A suburban father's troubled son cycles through the criminal justice system

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According to his father, the subject sometimes talks of someday having a family. Timothy Nwachukwu, Star Tribune

After Adam and his wife had their first baby in the early ’80s, a second child, a girl, was lost in pregnancy.

Adam came from a family of four brothers and didn’t want their son to be an only child. They tried again. The baby came out badly bruised from his struggle to escape the womb.

With a successful career in IT, and an idyllic life in a northern suburb, Adam — a pseudonym to protect his family’s privacy — thought he could’ve taught a seminar on “10 steps to easy parenting.” Yet he soon realized those shysters take too much credit. They’re just lucky.

Their second boy, Noah, was impervious to parenting. Adam says Noah cursed at strangers, broke things on purpose, did the exact opposite of what his mother asked. The couple turned down relatives’ offers to babysit. No one could handle Noah.

As Noah (also a pseudonym) reached adolescence, fearless and powerfully built, he started traveling to north Minneapolis to mix it up with gangbangers, according to Adam, who doesn’t know everything that went down, but recalls one night Noah came home with a bullet hole in his jacket.

His accumulated arrest record saw him consigned to Woodland Hills, a juvenile center in Duluth. The constant attention got through to Noah, who was, for a short time, a model enrollee. At 18, he got a high school diploma and a second shot at a future.

He blew it. By his 20th birthday, Noah had convictions for burglary, theft, check forgery, and for speeding at over 100 miles an hour.

At least his parents finally had an explanation. Around this time, Adam says, Noah was diagnosed with a mental illness somewhere in the bipolar/schizophrenic spectrum. Medication and therapy worked sporadically, and never for long. Noah wouldn’t take drugs as prescribed, or would mix prescriptions with other substances.

“You’re relying on somebody who doesn’t follow the rules to follow the rules,” says Adam.

But Noah did well in structured treatment programs — so well he’d be free to leave... only to pick up where he left off.

At 22, Noah finally found an outlet for his energy: physical training. A preternaturally gifted athlete, he turned his attention to winter sports, winning gold medals on the amateur proving grounds for future Olympians. He wrote at the time that he wanted to “help inner city youth get out of the gang lifestyle... and to use sports to go to college and live a successful life without the fears of jail and death.”

But he would fall again, racking up convictions for speeding, driving without a license, and trying to pawn someone else’s property. He lived with his parents off and on. Each time he’d leave, Adam wondered if he’d ever see his son again.

In 2015, Noah’s criminal record caught up to the kind of behavior his parents had endured his whole life. He announced a plan to convert to Islam, said he understood why the ISIS terrorist group does what it does, and posted pictures of himself “holding several guns” to Facebook, according to a criminal complaint.

Adam threatened to kick him out of the house. Not if Noah killed him first, his son answered back, according to the complaint.

That fall, Adam confronted Noah, pleading with his son to give him access to medical records so he could “help him.” As detailed in another criminal complaint, the argument escalated, until Noah announced he would retrieve his gun from his car and kill Adam — and any cops who came. His parents fled and called 911. Police found Noah unarmed, but in possession of heroin. Adam says he was advised to take out a restraining order against his son.

Last year, Noah was picked up for a series of outstanding warrants. One day at the Hennepin County Jail, he complained of not receiving his “morning medications,” yet another criminal complaint says. A guard told Noah he’d missed the announcement and would have to wait. They argued. Noah dared the guard to “pepper spray him and see what happens.” Within moments, he had pummeled two guards. 

Last month, Noah was sentenced for assaulting the guards. He’s scheduled for release in August, but without probation, a sentence Adam interprets to mean the courts are giving up on him.

In the meantime, Adam is hustling job prospects for his son. He says one of three things is likely to happen: Noah will finally “own” his condition and get long-term treatment; medical science will find a way to treat people like him; or Adam will be forced to “put him right back in the system” — even if that means jail, where he’s less of a danger to himself and others.

Last year, a Hennepin County study found that 52 percent of jail inmates showed evidence of mental illness. Eleven percent were receiving anti-psychotics.

At his current facility, Adam says Noah is medicated but not receiving treatment. (When City Pages tried to reach him, he was in “separation” for bad behavior.)

Adam says people like his son are caught in a cycle that inhales the ill with one breath, spits them out with the next, and waits for them to die or finally commit the offense that will lock them up for good.

Solutions are expensive. Ask Adam, who has spent upward of $300,000 on medical and legal bills.

But he can’t imagine cutting off his troubled son, comparing it to a parent abandoning a child with Down syndrome. Noah’s not evil. He’s sick. Adam says the two have talked about the long term, and Noah someday getting better, well enough to start a family of his own.

“You know what?” Adam says. “Something good could happen today, and you always have to have that in this situation. If you don’t, you’re going to have to let him die, and you’re going to have to live with it. I’m choosing not to do that.”

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