List of Contributors to Ethiopian Adoptee Anthology: “Lions Roaring, Far From Home”

We are thrilled to announce our list of international contributors to “Lions Roaring, Far From Home,” the first of its kind anthology by Ethiopian adoptees.

Australia

Tamieka Small

 

Canada

Hana

Kassaye MacDonald

 

Ethiopia

Heran Tadesse

 

France

Mekdes

Mumasiquery

Vincent Proffit

Rasselas

Damien Vanier

 

The Netherlands

Abenet Bakker

 

Spain

Eleni Merelo de las Peñas

Kasech Navarro Wauters

 

Sweden

Genet

Sara Grönroos

Daniel Rosenlind

Hanna Wallensteen

 

United States

Edelawit A.

Zufan Bazzano

Bektu

Aselefech Evans

Harmony Fisher

Kiya Herron

Helen Samuel

Sarah Solomon

Hirut Tilleskjor

Tizita

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Original artwork by Adanech Evans, 2007.

The writers are listed by the countries in which they currently live. Some chose to use only first names or pseudonyms, for a variety of reasons. We respect the sacredness of each of their stories, which include reflections on being dropped off at an orphanage in the middle of the night, on the impact of racism, on the love for adoptive family and the need to know one’s origins, and on the hopes and dreams a father has for his child. Some have wonderful adoptive families; some had horrible ones. Some have chosen to search for their Ethiopian family; some have been successful and some have not. The writers range from young children to adults in their 40’s. They are amazing people.

And they are patient people. For a variety of reasons, the publication has taken longer than we hoped, and that is life. We plan to announce the publication date soon. The book will feature stunning cover art by the Ethiopian artist Nahosenay Negussie. On behalf of my co-editors, Aselefech Evans and Kassaye MacDonald, we appreciate all the energy and power that has gone into the essays. Amaseganllo.

 

 

How My Granddaughter Changed My Perspective on Adoption

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2011 Reunion in Ethiopia. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

I am pleased to have an article on Catapult.co today, titled “A New Light: How My Daughter’s Pregnancy Made Me Rethink Adoption.”

I am the parent through adoption to four amazing, wonderful, beloved children, now all in their late 20’s. When my daughter Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia when she was 6, became pregnant at 17, all our lives were changed. I had worked in adoption professionally for several years. I couldn’t imagine, though, even before she was born, my granddaughter being placed for adoption.

 

 

My article includes the story of my daughter’s re-connection with her Ethiopian mother. My granddaughter is her granddaughter as well, always and in all ways that matter.

I have often spoken out about how first/birth parents deserve far more support and resources than they currently receive, and that their voices are among the most marginalized in adoption. I have also spoken out about the need for greater emphasis on family preservation. There surely is a place for ethical, transparent adoptions, and there surely are children who will benefit. That said, we need to do a better job of supporting those mothers and fathers who want to keep their children, and of providing resources and communication for those who do place their children.

My eyes were opened in many ways because of my daughter’s pregnancy and my granddaughter’s birth. A decade later, and we have all met/reunited with my daughters’ Ethiopian family. I have learned so much, about love, privilege, and family, in ways I never could have predicted.

 

Thinking of Fisseha, Thinking of Ethiopia

Two years ago today, Ethiopian adoptee Fisseha Sol Samuel was found to have died by suicide. I am thinking of him and his family, the US and in Ethiopia today. He was, of course, much more than an “Ethiopian adoptee,” and I don’t mean to limit his impact in and on the world. He was a son, a brother, a soccer player, a friend, a person of warmth, laughter, and energy.

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Fisseha Sol Samuel

I wrote a post about him shortly after he died: Fisseha Sol Samuel: “Irreplaceably Marvelous.” I continue to keep him in my heart, as do many people.

Last year, on the first anniversary of Fisseha’s death, I wrote about October, Traumaversaries, and Hope. I’m not sure just why, and this is totally anecdotal, but October can be especially hard on many folks.

