By D.L., 16
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Illustration by Brian Lopez-Santos, L.A. Youth archives.

Illustration by Brian Lopez-Santos, L.A. Youth archives.

One time in seventh grade I heard my dad and my mom arguing in the kitchen. Me and my brother went downstairs and saw him hitting her. We jumped in and tried to pull him off my mom. He got a knife and said, “I’m going to kill you.” We were in the middle between my mom and dad. We grabbed my mom and started running. We kept running down the street to a friend’s house. My mom called the cops and my dad got arrested.

My whole life I’ve wanted a nice dad who would buy me stuff and take care of me instead of hitting people all the time. His abuse got to me. I started being angry and I started fighting. But a year and a half ago I came to a group home to get help with my anger. I’m not as angry as I used to be. I’m not a horrible person anymore. I’m a nice, chill person.

Ever since I was young, I’ve seen my dad hit my mom. It would make me mad. Sometimes my older brother would take us out of the house when they were fighting. We’d walk around the neighborhood or go to a friend’s house. My mom’s friends would take us to their house sometimes. They had a pool. It calmed me down. The abuse would go away for a little bit, and so would my anger.

Other times me and my two brothers would try to pull my dad off my mom. She’d say to us, “I don’t want you guys to get hurt so stay out of it.” We’d say, “We don’t want you to get hurt.” Then my dad would get mad and try to hit us. We’d hit him back if he tried. I was never scared of him because he never did anything for us so I didn’t respect him. All he did was go back and forth to jail for getting into fights.

At night in bed I’d wonder, “Why is he doing this to us? We didn’t do nothing to him.”

My mom kicked him out when I was in elementary school but he’d still come around. Sometimes his eyes were red. My mom would say, “You can’t be around my kids when you’re drinking.” He would get mad and leave but he’d come back the next day.

Other times he was nice. One Christmas he took us to Target and bought us presents. He bought me a doll and a stroller and he bought my brothers toy cars. I was hoping he was going to stay like that forever and he wasn’t going to turn into what he usually was: a monster.

Around the end of elementary school my mom got a restraining order, which is a court order that said my dad couldn’t be near us. But he still kept coming around bothering us. We moved a few times but he kept finding us. If he was hitting us or yelling my mom would call the cops, but he’d leave before they came.

My anger took control of me and started to show at school. When I was in elementary school I’d get into fights with boys and girls. The other kids were scared of me. I had one friend but we stopped being friends because she thought I was going to fight her. I was mad that I’d get angry fast and fight. It reminded me of my dad and I wished I could change.

The school put me in family therapy but I wouldn’t talk.

In middle school, I didn’t have any friends so I got picked on. If someone was talking about my mom (your mom is ugly, all that stuff) or if they took my paper or threw something at me, I’d hit them, slap them, kick them, pull their hair. I was mad because I didn’t have anybody to talk to and everyone was against me. The teachers would come and pull me off. They’d suspend me or sometimes they called the police. But I couldn’t stop fighting because I liked it. I thought it was fun to beat someone up. It released a lot of the anger I had.

When I was around 13, I start cutting myself because I was mad about the way the other kids at school were treating me. I was angry that I didn’t have friends. I felt like cutting released my anger.

Over the next year I went to the mental hospital 10 times for cutting, hitting people at school or throwing things at home. They said I had depression and I got put on medication. It didn’t help. I was still depressed and cutting myself.

I didn’t want to cut because I knew I’d get sent to the mental hospital. But when I got home I did it again. The mental hospital was easier because everywhere you go they watch you but at home I could do whatever and my mom didn’t watch me that much because she had to work.

The last time I went to the mental hospital was because I tried to kill myself. At school my friend told me that my boyfriend said that he wasn’t going out with me. I went home and tried to take some pills. My brother said “I’m going to go tell on you.” I got a knife out of the drawer and was pointing it at him. His eyes got big and he screamed “Oh my god Mom.” He ran upstairs and I heard my mom calling the police. I thought I’d better put that back before I get caught. I ran in the kitchen and put it back. I sat on the couch and started watching TV. Three or four minutes later the police came.

