Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.
While the old children’s saying is not completely true, it takes a wise person to understand why people lash out, especially in circumstances such as those in the case of our own Ashton O’Dwyer, whom I finally had the pleasure of meeting in person last week.
Ashton, in many so ways, is a tragic figure woven into the fabric of our post Katrina world. Like Robert Davis, Ashton will probably never see justice done in his post Katrina abduction at the hands of the NOPD where he was incarcerated and repeatedly shot point-blank with beanbag rounds from a 12 gauge shotgun.
We take all comers here at Slabbed regardless of race, color or creed as our justice system is supposedly similarly blind to such things. And in taking on Ashton we were able to discuss on Slabbed the why behind the outbursts as he and others, such as own brother Editilla, have freely spoken of their post Katrina struggles with depression caused by having their world’s turned upside down. In Ashton’s case both we at Slabbed and evidently the FBI both agree he suffers from a special kind of depression, bipolar disorder, which Ashton steadfastly refused to blame for his predicament despite acknowledging his struggles with it. Depression is a subject for which I and most everyone impacted by the storm received a crash course PHD in from the University of Katrina.
The recently concluded 1st season of the HBO series Treme dealt with the subject head on in the suicide death of fictional Tulane University professor Creighton Burnette. It manifested itself in tiny Waveland, which is known as Katrina ground zero in Mississippi, when a man who had lived a peaceful life pre storm snapped and began shooting up his neighborhood before turning his gun on himself. Our own Steve sometimes refers to 2006-2007 as a lost year as he sunk to the depths of despair after losing so much in Katrina and then his dad, a well respected coast lawyer the next spring. Everyone here dealt with it in one way shape or form from former Times Picayune columnist Chris Rose, who wrote a moving piece about his battle with severe depression to bloggers such as the woman behind the Bayoucreole Blog (h/t Editilla) who very recently wrote of her own post Katrina struggles with depression.
Accompanied by Steve, I visited Ashton last week at his St Charles Avenue home. We spent over 3 hours talking and reminiscing about life on the pre Katrina beachfront in Waveland where the O’Dwyer family maintained a summer residence when Ashton was a kid before Hurricane Camille. We looked at old pictures of Ashton’s dad on the pier and Steve immediately determined we needed to hook him up with the historical society in Bay St Louis which lost some of their archival materials to Katrina. It was fun listening to Steve and Ashton speak of the origins of some of the grand older mansions which used to dot Bay-Waveland’s beachfront including a house which belonged to Andrew Higgins, a man who will live forever in US military history as the developer of the Higgins boats. Ashton explained to Steve the namesake of the street he now lives on in Bay St Louis. The history lesson was a real treat.
We also spoke of the problems he’s had since Katrina and he choked up when he spoke of losing his house to bankruptcy, the very thing he stayed behind to protect that began the post Katrina chapter of his life. He spoke lovingly of his ex-wife Kitty whom he says will come back to him once he is able to begin making money again so he can provide for her. His lovely daughter Kathleen was also there. Kathleen has been looking after her dad since he was confined to the place due to the house arrest conditions imposed on him by the indictment.
We got a hoot out his Father’s day gift from his daughters, a framed picture of him seated in his driveway with a shotgun post Katrina. We gathered around that same table last week to talk. It was questioning by reporters that lead to news stories such this one that made Ashton angry. Since he previously had the reputation as a crazy cracker, he can be intimidating, as the reporter admitted after he ambush interviewed him. I’ve been around too many New Orleanians in my life to see that act and be fooled by it. He told us only one reporter saw through it after the storm.
There is another side to Ashton that people do not see as he is the guy who filed suit on behalf of the prisoners in Parish prison, all of whom went through sheer hell after the storm due to poor decision making by the criminal sheriff. That suit ultimately was kicked from the system, a victim of the system protecting itself. Such phenomena is familiar to us here at Slabbed.
I doubt this latest bit of vindication will bring any sort of closure to Ashton and where life’s road leads him (besides to Bay-Waveland as mine and Steve’s guest for a day) remains unclear. For our part we’ve happy justice has prevailed as we hope Ashton finds the post Katrina peace which thus far has alluded him.
Congratulations to Team O’Dwyer, especially the federal public defenders office, as Ashton is once again a free man.