June 8, 2006
OVER THE LAST YEAR, I've had the opportunity to move through my fear and judgment and get to know a group of young men and women who have been labeled "troubled teens" or "at-risk youth" by school systems, law enforcement, the media and the public.
They've honored me with confidences about their difficult pasts and their hopes for a better future. And at my urging, eight of them have written (and rewritten and rewritten) the stories presented here. The authors attend the Blue Ox Community School, a place where they've found the safety and support they need to let down their defenses and work on their attitudes and behavior.
I believe their stories are representative of thousands of Humboldt County teenagers.
— Jim Hight
It Takes Skills to be a Teen Mom
by ANGELA SNYDER, 17
Little did I know that at 16, my abilities to multi-task and my organizational skills would be the most important strengths I would need to be a good mom.
Finding a job that would allow me to take my child to work was very difficult. And once I found that job, it took me weeks to get the hang of it without feeling like I was either neglecting my daughter or not doing my job. I was exhausted and ready to give up, but I decided to use the organizational skills I knew I had.
I work for a disabled woman who requires a lot of attention, but she enjoys playing with my daughter while I do some of my work for her around the house. The hardest part is that I do a lot of driving for her between Eureka and Arcata. I drive back and forth twice a day from her house to Mad River Hospital, where she goes to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
At first my daughter hated her car seat, then she would get hungry and cranky. Sometimes she throws her binky or sippy on the drive because she's not getting all of my attention.
Just to get ready for my day, I have to be very organized. I start with packing my diaper bag. These are some of the necessities on my daily list to pack: "Diapers, wipes, formula or pumped breast milk, bottles or sippies, binkies, food, hot outfit, warm outfit, cold outfit, socks and shoes, diaper rash ointment, blue nose-sucky thing."
To .get out of the house, I have Aariawna's sippy and formula sitting by the sink, the keys and diaper bag by the front door and our clothes lined up for the day.
Many other skills are needed to be a parent, especially when you are a teenager still in high school and working a job. I always feel like I'm running around all day, but trying to take the best care of my daughter is the most important task to me every day.
One life skill I never adjusted to well as a child was accepting change. When my doctor told me I was pregnant, I remember thinking, "This is going to be the biggest change of my life." I knew I was going to struggle adjusting. I spent almost my whole junior year of high school pregnant, I had my daughter on May 1, 2005. My whole life changed and became more difficult, but that was the decision I made.
Being a teen mom has taught me a lot. I can handle change better, and I see my daughter changing everyday. Being a teen mom means a long, busy day for me, but I'm thankful for the life skills I have and thankful for the life skills I have learned.
by J.P., 17
A few years ago I was ordered by probation to attend the Pyramid Program (a substance abuse counseling program). Even though I was ordered to attend, I was blessed to have had the experience. It was a three-month program, but it gave me knowledge that will serve me the rest of my life.
I learned a lot about the short- and long-term effects of drug abuse. Addiction is a very touchy issue with a lot of people in Humboldt. Chances are that someone very close to you has an addiction. You can become addicted to almost anything. I know people who are addicted to sex, food, coffee, stress and drugs.
Addiction is a sneaky soul-snatcher. Right when you think you have control of an addiction, it sucks the life out of you. You can see what addiction has done if you walk the streets of Eureka and observe many of the people. Tweakers and junkies all have one thing in common: Addiction has snatched their soul.
I have also suffered from addiction in different forms. Most of my teenaged life was spent in a dysfunctional relationship that I was unknowingly addicted to. I did not know how to live as an individual.
Eventually, I took that experience and learned from it. I learned that you can't keep another person happy with themselves when you don't know how to keep yourself happy.
The Pyramid Program was one of the many learning experiences that God has allowed me to go through in life. I am very grateful to have had Chris Evans (the program leader) as a friend, a positive influence and a person who I want to be accountable to.
by PAUL, 15
I always got in trouble a lot in elementary school. For some odd reason, I don't know why, I'd go around hurting other people. But of course I never got held back in school, not once.
Two weeks before I graduated from fifth grade, my principal left the school. But before he left, he told me that he was leaving because of me. I was happy and unhappy, and I felt like terrorizing other schools.
A year later, I got kicked out of Zane. It was because some eighth-grader pushed me against the office wall and hit me, and when he let me go I said, "If you touch me again, I'll bring a baseball bat to school and beat you through that wall."
The vice-principal was right behind me. I got kicked out for threatening a student, but of course I did not care because I still went up a grade. I went to a different school called EEA, and then I went to ADT, then I went to 5th & M (Community School). Now I'm going to the Blue Ox Community School.