Right now, October seems hard on Ethiopia. After months of unrest, protests, injuries and deaths, Ethiopia is now in a state of emergency. It’s difficult to know what this means for the government, the protestors, the farmers, the students, the businesses, the tourists, the missionaries, the children, the schools, the people in cities and countryside, the people in jail, the journalists and bloggers, the future. It’s heartbreaking. Ethiopia is and will be a side note in the news, not on the radar for a lot of people, especially as our own U.S. politics dominate the headlines and social media.

So today, I reflect on Ethiopia, on those who have left it and those who remain there. I reflect also on the loss of Fisseha. His mother, Melissa Fay Greene, has written beautifully (no surprise, or course) about her beloved son in the two years since his death. Fisseha’s sister, Helen Samuel, has a powerful essay about her brother in our upcoming anthology, “Lions Roaring, Far From Home.” Suicide claims so many victims. Here is a link to some Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption.

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© Maureen Evans. Photo taken at Lake Langano, Ethiopia, Summer, 2014.

I am thinking today of both Fisseha and Ethiopia, on the notions of potential and loss, of sudden life-changing decisions, of hope for the future, of our understanding of what can be controlled and what cannot. My mom used to say we should pray for perspective, for a sense of what really matters in hard times, especially given that tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us. That approach, she suggested, would help us hold on to hope or to faith, and move us toward healing. May our memories lead us towards peace.

Al Jazeera’s Lost Opportunity on International Adoption

It could have been a compelling show about identity from an adoptee-centric perspective. Instead, it fell far short.

Here’s what a producer wrote in an email to Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora on September 22: “I’m with Al Jazeera English’s live daily show “The Stream” and working on a show about adoptees who return to their motherland to live for a short period or even for the rest of their lives. The show is next Thursday, Sept. 29 and airs live at 3:30 p.m. EST.
I wanted to find out if you know of any Ethiopian adoptees who decided to live in Ethiopia. Better yet, if they are still in Ethiopia.”

Great! A show about a rarely considered perspective in adoption, and a show intentional about having actual adult adoptees speak about their experiences. Ethiopian adoptee Heran Tadesse, who was raised in The Netherlands and now lives in Ethiopia, was chosen as a guest. She has a fascinating, important story.

The show, The Stream, tweeted a link to a New York Times article about Korean adoptees who have returned to live in Korea: “We’ll discuss more stories,” said the tweet. Two Korean adoptees, Hollee McGinnis (raised in the United States) and Kasper Eriksen (raised in Denmark), who have spent much time in Korea, were the other adoptee speakers.

When the show aired on September 29, the angle had apparently changed. It was billed on the website as “The challenges of international adoption: What happens when adoptees can’t adapt.”

What does that even mean?

Elizabeth Bartholet, a lawyer, adoptive parent, and founder of the Child Advocacy Project at Harvard Law School, was the fourth panelist. She is often noted as an advocate for adoption agency-supported legislation such as the Children In Families First (CHIFF) bill.

In fact, Bartholet’s Child Advocacy Project recently received $250,000 from Children of All Nations, a division of the Great Wall China Adoption agency. Great Wall has adoption programs in 15 countries. That quarter of a million dollars, from an adoption agency, will be hugely helpful to Bartholet’s mission, a press release said.

The show itself, which you can watch here, turned into breathless questions from the two hosts (Tell us a “nice, juicy story!”) that jumped around topics and had little focus. They showed a photo of Mia Farrow’s family, a photo that included Woody Allen. One of Mia Farrow’s adopted sons recently committed suicide, but that wasn’t even acknowledged. They showed a photo of Angelina Jolie.

Despite the original intent, the show lost the opportunity to discuss the interesting, evolving topic of adoptee identity as experienced by adoptees themselves.

Instead, we heard Professor Bartholet (not an adoptee) asked how she related to an adoptee’s struggle for identity. We heard her say to adoptees that she is “not somebody who thinks that there are major sorts of traumatizing, psychological issues built into the idea of being adopted.”

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L-Elizabeth Bartholet. R-Heran Tadesse

Heran raised the issues for international adoptees not knowing their names, their background, their parents, their culture: “I think this is not to be underestimated.” She noted that many children in orphanages in Ethiopia are not orphans at all, and called out the Western demand for children, along with the West’s wealth, as vital factors in problems in international adoption.

