AWOL

"My mom is deceased. Drug overdose." by richard ross

My mom is deceased. Drug overdose. I stayed with my auntie until I was 11.  She was abusive, verbally and physically. I went to maybe 15-20 foster homes. They were all ladies, no man in the home. My baby is one. His daddy’s family took him to see his daddy. He wouldn’t give my baby back. The baby was in the hospital with a lung problem. I asked my social worker if I could go to see my baby. She said I had to wait until my next court date in two months to see the judge. So I went AWOL to see my baby. They picked me up and now I am 241.1—dual custody between dependency and delinquency for going AWOL. I just wanted to see my baby.

I like Ms. Perez, one of the corrections officers. All the staff here just order you. Ms. Perez talks to me.

—T.L., age 16

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"My dad lives in Mexico. I’m not sure if my mom has papers." by richard ross

This is my first time. I was in LP for a few days. I was just AWOL for a few days from my foster home. I’m there with my biological brother and my foster mom’s daughter and another foster girl. I was with my aunt for two years. I was eleven when I was taken from my house. I didn’t know what was going on. My mom didn’t know what it meant for me to be detained either. The cops found a weed plant in my brother’s room and then they started investigating my mom and my step-dad. They smoked crack. DCFS took me, my two brothers, and my little sister into custody. My mom was pregnant and when the baby was born they took the baby away. My dad lives in Mexico. I’m not sure if my mom has papers.  My foster home is pretty good, no foster dad there. There was really no reason for me to go AWOL, I was picked up for truancy but I had gotten into trouble for graffiti. Putting white out on a bench in the park right next to school—during school. I was with a friend and we were waiting for nutrition class to end because we didn’t want to go to nutrition…so we went next door to the park for that period. They called it pen tagging. Then I lied to the police about what my name was. They handcuffed me. I went to court two months ago and they gave me probation. Then I violated by running away.

I’m in 9th grade. My mom was in AA rehab. There’s no abuse in my background. I’m fighting going to camp. The judge is making me go to placement although I have no idea why. They want me to go to a group home when I’m doing well in foster care. My boyfriend is 17. He’s a sophomore in HS. I stopped going to school in January. I tried going to continuation school. But I couldn’t get anyone there to help me enroll. I must have gone at the wrong time. I missed a court date and they issued a warrant. I’m not even sure why. I didn’t want to go to court. I was going through stuff with my mom. She talked to me about her drug abuse and how she couldn’t stop.

—Z.O., age 15

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"She told me today that she’s pregnant." by richard ross

I live near the city college I live with my mom, two sisters, a newborn, and my stepdad. I have an older brother, but he’s out of the house. My stepdad’s a chef. And my mom works at a bakery. I was taken away by social workers. My mom told them that I hit her, but I really just ran away with my girlfriend. I wasn’t going to school. I was living in the street at friends’ houses with my girlfriend. I guess I was couch surfing. Yeah, I guess I was homeless. My mom came to see me today, with my girlfriend. She’s still with me. She told me today that she’s pregnant. I’m in 11th grade. I can barely take care of myself. I got a grand theft charge. The judge sent me to placement rehab. Mostly alcohol and weed and meth. My girlfriend would keep me on the right path. When I was on the outs, I wouldn't eat or sleep because of all the drugs. In here, I’m always sleeping to catch up on lost sleep and I’m always hungry. ‘Cause now that I’m not on drugs I’m hungry.

They have me for grand theft and possession of meth. I hope they give me probation. I think I’m going to go to a placement home. I was interviewed on Friday, and I’m just waiting for them to pick me up. I have to do nine months. If I go AWOL, I’ll be in bigger trouble. I’ve been here for two weeks for the same charge. The grand theft was I snatched a phone from an open car. They caught me sitting in the car and they tried to catch me for GTA. They tried to put those charges on me.

—K.O. age 17

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"Six different people raped me." by richard ross

First time I was here I was 14. This time I’ve been here for two months. I went AWOL from placement. When I was upset with my mom, I used drugs. I regret that. I live with my mom, my 14-year-old sister, my nine-year-old brother, and my stepdad. He’s protecting my family while I’m in here. I don't feel like I’m 15. I don’t feel like I’m a little kid anymore. I started doing meth when I was 13. I got it from my friends. First I was smoking, then sniffing, then doing hot rows, then I started shooting up. That was very messed up. I was running away from my problems.

I was raped when I was trying to protect my sister.

I let him rape me so she wouldn’t get hurt.

