Sam’s story takes a sad turn, again

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

For those of us rooting for Samuel Kraemer-Dahlin — and there are many — the events of the past few weeks have been deflating.

Sam, COURIER readers may recall, once made regular appearances in the Police Blotter, mostly for petty theft and drug possession. After one too many flippant comments by this writer in said Blotter, the Claremont High grad’s family and supporters rallied around him, pointing out, correctly, that he was suffering and deserved respect.

That led to my meeting Sam’s remarkable mother, Claremont resident Per Dahlin, and an initial story. More stories followed about Sam’s struggle with drug addiction and mental illness, the legal system, and his family’s steadfast love and support through it all.

Per told me her son had suffered a near-death experience with fungal meningitis months prior to his spate of Police Blotter appearances. Doctors at the time said the rare infection would likely lead to permanent serious cognitive impairment.

“We never really saw — after the terrible illness and the brain damage that he had from the fungal meningitis — how much he recovered, because he immediately started using,” Per told me last week.

Unhoused for years, it seemed Sam may have hit rock bottom last year when he was thrown into downtown Los Angeles’ notorious Twin Towers jail on a raft of petty theft and drug charges. He was later moved first to Men’s Central Jail in L.A., and then to Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic. For most of those months he had no outside time. His cell had no windows or fresh air, and there was no respite from the 24-hour fluorescent lighting, incessant noise and brawling prisoners.

But it turned out incarceration had its benefits. Sam’s brain was able “to rest” in jail, Per said. He began not only to read books, but to remember and quote passages to his family months afterward.

“We never thought we would see that kind of brain work again,” Per said. “So, it was such a blessing during his jail time for him to feel like, ‘Oh, I have a mind. I can think. I can remember.’ Of course, that just disappeared the minute he walked out.”

On April 12, Sam was released on parole from Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles after 10 months, with the stipulation that he must immediately report to a long sought after treatment facility. He’d been in at least 16 treatment facilities over the years, but this one was different: it was a dual diagnosis program, treating both addiction and mental illness. Both he and his family had high hopes.

But about 36 hours into his stay there, Sam bolted.

“He had a lot of problems,” Per said. “He didn’t understand the rules, and of course it wasn’t really very locked in, and he just took off.”

Sam’s family hadn’t even had a chance to go see him at the new facility.

“He completely just exploded with anxiety, and not taking his meds, and too many freedoms, and boom, he was gone,” his mother said. “And then he showed up in Claremont.”

Sam scored some methamphetamine in Los Angeles before boarding a train to his hometown. Soon his family began hearing of Sam sightings around town. He was using here too: meth, fentanyl and alcohol.

His family did manage to corral him into a psychiatric facility. But he walked out after three days.

He broke into his father’s Claremont home repeatedly in the days leading up to Easter. But Sam wasn’t looking to steal to raise money for drugs. He just wanted to sleep on the floor of his childhood bedroom.

“He didn’t do anything bad. He just … took the windows off and would crawl in, go into his old room and curl up and sleep,” Per said. “His dad would say, ‘Honey, you can’t be here.’ And he would leave. But he kept doing it.”

Sam’s family, faced with only terrible choices, then made a deeply wrenching decision, and got a judge to issue a restraining order.

“Which was very, very hard to do because we understand there is a big part of his brain that is just like a little kid, and he just wants to go home,” Per said.

It meant Sam would likely go to prison, but it was an act of mercy.

“When we saw him [in Claremont], we knew that he would be returning to jail, because you can’t break your diversion agreement and your parole agreement and not eventually be put back in jail,” Per said. “So we knew that that was going to happen, it was just a question of how soon, and how safe could he be, and how much harm could be prevented before he went back.

“That was a really hard reckoning for us.”

The day before Easter, Saturday, April 16, Claremont police arrested Sam for violating the order.

Per has nothing but praise for the way CPD handled her troubled son. They called shortly after he was booked to ask for antibiotics Sam had been taking for a tooth infection.

“That probably was really important for his physical health, not to mention his pain level,” Per said.

Sam’s return to his hometown wasn’t a purely self-destruct mission. On the contrary, his mother said, he had an altogether different plan in mind.

“He went around to a couple neighbors, and also some other unhoused people that he knew where they were, to apologize, and to say that he … he was ashamed.”

He was also looking to speak to two CPD officers he knew from his time in Claremont, corporals Jacob Tillman and Russ Haynes (now retired) both of whom had treated him humanely over the course of his many arrests and interactions with them over the years.

“He had this agenda in his head; he wanted to go around and apologize to various neighbors that he’d stolen things from, and he did that. And he wanted to find those two police officers and let the know that he thought they were … really stellar human beings. And he did that.”

Sam was set to appear Wednesday in a Pomona courtroom. But, after complaining about that persistent tooth infection while waiting for four hours to be called into the courtroom, he was sent back to the infirmary at the Twin Towers Jail in L.A. for treatment. He was due back in court after press time Thursday, at which time a judge was to determine his fate.

He did his jail time and earned a trip to a coveted county diversion program. But he walked out, fundamentally breaking the terms of his parole. He also used, violated a restraining order, and was re-arrested.

He could be sent into the general population of a regular prison, or to a psychiatric facility, where he would be locked down and his medications would be controlled, for whatever length sentence the judge imposes.

His family is hoping the court will see fit to show some mercy.

“The thing is, in a hospital setting you’re more likely to be allowed to do things, like to be helpful, and to work; all the things that help with mental stability, they’re just not available in jail,” Per said. “If he could have something very specific, that would make him feel like he was making amends, and like he was being useful, that would be just really great to think that he could have that.”

Per never ceases to inspire me during our periodic texts and phone calls. She’s relentlessly kind in the face of unimaginable grief, and never wavers in her hope that Sam will one day find peace.

She copes by attending NARANON meetings at Claremont United Church of Christ every Monday night at 6:30. She also frequents various religious services around town, and spends a lot of time outdoors.

“And I have a really loving community that checks in with me. And that makes all the difference.”

Once again, I told Per a great many COURIER readers are rooting for Sam, myself included.

“I think so. I think that’s absolutely true,” she said, then pivoted again to her default position of kindness and empathy. “And that will extend then to other people, because there are addicts everywhere. So, if they learn some things about how the process works for Sam, it will maybe help them when they have to deal with somebody in their own circle.”

As always, Sam’s family will be there when he appears in Pomona Superior Court on Thursday.

“I mean, we can’t do anything, but we can wave to him and blow him kisses, and let him know that we never leave him,” his mother said.

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