are merely symptoms of his underlying distress, and no happy ending can come until those are resolved. While she’s justifiably worried about her preschooler walking the streets late at night, the underlying issues causing this behavior are more worrisome.
We can only hope that things start to look up for Hayden. It’s just sad to know that with his family dissolving and his father behind bars,that a 4-year-old boy would rather be in jail.