At first, Martin displayed a lot of anger at both staff and other boys, often disrespectful or provoking fights. He seemed determined to fail at YSN like he had at other placements. However, with a lot of patience and consistent support from staff, he began to trust that we were not going to hurt nor abandon him. Eventually, Martin began to participate in the treatment he needed to start to overcome his problems and gain some control over his life. Martin began to attend school regularly and his grades improved. He joined the football team, where he eventually became Team Leader. Every time there was a setback, Martin got the consistent care and support he needed to get through it. At age 18, Martin joined the Navy, is taking college courses, and on his way to fulfill his goal of a military career.
This is the real story of one of our boys, in his exact words. It is one of many stories our boys could tell, each of them unique but every one a tale of secrets…of loss and pain, of struggle and survival which are often impossible for them to express in words. This boy has a gift for words, and tells his story well. But when you read it, try to think not only of him but of all the children called ‘group home kids” who have been unable to tell their story….let him speak for them too.
The first time I realized about how life would kick in, was when I was 12 years old. I started off as a single child being raised by a single mom, father was out of the picture half brother left to go leave a better life with his father and his step mother, and I would be alone with my mom. My mother had a rough child hood as well, she didn’t live with her parents, her mother had left her to go live with her blind grandmother and grandfather, and she was left there with her 6 other brothers and sister. It was pretty tough on her, she didn't know how to cope and began drinking at in her late 20’s, and became an alcoholic her mid 30’s. My father's story is he is an Indian from El Salvador, escaping from the war going on there in the 1990s. He never got therapy or help from his experience so he had a lot of emotional problems too and used to belt me a lot. By the time I was 3 my mother separated from my father. My father was trying to kidnap me, so for my safety we moved to Long Beach. We were living in very poor condition but my mom was really trying, and found a waitressing job. She made enough money to rent a room. We moved into a very ghetto area, in Lakewood, it was dirty, neighborhood was very crowded by gang members and drug dealers waiting on the corner, I lived inside a house where there were roaches and bugs always crawling all over the walls, not really livable but for me it seemed normal. At that time I was about 8 years old, and by now my mother wasn't drinking not as much but when she did, she beat me. She would use belts, hangers, iron cords anything she could find. My initial reaction was to run and hide, I was too small and I couldn’t fight back. Afterwards the next day she would feel sorry, I didn’t know how to cope with that.
Later when her drinking and the beatings got worse, I started to fight back. The first time I fought back, someone had called the cops to come and investigate, and the cops wrote a report on my mother and charged her with child abuse but I stayed with my Mom. She didn't really didn't get any help so things got worse and finally out of control. My mom would pick me up from school drunk and I was so embarrassed I didn’t want my friends or teachers to see her. So it was very weird to talk to her when we would get home, I would tell her “mom why do you do this to me, why do u have to come to my school drunk” and I guess that would trigger her to beating me, but of course as I got bigger and stronger I fought back. I would get fueled with rage and do things I would never want to do in a million years. One day my mother gave me the beating of a life time and I get mad and I busted a window open with my face and I trashed our guest house, I destroyed furniture and threw things at her. Looking back, it is hard to believe things like that can happen in a person’s life. Anyway that night, the cops show up again, and tell my mother that if she doesn’t get help social services will get involved, which they did in the next week. My mother and I would finally get counseling and that's when I first started realized what a bond with a person could do. That therapist’s name was Patrick. Patrick did wonders for me and my mother. Me and my mom started getting along, but she was still drinking. Then suddenly out time was up with Patrick. I didn’t want to stop seeing Patrick but we had to, we had moved down to a lower level care counselor. Things started to go downhill again. There was a big incident where my Mom was driving drunk with me in the car, and the cops stopped us and took me into custody. They tried to call my family to pick me up, but no one answered the phone, so they put me in a foster home.
The first week I spent in the foster home I didn’t want to move, didn’t want to eat didn’t want to do nothing. My soul was dead, but one day my brother Levi comes to visit me, and finally saw the light again and felt comfort and reason to keep living. Months passed by when I had moved from 3 foster homes for various reasons. My social worker had moved me because my mom had done her three months in county jail so when she was released she lived with my brother and I moved closer to them both. The foster home I moved into was nice, but I still hadn't really gotten the help I needed with my problems so I never really settled in. After a year and a half I was on the move once again. But this time not alone. I had bought a uromastyx lizard off of my foster mothers son. And I had named her Edna, and at that time I felt like Edna was the closest thing I had.
I was placed in another foster home. I liked the family there, but I had gotten to a point of depression in my life that I began to cut myself. And I was going through that teenage phase that everyone was against me, and that no one liked me in the world. I felt suicidal a lot of the time and probably cut myself over 300 times. It finally came down to one day when I was in school, I was done with it, and in front of a crowd of people I was going to pierce my arm with a staple. The school called the ambulance and I didn’t know what to expect. From that moment on I didn’t care for what were to happen to me. I was put in a mental institution. I didn’t like it there one bit but I had to deal with it. I had spent 4 days there and I was released. When I went back to my foster home everyone seemed disappointed in me, they looked at me as an outcast and nobody seemed to want to talk to me about my problems. When I saw that I continued to do the wrong and forget the right. As I continued to run away smoke cigarettes and cut, my foster mom got fed up and called my social worker to get me out of there. The same day that I was taken away, I had known 30 minutes before the group home van came to pick me up. I felt like crap because they didn’t even tell me they were going to kick me out and had to face that they told me 30 mins before I had to pack everything once again and restart a new life, again.
I arrived to Granada Hills Group home, where everything didn’t seem like a prison. It was a beautiful house in a good neighborhood, no gangs and and it was somewhat normal. The kids there weren’t mindless criminals or, they were kids like me who had a lot of family problems and didn't know how to cope, maybe had been doing drugs, running away, fighting etc. the staff there at first were strangers to me but as I settled in my homelike precinct they became my family. I had problems at Granada now and then, but as months went by I began to learn how to deal with a lot of things that didn’t involve cutting or smoking or running away. I began to show progress with the group home program, because of my maturity level that had boosted over the months. My social workers noticed that I had gotten better, so they requested I get released from the group home and move back into a foster home. I grew attached to the staff there at the group home, especially one staff member there, she was a night staff that I considered a family member, I considered her my aunt. She helped me a lot as well, when I needed someone to talk to and share my problems with, she listened and she gave me tough advice, and that also helped me with my maturity. When it was time to leave the group home, it was hard to say good bye but we promised to stay in touch, and we have.
Now that I look back at my past, I have realized how much help it has to been to me, and what would have happened if I would have stayed with my mother. I am much better now, I still have therapy, and I thank all my staff and therapists for being there for me. I sometimes look back at the good time I had in the homes I have been in and I see myself today and sits hard to believe I've been though all that stuff. Now I am doing a lot better in school and I’m doing better in life, now I try to help people, especially teens who are having a rough time. I know I still have a lot to learn, we just have to wait and see what life has in store for us. My advice to people is “keep your head up high, and look at the sky” this means just because a bad situation has put you in a bad spot, doesn’t mean you can’t get out of it or make it better.
This has been my life story. So far…..
Note from the Executive Director: This boy is now living in a foster home, attending school, and has a part job. He has maintained contact with us at YSN .