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From three to five I was raped by my mom’s stepdad. He escaped to Guatemala. That affected me bad. I got beaten by my mom’s ex-boyfriend. I was raped when I was trying to protect my sister. I let him rape me so she wouldn’t get hurt. That’s the reason for all my bad behavior. My PO and social worker don’t get it. I can’t be in a group home or foster home, I have to be taking care of my family. Why punish me? My social worker knows why I keep doing this. I’ve had therapies since I was 14. But it stopped. I have these memories all the time. It all falls apart. My mother works with my grandma, they collect scrap metal. My grandma and aunt wanted to help me and take me into their homes. My social workers say I’m psychotic, but I’m not. I could be dead by now. They should know the reasons. What I’m doing is not my behavior, it’s the things I’ve been through. Six different people raped me. I’m trying to learn by going to church. You can’t forget, but you can learn to forgive.

-N.B., age 15

 

**Interviews with youth are recorded to the best of our ability. All personal histories and anecdotes are self-reported by the children. To protect confidentiality of the youth, identities have been obscured, initials have been changed, and identifying details have been removed. Interviews have not been edited for content.

"When you lead this life . . ." by richard ross

I’ve been here five months. I live in North Hollywood. This is my seventh time here. I was born in Koreatown. I was living with my dad and four brothers. My mom is not in the picture. My dad was in jail until I was 12. My grandma raised me from two to 12. There was no grandpa. My dad was around for about a year when he got out of prison, but he violated and went back. Now he’s been out for about a year again, and I’m living with him. He works at a hospital cleaning equipment. Three of my brothers live with me. I have four brothers: 17, 18, 19, and 20. They all have different moms. And they’re all in Clanton—it’s a Valley gang. I’m gang affiliated. I got jumped in for 13 seconds. Sometimes you have to go on different missions. No, I didn't get humped in, I’m a virgin. If you get humped in, you stay a hoodrat and get used over and over by the homies.

It’s embarrassing. It’s really not me in here, it’s all the mistakes I’ve done in here.

I should be in 11th grade, but I dropped out in 8th grade. I don’t go to school. I’ve been to lots of placements, camps. The longest I was home since I was 12 was nine months. I have no history of abuse. I just go AWOL a lot to hang out with my homies. Now I’ve been living with my brother’s baby mama. She’s 17 now. She was 15 when she had her baby. That brother is in jail. He’s the 18 year old. He’s out of state, doing a homicide. If I win my fitness, I’ll get a job. It’s embarrassing. It’s really not me in here, it’s all the mistakes I’ve done in here. It’s gonna be hard for me to change, but I’m really working on it.

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When you lead this life and you’re on the outs, you just count your days, because that’s where it leads you.

My family is the gang, really. My uncles, my aunts, even my grandmother who’s 52 is in a gang. My cousins are the peewees; they do all the work. My dad, he’s a duke. He’s 32. He sells drugs everywhere in LA. I was selling as well. My family’s uncontrollable. My five uncles—three are in jail for murder, two for attempted murder. My aunts are in for 211—deadly weapons. I’ve got one brother fighting murder, another brother in and out of juvie, they’re all dope related, they’re all in the gang . . . my family is the gang. When you lead this life and you’re on the outs, you just count your days, because that’s where it leads you.

-L.V., age 16

 

**Interviews with youth are recorded to the best of our ability. All personal histories and anecdotes are self-reported by the children. To protect confidentiality of the youth, identities have been obscured, initials have been changed, and identifying details have been removed. Interviews have not been edited for content.

"I didn’t want to run all my life . . ." by richard ross

I turned myself in on a warrant. I didn’t want to run all my life. The first placement I was 17-years-old. My mom said she couldn't parent me the way she works. She’s an RN at the hospital. She takes care of my two brothers and my three-year-old son. My godmother helps out too. I was 15 when I had him. She’s just taking care of him while I’m here.

I don’t blame nobody but myself for being here.

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AWOL is leave without permission. I’d go anywhere because I wanted to. Everywhere I would go I would go by myself. But sometimes I would take the baby. I would just walk out the door and sleep at my friend’s house. I think I just wanted to be grown. I wasn't going back to school. I just came back in here on Wednesday. I think my mom’s supposed to come visit me today. I tried to rush my own age. Maybe it’s cause my dad is deceased. He had a cardiac arrest when I was 15. I don’t blame nobody but myself for being here.

-L.Y., age 18

 

**Interviews with youth are recorded to the best of our ability. All personal histories and anecdotes are self-reported by the children. To protect confidentiality of the youth, identities have been obscured, initials have been changed, and identifying details have been removed. Interviews have not been edited for content.