The duality of Darin Kobelsky

Austin M. Davis
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Teri Zeman has an unlisted phone number because of her brother, Darin Kobelsky.

“It was hard because he would call from jail, he would call needing money, he would call needing a place to stay, he would call because he’d been beat up and he would call because he was in the hospital,” Zeman said.

Five years have passed since Zeman was last in touch with Kobelsky, but that didn’t stop the mother of two from Saskatoon from trying to look up her brother every three or four months.

Her most recent Google search turned up the Times-Herald’s July story “Waiting for the lottery” on Kobelsky’s struggle with schizophrenia.

“It shattered my heart, but I already knew where he was at,” Zeman said of the profile.

She agreed to talk about growing up with Kobelsky, the effects it had on her and why she had to finally sever ties with her brother.

Kobelsky, who turned 47 in January, is just more than three years older than Zeman. They were their parents’ only children and grew up wealthy in Saskatoon.

“He was very hyperactive. He was ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). He was dyslexic. He was a pyromaniac,” Zeman said.

She said while burning garbage was legal, Kobelsky would come home without eyebrows and eyelashes and lie to his mother about what he’d been doing.

Kobelsky’s social skills were never very good.

“He would taunt people because he knew he didn’t fit in,” Zeman said.

One time Kobelsky had to get 12 stitches in his head after getting pushed into a stop sign.

But it wasn’t just other kids Kobelsky struggled interacting with.

“I was three years behind him. I would get the (same) teacher, and she would be like ‘You’re Darin’s sister? You’re not going to amount to anything. You’re going to be as stupid as he is. I don’t want to teach you, you’re dumb,’” Zeman said.

“He had that reputation from Kindergarten on.”

Zeman said she received similar responses from different teachers.

Kobelsky’s ADHD and dyslexia were undiagnosed until after he was 11 years old. Zeman believes the treatment her brother received in the education system was a product of the generation he belonged to.

“If he was born today with ADHD and dyslexia, I think they would’ve treated him a lot different, maybe (would have given) meds, and he would’ve coped,” Zeman said.

“But in Grade 6, they said that he just wasn’t keeping up and they wanted to fail him.”

According to Zeman, Kobelsky’s parents declined to have him fail Grade 6 and took him to a “special school.”

Kobelsky said he hated his new school and would frequently run away. Zeman said it was around that time he started hanging around Broadway Avenue and committing crimes like breaking and entering and theft, or in Kobelsky’s own words, “scores.”

Zeman doesn’t remember Kobelsky graduating Grade 8.

In 1982, their parents divorced. Zeman went to live with their mom, while Kobelsky went to live with their dad.

Though he was still 13 years away from receiving his schizophrenia diagnosis, Kobelsky had already changed, according to Zeman.

“I ran into him a few times and he would always ask me if I was following him and where I lived,” Zeman said.

By her account, Kobelsky was in and out of jail from 1985 on. She mentioned an attempted bank robbery and home invasions as a couple of examples of Kobelsky’s long criminal history.

One of Kobelsky’s stays in jail resulted in a life-threatening beating.

Neither Zeman’s brother, nor her father James, attended her wedding in 1989.

Despite their close bond, even James ended up as one of his son’s targets.

“He stabbed my dad in the back of the shoulder one day because he thought he was following him,” Zeman said. “He was kind of scary. He was spaced out on acid and took a big knife and stabbed him.”

Zeman said James always cared for his son, even after being stabbed by him.

James died in 2005.

“The last thing I remember is (Darin) putting his hand on the coffin and he said, ‘No one will love me like he did,’” Zeman said.

In James’ obituary, Kobelsky’s name is spelled “Darren.” Zeman said the spelling was actually Darrin, but Kobelsky changed it to Darin. Kobelsky has said he can’t read.

During a recent attempt to secure a copy of his criminal record, Kobelsky’s only two pieces of identification were a Saskatchewan Health Services card and a Player’s Club card from the casino.

