The Road to Recovery (Of My Stuff)
January 3, 2017 10:53 PM   Subscribe

Do I have any sort of rights when it comes to recovering items left behind in a previous residence and items moved to a storage unit without my permission? Level of complexity: ridiculous, because my family is dysfunctional.

Allow me to establish the following things:

*My sister originally invited me to stay with her after my suicide attempt in November, with no definite move-out date. She in fact told me (not in writing) that I could stay with her indefinitely, though I made it absolutely clear that I intended to make a solid transition within 3 months or less.

*My sister did not ask for anything of me at first; I was the one who offered to help pay for utilities, as well as purchase items for household use. I also paid her the amount she asked for, which was $300 for the month of December.

*My sister also had all three of her adult children move in after experiencing major setbacks: one daughter dropping out of college, another daughter being kicked out of her boyfriend's parents' apartment, a son whose child support payments to 3 of his children's mothers makes living independently impossible.

*My sister used me as part of her support system with regard to dealing with the stress of taking care of her late-stage Alzheimers'-burdened husband, while watching her children fuck up royally (i.e., fighting amongst each other in the house, screaming at children, etc.). I generally kept clear of all the chaos, focusing instead on getting my life together with minimal requests for assistance from her. She also began to seek heavy spiritual guidance from my religious community, which led to:

*Her getting freaked out by my predicting several major events in the house, none of which had a whit to do with me. Assume that what advice I gave her was common bloody sense and not some sort of deep psycho-spiritual insight. One of them was a conflict that led to her giving each of her children 60 days to move out. This originally did not apply to me until she got spooked and scapegoated me for each major event.

*Please take me at my word when I say: I did not instigate these events, steered clear of these events, etc. One such event was a physical altercation between my sister and her youngest daughter. Over her dropping out of college.

*One day, my sister had another of our sisters and niece, both known for being exceptionally aggressive, come to the house and interrogate her children, basically trying to "tough love" them into getting their shit together. It went as poorly as you'd expect, complete with screaming, shouting, crying, things being slammed, people being pushed, etc. The sister and niece eventually turned to talking about me and went to look for me - to address my being a "witch" (my religion is not Judeo-Christian) and being "of the devil" - but I pretended not to be in my (locked) room. There was no way in hell I was dealing with two very loud, very riled-up women, especially because I couldn't tell if it was them doing the hitting. It was on this day that I decided to go back up North to celebrate New Year's with my friends, faaaaar away from my crazy-ass relatives and all their drama. I told my sister that I was heading back up, and would return by the end of the weekend.

*While I was up North, I got a text message from my sister informing me that she'd gotten my father to take all of my things and move them to a storage unit in Pennsylvania, where he lives. When I called for an explanation, she also informed me that, due to "supernatural events" (her words) taking place in the house since my arrival, I would no longer be welcome there. I'm assuming it was my insight and whatever dreams she was having, seeing as the only thing happening in that house was pure drama.

Most importantly, this was in front of other people who listened to her say it while I had her on speaker-phone. Her being superstitious has led to her behaving rashly before, but never to this extreme. Though she's kicked out her daughter and son more than once in the past (unrelated reasons), so I probably should've kept that in mind as she got progressively more on-edge.

*My father was unable to give me any sort of clear explanation either, and has basically declined to move my things once I have an apartment secured because I am "a disgrace to my mother." As for anything possibly left in the house, I only knew one of my sister's daughters, who was unresponsive to my request to check the house on my behalf.

*Being homeless but with more than enough money to make a solid move, I moved to a new city where I have non-familial support. I'm writing this from a place I found on AirBNB, and will be moving into my own apartment shortly. I have the money to pay for all expenses for some time, but not enough to replace everything missing.

*YES, I have a competent mental health professional and I am taking the proper medication. YES, I am acutely aware that having these sorts of events occur in my life is extremely unusual as to be completely unbelievable to anyone with a minimally-dysfunctional family (also NO, I do not intend to keep ties to my family whatsoever once my stuff's back in my hands). And YES, I am processing these events with the help of a mental health professional, thank you.

What recourse do I have with regard to getting my things back? I'm not afraid to file a police report, but I don't know if it's applicable since my stuff wasn't stolen with the intent to sell/keep, it's just...being held hostage. It would be EXTREMELY financially foolish to replace my missing items while I'm still waiting for a job offer, especially because all my interview suits are among the things being held.

