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Tuesday, Dec 17 2013 01:05 PM

LIZZ RODRIGUEZ: A mother's plea: Don't give to panhandlers, at least not mine

This is a personal plea from a mother of one of those young people you might have seen panhandling at Walmart or Target, or on the street corner.

My son has a warm bed and a warm dinner waiting for him at home. He has cable in his room and new clothes hanging in his closet. He is welcome to come home any time as long as he is not under the influence of drugs. But you see, the drugs mean more to him than the warm meal and comfortable bed. Drugs mean more to him than an evening with his family laughing and watching television. He lives for his next fix. And he gets the money from panhandling.

I often hear people say, "What they do with the money is their business. At least I gave." Really? Would you pull out a dollar or two and hand it to your son or daughter, knowing they would use it to buy their next fix of heroin or meth? All I am asking is not to give it to mine.

He has food, clothing and a place to live. But with your money he is buying heroin and surely one day he will buy his last fix with your generous and kindhearted gift.

I love my son, and it is because of my deep love for him that it is too painful for me to watch him wither away. His once- handsome face is now covered with sores. The athlete's body he once had has been turned into a bag of bones. His now uses his intellect only to think of new ways to get money to feed his addiction.

As a parent, one never wants to lose hope for their child. So when our son came home saying he wanted to change I spent days locating a rehabilitation facility that our insurance would cover. I was hopeful when I was told he would be covered for 30 days. We packed his bags and drove with a sense of hopefulness that finally we will win. Off we went to rehab.

Now, repeat this experience five times.

Again he came to us and said that he could change if only we changed his environment. We packed up our home of nearly 15 years and moved to a rental on the other side of town. He didn't change. Maybe if it was further away? We called family members who lived far way. We sent him to live with an aunt, then a sister and then a brother. We sent him to live with friends and then other friends ... until we realized that this angle wouldn't work either.

I felt relieved when he was in juvenile detention facilities because at least I knew he was alive and not using. It was the only time in the last six years when I could sleep peacefully.

Today I see my son panhandling. He holds out a cardboard sign -- and tries to hide from me when he sees me. He often sees me when I don't see him, and he'll follow me into a store. I smile and hug him. I tell him it is good to see him. I offer him beef jerky and a soda. When it's available I will buy him a warm meal.

He asks how we are doing and I tell him we are doing well. I tell him that we love him. I tell him that he can come home, but he knows the changes he has to make. He kisses my cheek as he holds me tight. As he loosens his hold he tells me he'll be home soon.

I smile and wave as he walks away. When he is out of sight the tears start to flow and I have to head back to my car where I can cry hard and long.

What I would give to have my son at home. I just so badly want him home before that dreadful knock comes to my door. I love him so.

Lizz Rodriguez of Bakersfield is a dedicated wife, mother and grandmother. Worth Repeating highlights a notable op-ed article or letter to the editor that has appeared previously in the Opinion section. This article first appeared Dec. 3 in a shorter form -- as a letter to the editor.

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