Sentencing of Madison Mother Who Starved Her Child

The stepmother of a 15-year-old girl who ran away from home starved and vastly underweight was sentenced Friday to five years in prison on reckless endangerment and mental harm convictions.

Melinda Drabek-Chritton, 43, of Madison, had a role in the neglect of a girl who badly needed professional help to cope with lifelong emotional issues.

But although she initially tried, those issues were not addressed between 2008 and Feb. 6, 2012, when the girl ran away from home barefoot and dressed in pajamas and was found by a passer-by who called police.

……Genovese said that Drabek-Chritton and the girl’s father, Chad Chritton, initially did try to help the girl when they brought her to Wisconsin from Texas in 2006, where she had been living with her birth mother and her mother’s husband, who was a sex offender.

The girl initially claimed that the man had sexually abused her, then denied it, but Dane County Human Services investigators found there was ample evidence to show that she had been sexually abused.

After the girl’s last medical appointment in 2008, Genovese said, Chritton and Drabek-Chritton decided that they “didn’t want to be bothered with her problems and gave up.”

When the girl was found she weighed only 68 pounds. She told police that she had been confined to the basement of the family home, starved and was not allowed to use the bathroom upstairs.

She said Drabek-Chritton abused her and encouraged the girl’s younger half-brothers to treat her badly as well.

Chad Chritton, 42, was convicted in March of felony child neglect but a jury deadlocked on other charges. Prosecutors will re-try him in November.

Drabek-Chritton’s son, Joshua Drabek, 19, is scheduled to stand trial in February on sexual assault and child abuse charges. –Ed Treleven, Stepmom of girl in abuse case Sentenced to five years in prison

This statement from the above article is one reason why I fear the system may fail Richard and Tracy‘s kids (another is the slap on the wrist he got for choking his kid, and other cases I’ve read about in our state in the past several years, of kids being killed after CPS did not do its job):

But he said there is lots of blame to go around. Despite near-constant intervention with the family by Dane County Human Services, nobody helped the girl. “This case is a system failure,” Ozanne said.

CPS was called seven times on the Chrittons, but kept closing the cases as “unsubstantiated.”  Even probation agents didn’t catch it.

Reading about this case is also when I first came across this information about food hoarding.

This raised new red flags about Richard and Tracy, because they once told me their kids were hoarding lunchmeat.

Since by now we already knew about the abuse and Richard choking one of the children, my husband and I both wondered if there was more going on than we knew about.

This isn’t about kids sneaking away snack food because their parents don’t want them to have it.  This is squirreling away things like lunchmeat and other foods because you don’t know when your next meal will be:

“She said the girl’s behavior in the hospital was consistent with that of a persistently starved person. The girl ordered as many items from the menu as she could, then hoarded the food and tucked some away for later, Knox testified.” —Judge orders trial in Wisconsin starved-teen case

 

So why does a child hoard food? Often food hoarding is directly connected to significant neglect that the child has experienced in consistently having their basic needs for life sustaining food denied or inadequately met.

As a result, the child is forced to become prematurely self-reliant in meeting their own basic needs. –Charley Joyce, Child Neglect and Hoarding Food

 

Cracker crumbs found under a pillow.  Moldy food rotting under the bed. A stash of food hidden in a backpack. A child who sits at a table and eats – and eats – and eats, until you are afraid their stomach can handle no more.  Sound familiar?

…Children communicate needs through behavior. On a deeper level, this issue is not about food but about control. The child is not yet ready to trust the adults in his or her life to provide a secure, safe environment.

That trust cannot be won by threats, punishments or shaming behaviors.  This behavior does not come out of a vacuum. Rather, it is an adaptive response to deprivation. It often stems from years of food insecurity. –Lisa Dickson, The Power of Food: Tips for Handling Hoarding

 

Incidences of food maintenance syndrome have been linked to acute stress, particularly from personal traumas such as abuse or maltreatment.

In many cases, children with food maintenance syndrome have undergone periods of neglect where they did not have access to adequate amounts of food.

The child then develops a heightened survival instinct related to food; whenever the child has an opportunity to consume food, he or she does so in excess and hoards any remaining food.

In situations where food is not consistently available to meet basic needs, overeating and food hoarding are natural reactions to fight off potential future starvation.

However, these habits can continue even when food has become readily available thus causing food maintenance syndrome. The characteristics of this disorder are a sign that the person afflicted still feels insecure about whether his/her basic needs will be met….

Food maintenance syndrome is rare in the general population but there are certain demographics where it is very common.  In particular, foster children are prone to food maintenance syndrome.

