On June 15 around 5:30 pm, a 58-year-old New Hampshire father named Thomas Ball self-immolated in front of the Cheshire County Court House. Ball was pronounced dead at the scene.
Before he died, he sent a letter The Keene Sentinel to explanation his actions. The full text of the letter can be found here.
Ball said he set himself on fire in front of the courthouse because he was “done being bullied for being a man” by the US family court system.
Ball’s troubled started in April 2011.
He said he slapped his then four-year-old daughter, giving her a cut on the lip, when she refused to obey him after three verbal warnings.
His wife then called the child’s mental health provider. Ball claimed the health provider told his wife that if she did not call the police, both she and Ball would be arrested.
So she called the police and Ball was arrested. After six months, the couple divorced.
“So my wife called the police on her husband to protect the children. And who was she protecting the kids from? Not her husband, the father of these children. She was protecting them from the State of New Hampshire,” wrote Ball.
“This country is run by idiots,” he added.
When Ball got to the court after his initial arrest, his charge was domestic abuse. He said being labeled a domestic abuser in America is “akin to labeling someone a Jew in Germany in the 1930’s.”
He then claimed he was put through a series of bureaucratic hoops and procedures involving the police, court system, and the mental health/counseling industry. He called these the Second Set of Books, referring to bureaucratic rules that trump the constitutionally-backed judicial system.
He said the whole family court ordeal -- including the arrest, restraining order, and harsh penalties for missing child support payments -- bankrupts the father, mother, and children and risks putting the entire family out on the streets or in the care of the state.
At the time of his self-immolation, Ball was possibly facing jail time for owing about $3,000 in child support. He had been unemployed for the last two years.
Normally, American’s can’t be jailed for debt because debtors’ prisons were thought to be a nonsensical and barbaric practice that was outlawed in 1833.
Yet, the failure to pay child routinely lands American fathers in jail. Even if the fathers become unemployed or hospitalized, the judge could deny their petition to have their child support payments reduced.
Moreover, if the fathers are imprisoned, the child support payments can accumulate. Upon release, they are expected to repay the entire amount. Unfortunately, the US jobs market is notorious for shunning anyone with a criminal record, so the prospects of gainful employment look bleak for many of these fathers.
What else can happen to fathers who don’t pay child support (even for legitimate reasons like hospitalization)? Their cars can be seized and their passports denied, thus further taking away their tools for finding gainful employment.
Ball claimed to have served in the US Army for 21 years. He also claimed the Ball family has been serving the US military since the Revolutionary War.