I Got the Respect I Needed

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Age 17
L.A. Youth, Los Angeles

I got taken away from my mother when I was 3 because she used drugs and physically abused me. I went to live with my aunt, and it was like a real family to me. We’d do karaoke every Saturday. We would sing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

But things changed when I was in fourth grade. My grandmother lied to the authorities and said my aunt was abusing me. The police came out three times but never found signs of abuse. The fourth time they came, when I was 8, I got taken away. Children’s services sent me to live with my grandmother. For most of the next six years, it was like living in hell.

When I first got there, my grandmother was great. But things changed when she began selling and using drugs. One time I woke up my grandmother and she threw her shoes at me. Another time she told me that she had lied to children’s services about my auntie abusing me. She said the only reason she took me in was because she needed money from children’s services.

My grandmother would let my cousins sit around drinking juice and lemonade while I had to do their chores. When my grandmother called me, I’d say, “Yes ma’am.” But I wanted to say, “Why do you hit me? Am I really a bad child? Why do you treat me like I’m not part of your family?”

I’d pray at night that I could get out of there. But I didn’t tell anyone because I was scared that my grandmother would hit me if she found out. When my social worker came around every six months, she’d ask, “Deshon, how is it here?” I’d say, “It’s OK.” But when she left I would cry, because I wanted to tell her the truth.

Once I did ask to leave, but my social worker said it was a “good placement” because I was living with my family. I was too scared to tell her my grandma was hitting me. This was the only family I had.

When I was 12 I ran away to my friend Yvette’s house. My social worker found out and asked me why I had run away. I said I was being abused. She asked my grandmother if I was getting abused, but my grandmother said no. Another time I told my attorney that I was being abused. The police came but they didn’t find bruises on me, so I stayed.

One day when I was 14, I was at my friend Yvette’s house. My grandmother found out that I had lied to her about being at the library. She came to get me. It was chaos. She was hitting me in the back of the head and pulling my ear. Yvette’s mother was screaming, “Get your hands off of him.” My grandmother pulled me by the ear all the way home.

Later that year, my grandmother whipped me with a belt because I came home late. I finally had enough. The next day I had a meeting with my social worker. She saw the bruises on my neck and arm and asked me what happened. This time she knew I was telling the truth.

They took me to a shelter. I was scared because I thought my grandmother was going to find out. But they arrested my grandmother and put her in jail. I went to court and they told me, “You’re safe now. Your grandmother can’t come within 50 feet of you.”

Over the next two years I moved around a lot of foster homes. I was happy to be safe but sad because I wasn’t with my family. I thought about my aunt so many times. I belonged with her, not in a foster home.

But eventually I ended up in a good group home. I was scared at first, but quickly got comfortable with the staff and kids. They had a lot of rules and support that helped me with my depression.

The staff treated me with respect. One time I cursed out a staff member named Nicole and she ended up talking with me for an hour about my behavior. After that, I always called her “mommy.”

I started talking to my therapist. He was really, really cool. He was ghetto. He was white and listened to Tupac. I told him how I felt about moving around. He said, “Even though I’m an adult, you’re stronger than me. I’ve never been through what you’ve been through.” I got up and gave him a big hug.

What also made me happy was that the system finally let me see my aunt on the weekends. I felt lucky to be in foster care, protected from my grandmother, and still able to see my aunt.

I left the group home and went to a new one that was less restrictive. I wasn’t depressed anymore. I learned that I can talk to someone when I’m feeling down.

© 2007 L.A. Youth. www.layouth.com.