Letter/personal essay/haiku from Michelle Etlin, co-author of The Hostage Child.

Dear Aine,

Please find below, with a green background, the text that I have written for Elsa Newman's website.  You have permission to print this.  Thank you for your good work. 
  Michelle Etlin


Meeting Elsa Newman:

 Having spent many years trying to help mothers who were being deprived of their children as punishment for believing their children's outcries against incest, I thought I was in retirement.  A friend, however, asked me to speak with Elsa Newman, another woman in a long line of women who were trying to deal with this impossible situation in their and their children's lives.   

Elsa had lawyers, so she wasn't trying to get advice about how to deal with the courts.  She had financial support from her family, so she wasn't trying to get loans or frank financial assistance.  She had been organizing groups of people to raise consciousness and to put pressure on the courts and social services to try to make them respond to this crisis properly, both in her own case and in others.  She was a lawyer and had worked for years as a government lawyer, so she had resources.  

 Yet she was in the same position as other mothers whose credibility was counted as zero as soon as they stepped into the system that chose to ignore the problem and blame it on the victims, rather than diligently and honestly trying to solve it.  Old story, the story I had written a book to describe.  (And the book didn't solve it, only described it.)  

 I learned about Elsa's case in the first few days of 2002.  I did not want to deal with any problems just then, so I asked my friend to give my number to Elsa Newman with the request that she call me on or after January 7, 2002.  I was taking a weekend off thinking about distressing things.  

 In the early morning hours of January 7, 2002, while Elsa was in New Jersey at her niece's wedding, her friend Marjorie Landry crept through the basement window of the house owned by the children's father (who was accused of molesting them) and after one thing and another, she ended up in a physical struggle with him in his bedroom, and the handgun she was carrying discharged and he was shot in the thigh.  She fled and was later arrested.  Elsa learned about these events from her divorce attorney's secretary later in the day.  I learned of them at about 9 p.m. that night, when Elsa Newman called me for the first time.  Then, we hung up at around 10 p.m. and the story flashed onto the television nightly news.  

As if it were written for a novel.  A dark novel.  

 When I was on the phone with Elsa that night, as she was telling me what had taken place in court, unbelievably, counter-intuitively, unreasonably, unconstitutionally, irrationally (custody of the children handed over to the man they said molested them, mother's visitation strictly curtailed and supervised by hostile visitation supervisors, mother's rights chipped away steadily until she was on the defense in an undeclared war), I said to her what I remembered saying to more than two hundred other astounded mothers: "I believe what you are telling me; I believe every word you are telling me."  

Every word she was telling me was absolutely believable to someone who had seen this insane situation play out over and over and over in every county courthouse in every state of the union . . .  

 I was fond of saying:

"They should 'read the rights' to any mother who approaches social services with her children, if those children say they have been abused by their father or step-father:
   "You have the right to remain silent; you have the right to retract your complaint and walk out of here without us doing an investigation; you have the right to stop telling us what your children have described; you have the right to pretend it didn't happen.  If you choose not to exercise those rights, anything and everything you say -- and even things you don't actually say but we think you believe -- can and will be used against you in a court of law.  You will be treated worse than a convicted criminal, without being charged with any crime, so you cannot hope to prepare a defense.  You have no right to appointed counsel or to effective counsel or any other kind of counsel, no right against self-incrimination, no rights at all except you have the right to keep this all to yourself and flee from the tender ministrations of the Department of Children's Services because believe us, you have walked into a snare when you set foot in our offices."   

 That's what they should read to mothers approaching the social services agencies for help.  They don't.  They pretend they are set up to protect children.  And the big lie is often believed.  We know that from history.  

