In an exclusive interview with the Daily News, Joseph, 29, described a nightmarish boyhood in which every societal safety net - including a Family Court judge, his Department of Human Services caseworker, teachers and school administrators, mental-health professionals and police - repeatedly failed him and his siblings.
Under his mom's tyranny, Joseph said, he endured years of torture:
* She made him scrounge for food, forcing him to steal from grocery stores.
* She imprisoned him in the basement - once for an entire year, causing him to miss a full school grade - so he wouldn't run away and she wouldn't lose his welfare checks.
* She gave him drinks doctored with medications that made him sleep. He knew she drugged the drinks but had no choice - he was thirsty. He'd wake up hours later, confused and disoriented.
* She lied to school officials, and after he told teachers about the abuse, she convinced them during a parent-teacher conference that he was the crazy one.
* She had him committed to the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute because she wanted to collect an additional Supplemental Security Income check for him.
"It was horrible. It was really horrible," Joseph said in a near-whisper, as he fought tears and pressed his fingers to his forehead.
Sitting on the concrete steps outside his West Philly home, he described his mother as smart, manipulative and convincing.
"She was the brains of everything," Joseph said. "She was in control of everything."
Joseph's characterization of his mom sheds light on how Weston was able to fool - and elude - authorities in at least four states over three decades.
Police arrested Weston, 51, and three others: Weston's longtime boyfriend, Gregory Thomas, 47; Eddie Wright, 50; and Weston's daughter Jean McIntosh, 32. Prosecutors have charged them with kidnapping and related offenses. During a brief status hearing yesterday, a Municipal Court judge said Jean McIntosh will face a preliminary hearing Dec. 19, along with her three co-defendants.
The charges stem from the Oct. 15 discovery of four mentally disabled adults in a dirty, urine-reeking sub-basement dungeon inside a Tacony apartment building. Authorities believe that Weston orchestrated a scheme to steal the four victims' Social Security benefits.
Joseph was an infant when his mother was arrested in January 1983 for imprisoning her sister's boyfriend in a closet and starving him to death. Joseph and two older siblings - Jean, then 3, and James, nearly 2 - went to live with a paternal grandmother.
Joseph said that he and his brother later went to live with an aunt who abused them.
A few years after their mom was released from prison, after serving four years for third-degree murder, she went to Family Court to regain custody of her children, Joseph said.
"DHS asked us, 'Do you want to live with your mom or go into the system?' " Joseph said.
Joseph, then about 10 and in fifth grade, and his siblings said they wanted to be with their mom.
"We didn't know about her background," Joseph said. "DHS knew about her history. They knew who she was, but they still released us into her custody - all of us at a young age."
A Family Court judge approved the custody arrangement. A DHS caseworker, Robert Joiner, was assigned to periodically check in on Joseph and his siblings.
"We were on his caseload," Joseph said about Joiner. "He would call and check in for a few months when we first got with our mom."
DHS spokeswoman Alicia Taylor said that state confidentiality laws prohibit her from talking about the case. Joiner did not return a phone message from the Daily News, but his wife confirmed that her husband had been Joseph's caseworker.
At the time, Joseph, his two siblings and two half siblings, both infants, lived with their mom.
"She couldn't afford to take care of us," Joseph said.
"Basically, she couldn't feed us."
Joseph tried running, but he never got far: His mom always caught him, until his final escape.
Joseph's sister, Jean, was forced to do as their mom said or "she was going to be chained down in the basement like I was," he said. "I feel as though she also is a victim," Joseph said about his sister. "It got to the point where I feel like she had her back up against the wall and as she got older, I guess she felt obligated to my mom."
Police allege Jean helped Weston hold the mentally disabled people captive.
Joseph said he was attending Roberto Clemente Middle School when his mom locked him in the basement for a year. When she freed him, she moved him to another school. He said he tried to talk with teachers at both schools about the abuse.
"They set up parent-teacher conferences," Joseph said. "She told them that I was basically psychotic."
Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for Philadelphia School District, said the district doesn't have access to records that old. And even if there were abuse complaints in his file, confidentiality laws would prevent him from discussing them, he said.
Weston later had Joseph committed to Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, claiming Joseph was "crazy" and "hearing things," he said.
"They released me once they found out that I wasn't crazy," Joseph said. "They felt as though I was sane, and that made her even more frustrated because basically they wouldn't give me an SSI check."
On July 4, 1998, just after Joseph turned 16, his mother unchained him and allowed him up out of the basement to do wash, he said.
He went outside in the back yard of their Frankford home to hang laundry on a line.
"I jumped over the fence and ran away," Joseph said.
He drifted over to the Art Museum area, where he savored Boyz II Men, fireworks - and freedom.
Joseph lived on the streets for a short while. He hustled for money by helping people carry groceries to their car at a North Philly shopping complex.
He felt bad about leaving his siblings, but back then, he could barely take care of himself.
"I was in survival mode," he said. "At the time I was thinking, 'What was I going to do about myself?' "
He was taken in by Yvette Baxter, a cousin.
Baxter was startled by his appearance. He'd been living in a park and was thin and dirty with thick unkempt hair and ragged clothes, Baxter said.
Baxter tried to get Joseph back on track. She took him to Frankford High School, but police detained her. The school had a report from Weston that Baxter had kidnapped Joseph. When police cuffed Baxter, Joseph told the officers his mom had beaten him.
The school principal called Weston and asked her to come to the school, but Weston never showed, Baxter said.
Philadelphia police went to Weston's Frankford house, but Weston was gone, she said.
A DHS worker, not Joiner, allowed Joseph to remain in Baxter's home.
"She treated me like her son," Joseph said.
Joseph was about 18 when he decided to join Job Corps. Baxter, along with her sister, drove him to 30th Street Station so he could take a train to the program site in the Poconos.
They were standing in the station when, to their surprise, they saw Weston walking toward them. Joseph darted out of the station as his mom chased him. He didn't turn back, and that was the last time he saw his mom.
Baxter's sister ran after Weston outside, tackled her to the ground and sat on her.
"Linda, she had a knife in her hand," Baxter said.
Weston told them she wasn't going to stab her son. "I don't want him to go to no Job Corps," Baxter recalled her saying.
Joseph's welfare checks were being mailed to his mom's house, and he and Baxter surmise that Weston feared that in Job Corps, Joseph would lose his benefit checks - and slash Weston's income.
Despite all he's been through, the Joseph of today is a success story. He has worked at a West Philly McDonald's since 2007, where he is now an assistant supervisor.
"I came up out of it," he said about his ordeal.
When he spoke of his mom, he looked sullen and shook his head as if he battled conflicting emotions.
"We just want to make her sane because she is still our mom," Joseph said.
"And at the end of the day, nobody wants to see their mom locked up."
- Staff writers Mensah M. Dean
and Natalie Pompilio contributed
to this report.