Having selected Heran for her perspective, the show never addressed the story of why she returned to her motherland to live after being adopted to Europe. Indeed, toward the end, one host asked Kasper Eriksen, “What are we missing” in what was discussed today? “Probably many things,” he answered.

If and when Al Jazeera’s The Stream does a follow-up that genuinely and effectively looks at the issues in adoption, perhaps they will take the time to hear Heran’s story, as well as those of other adoptees who have re-connected with their homelands.

Perhaps they could also include the perspective of the birth/first mothers in any show about international adoption. Their voices are even more marginalized than those of adult adoptees, and this show was no exception.

 

You can comment on The Stream’s page. I hope more adopted persons comment, as there are many adoptive parents who have weighed in. You can tweet to @AJStream and @AlJazeera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethiopian Adoptee to be Featured on Al Jazeera

Tomorrow the Al Jazeera show The Stream will feature a story about adoptees who return to their motherland to live for a short period or even for the rest of their lives. Al Jazeera reached out to Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, a global Facebook community, and connected with Heran Tadesse. Heran will be on the show tomorrow, September 29. It airs live on Al Jazeera at 3:30 p.m. EST/ 22:30 in Addis Ababa/ 20:30 in London/ 21:30 in Amsterdam.

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Heran is one of the writers included in our soon-to-be published anthology by Ethiopian adoptees, Lions Roaring, Far From Home. Born in Ethiopia, she was adopted to the Netherlands, and returned to live in Ethiopia several years ago. She has re-connected with her Ethiopian family. Heran is married to the artist Mulugeta Gebrekidan, and they are raising their three children in Ethiopia. Heran is on the Adoptee Advisory Board of Ethiopian Adoption Connection, a free, grassroots resource to reconnect families separated by adoption. She holds a degree in forestry, is a yoga instructor, and is currently the general manager of a wonderful child care facility in Addis, Regina Family Center.

I last visited with Heran and her family in Addis this past February. Heran is a person of depth, warmth, and strength. Hers has not always been an easy journey, and she handles challenges with grace and openness. I know you will be moved by her essay in the Lions Roaring anthology, and I have no doubts her perspective on the Al Jazeera show will be compelling. I am thrilled that her voice will be heard.

As to how to tune in to the show: I have not always been successful in viewing Al Jazeera here in the U.S. Depending where you are in the world, you may be able to watch live.  Ethiopian Adoption Connection tells me that the show will be archived and can be viewed at this link after tomorrow’s airing of the show. My guess is that could mean September 30, but could be sooner. Thank you!

 

Remembering Hana Williams, Three Years After the Guilty Verdict

Three years ago today, a jury found Larry and Carri Williams guilty of the death of their daughter, Ethiopian adoptee Hana (Alemu) Williams. She would have turned 18 this year, had she lived.

Hana (Alemu) Williams

Instead, Hana died on May 12, 2011, at 13 years of age. The causes: hypothermia and malnutrition. About two years after her death, the case went to trial in the summer of 2013. Her adoptive parents were accused of the homicide of Hana, and of the abuse of Immanuel, an Ethiopian boy adopted in 2008, at the same time as Hana. I attended most of the five-week trial, blogged about it, and posted this on the day of the jury decision: Williams Trial Verdict In: Justice for Hana and Immanuel.

In October 2013, Larry and Carri Williams were sentenced to jail for decades. They also have seven biological children. They lost custody of Immanuel, of course, but also lost custody of their five minor biological children as well. The children were all adopted by relatives, as I understand it. At one point, Carri tried to get back custody of her children, but failed. I have no details on Immanuel, except that he continues to struggle. All of the children struggle in many ways, I would guess.

In recent years, adoptions from Ethiopia have dramatically declined for a number of reasons, one of which is surely Hana’s death. I am not minimizing the tragedy of her death when I say that it is an anomaly, an exception. I don’t want her to be forgotten. I want her to be remembered as a light in the world, and still in our hearts.