Two or three days after first speaking with me, Elsa was arrested and charged with conspiracy.  Although it is assumed that when divorcing mothers make allegations against divorcing fathers, those allegations are motivated by malice and hatred, the same assumption does not hold when divorcing fathers make allegations against divorcing mothers.  When the father of Elsa's children told the 911-emergency operator that the home invasion was the result of a conspiracy by his wife (which, if it were, he could not have known!), they acted on that allegation as if it was evidence, not the ravings of an angry, wounded man.  They didn't decrease his credibility by pointing out that he had incentive to get his wife arrested and charged with a crime.  What was his incentive?  If his wife was in jail, of course, he was going to win custody, and furthermore, her charges against him for molesting the children could be neutralized.   

I won't go into the whole story here.  I'm going to skip to the first time I met Elsa's children, which was the first time they were allowed to visit her in the Montgomery County Detention Center on Seven Locks Road in Potomac.   

H***** and L*** were 9 and 6, I believe, when they visited, brought to the county jail by there "guardian ad litem" Alan Town.  [All right, I called him the "guardian ad nauseam," for those of you who like a little Latin joke from time to time.  He has died since that time, a relatively young man.  I couldn't find an obituary in the newspapers.  It was strange; a public figure, well known lawyer, foster father (upon information and belief), yet he died young and nothing was said.  He seemed to be known when he was appointed by the court to represent these two boys; he seemed to be unknown when he died.  Up until the very day of his death, he was working to punish Elsa and her mother for trying to help these boys he "represented."  I heard him tell Elsa's sister and brother-in-law that he had made a telephone call to Elsa's lawyer to tell HIM to mistrust Elsa's friend Marjorie.  I found that quite revealing and absolutely astounding.  It was certainly outside proper activity for a child's guardian ad litem to interfere like that in the attorney-client relationship of a parent's divorce lawyer!  Yet this man seemed to have no boundaries; he did what he chose to do and he knew that he was protected by the social services and court systems.]  

Back to the visit itself.  In came the boys and sat with their "keeper" -- their "guardian ad litem" -- who was so obviously hostile to their mother that they looked, to me, visibly afraid of him.  I was there for about a half dozen of their visits with their mom, and both of them used to gravitate toward me, try to touch me, talk to me, lean on me, hover around me, while waiting for their mother to enter the room.  They seemed to want to put me between them and Alan Town, to increase their distance from that man who allegedly represented their best interests.  It was so transparent that he was there to keep them under control -- to "tell on them" if they made any move to appeal to their mother for help and support in their sorrow.

When their mother was allowed to enter the visiting room, both little boys leaped off their hard chairs and flung themselves onto the plate glass, so eager were they for contact with their mother, so cruelly separated from her.  In confusion, they grabbed the telephones that would let them hear her voice, and they both spoke at once, trying to get closer, be heard, make contact.  She was beyond joyful to be in their presence, touched the glass, as they touched the other surface of that glass, rigid silicone border of the imposed separation.  

 I thought,  




I wrote Haiku for the boys that day and on the other days that I saw them in the jail and the prison.    

 I will close this chapter of the blog with the haiku for H..... and L..., the sons of Elsa Newman:  

Haiku Mom, H*****, L*** (September 29, 2002, MCDC)  

Two boys, slight of build,

come with an aging hippie.

They love their mother.  


Children in a storm,

H***** and L***, the young boys,

Elsa Newman's kids.  


L*** made a nice book,

he wants to give it to her,

his pride is showing.  


She treasures it all,

she savors their eyes, faces,

they soak up her gaze.  


Mother behind glass

visits strictly supervised

she cannot touch them.  


Little voices chirp,

trying to send her a sign,

Mamma, we need you.  


Someone is shouting.

His anger is so raucous.

Still their heads don't turn.  


 Now they have to shout.

Noise in jail is deafening.

(Their hands gesturing.)  


Look, someone's coming.

He looks so amiable,

but he can steal time.   


They pray in Hebrew,

the words out of unison,

just the alphabet.  


 Is it two-thirty?

Time becomes our enemy.

They drag us apart.  


