Today he's doing fine and I am proud to serve on the advisory board of CSESA, the Department of Education's initiative to improve high school outcomes for people like Cubby and me. I just wish the enlightenment had come a little sooner, in time for one of us at least . . .
John and wife Maripat by courtesy of the author
JB: When I first plucked your book from the library shelf, I assumed the subtitle "A father and son's adventures with Asperger's, trains, tractors, and high explosives" was hyperbole, at least the bit about the high explosives. But it most certainly wasn't. What can you tell our readers about that?
JER: Readers of Look Me in the Eye know pyrotechnics and explosives sort of run in the family for us. As do tractors and trains. When I was a teen, my special interest was music and electronics, but that led to work with KISS and some pretty impressive explosives effects.
However, I just controlled the explosives with my electronics. My son took an interest in explosives as a teen, and he began creating and inventing explosive compounds.
That led to a visit from the ATF, and a most unpleasant experience with a vicious local prosecutor.
JB: Cubby was pulled out of class, interrogated by federal officers, and endured a raid of his lab involving a huge cast of characters. But, in the end, the various police forces packed up, went home and declined to arrest him. So, what went wrong? Why wasn't that the end of the story?
JER: It should have been . . . the investigators on the scene were convinced Cubby was no threat to anyone, and indeed they told me he could have a bright future in chemistry.
Unfortunately, in Massachusetts (like many other states) the local prosecutors have the final say in who gets charged and sometimes opportunism or politics controls a process that should be governed by fairly evaluated evidence.
All too often, kids (and adults) who are different become targets of morally bankrupt or misguided public officials. Being different should not be a crime, but all too often, that's how it works out.
JB: Cubby faced many years in prison if convicted of any of the charges. While the full powers of the prosecutor's office were arrayed against him, he had at least two unexpected strengths. He was articulate. And he had friends and supporters. What role did these two factors play in this courtroom drama?
JER: They played some role, to be sure, but the central issue was that he simply was not guilty of the charges. The whole case was a figment of a failing prosecutor's twisted mind.
Yet it was all too real, and as you say, my son faced up to sixty years in state prison. That highlights something awful that happens all to often in our society - if you do something unusual, and it gets misunderstood by the authorities, they can ruin your life. It's a huge risk that many never see, till its too late.
JB: I imagine that's part of the reason that you write, confer and speak extensively about Asperger's, autism and your experiences. All this while running JE Robison Service since 1986. Can you tell our readers about your business and how you got into it?
JER: I quit electronics because I didn't understand the social dynamics of a larger workplace. I wanted to be in a smaller setting, and one where I felt I could not be capriciously fired.
I cast about among my skills, and decided to start fixing cars for people. All the co-workers work for me, which means I can't lose my job for misunderstanding them. There was no boss to fire me - just lots of different customers, each of whom dealt with me one at a time, individually.