I went through the juvenile justice system and was placed into foster care. I was sent to numerous group homes and foster homes. I did not get the support and guidance that I needed. At 14, I got into a fight with an adult, and I bore the entirety of the blame. I was then ripped away from everything I knew and forced into a system of subjugation. Juvenile Hall slowly chipped away at my existence. I was separated from people I loved. School no longer mattered. We were given pages to color and crayons during class time. No reading, math, or homework was required. There were no standards or expectations. Getting students up to grade level or getting them closer to high school graduation should have been a priority.
Going through foster care was a whirlwind of pain and trauma. I’m still haunted by it today. I really miss my friends, even 25 years later. I wish people that I got close to weren’t ripped away. At times, we were physically pulled out of each other’s arms and taken somewhere else, never to see each other again. Not only was it severely painful to not have my real family, but it was also painful to not be able to build relationships with anyone without losing them. I moved around over and over again. I didn’t have a neighborhood or a community to call home. My personal belongings got taken away or were lost. I couldn’t keep in contact with my family or with anyone else. I also suffered abuse and neglect.
The juvenile justice system and the foster care system failed me. Upon being released from Juvenile Hall, I soon wound up in the adult criminal justice system, almost going to prison for a crime that I didn’t do. I ended up homeless. I could have died. Some of my closest friends and peers died in the streets. When I aged out, I had nothing to show for the last three years of my life. I had no money or place to live. I also spent too much time in Juvenile Hall where they didn’t offer the right classes that I needed to graduate. Despite working very hard, I got moved around too much to be able to get enough units to graduate from high school, so I dropped out. There was no job training offered to me the entire time I was in foster care, so I didn’t have many skills. Going to a regular high school, getting job training, or getting a job was a privilege that most did not get.
By the time I became homeless at 18, my mental health dwindled as I dealt with the effects of isolation, abuse, and solitary confinement. I slept in cars, on public transportation, and even outside. Sometimes, I met people who let me stay for a couple nights on their couch, but then I had to move on. This was no way to live. I got robbed several times. I got abused by people who didn’t care about my life. I was malnourished. I looked pale and sick because I didn’t have access to food on a daily basis. There was no way for me to look “employable.” I felt hopeless, and that feeling didn’t go away for years to come. I started off as a shy teenager that believed anything was possible. I ended up feeling like my life wasn’t worth living by the time I got out of the system. That’s what they gave me, and that’s what they left me with. They took everything I had. Everything inside of me was gone. Every hope, every dream, and every aspiration was lost, and I wanted to die.
There should have been efforts to keep me connected to my family. Instead, the ties were severed. I didn’t do this to myself, but I have the sole responsibility for fixing the mess that the system made out of my life. I would have never chosen to be a high school dropout or to be homeless. I also would not have chosen to go through so much trauma and abuse as a youth in the foster care system. Some things have been damaged that will never be repaired. Other things have been resolved through self-care and therapy. Mostly finding caring people and surrounding myself with people who want to see me do well has helped me get my life out of the gutter. Without this, I would be dead.
Policy plays a role in creating harsh conditions for youth. If policies were created by and for the people impacted, then they could begin to be effective. Years later, things have not changed much. Youths’ health and well-being should be paramount. Their futures should be factored into every decision that’s made for them. Provisions should be made for the continuance of education and the permanence of housing for them into adulthood. The state should not be allowed to keep failing youth. Parents should be supported and given resources to help reunite with their kids. My parents were good parents, and I never should have been taken away from them. I had a good family and came from a supportive community. That was all replaced by a system that proved to be detrimental and had no plan for my life. The system failed me. It didn’t give me what I needed. It didn’t give me rights. The system dumped me into the world right before my 18th birthday with nothing to stand on. As a young person, I had no choice, and I ended up suffering as a result of the state’s failure to take care of me.
Something needs to change so that this doesn’t keep happening to youth. This should have never happened to me or to anyone else. We are all responsible for protecting youth and seeing that their futures have successful outcomes and opportunities for stability. Systems-impacted youth and foster youth deserve to have their needs met. They also deserve love, happiness, and joy. Youths’ lives matter.