Don't take them away - -

their eyes are devouring her - -

they pipe up, Mom, Mom!  


Too many things fade.

Things implode, explode and die.

Still, their love prevails.  


Haiku Mom, H*****, L*** (October 6, 2002, MCDC)  

Those boys, once again,

now the guards know them somewhat,

but still, they must wait.  


Ushering them in,

the architect of their fate

is never absent.  


As they talk to her

they lean together and seem

to melt into glass.  


H*****'s hands, pat pat,

L*** is fidgeting, squirming

within brother's hug.  


Now two phones frame them

as they concentrate on her,

on her face, her hands.  


She puts up one palm,

two hands fly out to reach it,

and it moves again!   T


hen her other hand

seeks a different glass angle

as the sons' hands rise.  


Wherever hers go,

their eager hands will follow

and cover the space.  


Here, there, change, reach, meet,

conversation is perfect

among loving hands.    


Then, interruption.

The boys are ushered out, out,

he is beckoning.  



H***** breaks and runs,

he is rushing back, direct,

look! - - He grabs the phone.  


She is the echo,

as the phone reaches her ear,

 to hear, "I love you."  


Thumbs up, three of them,

signs of an enduring line,

"we will not be moved."  


Through the confusion

blooms a stubborn certainty.

This we must endure.   


Haiku Mom, H*****, L*** (October 27, 2002, MCDC)  

Nothing is spoken

so softly as the knowledge

 that they must not speak.  


There stands stern guard

of their long enforced silence:

all three will submit.  



Underneath it all,

still there runs a melody

of the ancient song:  


Sleep my soul longer,

sleep until there is a dawn,

holy lullabye.  


Make their simple talk

carry all the messages

they need to impart.  


Yes, it's possible,

hear how their syllables fly?

Yes, it's happening.  


Angel on the right,

Other angel on the left,

before them, support.  


Image on their right,

shifting image on their left,

above them, something.  


 Hope is on their right,

but betrayal blocks the way:

how can it be reached?    


Their mother has read,

"A voice is heard in Ramah,"

they all strain to hear.  


In Jeremiah:

"Yes, your children will return."

But in this book: what?  

In Jeremiah:

she refused to take comfort,

the mother, Rachel.  


But in this book: what?

Perhaps the children will say,

"We will take comfort."  

To H***** and L***:

Here's a last minute message: "Tell them, 'I love you'!"


RECEIVED: Friday, June 13, 2008


To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing this letter in regard to Elsa Newman.  I met Elsa several years back during her trial in Frederick, Maryland.  I am amazed at her strength, faith in God and devotion to her children with everything that she is going through.
I am totally disappointed with the justice system in the United States.  Only in the United States can a person be convicted as guilty of a crime that another person is guilty of committing and serving time for.  The system states that the reason finding is due to the fact that Elsa stated in a moment of anger like most human beings whether it is females or males wishing or saying that I could or would kill my spouse or ex-spouse.  I need a tally sheet to keep count of how many of my friends (male and female) have stated that they wish their spouse dead or that they could kill their spouse.  I myself have stated that I would not be able to retire with my spouse because one of us would either drive each other crazy or kill each other.  Does that mean that yes we would actually do it? 
NO!  Does that mean that Elsa actually planned this with her friend?  NO!  Just because Elsa was a friend to this woman does not mean that Elsa planned bodily harm to her ex-spouse.
I wonder why the system is not concerned with the fact that the father had one of the boys in his bed.  How the father was dressed or undressed.  The facts should have been gathered up on that and investigated.  Was it?
NO! Again, children are falling through the cracks of the system. 
A special panel needs to be put together and investigate the Social Services for physically and sexually abused children.  I know for a fact that there are people that physically and sexually abuse children and are getting away with it.  And then again there are people that have been falsely accused and due to the fact that the investigator handled the situation wrong--and even the police officer would close the case and say there was nothing there--the investigator would still label the person, who really did not commit the crime, an offender.  Please tell me what is wrong with this picture?  The offenders who really need to be in jail paying the price are out on the street doing the same thing to children over and over again.  The ones that are innocent are labeled for life for a crime that they did not do.  The sad part of Elsa’s case is that they also had witnesses in the room the whole time, but the investigators called them liars!  I really would like to know what Social Services is really for because they really do not perform the job that they are paid to accomplish.
Here are Elsa's children, along with hundreds of other children in the United States, fallingl through the cracks of the system.  Being scarred for life.  Here is a mother that has begged for the system to do something, to investigate and what has the system done?  Turned a blind eye and deaf ear. 


