I have had a lot of sad things happen to me. My mom passed away when I was 7. I was abused by my grandmother. I didn’t have a chance to talk about how I felt so over time my anger built up inside me. I’d go off on people and curse at them. At the group home I’m at now I learned to express myself and get my feelings out. I don’t have as much anger. I don’t hold on to my past as much anymore.
When my mom passed away, me and my four sisters went into foster care because my dad was in jail. We went to live with my grandparents. They added on two rooms and a bathroom so the house would be bigger and we all could stay there. I was excited that we got to stay together. My grandma treated us like we were princesses. She would buy us nice clothes and always told us she loved us.
But after a year she changed. She started smoking around us and drinking at night after dinner. When she was drinking she would yell a lot and then she started hitting us. It could have been the pressure from having to take care of so many kids but I don’t know.
When my sisters and I were arguing she would tell us she didn’t love us. My grandpa would tell her to stop and leave us alone but she didn’t care what he said. When I did something wrong, even if it was the littlest thing, like picking on my sisters because they were picking on me, she’d yell, “I wish you were never born.” I would run to my room and start crying. I’d think about my mom. I wished my mom was still in this world and I could go home with her.
I didn’t know it was wrong for her to hit me. I thought I deserved it because I had done something wrong so I didn’t tell anyone. I finally realized that what she was doing was not right when she started spanking my 2-year-old sister. I think my older sisters didn’t tell anyone because they were scared of my grandma. But I thought I should tell somebody. I told my social worker that she was hitting us but he didn’t believe me because I was a little girl. After a while I felt, “They’re not going to move me, there’s no point in trying anymore.” I was scared we weren’t going to get out of there.
I was mad at everyone—God, my mom, my grandma. I’d think, “I hate her.” I held my anger inside of me.
By age 10 I was tired of being hit. I wanted to escape. I wanted to run far away and tell somebody. One afternoon I put my stuff in my backpack and tried to walk out of the house. I got to the door and my grandma grabbed me by my hair. “Where do you think you’re going?” “I’m leaving,” I said. She punched me on my back three or four times. I was scared because I knew that wasn’t going to be the last of it. Later that night when she was drinking she got out the belts. She said, “You stupid girl, you’re a disgrace to our family,” and she started hitting me with the belts. I ran to my room and cried. I didn’t understand why she was hitting me. I wanted her to talk to me and tell me what I did wrong, like a good parent would do.
We were finally removed when I was 11 after my sister told her teachers that she was being abused. The teachers reported it to social workers. After they saw her bruises they came to take us away. We packed our stuff and left with the social workers.
I moved a lot because of my bad behavior
We were split into three foster homes. For the next three years, I moved around a lot, from foster home to group home to foster home to group home. I kept getting kicked out because I had a lot of anger and was yelling and fighting. I didn’t know how to let my anger go without taking it out on other people. I couldn’t control it.
I had nobody to talk to. I was in a foster home but it wasn’t the same as my real family. I felt like someone was there to put a roof over my head and feed me, that’s it. I wished I had parents to help me, to understand me. I wanted my sisters and my mom and my dad to be together again.
My anger was like a waterfall, it couldn’t stop once I got frustrated. My foster mom’s daughter would pick on me and I’d argue with her. One time she told my foster parents that I was stealing from my teachers and they believed her. I jumped on her and I started punching her in the face. I yelled, “You stupid b****.” She was screaming for help. My foster mom pulled me off.
My foster mom put me in my room and said I was grounded. Every time her daughter passed by me I’d say, “Stupid idiot, see what you did. Are you happy now?”
Four months later my foster mom said she couldn’t handle the fighting anymore and said I had to leave. I moved to a group home, which is a house where you live with other foster youth and adult staff.
The staff at my group home had an attitude of “I don’t care about these kids.” When I had just turned 14, after I’d been there six months, I got kicked out of my group home for threatening the manager. She had called my new social worker a b**** and I went off. My social worker picked me up. I knew I wasn’t going back to my group home.
When I came to my new group home, called Maryvale, I was worried it was going to be just like my old group home. But it was different.
