Oprah says that they talked to Vanessa’s daughter who said that her mother had no interest in talking to Oprah. Oprah says that any time anywhere she will meet with Vanessa so that she can explain this to Oprah. TreShawn weighed 40 pounds at age 14- he was about the weight of a five year old, a typical 14 year old weighs 115 pounds. Terrell weighed 28 pounds at age 10- the average weight of a 2 year old. Michael was 23 pounds at age 9- the average weight of an 18 month old toddler. That was 7 years ago, those boys have been through a living hell and are here with their story, says Oprah. They come out and Oprah hugs them. She says that they are looking good. Bruce is not here but he is the hero of this story- had he not gone out at night looking for food they might still be locked in the house. They said that it was a house of horror. They never knew how much they would eat or when they would eat. Sometimes Vanessa said they had one minute to eat so they would always stuff food in their mouth. They went to her as babies, the youngest was one, and they were fed for two years then they were adopted and everything changed. They went to church and stuffed their clothes or had to wear three or four sweaters so they looked healthy. TreShawn tried to tell his teacher who didn’t believe him, he’d ask for food. The teacher didn’t believe him but Vanessa found out he was talking and they were home-schooled and locked in the house.
Today, the three boys live in rural New Jersey with their adopted parents James and Amber Parish and their 8 year old biological son, CJ. There is an abundance of love. The boys described their childhood with one word, hell. Terrell says that they would get a bowl of water and some soggy bread. Some times they would be fed nothing at all. One of them crept in to the kitchen and found bagels and cake- Vanessa grabbed the closest thing to her and started beating him. If they were caught stealing food they had to sit on the stairs for hours at a time. Of the ten years that he was there, TreShawn says that he spent seven years sitting on the stairs in a total lockdown. He said they would just wait for bedtime so that they could sleep and didn’t have to think anymore.
James says that when they came there was a lot of anger and hate, TreShawn thought that he was put in that home to die. Amber says that she doesn’t know how a mother could not give her kids food and love. No one has been through what those guys have been through, it is a blessing that they have survived.
The boys say that their lives will always be tainted by their experience. They will never take love or family for granted. Life now is a dream come true, they have freedom from starvation.
Oprah says that they were starved of so much more than food. Terrell says that he lost his childhood, being able to go to school and play with friends. He lost all of that. Oprah asks how they feel about Vanessa’s sentence. Terrell says that they messed up the years, and that she should have served the years that they suffered, times each kid. The audience applaud. TreShawn says that Bruce is their hero. Oprah tells them that his attorney says that Bruce loves and misses his brothers very much. He is safe and in the constant care of professionals. The boys nod.
Oprah asks if people checked on them? People came but the boys would be pushed upstairs into the attic. Oprah asks if they ever talked to someone- they weren’t allowed to talk. Social Services went to the Jackson house 38 times and they were about to bring another child into this home. Shocking, shocking, shocking says Oprah. Oprah asks what they would say to Vanessa if she were listening- TreShawn says that her true judgement will come when she comes before God. Terrell says that God is watching and knows what she did and she needs to live the rest of her life knowing that she hurt them. Michael says that he would like to thank her for showing him that he could survive and accomplish things and that kids know what they are saying, and that what they say can be true.
The boys were adopted by James and Amber, their angels. The first time Amber saw them she thought they were little boys, she couldn’t believe their ages. When Michael asked if she would be her mom, she melted like butter. She says that after all the kids have been through they chose her, they are her babies. James says that they know that Dad and Mom love them, no matter what happens. Oprah calls them heroes- they come in with their youngest son CJ. Oprah hugs them and says God Bless You. James was working for the welfare system and was given this case. James and Oprah both stop and cry. The boys needed a mentor, a positive role model and that was James. He worked with them to try and bring them back. The boys were placed in James’ grandmothers home who does emergency placement foster care. He started as a mentor and after they have been in the system for a time they need to see if they were adoptable. Oprah says that teenagers plus boys plus African American means a triple whammy. That there probably wasn’t alot of takers out there for the boys, she says. At the time the parents had CJ, then one day CJ wakes up and has three brothers. CJ says that they could play together and bike ride together and play X-Box so it was all cool. Oprah asks how this could happen. James says that protocol dictated that in the past social workers could only look at the child in question during a visit. Now it has been changed because all the kids in the house need to be checked on. He says that once kids are adopted the check ups stop. Oprah asks Amber how the boys would eat. She says in the beginning they would eat lightly, they looked scared of food and would often throw up. Now she can’t stop them eating. The boys say that they finally understand that the food is not going anywhere. Initially they were timid but would overeat until they vomited, says James. Oprah says that initially they were angry towards women. TreShawn says that he kept seeing Vanessa’s face everywhere he went- he would lash out at any woman he spoke to. They have had a lot of therapy and have dealt with the flashbacks. For CJ he was only 3 when the brothers came so it was fun for him. The rest of the family have embraced the boys and love them.
