How Joanna Came to Legally Adopt John Lee

Christmas 2013 Pender Correctional Institution Burgaw, NC

Christmas 2013
Pender Correctional Institution
Burgaw, NC

In late March 2010, I was diagnosed with anal cancer. I had surgery and chemo-radiation and was very sick. I had barely recovered when things went wrong with John Lee’s case and, instead of being released, he was sent back to prison. I have never seen a man more devastated.

I was devastated too, but worse was the realization that I had seen signs of what was pending and due to the befuddlement of illness and recovery, I had not recognized them. Now more than ever John Lee needed somebody to stand by him.

It was then that I began to worry about what should happen if the cancer came back and killed me. I am a quarter of a century John Lee’s senior. If I do not die of this cancer, I told myself, I will surely die before him.

I worried over this until one morning I woke up to the smell of coffee. “Joe,” I said, “as he handed me the cup. “I want to adopt John Lee legally. I want him to have a proper family, I want him to have rights, to feel secure.”

When we were done discussing it, I took a pen and paper. “My dear John Lee, would you like to be adopted?”

“Dear Mom,” he wrote back, “I would LOVE to be adopted!!! I thank you!!! You make me feel beautiful and strong and sure.”

I called his blood mother. She said, “You can do more for him than me. Will I still be his mother too?”

Our lawyer filed adoption papers with the clerk of court in Hillsborough, whose reaction was, Whoa! Is this woman mad or is she up to something?

“This is a first,” he told me when I was summoned to his office.

I told him my story about meeting John, about his abandoned childhood and how I felt he had been given to me by fate, and how having cancer had made me realize I wanted to leave something behind me more lasting than a stack of discount table books.

“I want,” I told him, “to make love my legacy.”

Throughout this speech he watched me with a look I recognized from speaking behind microphones: I had touched his heart. When I was done, he reached back, pulled a law book from his bookshelf, and thumbed through it to the rules on adult adoption.

He did not speak to me, but to my lawyer, all practicality and this-is-how-we-get-it-done. I am very grateful to him. His name is, Jamie Stanford, a good man.

He was cautious, though, about the fortune I might have hidden underneath my bed. Upon my death it would have to be shared with seven children instead of six. So instead of simply notifying them, as is usual with an adult adoption, I must to get them to agree in writing.

This was easy with the girls, as though something natural had fallen into place. But Sam, my adopted Korean son, was somewhere in Afghanistan shooting howitzer rounds into the rocky mountain greenery. Considering that, notification was all we needed. Which, after many attempts, we accomplished through the Red Cross.

Later, when Sam came home on leave, he told me, “If it hadn’t been for you guys, it could have been me in that prison.”

“Yes,” I said laughing, “you were certainly that awful growing up.”

Which left my sons Sean and Mike off in Australia. I must admit I was a little nervous about them. After all, they didn’t know John lee. They knew about him, but they’d never met him.

I took my courage in my hands and called. “So Mike, what would you think?”

An American con for a brother? Neato! Go for it Mom!

And Sean, my eldest?

He said, “John Lee is my brother.”

And so, on September 13, 2011, John Lee became a legal member of our family. His name is now John Lee Scott.

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