Abused or neglected children who are not in foster care also frequently display symptoms of food maintenance syndrome. —Food Maintenance Syndrome

LYING, STEALING, AND HOARDING FOOD: Survival techniques gone wrong

Read more about this case here.

 

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Discovering they live in squalor

After they moved out, they lived in squalor, no matter how nice the place was at first.  I feared for their children, growing up in a place like that, especially for their health because of the lack of sanitation.  It could be considered child neglect!

Tracy got furious whenever Richard insisted that she help out more around the house, that he couldn’t do it all himself and take care of all their kids.  A mutual friend also saw this for himself.  I’ve been told that the house got so filthy in their last city, that the state had to step in, though I won’t go into detail on what the state did.

Yet Tracy complained about me doing housework when she lived in my house, as if she expected me to sit on my butt all day talking to her and somehow the house would be clean.

When Richard described the house he was living at before he moved to our place, it sounded like hoarding and/or squalor conditions: Cockroaches and mice running around.  Trash piled up.  Black mold.  The kids named one of the cockroaches, like a pet.  The kids also hoarded food in their rooms, not snacks but lunchmeat.

But whether they were technically hoarders or not, wherever they lived was soon filthy and stinky and looked like a dump, whether a broken-down old house or a 10-year-old apartment.  Even their vehicle had the same stench, and was full of trash and stains.

Even the mutual friend–a bachelor!–called their house disgusting, and still mentions it from time to time, especially if somebody accuses him of bad housekeeping.

Richard was delayed moving into our house because he had to throw out so much trash and mold-ruined clothes.

I went to the trouble of extra-cleaning the house before he arrived, so he could go from squalor to nice.  My son and I even cleaned the marks off the walls, including his drawings.

Unfortunately, one or two of those cockroaches apparently hitched a ride with Richard, as much as he tried to avoid it, because I saw a couple of cockroaches in my clean house for the first time ever in my entire life.  I sprayed and set out traps, and never saw them before or since November 2007.

In 2010 or 2011, I developed a fascination for shows about hoarders, because of this exposure to real-life squalor and trash hoarding.  What I saw looked familiar, not so much the hoarding as the poor housekeeping.

I wanted to see if their behavior qualified, and what drives people to live like this.

I have also seen many toilets on these shows which look just like Richard and Tracy’s–the element of their squalor which most horrified me and probably caused most of their stomach bugs.

That thing must have been infested with e-coli with all the fecal matter covering the seat and floor.  I mean, come on, when your own children’s health is at stake because they must sit every time they use the toilet–CLEAN IT!

I am a housewife, ever since my son was born.  Before that, I worked part-time.  My husband and son have always made a clutter-free house impossible, and my husband slacked off on his own chores all the time, but (in the eyes of everyone except my mother-in-law) I have always kept a clean house.

Not neat, but clean.  No mounds of trash, and bathrooms cleaned weekly.  At least, when I was in charge of cleaning them.  But even when my husband did that, I still spot-cleaned the toilets daily, so nobody had to fear using them.

Being exposed to their squalor drove me to be even cleaner, as if staving off the horror of my house becoming like theirs.  I use their house as a bugbear for my son, what will happen to his future place if he doesn’t clean it.  I joke that I’ll spank him if I come visit and it looks like theirs.  He wrinkles his nose and says he doesn’t want it to be like theirs.

I even felt a bit traumatized, so when I told my mom that we broke off relations with them, I finally poured out to her by e-mail and phone the filth I had experienced.  I also needed to talk about the filth with Todd.  I had to purge it, just as I do the entire abusive experience through this memoir.

Already I never knew what to expect in other people’s bathrooms, but this made me especially nervous when visiting other friends.  I fear such squalor anywhere I go, even though I haven’t seen it since.  I feel immense relief even if a bathroom hasn’t been cleaned recently, because it still is nowhere near the horror of Richard’s toilet and bathroom floor.

They didn’t have mounds of stuff in the living room, or bugs in the refrigerator, but there were unsanitary conditions.

Even the chairs and couches all had what looked like brown butt-marks, as if the filth from the toilet seat had been ground into them, so I had to force down revulsion just to sit down.  (This cause of the marks was plausible.  Don’t ask how I know this.)

The dishes, pots and pans piled in the sink often looked like they’d been sitting there for some time, with food long since dry and stuck to them.

The house smelled like decaying trash and body odor.  The bathroom sink was neglected like everything else, cluttered with stuff and filthy, and once I even found a disposable diaper in it and couldn’t use it.  And that was the only bathroom, so how were people supposed to wash their hands?