Oprah asks what Amber and James would say to Vanessa Jackson. Oprah says that it is hard for anyone to imagine that she would adopt these children yet sit in church every a Sunday with a lock on the refrigerator at home. Amber says that Vanessa was not a mother, she was the monster in the closet and she owes her boys an apology. She wants to hear that and she wants to be there. Terrell says that unless Vanessa means it, sorry means nothing. James says that she only got a slap on the wrists. Oprah says that the laws indicate how we really feel about our children- it is unspeakable that Vanessa is out. TreShawn says that an apology doesn’t help, his heart is cut really deep- he wanted to become her son and after he said yes she started to abuse them. Oprah asks if they feel that they have a new chance at life. TreShawn says that his father teaches him everything- to talk well, to keep trying at school, to give 100% at sports so that people see he is trying to be his best and they don’t take pity on him. The crowd applaud.
All four brothers were awarded a large sum of money in a lawsuit against the State of New Jersey and they received full scholarships to go to college. Oprah says that it has been wonderful to have them all here today and she thanks them for coming on the show.
Until recently going out in public was pure torture for 29 year old Ana Rodarte, she was laughed at, pointed at and children even cried in fear. She has turned down numerous TV requests to tell her story- she wanted to be here today because she trusts the Oprah Show to help tell her story. Ana has neurofibromatosis (NF), sometimes called Elephant-Man disease. You may have seen the play and the movie but the term is highly offensive to those who live with NF, says Oprah. Its a disfiguring, incurable disease which has literally destroyed Ana’s face. As you listen to the story, says Oprah, think about how we all judge each other on appearance.
Ana says that her parents noticed a bee-sting like lump when she was a few months old which grew bigger and bigger. She just wanted to be normal, but other kids didn’t want to play with her. She wanted to know why God was so mean, and her parents told her it was just the way he wanted her to be. Throughout her childhood she had many surgeries. After each one the tumor would grow back. It broke Ana’s heart and eventually she lost faith in the doctors. At age 14 she didn’t want to go to school as the tumor was growing at such a rapid pace. After high school, her friends all moved away and she felt very alone and depressed and she secluded herself for 2 or 3 years. She tried to find a job but felt she was discriminated against based on how she looked. She would leave the house maybe once a month. There were times when little kids would see her and start crying. It’s very hard emotionally to lead this life- growing up she built up a wall around herself. By the time she was 22 the tumor had grown so much that it covered up her left eye. Ana would struggle with reading and eating. She suffered many headaches and chewing on the left side would result in her biting the tumor.
She was 24 when she met Dr Batra, she felt that he was talking to her more as a friend than a doctor, and then she knew he wanted to go ahead and hope that he would be different from other doctors.
Oprah says that obviously it is difficult for Ana, so please welcome her. Ana comes out and Oprah hugs her and says welcome, welcome, welcome. Ana was born in Mexico and her parents came to the US for better medical care. They didn’t know what to do in Mexico. Oprah says that on the tape Ana said that she thought as a child that God was mean, and asks her how it is now. Ana says that the experience serves another purpose and that it is not hard for her now. Oprah asks what the tears are for- Ana says that they are for the video, sharing her own emotions. Oprah asks what it would feel like when kids would cry or scream when they saw her. It was heartbreaking. Her family would force her out in public, which she appreciates now. Oprah asks if her disease prevents her from dating and wanting children. Ana does not want children as she does not want to pass on the disease, but she does date. Oprah asks why the term Elephant-Man Disease is offensive. Ana says that the disease has a name and she doesn’t see why people have to call it Elephant-Man Disease.
Four years ago Ana began a series of risky surgeries to remove the tumor from her face. She says that she feels more confident now when she looks in the mirror, she resembles more of a normal person, she is friendlier with people and she doesn’t block them out any more. Oprah asks if Ana can live a normal life. Ana says she could if people would stop judging her on appearance. She wants to tell people that there is help, that people shouldn’t shelter themselves from society. After several doctors said that the tumor was hopeless, Dr Munish Batra offered hope to Ana. The surgeries were paid for by his charity, DOCS- Doctors Offering Charitable Services. Oprah invites the doctor up to the stage.
Oprah shakes his hand. He says that he saw Ana in the office and was amazed that she hadn’t had help before this time. NF is genetic and passed from parent to child- there is a 50% transmission rate that it will be passed on. He was not surprised that Ana had shut herself down- such a big part of our identity is our face. Oprah thanks him for being who he is and doing what he does through DOCS, and thanks Ana for being here.
A viewer, Donna, said in an email that as a stay at home mom she only got a chance to text and talk in the car. After watching the No Phone Zone show, she took the No Phone Zone Pledge and the very next day she could have been in an accident, if she had been not paying attention. Oprah thanks Donna and says that the episode is online so families should watch it and then take the pledge.
WHAT WE LEARNED TODAY:
Oprah says that the laws of a country indicate how we really feel about our children.
A “loving couple and kind parents” starved their children of so much more than food.
Our face is a major part of our identity.
Having a tumor cover your face makes it hard to connect with people, especially when children cry or scream when they look at you.
Ana has a tumor removed from her face and says she could live a normal life if people would stop judging her on appearance.
A VERY QUICK SUMMARY:
It is inconceivable that a couple would adopt children only to starve and beat them. It is utterly inconceivable that this would merit only a 4 year stint in prison.