I really don't want to just swallow the costs: my desktop is worth nearly $1k, my wardrobe at least $3k, and all other items are either difficult to replace or expensive to replace in aggregate. I already have to swallow the costs of recently-purchased groceries that they threw out, as well as $300 worth of alcohol that I kept in my room and seldom drank which allegedly got poured down the drain.

Thank you.
posted by Ashen to Human Relations (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The laws concerning this will vary by state. I am failing to see mention of the state where this happened. Could you clarify that detail?
posted by Michele in California at 11:03 PM on January 3, 2017

Sorry, I completely forgot to mention: this happened in Maryland.
posted by Ashen at 11:07 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

It would be EXTREMELY financially foolish to replace my missing items while I'm still waiting for a job offer, especially because all my interview suits are among the things being held.

I really don't want to just swallow the costs: my desktop is worth nearly $1k, my wardrobe at least $3k, and all other items are either difficult to replace or expensive to replace in aggregate.

Your family is counting on the fact that you will not write off four thousand dollars' worth of personal possessions to keep you firmly locked into the orbit of their traumatizing dysfunction. They stole your things from you in this mean-spirited, overly-complicated way so that you would drive yourself crazy calling multiple relatives, visiting your father, and groveling to your aunt and cousins to get your things back. They want you to feel as angry, scared and frustrated as you feel right now.

The only, only, only reasonable thing to do is to write your things off and never speak to or interact with any of these unfortunate people again. I am so sorry. You can buy a new interview suit and a new computer. You can rebuild the rest of your life slowly, over time. I keep thinking, "Well, maybe she could rent a truck and take a burly friend-" or "Well, maybe if she shows up with the cops-" but I literally feel it would be free Internet advice malpractice to tell you to have ANY contact with ANY of the people involved in this goat rodeo ever again. You can be free of all of this terrible bullshit for $4,000. That is CHEAP. That is a fucking BARGAIN. Take it and RUN.

I am truly, truly sorry that your family is so committed to treating your badly. You do not deserve it. You deserve kindness and care. I hope that 2017 brings that for you.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:55 PM on January 3, 2017 [23 favorites]

Once you have a place, can you go to your father's house, ask him for the key to the storage unit, then go there and retrieve your furniture and wardrobe yourself?

The way I see it, anything other than an amicable retrieval (i.e. involving lawyers/bailiffs, etc) will be far more costly.
posted by Kwadeng at 11:55 PM on January 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

I would bet my personal net worth that your father will not relinquish the key to the storage unit the way a reasonable person would because he is not a reasonable person. He will make some noise about how easy it will be when you first ask, and then he won't have time to go to the facility, he'll need you to come to his house and help him look for the key, he doesn't remember the name of the facility, can you ask your sister, oh, sure, we can go to the storage unit but I have to come with you For Reasons, you owe me $XX outrageous amount for moving your things before I can give you the key, etc.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:03 AM on January 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think that calling a domestic violence support organisation in the county where your father/the storage unit is located is probably the easiest way to get advice on what kind of legal rights you would have in that location, whether the police are likely to help you, etc. Having your possessions held away from you is something they are likely to have seen before, and you don't have to be escaping from a romantic relationship to ask for help from them.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:09 AM on January 4, 2017 [17 favorites]

Sadly, Kwadeng, I did try asking for the key. Nope. He reiterated the "disgrace to my mother" line and asserted that unless I committed myself to a psych ward until I was cured of whatever mental illness is associated with witchcraft, my stuff remains unmoved. Because...they believe that I'm a witch, but also simultaneously believe that said witchcraft is a mark of mental illness - which I have (hey there, depression and PTSD), but not the condition they keep saying I have (schizophrenia, like my father, brother and one sister) despite plenty of evidence proving them wrong.* I do not understand this logic.

*Years of medical records, a stack of therapist's records, pretty much all my professional references, the sound of literally everyone else calling me a conscientious individual with a "good head on her shoulders" at least
posted by Ashen at 12:15 AM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your family are nuts. File a police report and report everything stolen while you were on vacation. Tell them your Dad stole it because he thinks you are a witch. Sounds crazy right? Because it fucking is. If they ask if your father is mentally ill repeat the witch part and let them draw their own conclusions. Do not go into your own history. Get copies. If you Dad doesn't immediately relinquish the stuff, because you can't take people's stuff just because you think they are witches, then call the police in your dad's town with the report and ask them to come and get your stuff with you, as it's stolen. If they say it's a civil matter, point out that it's not.