 

Sentencing Hearings on IAG’s Fraud, Bribery (Finally) Held Today

Update: On October 20, 2016, I spoke with a clerk in Judge David Norton’s office who said that sentencing would not occur for at least another month. The clerk said that was because a different judge had originally heard the case. That judge has passed away, and Judge Norton “inherited” the case and apparently needs more time to decide on sentencing. The three defendants pled guilty about two years ago. The sentencing hearing was held August 29. The clerk said it is unusual for sentencing to take so long, but it was due to the previous judge’s death and a new judge in charge of the case. I am so sorry for all the families caught up in this. No such thing as closure.

 

More than two years after the staff of International Adoption Group (IAG) were indicted for fraud and bribery by the U.S.Justice Department, the three defendants finally faced a judge today for their sentencing hearing. Mary Mooney, James Harding, and Alisa Bivens, all of whom had pled guilty, appeared in court today before District Court Judge David Norton in Charleston, South Carolina. Judge Norton could make a decision on sentencing within the week, though the exact time frame is unclear.

Camille Smicz and her family are among the victims of IAG. Camille was present in the courtroom today, and provided a victim impact statement. Camille’s voice spoke for the many families, in the U.S. and in Ethiopia, harmed by the criminal actions of IAG.

Today, according to Camille, the judge mentioned his concerns with the delays in this case, including Mary Mooney’s effort to change her plea from guilty to not guilty, (That attempt was denied.) Minimum sentencing could be probation. Maximum sentencing would be five years in a federal prison. Once sentenced, the defendants have 14 days to appeal the decision.

The prosecution in this case called a forensic financial analyst as a witness, who spoke about the finances of the victims due to IAG’s actions. The prosecution is asking for restitution for some of the families. It is unclear how or whether that will happen.

Camille noted that Alisa Bivens had been a youth pastor at a church up until last month,  and recruited 26 people from her church who wrote letters on her behalf. There was at least one person from the church who plans to report back to the congregation regarding the sentencing hearing.

While it has taken an inordinately long time to reach this point, the case seems to finally be moving toward a sort of closure. I know families are exhausted from the emotional toll this has taken. The extent of the corruption, fraud, and bribery done in the name of helping children is unconscionable.

My thanks to Camille Smicz for sharing this information, and for speaking out for the victims. I urge you to read Camille’s victim impact statement.

As soon as I hear the judge’s decision, I will post again.

Lions Roaring: Learning From the Stories of Ethiopian Adoptees

Our upcoming anthology “Lions Roaring Far From Home,” with more than 25 essays by Ethiopian adoptees from 7 countries, is on the final stretch to publication, and will be published this fall. It’s been a longer road than we anticipated. I am aware now of how much I did not know about the process. Had I known, would I have embarked on this adventure? Yes. It’s been wonderful to learn so much about working with diverse authors, editing across languages and cultures, engaging with translators, and grinding through the details involved in putting a book together.

Beyond learning about publishing, though, I have learned much more from the stories these amazing writers have shared.

The essays reflect a range of Ethiopian adoptee experiences. Some are happy, some are tragic. Some adoptees were deeply loved, some were cruelly abused. Yes, those are realities for non-adoptees as well. Add on the layer of adoption, though–the removal of a child from his/her mother, family, country, and culture–and both the love and the cruelty take on different poignancy.

Racism and being “other” is a constant, around the globe, sometimes low-key and polite, sometimes harsh and shocking.

Many Ethiopian adult adoptees are involved in amazing, impressive programs to give back to Ethiopia.

Some adoptees have struggled with significant depression along the way, even while in loving families, sometimes to the point of considering suicide.

Many were older at adoption, and remember well their parents and siblings. Some have searing, wrenching memories of being separated from their mothers.

Some have stayed in contact with their Ethiopian families, or have reconnected with them. Some continue to wonder why they were adopted, and have not been able to learn their truth.

For some, being adopted has had a profound impact on their becoming parents, and the way they have chosen to raise their children.

Some have returned to Ethiopia to live and raise their families.

Some adoptees have very happy memories of being in orphanages, often with their siblings.

Some adoptees, even as adults into their 30’s and 40’s, hesitate to tell their adoptive parents about wanting to learn about their birth families, or .

All these snippets give you a flavor of the book, perhaps. It’s the stories, though, that have such power.