“I didn’t think I had an illness. I knew I had problems but I didn’t know I had an illness. I do have an illness. I admit it,” Kobelsky told the Times-Herald in July about his life before his schizophrenia diagnosis.

According to the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan, over 10,000 people in the province are affected or will be affected in their lifetime by the bio-chemical brain disorder, in a given generation.

Schizophrenia causes symptoms of psychosis like losing contact with reality, typically involving hallucinations and delusionary thinking. Psychosis can affect all five senses.

Four in 10 individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia will attempt suicide and one in 10 will die.

According to the Treatment Advocacy Centre in the United States, homelessness, incarceration and episodes of violence are all consequences of un-treated schizophrenia.

Kobelsky credited his medications Fluanxol and Cogentin with keeping him alive.

He has an apartment, though in December he complained it was too cold. He’s been on social assistance for the past 18 years — around the time he came to Moose Jaw — but he still panhandles for spending money.

Kobelsky met Claudia Poirier outside of the CIBC as he was panhandling three years ago. She gave him $5.

“He came and lived with me,” Poirier said. “He had to make the decision. He chose me, so we’ve been together (since). ... It was wonderful. He’s a fine young man. He’s an upstanding citizen.”

Poirier, 56, is living in Providence Place. She has a cerebral shunt that needed an operation and she’s currently confined to a wheelchair, but she’s determined to walk again on her own.

In the few months Poirier has lived in Providence Place, she said Kobelsky has visited her every other day.

“Without him, I don’t have much of a life,” Poirier said. “He’s pretty well everything to me.”

She said it’s hard not being together as much as they’d like, but regular conversations keep them both going.

“He misses me a lot. I miss him,” Poirier said.

She said they’ll probably move back in together when she gets her mobility back. When asked if Kobelsky asks her for money during their visits, Poirier said, “Yeah. He has his ways. But I don’t always give it to him if I don’t have it.

“I believe in him,” she said. “He’s told he’s unemployable, but he’s employable. It’s just the system that we’re in. The vicious circle and the trap we’re caught in.”

Kobelsky hasn’t held a job since coming to Moose Jaw. He suffered a back injury as a kid and he claims his medications make it more noticeable.

When asked about the unpredictable and sometimes scary side of Kobelsky that Zeman described, Poirier said she has never been afraid of him.

“He’s the light of my life,” Poirier said.

-30-

Follow Austin on Twitter @theaustinx.

Organizations: Times-Herald, Google, Saskatchewan Health Services Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan Treatment Advocacy Centre CIBC

Geographic location: Saskatoon, Broadway Avenue, Moose Jaw Providence Place United States

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Recent comments

  • Melissa
    March 07, 2014 - 17:30

    Thank you for this story, I have always wondered about Darin, I have given him water, and on occasion a pita from pita pit, he is a mover,:) by the time I buy the water, or pita he is usually up and gone, now I have an understanding for him, and that makes me feel really good.

  • Hilda Reed
    March 04, 2014 - 21:06

    We need more stories like this one. We see people living on the fringes of society and we may even participate in conversations of how they could "fix" their situation. Too often we fail to recognize the complexity of their situation - and the fact that we each have a role to play in creating a more understanding world. Thank you, Austin, for doing your part.

  • Hilda Reed
    March 04, 2014 - 21:04

    We need more stories like this one. We see people living on the fringes of society and we may even participate in conversations of how they could "fix" their situation. Too often we fail to recognize the complexity of their situation - and the fact that we each have a role to play in creating a more understanding world. Thank you, Austin, for doing your part.

  • Glenn
    March 01, 2014 - 15:56

    You know we need more people like Poirier . People that will look ata person and see the good still in those that have had it tough throughout their life. Let's all take a good look at what we have and give more to those that really need our help with either money or just even our friendship . Come on Moose Jaw let's step up to the plate