I called Social Service one time on a set of divorced parents; the child had belt bruise marks across his butt and legs.  Social Service so called investigated and guess what they informed me; "there was no finding of child abuse."  When I saw the bruises I made the mother take the child to the doctor and the doctor marked in his records that it was indeed child abuse.  Again, Social Service stated "therewas no finding of child abuse."  I called Social Service on the matter I reported to them the doctor's finding due to the fact that I had a copy in my hand.  I asked them what was it going to take?  The child to be beaten within an inch of his life before they realize they made a mistake? or for him to be beaten to death?  How many children have to suffer?  How much longer do  Elsa's children have to suffer? 
Do you know what happens to children when they grow up that are sexually abuse?  If they survive and do not kill themselves?  I know, because I was not only physically abused but also sexually abused by my father.  You grow up having no self worth of yourself, believing that no one should love you because you are not good enough.  You think that you are the ugliest person in the world and cannot do anything right.  You pray to God that he will take you to heaven to be with him because you cannot take the abuse anymore.  When your mother's father dies and your mother is crying you comfort her by saying, "Don't cry, Mom, just think he is at peace and he is the luckiest person in the world.  I wish that it was me.  I wish that I was in Heaven."  All my mother said was, "Don't ever say anything like that again."  You have nightmares and cringe when [the abuser] comes near you.  Nine months after turning 18, I moved away from home.  A month before I moved out, I told my parents that I was moving. My mother yelled at me and my father beat me.  I had a full time job, paid a $100 a month to live at home, cleaned my mother's house, washed, dried and put up clothes and cooked.  The only way that I survived is that I believe very strongly in God and he guided me through everything.  I met my husband and we have been married for 29 years with 3 children.  I had to let my two sons stay with my parents for a week when our daughter had brain surgery back in 1999.  I begged my oldest son who was in high school at the time to always keep his youngest brother with him, for them to always stay together no matter what!  It was a nightmare for me; I had no choice.  When I got my boys back I questioned them very firmly. My youngest did not tell me till three years ago that my father had slapped him in the face while he was in their care.  I cannot begin to tell you what that did to me.
When my parents and I moved out of state away from each other I never took my children or myself to visit them nor did I allow my children to go stay with my parents for visits.  Yes, my mother got upset and voiced it, and I never said a word to protect her as she never protected me.  Things came to a head in 2003 and enough was enough; I finally asked my father why did he do it.  I was just a little girl when he started.  Of course, he denied it. My mother yelled, cussed me, etc.  Funny, because when I was carrying my youngest child she called me and told me about watching this show where this father had sexually abused his daughter.  She told me that she had looked at my father and asked him if he had ever touched me.  She asked me if he had touched me?  I asked her what was his answer to her and she told me that he would never do anything like that; he is not sick.  I said, "Well, what do you believe?"  She said, "his answer."   I did not give her an answer, but you see she always knew but turned a blind eye and never protected me.
I was one of the lucky ones because of my faith.  But no matter what it still hurts, I still have nightmares.  A child needs their mother.  I beg you to put yourself in Elsa shoes and wear them. 
We all say things without thinking, things that should never come out of our mouths.  Who is suffering more?  I say the children?  I beg you, give them back their mother, they need their mother!