"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



"I'm the only girl here." by richard ross

I've been here for 22 days. I've been in and out a bunch of times. At home I have a mom and dad and four younger brothers and sisters and an older brother and sister. I had an older sister who committed suicide a few years ago. I'm in the 9th grade. I would like to go to college. I received my first violation by stealing a car on drugs, then I overdosed on Benadryl and they found me passed out. I'll be here for 30 days and then I'll go to court with my parents. My mom is a CDC counselor, my dad is a construction worker. We're Tlingit-Haida. My parents moved us from LA to here, they have been sober for 11 years. We do more than the adults do, and they know that. I want to get into the ARCH treatment facility in the city. It's a program for drug abuse and chemical dependency. I'm the only girl here.

—N., age 14



"Now I’m growing up." by richard ross

I’ve been here four or five years. I would go to regular school. I would live with my mom, three sisters and two brothers. Then I started running hallways when I was supposed to be in class. I would start trouble. I would get into fights. Kids like to bully me about little stuff, about the clothes you are wearing, or the way you smell. They would suspend me for two or three days, then after a couple of times the school kicked me out and the school found Children’s Village. My counselor said it would be good to be here. There are ten kids in the class. I was left back twice so I’m in 10th grade. I’m in day school here. I go home after school. (There are only a few students like this. It’s a long commute.) I was getting into trouble for dissing teachers. Now I’m growing up. I know what’s wrong and what’s right. At age ten I used to act up in school. Now I’m going to stay here, finish school and become a game designer. I like Call of Duty Advanced Warfare. My favorite subject is global or history.

—K., age 17



"I’m just waiting for someone to help me." by richard ross

Right now I’m on the move. I’m just waiting for someone to help me. My dad is trying to get a home so he can pick me up. Me and my mom don’t really talk. I’ve been here over a year. I was 13 when I first came into the system. I was originally in detention. Now I’m in here for sexual abuse. They’re helping the kids here. I don’t want to be here but I’ve changed my behavior in the last six months, how you feel about things and why. We have staff that help us try to make better decisions. They try to make it the best while we’re here although sometimes the kids will curse the staff out. There are five kids in my cottage, lots of staff. I meet with the social worker once or twice a week for 45 minutes or an hour. My dad is in a shelter right now. My mom is with her husband and my little sister.

S., age 14

S., age 14

Being abused and neglected is not my crime.

I’m here for a sexual assault. I was 12 when charges were first filed. Me and my mom haven’t talked since I was little. We may pass words but there’s no mutual kindness to each other. My mom did something really bad that threatened my life when I was two and caused my dad to go to jail. I was a baby and my mom would take the check that would come for me and would leave. She would leave me there with no food and no clothes and spend the money. My dad would retaliate because of what she did and he was charged with domestic violence. And then they would put me with my mom again. I was with my dad when he got out and we would move through shelters from when I was two until I was about 12. At 12 I went to my first foster home. I was in at least 25 different foster homes and never stayed in one more than a week or so. I felt I was intruding into other people’s lives. It didn’t seem proper to me. My mom was very into drugs and alcohol. I can fit in with other kids. I smoke a little. Drink. I’m sexually active. I want to go to an Ivy League school—Duke, Syracuse or Florida State. I’m not a community college type person. Shelters weren’t that hard. I got to meet a lot of new friends when I was a kid. The longest I stayed in the same shelter was a year and a half. My dad couldn’t have a house. He had money issues. He couldn’t find a job. ACS are the people that find you a home. They intervene only for abuse and neglect. Being poor is not a crime. Being abused and neglected is not my crime. The judge decided I should be sent here. The big choice I had was upstate or here. I lucked out. The only person I trust is my mentor, and I trust my dad. He’s taken care of me all that time. And some of the staff here.

—S., age 14

"I couldn’t stay in the house." by richard ross

I was in foster care since 10th grade. I’ve been here a year. It’s boring. I was at a group home for a while, but she wasn’t feeding me there. I went out and stole food. She wasn’t treating me right. I couldn’t stay in the house. I was locked up a while for robbery. Then they put me in foster care for after care. But then they were mad at me because I went to jail. I was living in a place where there was no room for me there. I live with my dad, my mom and my grandma. They visit me every month. They just want to see me do good so I’m here. I don’t think they can give me the right care. They both work at a hospital. I want to work with sanitation; they make a lot of money. (He leaves the room and then comes back in to make sure I know…) I want to get famous.

—Q., age 17

I don’t think they can give me the right care.


