Chapter 26. The Prodigal Son

Bernie sat back in her chair in her office after Karl left and pondered what he had just told her during his second visit to her office.

Thirty-two years before, unbeknownst to him, a young woman that Karl had dated intermittently had had given birth to his son while he was in the Marine Corps.  She had not identified Karl on the birth certificate. 

Karl found out when the boy was 12 years of age after his mother died in Porterville, California. The woman worked at the Walmart in Porterville, serving as the manager of their Photo Center when she died from stage four breast cancer. 

During the process of handling her meager estate through a summary probate proceeding, the Tulare County Public Administrator’s office found Karl’s name in the woman’s handwriting on the back of the boy’s birth certificate and notified him.  A DNA test confirmed that the boy was his son.  

By that time, Karl and Ginny were married. After conducting an investigation into the Thompsons and approving them as foster parents, the County Department of Children and Family Services transferred the boy, Darrin, to the Thompsons in Los Angeles.  Darrin had been a blessing to them because he and Ginny were not able to have children of their own. 

Darrin was a quiet boy who had some difficulties adjusting to city life, but the Thompsons had been told that it would take him time to adjust to the loss of his mother, to his new surroundings, and to them.  The Thompsons tried without success to get him interested in sports and other activities, yet he was a B student, which thrilled them.  A year after he came to them the Thompsons formally adopted Darrin. 

When he started high school, the Thompsons were delighted that Darrin was finally making friends.  His grades slipped a bit his freshman year, but they felt that the fact that Darrin was finally making friends and adjusting to life with them in Los Angeles was more important than the grades.  They didn’t think that they should nag him about studying.  

But Darrin became increasingly uncommunicative and even belligerent at times during his second year of high school. He started staying out past his 11 pm curfew, and didn’t even come home several times.  Once, the police picked him up for loitering around a bar.  His grades plummeted.  They found out that he had been lying about everything.  He had been drinking heavily and using drugs.  Then he was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges arising from a fight over a girl. 

The Thompsons took out a second mortgage on their home to put him in special counseling and treatment programs.  Nothing worked.  He seemed to be in a steady downward trajectory.

Having been in the Marine Corps, Karl was aware of the benefits of the military on the development of young males.  He and Ginny used part of their retirement nest egg to pay for a year’s tuition and room and board to enroll him in a military school near San Diego.  Darrin lasted 6 months and ran away from the school. 

Karl hired a private detective to find him and he had some leads, but nothing that led to locating him. The trail went cold, and after two years, they could no longer afford to pay the private detective to continue the search.  It had been 17 years since he ran away at 15 years of age. 

A few weeks ago, they received a collect call from the Lancaster State Prison from a Derek Thomas. They didn’t know who it was, and thinking it was a scam, they didn’t accept the call.

Since then, they had contacted the investigator who had previously worked Darrin’s case to find out who had placed the collect call to them.  He traced the call back to Darrin, who had changed his name to Derek Thomas. 

The investigator found out that three years ago he was arrested for dealing Oxycodone, a class B drug, and was sentenced to five years in prison.  But during the past year, he had become a model prisoner, and had been attending Prison Fellowship services at the prison. The investigator said that he wanted to talk to them. Would they accept a collect call?

They agreed to talk to to him.   During the call, Darrin told them that part of his recovery was making amends, and he wanted to wanted to apologize to them in person.  Could they visit? 

Karl and Ginny were conflicted.  They wanted to believe that his conversion was sincere, but he had lied to them too many times.  Was this another scam? Would he try to wheedle the rest of their savings from them?  What if he was still addicted when he got out?  Would he try to steal from them for drug money? They had a dozen questions, and wanted Bernie’s advice on how to proceed.

Bernie suggested that they pray about it, and told them that she would pray for all of them as well, and that perhaps they could talk about it again in a few weeks.