My Journey to Become My Own Person
By: Carrie M. Varner
The journey to become my own person started in 2008 for a very unexpected reason. I had wanted to go to North Dakota and my mom was going to allow it. She went to Redwood County Human Services in Redwood Falls, Minnesota and spoke to my former case manager about what I wanted to do and that she was okay with me doing so because she wanted me to be happy as I was clearly not happy in Minnesota. Three days later, my mom was served with a large stack of papers stating that Redwood County wanted to become my guardian and my conservator. My mom went into basket case mode as she felt responsible for why this was happening. I wanted to think it over as I was in absolute shock over the whole thing. I went to my room and thought long and hard about what had just happened. I will admit that for a while, I actually thought about giving up and just letting Redwood County win because when you have a disability and you’re your own person, you feel like a fugitive from justice because of what society deems as appropriate for those with disabilities and because you’re pressured as soon as you get into transition age to be put under guardianship because of teachers, parents, admin, and other ‘professionals’ view you only through your diagnosis. You’re seen as though you’re incapable of doing the slightest thing and that it’d be best for you to be put under guardianship ‘for the good of society’. I think my family up in heaven felt how I was feeling because I got a tremendous celestial slap right across the face, with my dad leading the way. After that celestial slap, I became determined to win. The next day, I told my mom that we were going to win and she called my family, who rallied to my defense. We found out that during the first hearing I went through when I was 19, the lawyer who was handling the papers messed up colossally and even though I was determined to be capable of being my own guardian then, I was put under guardianship. My former case manager knew about the mix up and didn’t tell our family. In 2004, Minnesota changed the laws to make the definitions of guardian and conservator clearer as beforehand, there was a lot of intertwining with the definitions that made it ripe for abuse. The Redwood County court administrator didn’t tell us about the change and put me as we would’ve found out about the mix up at that point and would’ve contested it immediately. My family was absolutely furious about what had happened to me and that no one had gotten in any trouble whatsoever over what happened to me. I was appointed a public pretender for the trial. A public pretender is a lawyer who is not in your best interest and my lawyer was working in tandem with Redwood County Human Services, the people who wanted to become my guardian and conservator. If that isn’t a conflict of interest, I don’t what is!! The public pretender was making deals behind my back during the trial and I was furious once I found out. My mom told me that I needed to tell my lawyer that he worked for me and I told the lawyer that I wanted the competency testing that had been ordered by the judge to be done and that if the competency testing stated that I couldn’t be my own guardian, then I would accept it, however, I wanted the testing done first. I had the competency testing done and it showed that I could be my own guardian and that I needed a conservator on a temporary basis. On February 26, 2009 at 1:00 pm, I was allowed to become my own guardian and my mom’s oldest brother was appointed my conservator. My former case manager was beyond pissed that I’d won as I was the first person to win against Redwood County. She took away my social services and tried to get my health insurance and social security taken away from me. I also lost the job I had at a sheltered workshop (the sheltered workshop is a story for another day).
When most people think of the temporary, they think its for a short time only and that was certainly how I thought. I’d asked my uncle many times if I could become my own conservator and every time he said no. When I asked why, he would use two instances of me being hustled out of money against me as proof that I couldn’t ever be my own conservator. The first time I was hustled was when I was in 8th grade, I was hustled out of 50 dollars. The second time happened in 2012 when I first moved to Mankato. I was hustled out of a lot of money by a guy and his girlfriend over a several month period and when I went to other people to get help for the situation, I was told “we’ll they’re not targeting me at least so you deal with it on your own”. The two are notorious hustlers who use their disabilities to get people to give them money, cigarettes, and anything else they could possibly want and they’ve never been punished. I eventually had to get the police involved after the guy started threatening me when I asked for my money back; the guy is 6’0”, 450 lbs., and is built like a linebacker. I would’ve been a ragdoll to him!!! A restraining order was granted, however, he violated it constantly and because my existence was enough to ‘provoke’ him, it was seen as self-defense. I didn’t go to my uncle about it because he would’ve flipped out on me and I was afraid that he would become my guardian as he’d started using that threat against me whenever I messed up, knowing full well that I would comply to his demands due to my severe complex PTSD and my autism.
When I was finally allowed to move to North Dakota in July 2017, I knew that this would be my chance to become my own person as I was in a different state and because I had some family that very much wanted me to be independent. There were a few bumps in the road before I was able to fully proceed with becoming my own person. The first bump came on May 10, 2019 when my cousin Christopher murdered his father (my mom’s youngest brother) in Minot, North Dakota. Becoming my own person fell off the radar for the most part because this was a huge family tragedy, one that has decimated the last few remaining strands of family unity. I was going to try in 2020, however, the universe felt that everyone needed to have an extensive trauma induced episode for some reason and that fell through. In 2021, I decided that this was the year that I was going to become my own person. I’d talked with the ALL board and my boss about my intentions and they were shocked that I was under any kind of order. My boss did some digging and found out that in 2016, my mom’s oldest brother was only my rep payee and not a full-fledged conservator. That angered me because he never told me about that. Isn’t there supposed to be a requirement that I be notified of such a thing!? After that was discovered, I told the ALL board about it and the president of ALL got everyone to really rally behind me as he was absolutely irate that I hadn’t been told such a thing and he wondered if there were other things I wasn’t being told. Earlier this year, I finally was able to start the process of becoming my own person. I went to Protection and Advocacy and asked how to become my own rep payee as I wasn’t sure if I needed to go to court or do this in Minnesota. P&A told me to call Minnesota first in case I had to go there. I called them and they said that as soon as I moved to North Dakota, I became North Dakota’s problem. After that, I was put in touch with Dakota Center for Independent Living (DCIL) where I met with Carol, one of the advocacy specialists. I told Carol that I wanted to become my own rep payee yet didn’t know how to go about doing it. She looked into it and found out that all I had to do was go to Social Security and fill out a request form to become my own rep payee. I filled out the request form on June 10th and I figured that it would take at least six months to a year before I heard anything as that’s how Social Security works on things like this. I think my mom and dad up in heaven saw how I was trying to become as independent as I could be and decided to help speed up the process. On August 16th, 2022, I became my own person!!! I was absolutely shocked how fast things were decided! While most people that know that I’m my own person now have been congratulating me and are very proud of what I’ve accomplished, my uncle feels very hurt and betrayed by what I’ve done. I’m well aware that I’m totally without any ties to family now because of this decision and it is something that will take getting used to. I feel bad that my family is now forever fragmented and that I’m the one who permanently destroyed my family, however, I can’t let guilt and shame stop me from being my own person. I have to pick up the pieces and figure out how things are going to go now and I’m going to need help as one person can’t do this on their own. I do have a support system in place though to make sure I don’t have any issues and end up under any kind of conservatorship and/or rep payee again and I’m hoping that with time, things will become easier for me and that I’ll figure how to adjust being my own person and learn how to adjust being totally on my own.