Jeff said the condition of the house was even worse when they expected only him and not me, which made him feel like he wasn’t worth cleaning up for.  (They said they cleaned for me, and I thought, “This is clean?”)

Jeff was also disgusted by the toilet.  It also sounds like the mutual friend saw even worse conditions than I did.  It sounds like I never saw just how bad it could really get, because they cleaned up for me.

But from what Richard, the mutual friend and Jeff told me, there was indeed trash hoarding along with unsanitary conditions.  Maybe “cleaned up” means they pitched the trash.

In my house, they left a huge pile of dirty laundry (including underwear!) on my living room floor!

First Richard started doing this, so I got disgusted and bought him a frickin’ laundry basket.  But he only put clean laundry in there, and still piled the gross dirty stuff on my floor.  ARGH!

But being a nice hostess, and already starting to fear his sarcastic wit (such as calling me Mom for wanting him to call if he’s going to be late in a snowstorm), I wasn’t assertive about it.

In fact, once I did try to get him to clean it up, he called me pushy, I apologized, then he laughed at me.  (This is a narcissistic trait: backwards reactions to things.)

When Tracy arrived, I hoped she would get him to improve his hygiene and habits, but hers turned out to be just as bad (she bathed every three days), and the laundry pile stayed put.

I didn’t feel comfortable hinting at her like I did at him, since with him I felt as comfortable as a twin sister, but she was scary.  (Once, when they visited after moving out, I had to re-wash a freshly washed blanket after she used it.  It stank that bad.  I sometimes wonder if they bathed even less often after moving out.)

Day after day I kept telling them when my laundry was done, but they still neglected their laundry, until they reached crisis levels.  If I tried to help, I was treated like I was creepy.

After they moved out, I vacuumed and wiped up the carpet before I could feel okay walking around there.  Then I saw them make the same pile (including underwear) on their own living room floor!

When they lived with us, I had to clean up after the adults and the children every time they used the bathroom.  I don’t want to go into a lot of disgusting detail, but this was not your usual ick left behind by the inconsiderate person ahead of you.

No, this was a dusting of filth all over the toilet and floor, or various other leavings, depending on who it was and what happened.  Didn’t they see it?

So I was constantly busy cleaning the bathroom, constantly using bathroom wipes.  (We went through four tubes of wipes a week!)

As the months passed after they moved out, I noticed whenever I used their bathroom that nobody kept up with it like I did–and the toilet and the floor around it grew worse and worse all the time.  There were layers of filth!  I’ve seen toilets on hoarder shows that remind me of this.

I feared for the health of those little girls.  I also feared what kind of crap (literally) they were tracking around the house on their feet.

I don’t consider myself excessively clean, but they already considered me practically OCD (I suppose I am in comparison), and I wanted to be a good guest, so I bit my tongue, swallowed my revulsion, and sat on the couches/chairs anyway.  Then changed my clothes when I got back home.

I began holding it in for as long as I could whenever we went over there.  But sometimes, I couldn’t help using the toilet.

But first, I was forced to use wet toilet paper and soap to scrub the seat, the front of the toilet under the seat, and floor as best I could, so that filth would not get on my skin and clothes.

Even that could not fully clean it, and all that caked-on filth, left black stains behind.  The bathtub was also neglected.

I wondered if they even noticed the smell or how filthy it was in the bathroom–another question I have when watching hoarder shows.  Other friends occasionally have dirty or cluttered houses, but nothing close to this.  Hoarders do not seem to notice the filth, because they live day-to-day in conditions that require others to wear hazmat suits!  And get angry when others remark on the filth!

Richard kept cancelling (at the last minute) some get-together we planned for the two families, because some child had a nasty stomach bug.  Richard blamed it on the cold weather; I knew the real reason: the lack of sanitation in their bathroom.

As an SCA person with geek friends, I have been in homes where the housework was low on the priority list, and am used to turning a blind eye to such things; I have been in a gaming store in which the bathroom was apparently kept up by apes; but I have never seen anything like what was in their bathroom.

From what I saw and was told by others, including Richard, an appalling level of filth was normal in their household, not just in my city but before they moved there.  They moved twice while I knew them, and both places ended up looking exactly the same over time–even an apartment which was only maybe 10 years old!

They kept pointing the finger at each other, or at the kids.  I wondered how two grown adults, at least one (usually two) of which was unemployed the whole time I knew them, could have no time to clean.

