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Rose’s Story: Get the Facts Straight
Ray Woodcock Indiana University School of Social Work
September 9, 2008
Get the Facts Straight In Rose’s Story, Wanda Bibb (1991) (known, in the story, as “Rose”) provides a matter-
of-fact description of her dealings with social workers, social service agencies, friends, relatives, and others who variously attempted to help or, in her view, sabotage her. The story is somewhat dated, in that Rose was born on June 15, 1943 (p. 3) and its final words concern events in 1985. It seems quite likely that some relevant changes have occurred in Ohio, where the story evidently took place (p. 112), in the decades that have passed since the events described in the book. Indeed, even the language of the appellate court, quoted in the book’s Appendix, conveys a tone that seems more contemporary than the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest sense that emerges in, say, Rose’s account of Chatwood. The story is also somewhat tangled. Accompanying the book, the reader encounters a Foreword, Acknowledgment, Introduction, and Appendix, all of which appear to have been written by persons other than Rose. Those framing sections provide information that seems, in some regards, inconsistent with itself and with what Rose herself wrote. As such, those materials underscore a message that emerges from Rose’s text as well. The message is that the failure to get the facts straight, and to make those facts and their supporting evidence available to persons who need them, can easily generate confusion and inefficiency in the effort to address the genuine needs of clients and the public. At the very start of Rose’s Story, Howard Goldstein tells the reader that this book, unlike others, has not been “tidied up” (p. ix) and that it presents Rose’s actual story in “unprocessed and unrefined” terms (p. x). This, however, is not correct: Robert Nordstrom confirms that there were “vocabulary, spelling, and grammatical changes . . . to facilitate readability” (p. xviii). Dr. Nordstrom does not say how much editing was done, or by whom. It appears likely, however, that the editor was Betty Nafziger, a former English teacher and volunteer writer for
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the Court Appointed Special Advocate (p. xiii). Ms. Nafziger is described as having a persistent interest in Rose’s story, to the point of pursuing its ultimate publication in 1991. These indications are consistent with the overall impression given by the text, which reads smoothly. Rose was apparently not in the habit of writing so frequently as to obtain access to typewriters, which were common in the 1970s. She was also not the driving force behind the book’s publication, and was not highly educated. By age 35, she had attended college for only about 1.5 semesters (p. 76). According to Nordstrom, she did not divide the manuscript into chapters (p. xviii); it was just one long 167-page story. She was intelligent, but her energies largely seem to have been absorbed by children, hassles with social services and the like, and illness. In short, it seems reasonable to suspect that Rose submitted a fairly rough manuscript – that, in other words, Ms. Nafziger may have contributed quite a bit to its present readability, in the interests of making it publishable, and that her changes to grammar and vocabulary may have been extensive. It would be unfortunate but not surprising if, in the attempt to create a manuscript that would be viewed as more acceptable within the culture that guided the world of American publishing circa 1991, Ms. Nafziger incongruously portrayed Rose as though she had hailed from a more literate culture than was actually the case. In addition to basic editing, Ms. Nafziger verified facts stated by Rose, and also “developed the manuscript” by researching relevant facts “through records and interviews” (p. xiii). Presumably she did not do this in a complete vacuum, without contact with Rose. The more plausible scenario is that she would investigate some aspect of what Rose said, would tell Rose what she had learned, and would then later revise or supplement Rose’s recollection. It seems doubtful that Rose initially had a clear recollection of all events mentioned in the text. For example, in March through May 1977 – and, perhaps, at other times – she was
Get the Facts Straight experiencing memory loss (pp. 85, 91). Seen in this light, what Ms. Nafziger was doing may have been not merely editing, but rather qualitative research or biography. There would be considerable potential for Ms. Nafziger to concentrate her research upon things that interested
her – such as, notably, events of legal significance, as distinct from e.g., internal psychological or spiritual phenomena. In short, it seems defensible to wonder whether Ms. Nafziger was using Rose to make a point of interest to Ms. Nafziger, while portraying Rose as the actual messenger. It is noteworthy, in this regard, that Ms. Nafziger did get the story published, but that Rose insisted upon anonymity in the original edition (p. iii) and, when asked directly by Ms. Chandler, indicated that she did not want her story to be publicized (p. 94). Ms. Nafziger did not get the manuscript directly from Rose. She got it from Cynthia Chandler, a Legal Aid attorney (p. xiii). It is not clear how Ms. Chandler got the manuscript. Dr. Nordstrom says that Rose prepared it for her therapist (p. xvii). The sequence of events, as Nordstrom seems to understand them, is that Rose gave the manuscript to the therapist, and then Rose (perhaps at the therapist’s urging) decided to give it to Ms. Chandler. The therapist reportedly expected to receive “a half-dozen pages” (p. xvii) from Rose. Evidently this was not, then, a long-running project in which Rose recurrently informed the therapist that she was still working on the manuscript, or otherwise gave the therapist any reason to expect such a voluminous account. It is possible that Rose just dashed it off in a week or two, out of the blue, solely from memory. Given its length and the challenges she confronted in daily life, though, what appears more likely is that she was able to develop it within a relatively short timeframe by drawing heavily upon materials that had been prepared previously. Dr. Nordstrom says that Rose’s therapist asked her to write her story when Rose was 35. Rose turned 35 on June 15, 1978. But Rose’s trial had already occurred on August 6, 1977
