By Dave Andrusko
Unfortunately, I have read about and reported on way too many cases in which cognitively impaired children and adults were treated grotesquely. No lesser description will suffice.
The most powerful reporting I have ever read on such a case was written by Chris Kelly, a columnist for the Times-Tribune of Scranton, Pennsylvania. The unfortunate (times ten) victim was Robert Gensiak, who died an unspeakably brutal death, starved to the point where his bones showed through by his mother and sisters. His “crime”? To be defenseless. He had Down syndrome.
He weighed 69 pounds at his death at age 32; the local newspaper chose not to print photos “as a matter of taste.” Mr. Gensiak’s shriveled remains were cremated.
In June 2013, Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola described Mr. Gensiak’s death as “the worst case of neglect I’ve seen the last 26 years. …This family, the mother and two sisters, basically let this young man rot to death.”
In November 2014, as Kelly wrote, Robert’s mother, Susan Gensiak, was sentenced to 10 to 20 years. Sister Joan “got five to 10 years for a neglect charge and [and additional] one to five years for endangering the welfare of a child,” Kelly explained. [Like Robert Gensiak, “Her daughter, Robert’s niece, was also infested with scabies.”]
The youngest sister, Rebekah, testified against her mother and sister. Her sentence was six to 23 months (she was released in February 2015).
Why did Kelly write about the case again over the weekend, the day before Mother’s Day, as he ruefully noted. Turns out that
The state Superior Court scuttled the sentence because Judge Margaret Bisignani Moyle — a mother of five — didn’t make clear why she condemned Joan Gensiak to a prison term longer than the high end of sentencing guidelines. On Wednesday, the judge again imposed the six-to-15-year sentence, citing Robert’s prolonged, painful passing. …
As for the 62 year old mother
Susan will likely spend the rest of her Mother’s Days behind bars.
Kelly tried in vain to find some way to honor his own mother’s admonition — “to try and feel empathy for everyone, no matter their sins.” But “Even she would find it a trial to muster pity for Susan Gensiak, whose son died of hunger, disease and neglect about two weeks after his mother and sister taste-tested granola bars.”
Kelly ends his remarkable column with this:
Mothers carry us into the world and teach, nourish and protect as we find our way in it. They dry our tears, soothe our wounds and nurture our dreams. It’s a lifetime position that demands depths of devotion only a mother can comprehend or commit to.
Most moms make that commitment happily, and keep it even when we don’t. Mine sure did, and today this son of Beverly Kelly knows how fortunate he is to have her.
Maybe that’s why I can’t help but shed a tear today for Robert Gensiak, who had the bad luck to be born into a life of misery and neglect built by the woman who was supposed to love him most. Susan and Joan Gensiak, both mothers, had the bad luck of being sentenced by a judge who knows in her bones that birth is just the beginning of motherhood.