What did they do all day if they weren’t at work?  If they lacked money for cleaning supplies/wash machines, why not wash clothes in the tub and use vinegar to clean?

When Tracy’s mother visited them for a few weeks, and started cleaning the place, Richard and Tracy got furious with her.  I felt sorry for her, forced to stay in this place for so long, but not allowed to clean it.

I also see this reaction on hoarding shows, as the hoarder screams at people for throwing away rat-pee-covered books.

I got yelled at just for wiping honey off a table before setting down my books; Jeff got yelled at for helping clean up because the place would still be a mess when he got there; I got snapped at for giving Jeff a bottle of wipes to clean up after our son when he used the bathroom.

Richard made me feel like I had deeply insulted him by giving my son those wipes, that I implied his bathroom was not clean.

Well…even though the wipes were to clean up after my son, who was still potty training…instead of feeling insulted when people point out the obvious truth, just clean the frickin’ thing!

Even when they gave me a blanket during the winter, I often had reason to believe it was not clean, from what fell off it onto the table.  (I don’t want to be more specific on the Web).

Between this and the cramped conditions of their apartment/house compared to our own two-story condo and the field out back, where kids could freely roam and play and make noise without annoying the adults–I kept wishing they would come to our house more often.

(Heck, my house was even cleaner now because I had to stave off the specter of being like their house, and “cleanse” myself of it.)  Our house was a lot roomier without eight people sleeping in it and a mountain of dirty laundry in the living room.

But Tracy complained about our cats making her allergic (another reason that Richard bringing his family into my house to stay for a while was a very bad idea), and they wanted to play D&D on their dining table rather than in our basement, so we kept having to go over there.

So afterwards I came home, changed clothes, and cleaned the inside and outside of my shoes.

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t refuse to go over there, period.  But Richard had me so enwebbed in his spell–and afraid to tell him my true opinion lest he make me feel like a prissy clean freak and a disgracefully bad-mannered guest–that I put up with it quietly.

When other people stayed with them, I wondered how they could stand the filth.  Even Jeff, when we ended the friendship on 7/1/10, said how glad he was to not be going back into that house with that smell and the filth.

And starting in 2010, when it became clear I was not going to have another child, and I no longer needed to hold onto baby things in case Richard’s little ones came over–I began deep-cleaning my own house.

I gave away the baby things, turned the changing table/baby room back into a library, and started cleaning things I never bothered with before.

My son was older, so with no little ones around we could bring down the breakables again, and I had more time to go deep into cupboards, clean behind furniture, and start cleaning more things more often than I did before.

(I even discovered some beautiful wedding-present-dishes and glasses that had been completely forgotten about.  They were good for daily use, so I washed them and put them into circulation, replacing our tired old ones.)

This was how I dealt with my grief in the summer of 2010, and it became a yearly summer routine.  Now that my son was older and I had more time, I took the toilet job back from my husband, because he didn’t do it the way I liked and had to be reminded all the time.

I now needed sparkly clean toilets, and floors swept every day.  My house would be CLEAN! cleaner than it ever had been! because I couldn’t stand even the faint resemblance to the filth I saw in THEIR house!  I’m not sure if “traumatized” by their filth is the right term, but it was something like it.

They all lived in my house for six weeks.  And while I was forced to constantly deal with the filth they brought into my house, constantly cleaning day and night for weeks, dealing with the mess and bad hygiene and cockroaches and lice and laundry on the floor and allergy medication left in reach of the children and bathroom cleanups every time somebody used it–

Tracy was constantly hostile to me, showering me with insults which should have led to her getting kicked out the door.  And she then tried to force me to grovel to her for her forgiveness and approval, because she twisted my treatment of her into something it was not, and her own treatment of me into sweetness and light.

I found myself down the rabbit hole.

Things were so bad that the only reason I can think of for staying friends with them for so long, was Richard’s hold over me.  I could not imagine life without him.

Table of Contents 

1. Introduction

2. We share a house 

3. Tracy’s abuse turns on me 

4. More details about Tracy’s abuse of her husband and children 

5. My frustrations mount 

6. Sexual Harassment from some of Richard’s friends

7. Without warning or explanation, tensions build

 
8. The Incident

9. The fallout; a second chance?

10. Grief 

11. Struggle to regain normalcy

12. Musings on how Christians should treat each other

13. Conclusion 

13b. Thinking of celebrating the first anniversary

14. Updates on Richard’s Criminal Charges 

Sequel to this Story: Fighting the Darkness: Journey from Despair to Healing

 

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