Here are brief excerpts from 3 essays:

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Mani, Ethiopia. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

My grandpa was paying for my older sister and brother to go to school already, and when five more of us came to live with him and my grandma, he did not know what to do with us. It was a constant battle with my grandma as to what she should feed us. I don’t think he had any option but to put us in an orphanage. He never would have sent us back to the village because he knew if we went back, we never would have gotten to see the doorway of a school. Education to my grandpa was, and still is, the most important thing in life, after his faith.

 

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Woman walking in Addis Ababa. Photo © Maureen McCauley Evans

 

My mother’s brother wanted to murder my mother because she, as a young schoolgirl, without being married, became pregnant. My mother came from a Muslim family. A girl who is pregnant and unmarried shames the whole family. My mother fled to her older sister’s home in Addis Ababa, and there I was born. My mother would take me sometimes to visit my father, who comes from a wealthy Christian family, but he would not acknowledge me, given the disgrace.

 

 

 

Original art © Maureen McCauley Evans

Which family, in my heart, do I belong to more? Which parent do I love more? Where should I live once I grow up, in Ethiopia or the U.S.? Which parent do I listen to more? Which one do I call Mom? Why did I get adopted if my one parent is alive? What is my purpose in life in America? Why me?

I feel I am living a double life. I am Ethiopian, but I am also American. I have family in Ethiopia, and I have family in America. I lived my first 8 years in Ethiopia and have lived the rest in America. This has been a blessing as well as hardship for me. I feel blessed that I have my American citizenship and I got that very easily, by being adopted. I know of other Ethiopians that have immigrated to America and had much more difficulty and fewer opportunities than I have had.

On the other hand, I feel like there is a hole in my heart, because when I go back to Ethiopia, I don’t feel 100% Ethiopian. I look Ethiopian, but I can no longer speak Amharic. There are many cultural differences. When I am in America, I speak the language, but I do not look like others in my community. So, being an Ethiopian adoptee in America is both a blessing and a curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sentencing Hearings for International Adoption Guides (IAG)

Update July 13: The sentencing hearings have again been rescheduled. Now they are supposed to take place August 29. Unbelievable.

Update June 20: My understanding is that the IAG sentencing hearings are now scheduled for July 13 and 14. What a long, hard road this has been for the victims.

Update: I have heard from someone connected with the trial that the June 16 and 17 sentencing hearings have been postponed, yet again. How frustrating and disappointing this whole process has become for the adoptees and their families. When I have more news, I will post again.

Three International Adoption Guides officials could be sentenced, finally, next week.

They were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department in February 2014, after lengthy investigations. They are scheduled for sentencing next week, having pled guilty over a year ago to charges of conspiring to defraud the United States by bribery and fraudulent documents, all involving several Ethiopian adoptions.

The sentencing hearing for Mary Mooney (IAG’s executive director) is scheduled for 11am on June 16. Mooney had pled guilty in January 2015, then changed her plea to “no contest” several months later. In August 2015, the judge ruled against the “no contest” plea, and the guilty verdict was reinstated.

For James Harding (IAG’s director of international programs), sentencing is scheduled for 10am on June 17. Harding had entered a guilty plea in January 2015.

For Alisa Bivens (IAG’s Ethiopia program director), sentencing is scheduled for June 17 at 10:30am. Bivens had entered a guilty plea in August 2014.

Each of these hearings will take place before Judge David Norton in Courtroom 2, J. Waties Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, SC.

There is a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for the original charges, according to the February 2014 press release by the Department of Justice when the indictment occurred.

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My guess is that the sentencing hearings will be fairly brief. Many details have probably been worked out by attorneys in advance. It’s possible that victims of these cases will speak at the hearings.

I have no insights as to why there has been such a long time between the guilty pleas and the sentencing. I thought, and was told by others, that the sentencing would take place within months after the guilty pleas. Clearly I was wrong about that. As I (a non-lawyer) understand it, there can be a number of reasons for delays: courts are overloaded with cases and everything just takes a long time; the guidelines for sentencing can be contested by the defendants; pre-sentencing investigations can be lengthy; lawyers can ask for continuances; and other reasons that a lawyer could no doubt better explain.

