by Paul Abowd
Ariana Godboldo’s illness began with a vaccination. After several years of homeschooling, her mother Maryanne decided to enroll the 13-year-old in Detroit Public Schools. But to enroll in DPS, Ariana had to get shots. “It did almost immediate damage,” says Maryanne. “Ariana became unfocused, withdrawn, lethargic.”
This was unusual for a girl who excelled at swimming and horseback riding—and who refused to be held back by a partial amputation of her right leg shortly after birth. With a prosthetic leg, Ariana studied and performed global rhythms under the tutelage of her mother and aunt, both professionally-trained dancers.
But the vaccinations made Ariana’s brain swell, a condition called encephalitis. Instead of attributing her illness to the vaccinations, doctors at various hospitals and child treatment centers repeatedly diagnosed her with psychosis. Within weeks, she was prescribed a controversial psychotropic drug called Risperdal—which made Ariana’s condition worse. “It’s a foreign substance that scrambles the brain, and Ariana’s body rejected it,” says Maryanne.
Maryanne decided to undergo the difficult process of weaning her daughter from Risperdal, whose manufacturer has been the target of class-action lawsuits in 10 states. The children’s health facility treating Ariana soon filed a medical neglect claim with Child Protective Services.
On March 24, Detroit Police arrived at Maryanne Godboldo’s westside home with a Child Protective Services agent. A standoff ensued while police cars and armored vehicles multiplied, helicopters circled overhead, and Maryanne barricaded her home. After ten hours, she was arrested for alleged assault on officers, and Ariana was whisked away to a hospital. Penny Godboldo says she was expecting to take her niece that night, with Maryanne headed to jail—but that didn’t happen.
“They gave me the run around for hours, and later we were told she was removed and taken to a juvenile center,” says Penny. “They did that without telling me, her mother, her father or her lawyer.” Maryanne launched a campaign to get her daughter back after nearly a week in jail.
Ariana was taken to Hawthorn Center in Northville, a medical center treating “emotionally disturbed children and adolescents.” She was held there for six weeks while an outpouring of support emerged from around the country. A judge released Ariana to the care of her aunt in early May. When she came home, Ariana had bruises on her body, and the family alleges that she suffered sexual abuse while at the center. “My daughter is ten steps backwards from where we were. She’s got trauma now,” Maryanne says.
Ariana is making small improvements daily, says her aunt Penny, who has been a professor of dance for 30 years. Penny is the state’s only certified instructor of the holistic Katherine Dunham technique, which focuses on connecting mind, body, and spirit. Dunham was an activist and anthropologist whose style drew on a variety of dance cultures in Africa, the Far East, and Native America. Penny’s workshop at the AMC will focus on the Dunham technique, dance as a healing force, and the ongoing campaign to return Ariana to her mother.
The Dunham technique has, and will continue to play a role in Ariana’s healing. “Dance has empowered her, given her a sense of self, and a sense of character,” says Penny, who continues to teach students age 5 to 60 from her home studio.
Maryanne is making frequent visits to her child, and remains steadfast in the campaign to get her daughter back—and fight felony charges. “They came into my home illegally and it was always my right not to medicate her,” she says. Godboldo had signed a form when Risperdal was prescribed affirming her right to discontinue treatment at any time.
According to Ron Scott, the campaign’s media coordinator, Maryanne’s felony charge is pending while a state supreme court case weighs an individual’s right to defend their home from unreasonable search and seizure.
The “Justice4Maryanne” campaign will host a speak out with Detroiters July 17. An August 1 date is set for a custody hearing, and is expected to draw large crowds outside the courthouse. “This is a historic struggle at a time when the state has numerous means to take a child away just because they can,” says Scott.