Erika Prock left Michigan at 10 p.m. on March 10, with a change of clothes and a set of pajamas for her and her son.

She drove all night while the 18-month-old slept in the car seat and then picked up her husband at her in-laws’ home in Hamilton, along the Mississippi border in north Alabama. After a two-hour visit, they started back toward Hillsdale, Michigan, with plans to stop in Nashville for sleep.

The family only made it as far as Moulton, where someone reported a disturbance as they stopped at Jack’s for lunch. When police responded, Prock’s husband was smoking a cigarette outside the car. An officer smelled marijuana on his breath.

Todd Prock told police he had marijuana in the trunk of the car. Then they arrested both adults and placed the child in foster care — trapping the family inside a nightmare for possessing a substance that’s legal in their home state.

“If we could have taken our situation and transported it to Michigan, we would have been on our way,” Erika Prock said. “None of this would have happened. Nothing. Like absolutely nothing.”

In 2008, Michigan adopted medical marijuana. And in 2018, the voters of Michigan approved a measure to legalize recreational marijuana, which is now legal in some form in 19 states. Alabama is not one of those states.

“Although an officer may exercise discretion,” said Lawrence County District Attorney Errek Jett, whose office is handling the case, “there is no provision under the laws of Alabama to permit possession of marijuana if the individual is from a state where it is lawful.”

Local officials would later add charges unique to just a few states, charges used most often in a handful of rural counties in north Alabama. Weeks after the arrest, Prock and her husband were charged with felony chemical endangerment, a law originally meant to target parents whose children were near meth labs. The experience has highlighted the stark differences in consequences between Alabama and Michigan for parents caught in possession of marijuana.

“I don’t understand how the same situation in two different states can differ so drastically to the point where in one state your child is taken and put into foster care over marijuana and you’re charged with chemical endangerment,” said Prock, “but in another state, they consider it legal and safe and you go home to your family that night and never have to worry about your child being taken.”

Jett said visitors to Alabama are subject to the state’s laws, just like Alabama residents would be in other states.

“In short, possession of marijuana is illegal under our laws,” said Jett. “A similar situation exists where one of our citizens has a pistol carry permit but travels to New York for instance. In that situation the Alabama citizen has committed a criminal offense under the laws of the State of New York.”

Instead of returning to Michigan, Prock and her husband moved into a tent behind her in-laws’ trailer while they fight allegations in criminal and family court. Her child has been placed with an Alabama foster family, separated from the parents and grandparents who cared for him every day since his birth.

Gar Blume, an attorney who works in family court, said some counties are quicker to remove children than others. He works all over the state and has encountered several cases where children were removed due to parental marijuana use. Smaller departments in more conservative counties may be more prone to err on the side of caution, particularly with an out-of-state couple with marijuana and prescription methadone.

“Some counties treat marijuana the same as they treat methamphetamine, cocaine or opiates,” Blume said. “It’s the same as any other illegal drug to them.”

He said Alabama courts have ruled that drug use can’t be the sole reason for removing a child to foster care, but it can contribute in situations where a parent is frequently intoxicated or exposes them to drugs. Prock said her child was clean, happy and well-fed when he was taken.

Prock said the experience is one of the worst things that’s ever happened to her. The worst was her son’s birth — almost four months premature. His early medical struggles left Prock with post-traumatic stress disorder and a fierce protectiveness over her child’s health, she said.

Although her husband smoked cigarettes and marijuana, Prock said she never allowed a whiff of smoke near her child. That’s why her husband was standing 12 feet away from the car with a cigarette when the police pulled up.

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'Like he was being kidnapped'

Prock admitted that in her initial panic she tried to help her husband hide some marijuana. And her husband had smoked marijuana before the Moulton police arrived, she said. But she said the couple quickly admitted they had pot in the trunk, alongside a locked box with Prock’s prescribed methadone.

The officer asked Prock to take a field sobriety test, which she said she failed due to a sprained ankle from a car wreck three weeks earlier. She was placed into the back of a squad car while a worker from the Department of Human Resources took her son.

“They just ripped him away from me,” she said. “It was like he was being kidnapped.”

Prock shouted at the social worker through the open window. She said she tried to tell the social worker about her son’s medical issues and told the woman to call her mother. Then the officer rolled up the window. A spokesman for DHR declined to comment, citing confidentiality.

“That’s the first thing that’s in my head,” Prock said. “What if he goes there and they don’t know and he’s sleeping and stops breathing and dies? I mean, horrible thoughts go through my head because of what we have been through. I have a little bit of PTSD from it.”

Prock became inconsolable inside the jail. She cried so much she said the jailer moved her to a visitation room that was under construction.

Because the couple lived in Michigan, it took five days to find a bail bondsman willing to post bail, even though they had no intention of leaving Alabama without their son.

A prosecutor dismissed marijuana possession and public intoxication charges against Erika Prock after she produced hospital discharge records for her sprained ankle and two years of clean drug screens from the methadone clinic.

That wasn’t the end of her legal troubles.

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Life on hold

Two weeks after the arrest, authorities filed felony charges of chemical endangerment against the couple. Officers alleged their 18-month-old was exposed to marijuana. A person commits the felony if he or she “knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally causes or permits a child to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia.”

Todd Prock is also facing felony charges of marijuana possession.

Both parents say they never exposed their son to drugs.

Jett would not list the specific evidence for the chemical endangerment charges.

“However, the evidence in this case provides probable cause that a child was exposed or had access to a controlled substance and/or paraphernalia,” he said.

According to the legal complaint against Prock, the couple had 4½ ounces of marijuana, a small amount of marijuana powder, “and several tools, bowls and various other items with residue on them in close proximity to an 18-month-old child in a car.”

In Michigan, adults can possess up to 2½ ounces of marijuana, which can be consumed at home. Prock said her husband only had that much in the trunk when arrested. An adult with more than 2½ ounces but less than 5 ounces can receive a civil penalty similar to a traffic ticket.

Prock said the Department of Human Resources in Alabama will soon send her son to his grandparents’ home in Michigan. She feels certain the custody case will resolve quickly once it moves to her home state.

However, she worries about the chemical endangerment felony and plans to fight the charges in court. The couple has been living in Hamilton for more than three months since their arrest. Todd Prock, who juggled jobs in a factory, at a roofing company and as a tattoo artist, hasn’t worked since the arrest. Both parents have older children in Michigan they haven’t seen in months.

The couple is still paying rent and bills on a house in Michigan while living in a tent in Alabama. The Moulton police also seized about $2,500 in cash Prock said she received as part of the settlement from her traffic accident. Their money has almost run out.

In the past two months, Prock said she has gained a sense of purpose — to get her son back and prove that she’s a good mom, and not the kind person who would have exposed a medically fragile child to dangerous drug fumes.

“I am a recovering addict and I just want to do something about this,” Prock said. “Because what if this happens to somebody else and they’re a recovering addict and they’re not strong enough to stay clean. And they end up relapsing, or even worse, dying or overdosing and then a child is without a mother because Alabama is so just overkilling with that charge and taking children.”

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(1) comment

Robert Archer

Interesting article, but don’t lose sight of why the police were called. According to the article, “someone reported a disturbance as they stopped at Jack’s for lunch”. There is more to the story than these parents lost custody of their child due to the fact they had marijuana. A judgment call was made that the child’s life might be in danger due to the decisions that the adults were making. Children are some of our most vulnerable members in society, and it is up to all of us to help protect and care for them.

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