I guarantee you that as soon as a real authority figure like a cop or judge tells your family to back down they will.
posted by fshgrl at 12:29 AM on January 4, 2017 [66 favorites]

Doing a little googling and relying on having had two whole law classes (plus a class on negotiation and conflict management), it turns out that transportation of stolen goods across state lines valued at more than $5000 is a federal crime.

I would read up on this statute a bit, call dad and let him know that I will kindly not report him to the feds if he will kindly deliver all my shit to my new apartment post haste. Kaythxbai.
posted by Michele in California at 12:45 AM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

It seems like in Maryland, filing for replevin could help. It could also cost more than the value of the property if you get a lawyer to do it for you. Also, you would have to post a bond in case you lose the suit and have to give the (your) stuff back to your dad.
posted by ctmf at 12:48 AM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

OK this is nuts. I would call the PD in whatever county/city/town your father is in in PA. I would leave out ALL of the family drama and boil it down to "My father stole my possessions from the state of MD and transported them to a storage facility at [address.] He is refusing access to remove my items."

Use the word "stole" and if you have text messages, etc to back this up, all the better.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:14 AM on January 4, 2017 [16 favorites]

Good for you for getting away and getting set up in a new place.

I've been in a similarly vulnerable position, and have lost possessions, including clothes and a computer.

You may want to, for the sake of your own peace of mind, treat the items as if they were lost in a fire, or stolen by a stranger, and there is no hope for recovery.

This will give you some breathing room, to label them as "lost forever," while you set up in your new place.

You can get some suits at resale shops, maybe? Also, there are organizations who provide interview suits to people, if they qualify, and it sounds like you might.

Not saying to let your things go forever, but let them go for now, while you focus on what you need to do for yourself, and push the drama and witch accusations away. Why trigger more depression and PTSD by exposing yourself to these people?

No, it is not fair, and yes, you should decide once and for all if you will file a police report, but in the immediate short term, you need to address your need for attire, and if you'd lost them in a fire, you'd still be faced with being suit-less.

What would be the cost of retrieving these items, vs. replacing them, even if a little at a time? I know my old desktop is not worth anything, and my laptop was purchased used from Craigslist, after a bit of hunting, and better than my old desktop.

It's never easy to reconcile loss of possessions, and I was upset for a long time, but eventually, things got replaced, and I did get a chance to go through my things, years later, and found that most of them were not really things I wanted anymore.

I do hope you get your stuff back, and sorry your family of origin was not more helpful, but I've found being at a distance from people who are toxic is much better for my psyche than any article of clothing, fair or not fair. You are in transition now, and I wish you the best, no matter what you decide to do.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:07 AM on January 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

Why do you participate in or indulge this chaotic drama? Call the cops and go nuclear until you have your stuff, then write this "family" off for your own sake.

If you can't then write it off and run. Start fresh.

I don't get why you stayed at your sister's place for one day if you were suicidal.... whatyou describe going on there would make the Dalai Lama suicidal.

Your family is toxic.
posted by spitbull at 5:17 AM on January 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

File a police report and as soon as you have your stuff back, leave these people behind.
posted by corb at 7:12 AM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thank you so much for your answers so far.

@Spitbull: I had no idea it was as bad as it was. My sister told me that only she and her husband lived there, excluding the caregivers that came to the house regularly. Then I moved in and discovered that not only does her son, his girlfriend - two of those "caregivers" I mentioned - and two children live there, but that her other two daughters would be moving in shortly after. My sister claimed that she had a peaceful environment in which I could recover and I believed her.

Sorry for threadsitting, I'll pull back!
posted by Ashen at 8:56 AM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Whew, looking at your AskMe history and ... it's the same thing over and over again for years now, with everyone telling you the same thing. For years. Your family is disturbingly messed up and you are caught up in their ménage of chaos and compulsive controlling behavior, layered with mental and physical illness, long histories of abusive behavior on all sides, and your own life being a roller coaster of emotional and financial chaos caused by your continued enmeshment in this drama. If you have such a good therapist as you say, they should be shouting at you to put distance between yourself and people who obviously mean you no good despite being kin. Many mefites have said as much to you. This is not the first or the second or the third such drama involving housing and stuff and money and twisted exploitative relationships and strange accusations and unfathomable histories of abuse and behavior bordering on sociopathy.

Get away. Stop playing their game. It isn't about your stuff or money. It's about control.