The police asked me what happened. My mom answered. She said, “She pulled a knife on my son.” They asked me what happened. I didn’t want to talk so I said I didn’t know. They said we have to take you to the hospital because you’re out of control. I said OK. I knew it would help. I stayed there for seven days.

After that my therapist told my mom “You need to send her to go to a group home because she’s out of control.” I was happy because I knew I’d get help. They called different group homes and that’s when they found this place, a group home and school for kids with behavioral problems.

I came here on May 27, 2011. My mom dropped my stuff off and left. I started crying because I missed her. I was scared because there were new people. But the other girls who lived there told me “This place will help you” so I stopped crying. I felt welcome.

At school the rules were strict. You have to raise your hand and say “Can I come in?” before you come into the class. You have to say good morning. You can’t say “hello, like duh” to the other students in a rude way. But the teachers were more understanding than my teachers at my other schools. Instead of sending me home or calling the cops when I get in trouble, they sit down and talk to me.

When I first came, I’d get in trouble every other day for cursing at a student, not following directions or not doing my work. When you get in trouble they send you outside for two minutes. When the two minutes are up, you have to say what you did wrong and go back into the classroom and do your work.

One time we were doing math and the kid next to me told me, “You’re not doing it right.” I said “yes I am” and we kept arguing. I said, “What are you going to do?” I got up and he threw an eraser at me. I got mad and we started hitting each other. The teachers from the other class had to come and take me off of him and tell me to calm down. I got “inhouse,” which is a consequence for hitting. I had to sit by myself in the back of the class with the teacher for a day. I couldn’t talk to anybody, only the teacher. My other school would have called the police. Letting me talk about what I did instead of sending me home showed me they cared. It made me want to work harder to not get in trouble.  

The teachers would give me great advice, like if someone curses at me they tell me to calm down and walk away or talk to someone. At the group home, the girls would tell me the right things to do, like sisters. It took a few months. I’d still be hitting people and not listening to their advice. People kept telling me that it’s not going to help me in life if I keep fighting so I started listening.

One time I felt like everyone was picking on me when we got together to express ourselves to each other. They kept telling me the things I was doing wrong. “You keep cursing, you keep rolling your eyes at me, you keep giving me attitude.” I was mad because I felt like they were all picking on me and they were trying to get me in trouble. It made me feel lonely and left out. I said I feel like AWOLing, which means running away from the group home. I don’t think I would really have AWOLed because I would have gotten in trouble and they would have called the police, but I was just saying it to get attention. They said, “Don’t do it because you’ll get in trouble. It’s not worth it. Take a minute to think it through.” It showed me they cared.

I started talking more to them about stuff that goes on in school, like if I broke up with somebody. Sometimes my mom wouldn’t come visit me on the weekends because she didn’t have the money for the bus. I’d talk to the staff and the girls and tell them I felt sad because my mom didn’t come. They’d say, “You’ll be fine, you’ll see her.” I knew that I could express myself to them and they wouldn’t judge me.

The staff said, “You need to start writing your feelings down because if you hold them in it will make it worse.” I started journaling every day. It helped to get my feelings out in words. Then I’d rip the paper, which helped me get my anger out.

I also started listening to music after school, like while I’m doing my homework. I listen to all kinds but I like rap the best because it gives you messages, like no matter what you can change, or if you do something wrong don’t make it a big deal, take it one step at a time. 

I don’t get angry like I did in the past. I don’t cut anymore. I’m not getting into fights with people and I can solve problems on my own without the teachers.

A few months ago, when a student tried to tell me some gossip about another student, I said, “Don’t tell me about that because it’s none of my business.” If I knew, the other student would have thought I said something about them and I could have gotten into a fight. I felt relieved because I knew I had done the right thing. I told the staff and they said I did a good job. I was so happy it felt like my birthday.

Before when I was fighting I didn’t have any friends. Now I have friends. Before I came to the Linden Center, I didn’t think I would graduate. Now I have As and Bs instead of Fs. I want to graduate high school, go to college and become a fashion designer.

It took a lot of work but I’m proud of how I’ve changed. I hope to go home by the end of the school year. I feel happy about my future.