The staff at my old group home told the staff at Maryvale that I was a very angry girl and threw tantrums. I wanted people to look at me differently. I wanted to show them the good side of me. I was trying to be good but I still had a lot of anger so it was hard.
The staff would tell me to do activities with the other girls or clean my room and I’d refuse because I didn’t want to. We all lived in the same room when I lived with my mom. I was never taught to clean my room. They’d tell me I was going to lose my privileges, like going out for lunch or to the mall. I’d cuss at them. “You stupid a**holes” or “You stupid b****.” They’d say, “That’s OK, I know you’re mad.” Then I would get even madder because I couldn’t get them mad at me.
The staff didn’t give up on me
Later, after I’d calmed down, Sandra P., Stacey, Debbie or Charlene would come and tell me, “I know you’re mad but we’re going to get through this with you.” Or “I know you can do it.” At first I’d still be really mad and I didn’t want to accept their help. But after thinking about it for a long time I realized, “Wow, they really do care.” No matter how much I hurt them they kept coming back to help me.
When they told me to clean my room, I stopped getting so angry. I’d ask, “Can I go to the private safety room, to relax a little before I clean my room?” They’d take me. It’s a place where you can be alone. I’d sit there or kick the wall. It helped me get out my frustration. When I came back to my room I would pick up little things but I still didn’t understand how to clean my room. Most of the time I’d throw my stuff into the closet.
I finally told Stacey why I had trouble cleaning my room. I told her I didn’t know where to begin. She said, “I want to help you.” I felt like she was my mom.
She told me to start with my shelves, take everything down and dust, then put everything back neatly. Then pick up the clothes, shoes and trash from the floor. I tried and I got a little better each time. I thought, “I can do this.” It made me want to get back my privileges.
I’d been there four months when Debbie told me she wanted me to write a list of what I could do instead of yelling and cursing at the staff. We sat down and made a list of coping skills, which are what I can do when I need to use something other than my anger, like go for a walk, jump rope, run or make keychains.
When the staff saw me getting irritated they would say “coping skills, Juliana, coping skills.” Right away I’d be like, “OK, time to get it together.” I usually went outside for a walk or made keychains.
I was starting to do better, not yelling at staff as much and getting in trouble. I got more privileges and that made my attitude a lot better. When I was upset or angry I would talk to Debbie or Stacey. I’d say, “I’m frustrated with so and so.” I would tell them what somebody had done or said to me. I noticed that I wasn’t as angry and I didn’t keep things bottled up inside of me. I felt like being at Maryvale was helping me.
My attitude was slowly being repaired but I’d still sometimes get frustrated when staff would tell me to use my coping skills. It was hard and I didn’t always want to.
Over the summer I was angry because my aunt said she didn’t have time to see me. I went to Debbie and started talking to her. She said I had to stay in my room for an hour because I was on restriction. I started cussing at her.
“You never understand me, you stupid b****.”
“Go ahead, call me anything you want.”
“I’m always going to be there no matter what you call me.”
I walked away and went to my room. After I calmed down I thought,
“I’m cursing my staff out again. What am I doing?” I went back to her and apologized. She said, “I’m still there for you kiddo.” I smiled and then I started crying out of happiness. I was really happy that she forgave me. I knew my family wasn’t there for me but it made me happy that I had people who were always going to be there for me, no matter what.
I’m calm and friendly now
Every week I see my therapist, Liz. We talk about my past. She tells me she knows I have a lot of losses but I have to look at the bright side. Without them I wouldn’t be the calm and respectful person I am today. It helped me let go of a lot of my anger.
I’ve been at Maryvale for a year and a half. I feel like everything’s different now. I’m friendly and strong. I like to introduce myself to people. I’m easy to get along with. I talk to the other girls when they have problems. I tell them, “I’m here if you need help.” One time a girl wanted to approach the girl who had started a rumor about her and asked me to go with her. I was giving support. She thanked me afterward. It made me feel better knowing that I helped somebody.
I’ll never forget what my grandmother did but I’ve learned to forgive. If you hold grudges you’re going to fall apart like I did. Try to work toward forgiving people and don’t keep your anger inside you. I’ve had a rough life but I’m going to walk way from all the bad stuff my family did to me and live a happy life.