It’s not clear to me whether the three defendants have been in jail awaiting sentencing, but I don’t think that’s the case. My understanding is that defendants can earn reduced sentences by cooperating with the process and, of course, not getting into any further trouble. That could mean, given the lengthy time between convictions and sentencing, that the three defendants’ actual time in jail, if any, would be reduced.

What a long, hard journey this has been for the Ethiopian children adopted via bribery and fraud, for their Ethiopian families, and for the adoptive families. This case represents so much that is wrong in international adoption, so much that is heartbreaking for innocent victims. Here’s hoping that justice is done in the sentencing next week.

 

 

 

 

Hana Williams Died Five Years Ago Today

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

The weather that day in 2011 was overcast and cold. Hana died from starvation and hypothermia, right outside her family home where her adoptive siblings and mother were inside. She had been adopted from Ethiopia less than three years earlier. At the time of her death, she was 13 years old, five feet tall, and 78 pounds.

Larry and Carri Williams, Hana’s adoptive parents, were convicted in 2013 of killing her, and are now in jail. They will be there for decades. The Williamses’ minor biological children ended up being adopted, likely by family members. Immanuel, the other Ethiopian child adopted by Larry and Carri Williams, is (not surprisingly) struggling, from what I have heard. During the murder trial, we learned that he had been diagnosed with PTSD. Larry and Carri Williams were convicted not only of Hana’s death but also of abuse of Immanuel.

I can’t imagine what life has been like for the Williams’ children: to have witnessed the abuse by their parents of Hana and Immanuel, to have witnessed the death of Hana, to have testified at their parents’ murder trial, to have described in public the abuse that their parents imposed on Hana and Immanuel, and to have lost their parents to jail for at least 25 years. On September 28, 2011, a detective from Skagit County Sheriff’s office requested an arrest warrant for Larry and Carri. The document recounts what the Williams’ children said about how their parents treated Hana and Immanuel. At Larry and Carri’s sentencing, the judge suggested that the children’s testimony may have been the most compelling in getting the guilty verdict.

Many people keep Hana in their hearts: her family in Ethiopia, those of us who attended the murder trial, Ethiopians in the Seattle community and around the world, and those who have been moved by her story.

In the last five years, Ethiopia has sharply decreased the number of children placed in the United States. Ethiopian courts have annulled 3 adoptions of Ethiopian children placed in Europe. Staff members of a US adoption agency working in Ethiopia have pled guilty to fraud and bribery charges. The adoption agency that placed Hana and Immanuel, Adoption Advocates International (AAI), has closed. A vital Facebook organization, Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, has been created. Some of the changes are obviously positive; some are less clear.

There is debate over whether the decrease in adoptions is a good thing. Maybe fewer children will be placed in orphanages illicitly. Maybe more children will stay with their families. Maybe children in genuine, desperate need of families will never get one, or never get the medical care they need, care that they might have received as a result of adoption. Maybe more or fewer children will suffer.

Could Hana’s death have been prevented? The list of “If Only’s” is long: if only she had been adopted by a different family. If only she had been able to stay with her biological family. If only Larry and Carri had been better prepared, or more willing to seek help, or had connected with the adoption and Ethiopian communities. Had AAI made them aware of resources? Did AAI make sure that the WIlliamses would feel comfortable asking for help? If only so many things had happened.

There’s a great deal of justified, vocal anger in the adoption community these days. I want to think that it means the time is ripe for positive, effective changes that truly and effectively put the needs of children first. A veil has been lifted from the idyllic, romanticized version of adoption that has permeated our global culture.

The Williams’ murder trial lifted not a veil but a heavy, carefully placed curtain that had covered a family’s life until it was horrifically raised, on May 12, 2011. Four days before Hana’s death was Mother’s Day that year. Hana may well have spent the day with little or no food, locked in the closet that Carri Williams kept her in, with no light switch, no room to stretch in, let out only for bathroom breaks in an outdoor port-a-potty or a cold water shower outside. What could any child have done to deserve the treatment that Hana received?

May Hana rest in peace, in power, in grace, and in our hearts.