My life was never still

My mom was a prostitute and a crack addict.

My parents had been getting a check for me. My mom took the check and spent it on whatever – drugs, alcohol, etc. She came back a week later and her and my dad got into an argument and he tried to kill her because he was upset that she took the check that was supposed to be for my clothes and food and everything. My mom called the cops, and my dad went to jail. My dad came back and we moved in with my grandmother then we went into a shelter because we were homeless.

My life was never still because I moved from shelter to shelter to shelter with my dad.  Romeo

When I was 9, I moved to Staten Island, where we had a real apartment – just me and my dad. I grew up there and it was a really cool place. A little bit after my 10th birthday, I was down the block at my friend’s house and we saw smoke coming from my apartment. After that, we stayed in my uncle’s house for about a year.

Around my 11th birthday, we got back into a shelter in Harlem. 137th and Lexington. We stayed there for a long time.

When I turned 12, I started running away. ACS put me in a foster home. I felt like an intruder into someone’s family. So I ran.

That’s when I became a street kid. I ran away from that first foster home, got into the streets, and became a part of the Occupy Wall Street group. I would sleep out in “Zucchini” park.

ACS found me again 2 days after my 13th birthday. I got put into another foster home. I ran from that foster home the same exact day. I kept feeling intrusive. I always felt like I was intruding into their life. You don’t even know me that well, why are you calling me your “son”? It made me so uncomfortable.

I can’t even count how many foster homes I was in. Over 15 at least. The longest I ever stayed was 3 days. The only place I felt safe was the street. One day I got in trouble and I was arrested.

That’s how I ended up at CV.

Besides living with my dad, CV is the longest place I’ve ever lived. I don’t want to run from here.

I’m not saying that I love here or want to be here for the rest of my life. But, it’s a good place for people to build better relationships. You can get jobs here. I’m on the basketball team. There’s recreation. The cottage staff want to see you succeed, get out of here, and chase after your dreams.

I never stayed in a foster home long enough to feel that same connection.

One of the reasons that I stay is my mentor. She’s funny. Always in a joyful mood. She always helps with stuff that I need and she makes time for me whenever I need to see her. She never gets impatient because I like to talk a lot. We meet for lunch. We go off campus. We also volunteer at the animal shelter where the people and pets really like me. Doing this makes me feel better. The animals there and I have a lot in common.

I’m 14 now. I don’t see my dad often, but it’s cool to see him. I haven’t talked to my mom in a while. I need to behave. I want to live a life like a regular teenager. I don’t want to keep having situations. If I have any more, I’m going to completely break.

I’m an intelligent kid. I’m street smart. I’m book smart. I can handle myself on the streets. I can handle myself in the school. Enough about me.

– Name withheld to protect privacy

The author is part of CV’s Non-Secure Placement Program which is an alternative to incarceration. Statistics show that 83% of youth who spend time in juvenile detention facilities re-offend within three years. CV’s program aims to improve their odds by providing a structured environment, connections to adults who care for them, education, and an opportunity to see a better future.

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