Looking back, there were so many things she would have done differently. Above all else, she would have filed that missing person report. That way, they would have known someone was looking for Jonny. That way, they would have known that someone did, in fact, claim this man.


One of Sharon Bristow's earliest memories of her nephew Jonny took place when he was roughly 5 months old. Her sister Elizabeth had phoned their mother, Catherine Ciravolo, from somewhere in the desert, between Indio, California, and Palm Springs. She'd hitchhiked to a filling station with Jonny and his brother, abandoning her car. She needed a ride.

Before long, Bristow pulled up. She tried to take Jonny from her sister, a beautiful young woman with long, dark hair. Jonny's diaper was soaked and needed changing. But Elizabeth insisted on seeing her teeth first. She said it was because she had to be sure Bristow wouldn't eat Jonny. Bristow took them back to Catherine's house in Palm Springs, where she lived with Jennifer, but Elizabeth didn't stay long. She got into an argument with her mother over the children and set off on foot with Jonny on her hip, wearing sea-green pajamas and clutching a yellow bottle of clabber milk. Bristow found them again a short time later, three miles down the road, heading for Interstate 10. She coaxed her sister into the car once again. This time, the police were waiting when they returned to their mother's house. Elizabeth was involuntarily committed. Jonny never knew his father, a roughneck Elizabeth married briefly in Pecos, Texas, so Jonny's grandmother Catherine was given custody of him.

Jennifer Ciravolo, sister of Jonny, near his unmarked grave.
Brandon Thibodeaux
Jennifer Ciravolo, sister of Jonny, near his unmarked grave.

Details

Roughly two years later, in 1983, Elizabeth made the front page of the Record-Gazette in Banning, California. She led police on a high-speed chase, topping out at 80 mph. It ended when she rammed two squad cars. Police said they had "no idea" why she ran, the paper reported. "She said she was scared," an officer remarked, "but didn't give a reason."

Elizabeth was never more than a temporary presence in Jonny's life. He was raised by his grandmother Catherine, a switchboard operator who retired at the age of 40 following a stroke. She was a sturdily built woman, yet she had a long, graceful neck and delicate features. Jonny could have been her son. They had the same wide-set eyes, and the same gap between their two front teeth. She doted on him, but her mood oscillated wildly. Sometimes she was warm and effusive. At others, she sobbed inconsolably and threatened suicide. Jennifer had to call the police more than once. She begged them to take her and Jonny away, but they never would. It was at times like these, when their grandmother was immobilized by depression, that Ciravolo, just a child herself, fed her brother, bathed him and changed his diapers.

She was the little girl who got a Baby Alive doll each Christmas, and now she was responsible for a real one. She often took Jonny on long walks in his stroller. As they were tugged along in their grandmother's peripatetic existence, Ciravolo and Jonny were inseparable. They never stayed in one place for long, picking up randomly and moving to points in east Oklahoma, California and the Texas coast. Wherever they went, Catherine always kept fishing rods in the trunk. Ciravolo remembered crabbing in the bay near Channelview and fishing in Texas City.

Despite Catherine's tempestuous swings in mood, life with her could be fun. Or it was, until Ciravolo turned 15. She was increasingly at odds with her grandmother. And one day, when they were living in Thousand Palms, California, Catherine took Jonny and left. Ciravolo was on her own. She didn't see as much of Jonny after that. They stayed with her for a short time in California when Jonny got caught with a pistol at his middle school in Idabel, Oklahoma. Catherine abandoned the first house she had ever bought and fled with him. The bank repossessed it. After a few months, they left and relocated to Paris, Texas. Though Ciravolo didn't see Jonny daily, she called him every chance she got, and she always remembered to send him a gift on his birthday.

It wasn't until Catherine was moved into a nursing home that Ciravolo lived with Jonny again. He stayed with her and her two sons in an apartment in Euless in 2000. That year he was the happiest she had ever seen him. He was around 18 years old, though developmentally he was much younger. They fished often in Lake Ray Roberts and in a wet-weather creek that flowed past their home. He would leave with her sons for hours at a time, wandering through the woods, only to return covered in mud. She took him to his first honky-tonk in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Jonny was shy. "Nobody wants to dance with me," he told her. She pushed him in the direction of a girl who had caught his eye and said, "Go on." Jonny ambled over to her in his straw cowboy hat and asked her to dance with him. She said yes, and they swayed to a country ballad. "He had a big ol' smile on his face when the song was over."

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5 comments
itsonlydara
itsonlydara

thank you. to the family for telling this story. to the writer for capturing it so well. and for the paper, for printing it.

truth is, i'm just like "those people" both the article and comments are related to. i'm a lot like jonny, from the opioids in utero to the methamphetamine abuse i now attribute to a mental health issue + circumstances i couldn't face without it. i am just one of the lucky ones, who got out of the cycle before ODing or jail got me first.

i'm MOST disturbed by the chain of events leading to jonny's death and how much the prison F&ck#D up...

HOW does this prison justify such colossal errors like putting a petty-criminal in a high-risk cell block?

HOW does this prison justify the fact that an inmate was not in solitary as a punishment (at the least) following repeated attacks using HUMAN WASTE?!

HOW were Jonny's repeated attempts to get his medication denied?

i really hope someone is held accountable. his voice should be heard. thank you for lending it.


leeeeeeeeee
leeeeeeeeee

Wow, this is a fantastic article about an event I don't think anyone knows about.  Kudos to the Observer.

kp.ryan
kp.ryan

A very well written story of a horrific subject.  

 

All the best to the family and I hope they receive donations to cover the interment. 

DavyCrockett
DavyCrockett

Awful story. The sister is a good person. I don't think a lot people fully understand the depths of hell mental illness and drug addiction drives a person to.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Jennifer Ciravolo is truly an angel of mercy.  Living downtown, I see so many Jonny Holdens every day and I get heartsick looking at the wreckage their bodies and minds have become.  I always remind myself that these are people who have mothers and fathers, sister and brothers.  I imagine them as the children they once were.  So very sad.

 
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