The good news is that this Chattaroy family is together again.
The bad news is that the reunion is being held behind bars at the Spokane County Jail.
Joey Brooks, 17, waits on the sixth floor. The teen is charged with second-degree murder for the May 21 shotgunning of his 16-year-old girlfriend, Dianna Meyer.
Just three floors below is Joey’s mom, Leanna Yarbrough, 36. The small woman with long black hair is locked up on a parole violation. The charge dates back to a 1993 first-degree theft out of Portland.
Over in the jail’s basement annex, Victor Bagley cools his heels on a felonious assortment.
Victor, 29, is Leanna’s live-in boyfriend and father of her two younger sons. They’ve been together five years.
Although they aren’t related, Joey considers Victor his dad as much as anyone.
Grab a guitar. This situation is straight out of some mournful country and western song. Only these heartaches by the numbers are painfully real.
“We’re not bad people just because we’re all in here,” says Leanna, wiping away tears and staring sadly through the smudged glass window of one of the jail’s visitation chambers.
Leanna claims she kicked hard drugs 10 months ago and has been trying to live within the law, working as a housekeeper.
“People need to know Joey is a wonderful kid, caring and loving,” she says. “Talk to anybody who knows Joey. They’ll tell you the same thing.”
Well, not everybody.
According to police, the high school dropout was mad at his girlfriend when he aimed a sawed-off shotgun at her head and gave the trigger a fateful squeeze.
A witness who was in the Chattaroy trailer that day reportedly told detectives Joey meant to scare Dianna for telling people he was using drugs. The murder charge means he will be tried as an adult. Joey is being held on $150,000, cash-only bail.
“I know Joey,” adds Leanna. “I know he didn’t mean to do this.”
Joey’s lawyer won’t let him talk, and Victor declined to speak of his difficulties. Leanna says her man is in jail because “he doesn’t know how to stop driving without a license.”
True, driving with a suspended license makes up two of Victor’s offenses. But there are others: assault, two theft arrests, failure to transfer a vehicle title, possession of stolen property and vehicular prowling.
Joey, Leanna and Victor. They aren’t exactly the Norman Rockwell depiction of family values.
But jail employees say handcuffs are too often the familial ties that bind.
“Doing time on the family plan,” is what sheriff’s Lt. Steve Jackson calls it. In 24 years at the jail, he’s seen countless examples.
“We’ve had brothers and sisters and parents come through,” he says. “Now even some grandkids are coming in.”
Spend some time in the jail waiting room and you’ll see a generational tragedy unfolding before your eyes.
Every day, people line up for passes to visit a loved one behind bars. Most of the visitors are sad-eyed women who hold onto a baby in one arm and the hand of a toddler with the other.
“It’s sad,” says Jackson. “To a lot of kids this environment becomes the norm. Where’s dad? Oh, he’s in jail.”
Thanks to their drug-using, lawbreaking parents, many of these sweet little tykes don’t have a prayer.
Nobody, of course, could have predicted what kind of trouble Joey Brooks would land in. But with the role models he’s had, it was just a matter of time before something bad happened.
“This is the saddest story there is,” says Penny Graham, one of Leanna’s friends who believes the shooting was accidental.
Leanna was arrested on an outstanding warrant when she tried to visit Joey. She caught a brief glimpse of her son through a window the other day when the two just happened to be on the same floor.
“He saw me and waved,” she says, wiping away more bitter tears. “He told me that he loved me.”