On Sunday, July 11, June Morris traveled from her home in Falmouth to the Dukes County House of Correction in Edgartown to visit her son Richard Morris of Oak Bluffs. It was the first time she had seen the eldest of her four sons, following his most recent arrest on drug charges.
“I said ‘why?’ and he turned his head and he said, ‘I don’t know Mom. I don’t know, it was stupid.’”
Several weeks ago, Mrs. Morris called The Times. She wanted to discuss what she considered the unfair portrayal of her son in published news reports and web comments, and more importantly she said, tell one mother’s story of how the scourge of drugs had affected her family and highlight a need for more treatment options for families in similar straits.
Mrs. Morris is a slight, attractive woman. Dressed in cool summer pastel colors, she met one day in July with a Times reporter in a Falmouth coffee shop to speak about her son.
She has short, stylishly cut blond hair, the same color as her son Richard. But for an occasional quiver of her lip, or the beginning of a tear in the corner of her eye, she described the toll drug addition has taken on her family without much visible emotion.
June Morris is a native of Leicester, England, and there is more than a hint of the distinctive British midlands accent remaining in her voice. Soon after World War II, she married David Morris, an Islander serving in the armed forces in Europe. The young couple lived in England for a year, where Richard Morris was born. They moved to Martha’s Vineyard. Ms. Morris described the cultural shock of moving from a small industrial city in England to a resort Island in the middle of winter.
“The first letter I wrote home, I said ‘next time you watch a western movie and you see the ghost town, that’s where I am,’” she said. Over the years Ms. Morris and her husband had three more sons and a daughter.
She left the Vineyard in 1972 to take a job in Falmouth. By that time, her relationship with her husband and their family life had deteriorated. The marriage ended in divorce. Her four youngest children moved with her to Falmouth. Richard, then 14, stayed with his father in the family’s New York Avenue home. She said the strain profoundly affected her children, including Richard.
“He swore when he was a young man that he would never touch alcohol and he would never be abusive to anyone,” Ms. Morris said. “Whatever he needed, he found in drugs.”
Now retired, she fills her days with volunteer work at Falmouth Hospital, where she helps provide hospice care, and organizes fundraisers. David Morris died ten years ago.
On April 12, state police arrested Richard Morris as he drove off a Steamship Authority ferry in Vineyard Haven. Police say a search of his truck revealed 50 grams of uncut heroin concealed in a tail light. He was charged with heroin trafficking and being a common receiver of stolen property, among other charges. He was later released on $5,000 bail. On July 4, he was arrested by Oak Bluffs police and arraigned on a charge of possession of heroin with intent to distribute. On August 12, he was released after a bail reduction hearing in Barnstable District court. Bail was set at $30,000 on the July 4 charges, but was reduced to $10,000 last week.
Although Mr. Morris did not receive a sentence that included incarceration until 1995, when he agreed to plead guilty on a charge of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and received one year, the record of his arrests on drug charges goes back much earlier and now fills more than four pages of court documents.
Ms. Morris said she knew her oldest son was experimenting with drugs at the age of 15. At first, she said, his father was proud of the initiative Richard displayed in growing plants on a window ledge, but he became enraged when he found out the plants were marijuana.
When Richard began to get in trouble with police, she knew his drug use had gone beyond experimentation. When police executed a search warrant on his home, she knew the problem was more serious. “What started out as a little bit of marijuana, like everything else, it escalated,” she said.
You feel so bad
Ms. Morris said the agony her son’s drug use has inflicted on her family caused her to look inward.
“First of all, you blame yourself,” she said. “I blame myself for the divorce. I should have made it work. Then I left the Island, but I had to leave the Island to get work, and I had a good job offer. Richard stayed on the Island, and that was probably the worst thing that could have happened.
“To this day I believe I have some of the blame. I can never take that back. That was a terrible, terrible thing do. That made life worse for Richard. Richard was never able to get his life back on track.
“We have waited for that phone call again and again. Each time it gets a little harder to deal with. I get angry at the moment when I get the phone call, ‘How could you be so damn stupid?’ But I get that out of my system and then I feel so bad. I just feel so bad. It tears me apart, and that’s the most frustrating part. I can’t help them. I can’t go plead his case.
“There has got to be lots of people that are feeling the way I feel. I see the real hardened addict that also robs and thinks nothing of going and bashing a store owner over the head and stealing something so he can buy some more cocaine or heroin. That’s an entirely different person. I don’t think people think of it that way. A drug addict is a drug addict. I don’t feel that way. I think most mothers with sons like I have would feel that way too, yet we don’t know what to do. We don’t know whom to turn to. I don’t usually talk to people about this. I couldn’t hold it in any more.”