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(p. 91). In preparation for that trial, Ms. Chandler seems to have made an extraordinary effort to line up witnesses and, presumably, prepare documents and work out the story that she would be presenting to the court (p. 91). The appellate court certainly seems to have found sufficient relevant information in the trial court’s record (pp. 111-112). What seems likely, then, is not that Rose first and furiously drummed up her story in 1978 or 1979, at age 35, in rapid response to some therapist’s casual suggestion, but rather that she had previously worked through the substance of the story in preparation for trial. As noted above, Rose was suffering from amnesia not long before she met Ms. Chandler, and had also experienced memory loss at other times (p. 91). During the summer of 1977, then, when Ms. Chandler was preparing for trial, Rose would likely have needed collaborative assistance from Ms. Nafziger. Ms. Chandler apparently put Rose in touch with Ms. Nafziger to get the story sorted out at that time. Ms. Nafziger probably did the bulk of her work of verifying facts, “through records and interviews” (p. xiii), in June and July 1977. She may have gotten Rose’s manuscript from Ms. Chandler a year or two later, and may have continued long-term revision and publication efforts in subsequent years, but summer 1977 would have been the time when she would have had official sanction, working hours, and financial support for daytime interviews and other challenging aspects of the project. Getting it together before August 6, 1977 would have been crucial, because an appeals court could not have been expected to consider material that did not appear in the trial court’s record. This interpretation of the setting would have several implications. First, the more complete statement of the matter would be that, if Rose submitted a 167-page manuscript at age 35, she could not have been addressing matters that had occurred after June 15, 1979, when she turned 36. Thus, in addition to the framing materials provided in the Foreword, Acknowledg-
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ment, Introduction, Epilogue, and Appendix, the materials described on pages 95-107 would not have been part of “Rose’s story” as it is presented to the reader at the outset – would have been a postscript, that is, to the 167-page manuscript given to her therapist. An artifact of that transition in the text may appear in the references to “the trial,” which Ms. Nafziger surely understood was a one-day event occurring on August 6, 1977 (p. 91) but which Rose seems to have construed as an 18-month period running from her collapse in March 1977 through the appellate court’s ruling in September 1978 (p. 94). If that surmise is correct, the heavy hand of the editor may have somewhat obscured the true degree of Rose’s failure to comprehend legal procedure and her current status with respect to it. In any case, it would have been both clearer and less suspicious if the relationship between the 167-page handwritten manuscript and the materials prepared after it had been presented more transparently. Second, as just noted, if the bulk of Ms. Nafziger’s research into the matter occurred pretrial, in summer 1977, then it may have occurred at a time when Rose was not remembering things very clearly. While the details of the research and editorial process remain undisclosed, one might be reasonably concerned with the potential for steering or creating false memories (see Alison, Kebbell, & Lewis, 2006). Again, this is not to deny the likelihood or accuracy of the general picture Rose presents, so much as to point out that the well-meaning assistant in such an endeavor could harm innocent third parties who are incorrectly remembered, and could also freight the client with a nonexistent past against which s/he may struggle unnecessarily. Third, pretrial development and research of Rose’s story, provided by a person who worked in a partisan capacity for an attorney, could result in distortion of both the story and of the way in which the client would have told it. On the story itself, plainly, a litigation context could discourage a client – with or without an attorney’s prompting – from acknowledging
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responsibility for errors that might prove detrimental to his/her case. Rose thus comes across as a dedicated and victimized mother, to such an extent that she seems to think that a number of people in her life have acted against her for no better reason than irrational malice. As for the way the story is told, the reader does not encounter Rose as a whiner or troublemaker. There seem to be many people who have been disappointed with what they considered her lack of cooperation, but apparently they were all wrong in having any such expectation. To be sure, this may be how it really was, and in any case Rose certainly has the right to state how she sees things. Nonetheless, the reader who is informed that much of the work behind this story was done in preparation for trial might cast a more jaundiced eye on it than Ms. Nafziger would wish. This story, including its clinical tone, does very much seem to be the product of a writer trained for, or concerned with, the task of persuading a court of law to see one side rather than another. Such an orientation appears in the story’s very first sentence, in which Rose says, “I am writing this as best as I can remember” (p. 3), which seems quite close to standard witness certifications that one is presenting the facts to one’s best recollection. This paper has traced out the book’s background for two reasons. First, as a matter of ordinary practice, one might want to have some sense of who wrote a text, and why they wrote it, before proceeding to analyze or act upon it. In this case, one might conclude that Rose’s story is told with a certain slant, for a preconceived purpose – as distinct from, say, a treatment that would strive for neutrality. Again, this is not to deny that many events transpired substantially as Rose says, or that she deserved much better treatment than she received in many such instances. It is only to note that the social worker who would strive to develop good policy on behalf of someone like Rose might be well advised to be familiar with aspects of the story that would not necessarily be presented to the court in the sort of document that seems to underlie Rose’s Story.
