By Hannah Reich Berman

 Occasionally we wonder about the way some folks think. Then we realize that it has nothing to do with the way they think. The real question is whether they think at all.

There are two wackos in the great state of Texas who call themselves parents but do little or no parenting. The mom, Tonya Couch, who lets her kid get away with everything and anything, should be run out of town on a rail. Oh! Wait a minute. No need to run her out of town, because she left voluntarily.

She and her ex-husband, Fred, have an odd concept of child-rearing. Their first rule is to spoil their kid, Ethan, rotten. He drove himself to school at the age of 13, and when the principal contacted his father about it the dad threatened to “buy the school.” In 2013, when Ethan drove drunk, he killed four people but the parents let him know that there were no consequences. This is yenem philosophy! Mom protects and defends him, and she ran with him to Mexico when he violated his ten-year probation after just two years.

When Ethan was arrested, Mom’s first move was to hire an attorney. Her next move was to grab the spoiled brat and flee with him to Mexico to keep him from prosecution and probable jail time. Their departure was preceded by a going-away party. One might have thought that the kid was going off to college, not running from the law. Why she fled with him is a mystery, since he had gotten off without jail time.

It sounds like the judge may have been just as wacky as the Couch family. She was swayed by the testimony of a psychologist who said that the family’s wealth and dysfunction left Ethan without a sense of responsibility. And from there was born an incredible defense that is now known as affluenza. Translation: because of the affluence of his family, Ethan was given no boundaries and was taught that whatever he did was acceptable. The Couches’ son might not have been a born sociopath, but his parents have seen to it that he behaves like one. Don’t we have enough crazies in this world?

Getting probation without jail time for killing four people is an outrage. Even more frustrating is that once Ethan steps back on U.S. soil, things still do not look too grim for him. If his case remains in juvenile court, he could be allowed to go free on his 19th birthday, in April. And if his file is handed to the adult court system, he could be sentenced to a mere 120 days in jail. This is justice?

When mother and son were on the lam in Mexico, they managed to lose themselves in a crowded resort area, and for a while things were looking good for them. But their respite was short-lived; all too soon, the duo was spotted and picked up by the authorities. Initially, “Mommie Dearest” wanted to fight extradition. It is a pity that she didn’t win that fight. If she had remained south of the border, the likelihood is that she would have been thrown in jail there. And based on reports from former inmates in Mexico, her life would have been miserable.

My impression is that prisons in these United States are more or less humane. And compared to the prisons in other countries, ours are like five-star hotels. If Tonya had indeed been jailed in Mexico, it would not have been long before she’d been crying and begging for extradition back to Texas. And by that time she might have been raving mad. It is hard to imagine this woman of privilege subsisting on a diet of beans and tortillas. Chances are that caviar is not on the prison menu. The food in a Mexican prison is bad news. The only good news is that there is not much of it.

Additionally, prisoners are kept mostly in the dark, privacy is almost nonexistent, and making phone calls is often denied. Medication too is denied, so if she got a headache she would have had to tough it out. One wonders how long she would have lasted. But, as of this writing, she is back in Texas and we will have to wait for the outcome of her actions.

Now that she is back here, with any luck she will be tried and found guilty of aiding and abetting a fugitive. It would be nice if a judge threw the book at her–hopefully a hardcover!

We will also have to wait for the outcome for Ethan. Thus far, he has successfully fought deportation and remains in Mexico. But chances are that will not last and Texas will eventually get this prize package back. Then we will learn if he goes back to juvie court or to the big boys’ playpen–adult court. Unfortunately, either way, his sentence would be unbelievably light. The big issue with this unrepentant brat is his probation. He will get probation and, if past performance is any indication, he will most likely violate it and then he will get what he deserves–40 years in prison, which is 10 years for each death that he caused. The idea holds a good deal of appeal since it might save other innocent people. For now we will just have to wait and see. That is just the way it is.

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.


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