Book Review: ‘Against Her Will’: An elderly woman’s struggle for personal freedom
By Susan Johnson
What happens when the justice system doesn’t work for you? What can you do when the victim who is caught in the entwining tangles of the legal system is someone you love? How can you undo the damage that has been done? What recourse do you have?
John Howard Wyman knows what it’s like — he’s been there, as he describes in his book Against Her Will, published in 2011. He and his mother became the main characters in a constantly unfolding drama with twists and turns in a plot neither could have anticipated. But it’s not fiction; it’s all too real — and it could happen to you or someone you know.
John and his two brothers grew up in Rockford as part of a dysfunctional family. As he says, though his parents had given him “a great appreciation for art, music, and nature … as far as disciplinarians, they had both crossed the line more than a few times.” Frequent beatings from his abusive father nurtured an anger in young John for years to come. In 1972, after being expelled from high school for fighting, he went to live with his grandmother and found a safe haven with her. Eventually, he was able to move into his own apartment.
After graduating from beauty school, he set up his own business as a hairdresser. At age 26, he moved to Aspen, Colo., leaving his house in Rockford in the care of his parents. He showed them how to foreclose the mortgage, and they agreed to quit claim the deed back to him after his bankruptcy. But his father refused to sign the house back to him, saying he had cared for the house all those years, although he made no house payments or paid for insurance or taxes. This action strained the relationship even further, and John had little contact with his parents for the next 10 years.
In January 2009, John received a call from his berother David that their dad was trying to put their mother in a nursing home because she showed signs of dementia. In April, he got a frantic call from his brother Bill that there had been an incident at the house, and their mom had threatened to shoot their father. His mother was first hospitalized in a psych ward, then transferred to a local nursing home. John had to return to Rockford to see his mother and was shocked by what he found. His mother had been abused mentally, physically and emotionally, and was now imprisoned through no fault of her own.
Thus began a series of trips between Illinois and Colorado, encounters with medical personnel, law enforcement and the judicial system that played back and forth like opponents on a chess board. Only this wasn’t a game — they were dealing with a real person who was being moved around like a pawn. At one point, John’s mother, Carol Wyman, actually managed to escape and turned up at John’s trailer in Aspen, Colo.
This book pulls no punches, and John doesn’t hesitate to name individuals and organizations within the city and county. Some lawyers and judges come off not looking too good; you’ll have to read the book to find out who they are. Eventually, after much struggle, a reasonable resolution was reached — but not without some heated legal arguments and stirring up family acrimony.
Most of all, Against Her Will sounds a warning to all of us who are getting older; we’d better wake up and realize the system is rigged against us. Supposedly, as U.S. citizens, we have rights, but these rights are being violated every day. As John says, “follow the money.” There are big profits to be made, in the legal system, with big pharma, government scams and what he calls “the private nursing home Gulag.” Especially as the population ages, we need to become personally aware and involved and be ready to sound off when we see wrong being done. Or we may one day find ourselves in the situation Carol Wyman was — with no escape.
From the Sept. 12-18, 2012, issue
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