If you remember, we left off last week when Gail Willet, the prosecutor, agreed to petition a judge to grant a temporary shelter care order that would allow Donna Corliss, the social worker, to order Gwen Landis’ daughter Casey into foster care for one week for evaluation. To do this Donna has falsified both the date the anonymous tip came in, to make it sound like she investigated right away, and her findings during the investigation herself—her affidavit claims she found fading bruises when in fact she did not.
As we learn next, that afternoon Superior Court Judge Philip Romer, “who was assigned to Juvenile Court for the months of April, May, and June” signed the order. As Farris explains:
This meant that Gwen had to bring Casey to court next Tuesday and tell the judge her reasons why Casey should not be taken away for seven days to be examined. Gwen would face the prospect of being interrogated herself by a psychologist and perhaps a social worker or too.
Farris also tells us that:
The judge thought the papers were in order, presented professionally by this new member of the Prosecutor’s staff [Gail], and was particularly moved by the affidavit signed under oath by Investigator Corliss.
This is perhaps the most confusing thing of all about this book for me. We are repeatedly told that Donna is a star social worker, that she knows her stuff, that she’s driven and motivated and leaves no stone unturned. And yet, she’s willing to perjure herself to get back at an ordinary woman for calling her a witch and a nazi.
We are then treated to the thoughts of the Sheriff’s Deputy Wally Elrod, whose job it was to serve papers. We learn that he works out the most efficient order for delivering the eight court orders he has to serve, and that he considers the people at Medical Lake “irrational,” referring to one as “the crazy dude.” Gwen does not live in Medical Lake, and I’m not familiar enough with the Spokane area of Washington state to get what must be an in-joke here.
Wally pulls into Gwen’s driveway, blocking her car in.
Gwen was not expecting any visitors that afternoon. When the bell rang, her heart froze thinking it might be Donna Corliss once again. But when she glanced out the window and saw the brown cruiser, her fear became full-blown.
“May I help you?” Gwen asked with a barely-concealed tremor as she held the door halfway open for the grey-haired officer clad in brown.
Gwen was afraid of Donna from her very first knock, but Donna’s second visit (during which she and Rita forcibly strip searched Casey, holding her down while she screamed) rather confirmed her fear. Farris portrays Donna as not only driven and “tough as nails” but also quite willing to bully and frighten those she investigates—parent and child alike.
Wally gives Gwen the papers. She says she won’t sign anything until she has read it, and Wally tells her there’s nothing for her to sign. She asks what the papers are about, and Wall says
“No, ma’am. I just deliver ’em. Don’t read ’em, and I sure as shoot’n don’t explain ’em. Just call your lawyer. He gets paid to explain these things.
Gwen says she doesn’t have a lawyer, and Wally says she should probably look into getting one. After Wally leaves, Gwen read the papers.
Farris now tells us more about Gwen. We learn that she is a nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital, and that her parents watch Casey while she is at work. Presumably, Gwen was not scheduled to work the previous Wednesday and Thursday when Donna, and then Donna and Rita, came to visit her. In my understanding, nurses usually work fewer days of the week, but have longer shifts. Farris tells us that when Gwen worked her parents kept Casey until after supper, and then one or the other of them would take her home, put her bed, and wait for Gwen’s shift to end.
She didn’t understand much of the mumbo-jumbo, but she could clearly understand she had been accused of spanking Casey and leaving bruises. That vicious liar, Gwen thought, picturing Donna Corliss’s stern face in her mind’s eye.
And here we learn this:
Even though the trauma of the last several days was still fresh, she had been doing her best to make life as normal as possible for Casey. During the day, Casey seemed fine. But whenever it was time for bed, Casey refused to go into her room alone. She was terrified “the mean ladies” were hiding under her bed. When Gwen finally got Casey to sleep, the early morning hours were often pierced by Casey’s bloodcurdling screams. Nearly every night since the incident, Gwen would sit on Casey’s bed and comfort her from the fear of terrifying nightmares.
Given Farris’s description of Donna and Rita’s strip search, this seems plausible. I would simply point out, though, that Farris portrays this as the norm rather than the exception, not just in this story but elsewhere too. He often talks about social services investigations as traumatizing to children, for example. Yet while I’m sure social services investigations can be traumatizing to children, social workers are trained to try to make them as non-traumatizing as possible (this article makes an interesting read, for example). Farris never seems to acknowledge this.
Anyway, Gwen calls her father, Stan Mansfield, and tells him about the papers. “Dad, I’m so scared,” she says. “They want to take Casey away from me.” Farris tells us Gwen breaks down as she relays this information. “Those idiots. Those stupid idiots!” her father says. Gwen says she needs a lawyer and asks her dad about the lawyer he mentions meeting on the golf course. Bill Walinksi, her father says.
There’s some discussion of whether they should visit Bill that day or whether Gwen should go to work, as she’s schedule for a shift. Stan tells Gwen that she should go to work, for financial reasons.
You’re going to need all the money you can get for the lawyer. Mom and I just aren’t in a position to help you with more than four or five hundred dollars. I wish I was rich, but my pension and social security barely cover our bills.
This is beside the point, but I’m suddenly curious how old these characters are meant to be. I have a daughter who is a year older than Gwen’s, and my parents are not even close to retirement age. But then, my mother had me when she was fairly young, and I was fairly young when I had my daughter as well. How old is Gwen, I wonder? Is she meant to be on the young side, in her twenties, or is she in her thirties?
Ultimately, Gwen won’t take no for an answer and calls the hospital to change her shift. While she does so her father calls Bill to set up an appointment for later that day. Next week, we meet Gwen’s lawyer, Bill Walinksi.