The On The Nose Accuracy and Question of I Care A Lot’s Real Life Guardians.
At some point, in the midst of my investigation into the abuse of thousands of elderly and developmentally disabled individuals by guardians/attorneys in Oakland County Michigan, I wondered aloud “How do they do it?”
How do they take innocent people who maybe made mistakes when they were younger, as we all do, yet who never commited a crime in their lives? Who in some cases served our country with honor? Who were never bothering anyone, who had families, friends that loved them? Who had a history, a life, who contributed to society in the best way they could?
How could these guardians and judges so simply and easily strip away a person’s constitutional and human rights, their dignity and everything they ever loved, owned or cared about?
I wasn’t asking the question from the perspective of methodology. When looking into the issue of guardianships in the US, both through my own investigation and those of other journalists, in terms of how they are initiated and administered in Michigan, Nevada, Florida, New Mexico to name a few states and how the wards are systematically targeted, tossed into the probate/family court maelstrom, robbed, isolated from their families and left to rot and, ultimately, die, I learned very quickly that the M. O. is exactly the same, as if how to game guardianship was created as a set of instructions, like an IKEA booklet followed almost to the letter.
However, both in Michigan and now in putting together the book with Julie Lynne Belshe, whose parents were kidnapped, robbed and imprisoned by guardian April Parks, a story that reportedly served as director J. Blakeson’s inspiration for I Care A Lot, my unanswered question is whether these guardians and the attorneys and the judges who enable them are sociopaths, or even psychopaths?
What they essentially do is a form of slow murder. It’s not a homicide motivated, in the heat of the moment, by passion, drugs, desperation, jealousy or religious or political ideology. It’s prolonged, methodical, planned and executed with absolute dispassion. The perpetrators cannot see their victims as human, not in the way you or I see other people. They are a means to an end, nothing more.
The system under which these guardians operate, is designed not only to facilitate the comsumption and eradication of an individual’s fundamental humanity, their personhood with absolute ease but to provide those who administer it with the kind of totalitarian power even the cops don’t have.
Indeed, in many cases, as in I Care A Lot, the cops are there simply to help enforce that power.
With only a few notable exceptions, neither they nor the top law enforcement officials in this country have any interest in putting that power in check and holding those who abuse it accountable.
For example, during the investigation in Michigan, my team and I found hundreds of wards who had been dumped inside unlicensed adult foster homes by their guardians and left to deteriorate and expire and in one case, deliberately starve. Concerned for their safety I contacted every federal, state and local law enforcement agency, every national elder rights and elder law nonprofit, and I was either ignored or told the same thing: “It’s a civil matter. Contact Michigan Adult Protective Services.”
But, Michigan APS were integral in getting these emergency guardianships initiated. In many cases, the four guardians we were investigating worked hand-in-hand with APS social workers to ensure the guardianship stuck. When wards tried to object, APS were regularly represented by an attorney from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.
When my team and I confronted Michigan AG Dana Nessel’s staff about this, they showed no interest in the unlicensed homes and, ultimately, were more wholly invested in getting ahead of the story with the heralded announcement of Nessel’s Elder Abuse Taskforce and subsequent statewide “listening sessions” that, tried to shift the focus away from guardianship and into issues such as phone and email scams and, to date, accomplished nothing.
From everything I’m seeing and hearing presently at and from Oakland County, in the 18 months since we published, there’s been no action, and in fact the guardians and judges have become even more brazen, threatening to litigating families and, as I stated, empowered.
With one tiny exception at I Care A Lot’s conclusion, it is the path the movie follows. A system that provides a guardian with unlimited power to control and erase the vulnerable until there is a problem that requires dispensing with.
Is that problem cartoonish, to the point of implausibility? Yes.
Is Rosamund Pike’s Marla Grayson a caricature running an equally outrageous con that would never happen in this country with its, so called, judicial safeguards?
She is, in every way other than her glamorous appearance, an authentic representation of the guardians I and other journalists have investigated.
The nursing facility in which Grayson dumps her victims was cleaner than those I saw but, at a fundamental level, as a jail with curtains, it was accurate.
Indeed, I must applaud Pike and Blakeson for doing their homework. The only differences I noted between the system they portrayed and real life, were the guardian’s use of platforms such as LexisNexis as research tools into someone’s past and the judge who seemed to be genuinely taken in by Grayson rather than an accomplice after the fact.
Is Marla Grayson a sociopath? Are real life court-appointed guardians sociopaths? Or are they, as the movie makes clear, simply business people who have an iron clad way of making money in a country that cherishes such abilities above all other considerations, especially those people America considers no longer worthwhile and able to contribute to society?
I don’t have any answers yet except one.
There were a number of victims who reached out to me, hopeful that this movie would bring attention to an underreported issue and that their tormentors, the guardians, might actually feal a fraction of the fear they have experienced.
That won’t happen.
I wholeheartedly believe that the guardians will root for Grayson as a peer while she faces down, as they all feel they do, a family member who “gets in the way.”
Indeed, I saw numerous cases where interfering family members were also placed under guardianship.
Publicly, the Florida arm of their lobbyist group The National Guardianship Association has disavowed Pike’s portrayal.
However, they know, as well as I do, as anyone who has investigated or been caught up in these cases do, I Care A lot may cause a slight problem, a momentary hiccup. Who knows, maybe by the rampaging Twitter mob or the few moderately interested post-grad journos who scan the platform desperate to pitch something.
But, iin the end, nothing will change and both they and the well-greased system, from which they have learned to profit with astonishing ease and without impediment, will continue to flourish nationwide as it has for over 50 years.
It is possible that one of these real life Marla Graysons picks on the wrong victim or family member one day and that guardian’s family will wonder whether it was all worth it.
But, thats Hollywood for you.