The Mothers of A Dangerous Son Open Up About Where Their Children Are Now
BY OLIVIA ARMSTRONG
At the New York premiere of A Dangerous Son — a documentary about children suffering from mental illness — director Liz Garbus invited the mothers of her subjects, William, Eric and Ethan, to the stage for a post-screening panel. Garbus, along with moms Edie, Liza and Stacy were joined by Matt Kudish of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), NYC; and Nancy Abraham, executive vice president of HBO Documentaries and Family Programming to discuss what they took away from the film, and give an update on the boys’ progress since filming wrapped.
Liz Garbus, A Dangerous Son Director
“As a parent being around these mothers, I learned a lot about patience and self-control. The way they modeled patience and restraint... They just hung in there for all of it. That was something I took into my own life and household, which was a gift.” Unfortunately, [Vontae's mother] Cora couldn’t make it but there isn’t much to report. Vontae is still living with his aunt. He’s OK and is attending a special school. The family has yet to be reunited.
Edie Cooper, William’s Mother
“William is 19 now. I adore him. I think I did a good job building his confidence by telling him he can be like everybody else and do what he wants to do in this world... Talking with Liza [Eric’s mom], I realized I should have balanced it with the fact he ‘is different’ but ‘different does not make him less than’. That’s a quote from Temple Grandin, who was autistic. We’re still working on this. It’s not as much of a crisis that it used to be. Age has mellowed him and he’s still beautiful.”
Liza Long, Eric’s Mother
“Eric is taking his international baccalaureate exams and is actually headed off to college on a full scholarship in the fall. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder so he takes medication, Lithium, which has managed his violent symptoms and behaviors. I wouldn’t say a bipolar diagnosis is a happy ending but it has been a path for Eric and our family. We’ve become very passionate advocates for treatment and recovery since we’ve seen it in action.”
Stacy Shapiro, Ethan’s Mother
“Ethan is almost 16. The in-home placement he went to wasn’t the answer to all of our problems but it did open doors. We had to take a lot of small steps to get more of the help we needed. Thankfully, we were able to get on a waiver — one that only 100 kids in crisis are able to get on — which granted us in-home intensive behavior support. We’ve had that 12 hours a week for the last four years. Ethan has gained a lot of self-control, where he originally had none.”
Matt Kudish, Executive Director at NAMI, NYC
“I really see this film as a call to action for a broken mental health system in this country that has become more and more reliant on a broken criminal justice system. Yet, I think before we can blame the criminal justice system for not doing a better job, we have to make sure the mental health system provides families with the resources and the support they need. I see a one-size-fits-all approach to situations — like those seen in A Dangerous Son — that are incredibly unique. I also see hope because recovery is real. Let’s advocate for more access and programs because it really works.”