Get the Facts Straight Second, the foregoing analysis of relevant dates suggests the importance of getting the
facts straight. An important policy failure illustrated by Rose’s Story is the failure to reach firm and defensible findings on basic facts, and to make those findings and their support available for future reference by interested parties. The book illustrates that failure both in the story being told and in the frame of reference within which that story was packaged and published. In the frame of reference, the foregoing analysis cites several regards in which readers and others who came into contact with this story may have been manipulated by an incomplete and biased presentation of the storyteller and her story. The story itself, likewise, states or hints at a large number of failures to sort out the most fundamental information regarding this person’s existence. From the outset, the reader confronts the sense that Rose herself does not, and cannot, know basic information about her own life, as well as that the authorities likewise operate in substantial ignorance of important realities. As a particular example that emerges, again, on that very first page, the lifelong thorn known as Julia appears immediately as a disturbed individual who, all too believably, is free to wreak havoc in Rose’s life, and evidently nobody is able to figure that out. The finger could be pointed in any number of directions on that: there was no stable community whose members would know Julia and would exert pressure on her to behave better; the courts were unable or unwilling to deal with things that mattered to children; social workers were not trained to get to the bottom of a problem, and were not provided with sufficient resources to resolve the matter if they did; and so forth. As noted above, one may hope that some such weaknesses have been rectified in ensuing decades. In the area of children’s mental health, for example, there have been “some modest reforms” since the time of Rose’s story (Briar-Lawson, Naccarato, & Drews, 2009, p. 323). This remains, however, far from a firm belief that such matters can be sorted out,
Get the Facts Straight much less a commitment to sort them out. The resources do not exist, and as a practical matter there is no reason to believe they can or will be made available, to resolve the panoply of financial, psychological, social, legal, and other issues confronting a person like Rose. In that sense, Rose’s Story does a disservice to the disempowered and disadvantaged
people of America. It encourages the likes of Dr. Goldstein to claim that it “speaks on behalf of many clients who fall through the cracks in our systems” (p. x). It is the systems, not the cracks, that are implicated here. This is predominantly not a story of someone who somehow escaped notice and was therefore left to fend for herself. There is some of that, but the bulk of this story is about a woman who spent the first decades of her life solidly in the grip of various systems, to her detriment. That includes the legal system – which, consistent with Ms. Nafziger’s employment, stands as the final chapter in the manuscript that Rose could have presented to her therapist at age 35. It was the attorney and her assistant who saved Rose in the climactic event of trial; she, herself, was not empowered. As Goldstein also acknowledges, “Rose, in important ways, is every client” (p. x). The systems insist and subsist upon the detritus of inefficiency, and an important part of that inefficiency is the failure to do the job right, with comprehensive and competent client service as the preeminent commitment. Rose’s Story is, in itself, a microcosm of that inefficiency, and of the abuses of power that underlie and perpetuate it, insofar as the published book actually provides only one dimension of a complex human life, evidently restricted by the editor’s worldview. The reader is to conclude that this stuff – the courts and nasty sisters and all that – were all that Wanda Bibb were about. She is a mere representation of a human being, an exemplar of a “larger” point about systems, as distinct from being the larger point herself.
Get the Facts Straight References Alison, L., Kebbell, M., & Lewis, P. (2006). Considerations for experts in assessing the
credibility of recovered memories of child sexual abuse: The importance of maintaining a case-specific focus. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 12(4), 419-441. Bibb, W. (1991). Rose’s story. Long Grove, IL: Waveland. Briar-Lawson, K., Naccarato, T., & Drews, J. (2009). Child and family welfare policies and services. In J. Midgley & M. Livermore (Eds.), The handbook of social policy (2nd ed.) (pp. 315-335). Los Angeles: Sage.
Talking Points Rose’s Story: Get the Facts Straight by Ray Woodcock September 9, 2008
Abstract Rose’s Story consists of a story within a story. The book is ostensibly about Wanda (“Rose”) Bibb. Taken within the context of its framing materials (e.g., Introduction, Epilogue), however, it is about making use of Wanda’s story for a particular purpose, potentially to Wanda’s detriment. As such, it illustrates a larger failure to focus upon the client as an end in him/herself, not only within the institutions of the 1960s and 1970s, but also within the publication process. Talking Points • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Who originally published the book? When? Why not use Wanda’s real name in the first printing? In what year did “Rose” give the manuscript to her therapist? How old was she? When was her trial? How long did her trial last? How did the manuscript get to Betty Nafziger? When did Ms. Nafziger do her interviews and fact-checking? What is the last date discussed in Rose’s Story? How good was Rose’s memory? Did she remember all these things by herself? How long did it take Rose to write 167 pages? Why did her therapist expect only a halfdozen pages? Does the book use Rose’s own words? What were Rose’s views on religion? Had she heard of the Vietnam War? What were her favorite TV shows? Did she take pleasure in anything? Did Rose ever make a serious mistake in caring for her kids? Were all the people who found Rose uncooperative mistaken? Where did Rose’s manuscript end? Who actively worked to achieve the largest specific victory in this story?