A Happy Ending Turns Sad Again Over Money

| February 11, 2011 | 0 Comments


Carlina White is the young woman at the center of a recently solved 23-year-old child abduction case.  Since bursting on the national news (again) on Jan. 19, the nation has watched the case play itself out in the media.  Stolen from a hospital ward by a woman dressed as a nurse, she was able to solver her decades old missing persons case herself through a combination of determined chutzpah and luck.  Her confessed abductor, Ann Pettway, has admitted to committing the crime and is now being held without bail in a Manhattan detention center awaiting prosecution on felony kidnapping charges.

Both of Carlina’s parents, Carl Tyson and Joy White, received a six-figure sum as a result of a lawsuit filed against the City of New York.  A portion of the settlement was placed in a trust for Carlina should she be found before her 21st birthday and when her 21st came and went, they spent the remaining money.  Joy White recently described on The Today Show how, in the days following the fairytale-like reunion with her long-lost daughter, they quickly became estranged, in part due to Carlina’s desire to receive what she believes is her fair share of the settlement money associated with her abduction.


Like many people, I have watched the Carlina White case unfold over the past few weeks with fascination.  And I’m not alone.  For instance, on AOLnews.com there were over 1,500 comments in response to a Feb. 8 story on Carlina’s biological mother, Joy White as of 6:00 p.m. ET Thursday.  What’s interesting is that the majority of comments seem to blame Carlina’s biological parents for failing to find her and for spending the money they received in the settlement.  Many seem to feel that Carlina is justified in her anger and is entitled to some form of compensation.  Others are calling her a money-grubbing low-life seeking to cash in on her new found notoriety.

What many of the people commenting have failed to take into consideration, are the more complicated emotional issues fueling the entire family’s behavior.  As a woman who was estranged from her biological mother for 22 years, due in part to the actions of my adoptive father, I have some sense of the confusing emotions one must face when confronted with the reality of meeting long-lost biological parents.  Like Carlina, I was able to successfully find my biological mother after decades of estrangement.  And like the Whites, after a brief period of reunion joy, our relationship again became estranged.  In my case, however, it wasn’t me but my mother who decided to cut ties again.  There was no haggling over money, no pointing of fingers, or angry words.  One day my mother simply decided that she was not willing to put in the work needed to reconnect and disappeared from me and my siblings lives again.

The late, great psychologist Viktor Frankl, wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning that “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”  As a mother myself, I cannot fathom how anyone could walk away from their child once, let alone twice.  But what I do know is that while I may not be able to comprehend the underlying factors that drove my mother’s actions, I am certain that they stem from a place of deep pain and emotional trauma.

There is no way to accurately predict how the relationships between Carlina and her biological parents will eventually turn out.  This is after all, a group of people, linked by blood who have had 23 years of emotional distance and no shared life experiences aside from the trauma of an abduction.  Carlina is a young woman who has grown up with a mother with some serious character defects who has emotionally abused her.  When you combine her relative immaturity with the experience of being caught in the center of a media storm, you have a pretty abnormal situation for a young woman to face.  And we must not forget that Carlina is, for better or worse, emotionally bonded to her abductor’s family.  Dysfunctional as it may be, it is the only family she has known.  Even with their relative maturity, this is an extremely stressful and traumatic experience for Carlina’s parents to face as well.  There is simply no “normal” response to finding a long-lost child.

Now it appears that the world is lining up to throw stones at this young woman and her family for their lack of intuitive knowledge on how to gracefully handle a genuinely screwed up and complicated situation.  Before casting the first rock, I think we should remember Frankl’s words of wisdom.  Leave the White and Pettway families alone in peace to work through their issues and thank God that you don’t have to suffer their pain and experience.


Sil Lai Abrams is the author of No More Drama: Nine Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough, an inspirational speaker and empowerment specialist, and Men’s Fitness magazine’s relationship expert.



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Hip Hop Historian and accomplished photo journalist

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