Forget all the morbid twists and turns and details and who did what when to whom. Get out. Like move to the other side of the country out.
posted by spitbull at 8:58 AM on January 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

they believe that I'm a witch, but also simultaneously believe that said witchcraft is a mark of mental illness - which I have (hey there, depression and PTSD), but not the condition they keep saying I have (schizophrenia, like my father, brother and one sister)

Again for emphasis: schizophrenia, like my father

The issue here is not whether your current and former therapists or random people from your life think you generally "have a good head on your shoulders." The issue is that your father is schizophrenic, and you are never going to be able to logic your way out of his delusions about you. You can bring in as many character references and medical records as you want. There is no amount evidence of objective reality that will cure your father of his psychotic delusions and beliefs. That is the nature of the disease.

Looking back at your AskMe history, it seems like you have in some very serious way refused to come to grips with your family's extensive mental illness, both in this question, where you buried the cause of your family's shared paranoid delusions that you are a "witch" or surrounded by some other supernatural forces, and in all your previous Asks about your family's bizarre behavior.

For some reason, you did not think that having three diagnosed schizophrenics in your immediate family was important enough to mention, even in questions like the latest one about your father and your shared finances, trying to figure out how to deal with his rapidly decompensating into what in retrospect sounds like an episode of psychosis. I don't know why you haven't seen fit to mention your father, brother, and sister's diagnoses when trying to get advice about how to handle their destructive behavior. I don't know what processes of repression or denial or shame are at play that caused you to only drop this vital information as part of an aside defending your own mental health. Maybe it's just that ubiquitous abuse PTSD response of trying to hide from the outside world exactly how bad shit really is. But your family's schizophrenia is the key to all of the chaos and misery you've been coming to metafilter to try and cope with.

It seems to me like you cannot accept that all of this "superstition," abuse, and scapegoating are the result of psychosis that is out of your control. You keep talking about how unreasonable your father and sister's behavior is, trying to convince us that you are not the bad crazy one, even on the most trivial and obvious levels, like saying that you aren't even a heavy drinker of the alcohol stash your family poured out. We know. You know. But on some level it seems like you are still trying to make these people see reason, see reality-- see YOU. You need them to see you as you really are, a struggling but sane person with a good head on their shoulders. Not an alcoholic, not some creature of the devil, not the cause of the drama and troubles in their home, not a witch. Ashen, I'm so sorry, but you are not going to be able to do this. You cannot fight your family's schizophrenic delusions with objective reality. I know that you've been trying hard to maintain your bonds with your family, and care about them deeply-- so many of your questions are about how to help your elderly and mentally ill parents-- but you cannot make them see you for who you really are, and not the distorted version that their severe mental illness that has caused them to see, and fixate their persecution fantasies upon. I'm so sorry. If your current therapist isn't working on this extensively with you, you need to either demand that they do so, or find another therapist. You cannot keep trying to make your family recognize reality when they are clinically incapable of doing so, no matter how much it hurts that they don't see you for who you are.

Anyway, if you want to try to get your stuff back, you are almost certainly going to have to go to either the cops, or the storage company, and say, "my schizophrenic father stole my belongings and placed them in storage against my will because he is under the psychotic delusion that I am practicing witchcraft." Again, it seems like you have some very serious internal taboos about discussing your family's schizophrenia with outsiders, but this is your best bet at effectively getting your belongings. If you don't think you can do this, write it all off. Take a step back and think about how much this sounds like rationalizing staying in contact with your family. It's a lot more foolish to stay entangled in this kind of mass psychosis than it is to go to Goodwill and find another interview suit. Hugs, and good luck.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:08 AM on January 4, 2017 [25 favorites]

You can call the cops in your father's town, once, and report your items as stolen. See if there is anything they can do about it beyond it turning into a he-said, she-said situation. If that's the case, drop it.

You know why? Because you should never, and I mean EVER, talk to your family again. Not your father, not your siblings, not your aunts or cousins or nieces or nephews. Do not give them an address. Do not tell them which state you now live in. In fact, change your phone number and block them from any social media.

Your mental health is greatly endangered by any interaction with them. You cannot let that happen. Work with your therapist on the inevitable (if misplaced) guilt you will feel by cutting them off but CUT THEM OFF. Now. Today.

If you can get your stuff back without talking to your father, fantastic. If you can't, consider it a mental health tax (unfair and awful and violating, I know, I'm awfully sorry) and let it go. Move on, move away, focus on rebuilding your life free from their abuse.
posted by lydhre at 11:31 AM on January 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

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