"Everything there was horrible." by richard ross

Soon I’m going to be 18. I’m black, Spanish, Jamaican and Guinanese. My mom’s a great cook. She’s makes yam and mac and cheese. I’ve been here about a year. I’m going to be discharged soon. I started getting into trouble when I was 16. I was coming home late, violating curfew, not listening to rules. Now I realize it’s time not to play no more. I got locked up, court remanded, sent to Rikers. Everything there was horrible. The food. The beds. The guards. It was all horrible. We had to do so many strip searches. They never call you by your name; they call you by your number. The stuff I saw at Rikers changed up my act. There are things you just can’t understand but if you’re on the street you understand them differently. Here I got into trouble because they said I threatened staff. I think staff is always mad at you. I’m not threatened by the staff here, not like at Rikers. I’m here with people who have problems and can’t be at home.

V., age 17

V., age 17

I’m not threatened by the staff here, not like at Rikers.

I’m in the cottage which is for kids with sexual behavior issues. I had problems with the way I approach females. I approached them with a bad attitude rather than as evens. My mom would never hit me but she would take away my video games and I want to be a video game designer. Sometimes we get group therapy here, sometimes individual. I got a scar here. I got cut by glass. And here’s another scar. A couple of us from our cottage got into a battle with another cottage. There were a couple of them and a couple of us. They called for a big mediation but at the end of the day the supervisors blamed it on me and my cottage mate. We are NSP, which means we can’t go out of state but it’s no big deal. I’m in 12th grade but I have to pass my Regents to graduate. I want to be a game designer or be a chef, have my own TV show. I know I have to have an education first. My mom visits me. I have no idea where my dad is. I didn’t grow up with him. I have a stepfather but we sort of talk from time to time but we don’t hang out. All my siblings live at home. I trust my mom. She never gave up on me. She works at an arts and crafts place. She used to work at Target.

—V., age 17

"I opened the door and there he was dead." by richard ross

She had me going to the store to steal bread and milk.

I’ve been here three months. This is my third time here. I was 13 when I came the first time. I had a curfew violation. For three days I didn’t come home to my house. My parents didn’t know where I was. I just had to get out of the house. I’ve got a bunch of sisters. I had a brother but he was struck by lightning in front of the house when I was 13. I opened the door and there he was dead. It was crazy. I don’t know my father. When I would run away I would stay at my boyfriend’s house. Sometimes there would be name calling but words don’t hurt me. They would call me mook. That’s a term for gay. I was adopted when I was seven. I think I was five or six when they picked me and took me home. I thought it was crazy. My mom was a drinker and a smoker. Then she put her hands on me. She would put my head in the doorway and try to smash it. That’s why I have bald spots. She had me going to the store to steal bread and milk.

K.D., age 15

K.D., age 15

I’ve been in four foster homes. I have a 37-year-old sister. When I get discharged she will have custody of me. I’ll do better there than my mother who used to try to kick me. She can’t kick me anymore because she’s got diabetic legs and she’s all swelled up. The court will allow my sister and her wife to have custody of me. She’s gay so she’s going to be more tolerant and open. After six months I can have a home visit. I go to court. It’s a long process physically. It’s at least a two hour trip. I want to be a choreographer. I like those Flexn dancers. I imagine if they get cuffed they can bend their arms and get out. I can see a counselor when I need it. There are a lot of kids here that are gay. A lot of them know it; a lot of them are confused. One minute they’re playing basketball, the next minute they’re “extra.” That means they’re going girlie. I don’t do extra. I know what a girl don’t do. I trust my best friend and my sister. My call day is on Thursday. We can talk as long as we want, and they can call us at any time.

- K.D., age 15

"My mother lost her rights." by richard ross

I’m in 10th grade. I was three or four when I entered the foster care system. I’ve been to 13 different homes. I just didn’t fit in. The case worker didn’t feel I fit in and I would go to a respite foster home. I would still be going to the same school and they would try to help me out. When I come back from school I would pack and go to a new foster home. My cousin was trying to take care of all my brothers and sisters but that didn’t work. I was suspended from kindergarten for throwing chairs. My mother lost her rights. No one ever told me why. They just told me she’s in jail. I still haven’t figured out why. I can’t speak to her until I’m 18. My cousin came and took care of me when I was a baby, and all my brothers and sisters.

It will be tough getting adopted at 15 and gay. I’m realistic.

C., age 15

C., age 15

The first foster home I remember was just a woman and she took in me and one of my brothers. My brother and sister went back to Oklahoma. They’ve been in 13 different foster homes. I saw a lot of stuff happening. A lot of abuse the whole time I was growing up. My 6th foster home worked for three years, then my anger came back. It will be tough getting adopted at 15 and gay. I’m realistic. Part of it is my aunt came back took me from the foster home, and then my anger came back. My caseworker took me to a psychiatric hospital. My anger and my temper, they were all afraid I might have a back flash. They said I had anger management issues. They gave me Depacote, Resperdol, and Clonadine. I want to be an artist. I like doing anime. I’m up for adoption right now to the right home or to a foster home but I haven’t found one yet. I’ll get done with my cottage, processing with skills and then I step down to cottage with more free will. Then after that, if a parent wants to adopt me, they talk to a case worker and we would have to have court approval.

- C., Age 15