What happens to good people when bad things happen? Books have been written on this subject, but when it strikes close to home the question is no longer academic. When enough stress and chaos enter the mix, some good people turn down a road unexpected. Without sufficient moral strength, it takes their soul. Such, I worry, has been happening with my friend Jeff Grasso, the former Boulder City policeman who has had legal troubles lately.
I’ve seen friends and family take a wrong turn before, so I am quickly reminded of the major lesson I have learned from observing these turns: Be slow to judge and quick to lend your prayers and moral support.
Something bad happened to Grasso’s entire family a few years ago on a fateful day when his son Giulian went skateboarding without protective gear. Giulian fell and sustained brain damage that is physically as well as mentally debilitating; it ruined his life.
I met Jeff, Giulian and Giulian’s mom about a year after this, at Mass at St. Andrew Catholic Community here in Boulder City. Like so many in our community, I responded with gifts to their private charity for Giulian. Some time after that, I sponsored Jeff and Giulian as brothers of the Knights of Columbus.
The stress on Giulian’s mom and dad were evident. They were making weekly trips to California for Giulian’s therapy, and Jeff already had one of the most stressful jobs ever created, that of a modern-day police officer in a department with management issues.
You don’t have to be a fan of cable TV police dramas to know this is a situation only the best people could survive intact.
We won’t know exactly what happened until the trial in August, but we know that Jeff stands accused of forging documents for the purpose of taking reimbursement payments on therapy that never occurred. The payments involve the private foundation for Giulian, hence the accusation that Jeff stole from his son. Maybe he did and maybe he did not, but as a bookkeeper I’ve seen these situations before.
Private foundations can be treacherous to manage for two reasons: They are controlled by individuals with a close personal interest in the foundation, and the law is quick to jump on signs of financial abuse. I once saw a constable go to prison for similar accusations, of actions against which I had personally warned him.
Over the years, I have been dismayed by the mistakes of friends and family, and along the way learned a lot about tolerance and love. When do they cross the line? When is a sin too much to forgive? I had a friend worried that her brother would come to visit her after he was released from prison for manslaughter. I think most of us would be equally concerned, but short of a killing, what is too much?
Here are some of the mistakes I’ve witnessed and forgiven over the years: A bank officer and former sheriff’s deputy caught using bad credit cards he had confiscated; a wealthy attorney, now homeless, who ruined his life by dipping into escrow funds; a hapless attorney who never made the success expected because of cocaine addiction and subsequent alcoholism; a cousin who died in a drug den after a long life of alcoholism; and a nephew with a promising military future whose Xanax-infused anger landed him in prison instead.
The wealthy attorney’s situation reminds me of Grasso’s situation because of allegations of misused funds, and because it started in muddy waters, a slippery slope where a single transaction may have seemed harmless, but which led to more and more until there was no escaping the inevitable capture.
From this lifetime of experiences I have learned that when the people experiencing the bad things are your friends and family, judging does not come so easily. I spent more than two years trying to help my sister keep her son from prison, but his continued actions made it impossible. Although I am deeply disappointed, it’s easier to lessen or withhold judgment of him than it would be with a stranger. It makes me worry about how impetuously I judge strangers and has caused me to measure my judgments carefully.
How we view these situations often depends on whether we are on the inside looking out or the outside looking in. Can you learn to judge strangers as generously as you do your own kith and kin? That is not too far from loving your neighbor, and the benefit will always outweigh the effort.
Dale Napier is a Boulder City business consultant with a background in urban transportation and development.