"We almost starved to death." by richard ross

This is the second time I’m here. I’ve been here three months now. The first time I was 15 and here for a month. I got tired of the stuff at home so I ran away. I survived by breaking into houses. So I’m here mostly for B&E and burglary. I live with my mom and stepdad. My sisters are both 6. And then I have a younger sister. My mom’s about 40. My dad died of heart attack when I was 4. My mom was doing crack and abandoned me and my sisters. I was staying in a foster home for two or three years. My little sisters and me were abandoned. We almost starved to death. And then I was staying with other relatives and a hospital for two months in Birmingham. Then my mom got me back. She said she was clean but there were problems. I think she was on drugs again.

I was so angry I would strip the bark off trees.



They said I had behavioral problems and would break toys, push around my sisters, and go off by myself. I was so angry I would strip the bark off trees. They put me in children’s hospital. I was angry at the situation and my mother. I sometimes don’t want to see her, most times. She would badmouth my grandmother. She’s a tough one. Several times she would leave us all without food. I would get extra food at school for the twins and I got in trouble for that. She would leave my 8-month-old sister unsupervised. Where was DHR? I don’t know. They arrested my mom. She did 9 months for a combination of drugs and child abuse. My stepdad was not in the picture until I was 10. There was really no support for my mom either. They put me in Big Oak Ranch. It’s a Christian school in Gadsten. There’s a group for boys and a group for girls about two hours from Tuscaloosa. I’ll probably be there for two years, until I’m 18. I’ve never done drugs. My mom’s boyfriend would beat me and my younger sisters with a belt. Where was Child Protective Services? That’s a question I ask myself but I don’t know the answer.

- T., 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.