Mrs. Morris said she recently attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. “I want to learn, I want to try to understand more,” she said.
Father and son share time
There is still a great deal for Mrs. Morris to try and understand. Most recently, the telephone call she had grown accustomed to receiving concerned her grandson.
On July 25, police arrested Andrew J. Morris, the son of Richard Morris, as the younger Mr. Morris and another man drove off the ferry in Vineyard Haven. Police said they found 54 grams of uncut heroin concealed in several pairs of underwear Andrew Morris was wearing.
Before he was released on $7,500 bail, Andrew Morris and his father were in the jail together while they awaited disposition of their separate cases.
“It would be lying for me to say I didn’t have suspicions,” Ms. Morris said. “But that’s what they were, suspicions. I didn’t think he did drugs.
“I wouldn’t term my grandson as an addict. I would say that he made a mistake. I don’t know what the court will do to him, I hope they will take it easy on him because I believe that he stands a chance at being rehabbed and becoming a good citizen, I really do. I hope that with all my heart.”
She said her grandson suffered from association with his father, including an extremely difficult time finding and keeping a job. “Every time he tries to take a step forward, somebody knocks him back. People have got to have more tolerance and try to give these people a chance.
“Somebody went and told his boss he was a heroin addict.
“He’s doing everything he was ordered to do. It’s tough when you’re at rock bottom. People want to see you pay, they don’t want to see you get that push up, they want to see you pushed down.”
Mother defends her son
In conversation, police officers and court officials describe Richard Morris as a career criminal who has harmed his community.
Ms. Morris insists it is a mistake to label her son a violent drug dealer. She is critical of police comments and news coverage of her son’s arrests. The notoriety, she said, makes it all that much harder for her son to turn away from drugs.
“I think they always thought that if they could put Richard away, the drug problem would go away on the Island,” she said. “Well, I hate to burst their bubble, but it won’t go away, because Richard has a sickness that makes him do what he does. I think there are different sides to drugs and drug addiction. People talk about my son as if he was a criminal, a very bad person. He’s not.”
Mrs. Morris said the Island is a small place, and she understands the difficulties drug users face, but she has no illusions about the outcome.
“They are destroying their own lives,” she said. “I understand that. They are addicts.”
Mrs. Morris acknowledges that her son Richard participated in drug treatment programs before, but each time, he left counseling and turned again to drugs.
“The last time he got out of jail, he did really well,” Ms. Morris said. “He went consistently to a counselor, he went consistently to drug testing. The trouble with that is, there comes a day when it stops. Richard isn’t somebody you can give treatment to for six months and say ‘Okay, now you go and be good, see a counselor for the next three months and take your tests and we walk away and you’re all set.’ It’s got to be continuous. He can’t make it on his own.”
Ms. Morris knows heroin addiction can take a heavy toll on a family. Asked if she ever thinks about the people who might have bought heroin from her son or grandson, and then begun a downward spiral that ruined other families “That is a horrific fact,” she said. “But I don’t believe that Andrew or Richard would ever, ever distribute. I do not and would never believe that.”
Police said they have evidence that Richard Morris and his son carried large amounts of uncut heroin to the Island. Asked how she can insist her son was not dealing drugs, given the evidence and the charges, Mrs. Morris said her son is no dealer, but that he is helpful to a fault.
“From talking to him, from knowing him as a man and a person,” she said. “Plus, if he was doing this he would have money. They would be making thousands, millions, selling drugs.
“Do I think if a close friend of Richard said ‘God, I really need something’ would Richard say, ‘I could get it for you?’ If somebody needed something, he’ll get it for you. If you want something done, he’ll do it for you.”
A son lost
Richard Morris faces extensive jail time if he is convicted of the current charges he faces. The penalty for heroin trafficking is a minimum of five years and a maximum of 20, in state prison. The penalty for a conviction, on the common receiver of stolen property charge, is up to 10 years in state prison.
The possibility haunts Ms. Morris. She equates it to losing a child.
“I can’t even contemplate that, the fact that they would send him somewhere like that. He wouldn’t survive. I would lose my son, he would not survive, he doesn’t have the makeup. When you think about what might be ahead for that person, you definitely believe that if the worst happens, you will lose that person. It doesn’t go away. It just doesn’t go away.”
Asked what might she say to another mother who learned that her child had begun to use drugs, Mrs. Morris said, “I would tell her to do everything in her power to stand with him, to love him, and to do everything she possibly can to try to get him some help. It’s not just a matter of putting a person in jail. It’s more complex than that. I don’t want to sound like I’m on a soapbox, but it just really, really bugs me. My heart goes out to any mother.”