On Sunday evening, Raymond Schwab sat down to eat a meal of beans, rice, fried plantains and a salad.
He suspects it may be his last meal for awhile. Schwab, whose children have been under the supervision of the Kansas Department for Children and Families for almost a year, began a hunger strike Monday.
The drastic move was precipitated by news of his son being sent to a psychiatric residential treatment facility.
Raymond and his wife, Amelia Schwab, received the notification by email on Thursday from KVC, a private agency that has a contract with the DCF. In December, KVC also notified the Schwabs of a hotline report alleging abuse of three of their children.
“(The hunger strike) is a lack of not knowing what else to do before our kids go through more,” Amelia Schwab said.
“It’s a nonviolent protest against injustice,” Raymond Schwab said.
The couple spent Monday at the Kansas Capitol trying to reach the governor and other legislators about their case. They were joined by Odalis Sharp, of Auburn, and seven of her children. The “Sharp Family Singers” recently gained national attention for singing during the anti-government occupation in Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that ended in the fatal shooting of LaVoy Finicum on Jan. 26. Victoria Sharp, one of the older Sharp children, reportedly witnessed the shooting.
The troupe broke into song several times Monday at the Capitol, gathering onlookers.
“Our family is here to stand by (the Schwabs),” Sharp said.
Sharp herself has had two cases with the Department for Children and Families.
“We have a broken system,” she said. “Families are being robbed of their children and the state is abusing them.”
The Schwab’s problems began in April 2015 as they prepared to move their family to Colorado from Topeka. During that time, they were accused of emotional abuse and five of their six children were removed. Their eldest is an adult. In July, the DCF concluded that the abuse allegations were unsubstantiated, but the children have yet to be returned.
Raymond, a veteran, alleges it is because he has used medicinal marijuana to treat chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. Having made the move to Colorado, his use of marijuana — for medicinal or recreational purposes — is legal. However in Kansas, it is prohibited.
Determining whether an allegation is true is separate from a recommendation to remove children from the home, said Theresa Freed, communications director for the DCF.
Freed also said she had been advised of Raymond Schwab’s hunger strike. The department isn’t able to comment on specific cases.
“Our interest is the privacy and confidentiality of children in the cases, not in arguing with people publicly,” said Freed.
The Schwabs don’t deny the need for investigating allegations. However, the system needs reform, Amelia Schwab said.
Raymond would like judges to have less power in the decision to remove children. He also would like to see more transparency in the process.
The Schwabs and the Sharps rely heavily on their faith. Amelia Schwab said they have to keep faith.
Sharp, who always reads scripture before leaving her house, said, “It’s going to take God’s hand.”
Last week, the Schwabs had a supervised visit with their children. Amelia Schwab said the visits are difficult because the children are confused about what is happening, but Raymond and Amelia aren’t allowed to talk about the case with them.
The couple also is allowed a one-hour, supervised phone call once a week. Amelia said it has been difficult for them to miss events such as holidays and birthdays.
Raymond Schwab said he has stopped using cannabis so that he can pass a urinary analysis test and that the hunger strike will end once his children are returned.