Note that the Blue Ox Community School is not famous for its troubled teens. It's famous for what's inside the heart of a disorganized teen.
Baby Steps: the Life of a Teenage Cutter
by NAOMI RENé ROSE, 17
A lot of people come up to me, not knowing where I'm from or who I am. All they know is how I look. They ask me the question. My heart drops and I don't know what to say. I can't speak. I open my mouth, but nothing comes out! My mind starts racing, trying to find some kind of lie to tell them, something to hide the truth.
They ask me, "Why do you have scars down your arms?" I get scared to answer them; I don't want to break down in tears. So I tell them a lie, that I got the scars from something else.
When someone hears that I have tried to end my life, they come to me to ask if it's true. I don't want to answer them. In my mind I know that the answer is yes, but I don't want anyone to know the real me and the past that I had to live. So I say no!
I am a 17-year-old girl who has gone through more than most people will ever have to. I lost my father when I was a little girl. Drugs took over his life and he made really bad choices. Growing up as a child, I was Daddy's little girl. Then my Daddy was sent away, and we became pretty poor. I haven't seen my Daddy since that day.
Then I got with this guy when I was 13. He was nice at first, but as time went on, he became a person I didn't want. I tried to get out, but he was in control by that point, so I spent two years being abused, getting cheated on and losing my family.
One day I stood up for myself. He decided to teach me that I had no power against him. He came at me with a knife. I tried to fight back, but I was only 15 and only 100 pounds. There was no way I could stop him. He was 16 and 170 pounds. So he hurt me really bad that day. I had to face him the next day with a broken arm, stitches in my side from being stabbed and a black eye. I decided the only way out was to commit suicide.
I was taken to mental health services with two bandaged wrists. That's when more problems began. I got kicked out of school after that. I was always getting locked up. And I became a cutter.
In my mind life was not worth living at that point, so the cutting got a lot worse. I began doing it more often, and then the cuts got deeper.
I had been a cutter for about a year when I met Jamie. She never really said anything about my arms or asked me why I wore sweatshirts during the summer. Until one day, we were hanging out and she asked me the question. So I sat down with her and told her my story. I began to notice that it was hurting her to see me like that, so I began to cut less.
Then a program called Challenge Day came to my town, and our teachers asked me and Jamie to be leaders in this program. So at Challenge Day, people started talking about their problems. Jamie stood up and started crying, then she came up to me and got me to talk. So that day, in front of all the people there, I told my story.
About two weeks later I met a guy named Nick. We started going out. And I promised both of them, my boyfriend Nick and my best friend Jamie, that I would not cut anymore. I love them both very much, and I respect their thoughts on life.
I thank them for coming into my life and standing by my side. They saw their friend and girlfriend in trouble, so they jumped. I still have some problems, but I go to my friends and talk to them. They've taught me to love life and live happy, and I do! I have learned to live life in a different way.
Life is a gift. Don't waste a beautiful gift!
Judge People How You Want to Be Judged
by JAMES THURSTON, 17
When I was a student at Eureka High School, it was all right until some kids made fun of me because I was in a resource class. They thought I wasn't normal. This made me upset, and I did not want to go to school anymore. So I would get off the bus and instead of going to school I would go to a friend's house, or I just wouldn't go at all.
Then I started to get truancy letters and I had to go to SARB (Student Attendance Review Board) with my parents. I was not a bad kid, I just wasn't going to school, so SARB didn't really do anything and I went back to EHS.
At the end of my sophomore year, I was doing better because I wanted to get on the right track. Then one day a fight broke out in the locker room. I was just standing there watching these two kids going at it on the floor. It was not something you would like to see, two kids rolling around on the ground punching each other.
I didn't do anything because I didn't want to get involved. But later that day I got called to the office, and the principal, vice-principal and some other staff said I had something to do with the fight. I had no clue what they were talking about. I said a few choice words that weren't school-appropriate, then I made the decision to leave the school.
That's how I ended up coming to the Blue Ox. The Ox has helped me in many different ways. My grades are up. I have started a job since I have been here, and I like the hands-on projects.
Being here has helped me realize what school is about, and it has helped me to build up my self-confidence and become a better person.
You Could Lose Everything
by PAUL, 15
When I moved up here from Upper Lake, I thought that if I made some friends I'd be cool. But then I got into drugs and drinking. My attitude toward others started to change.
In my mind I thought I was doing the right thing but in my heart I knew I wasn't. I would go around talking smack, losing friends while on drugs like marijuana, purple chronic, orange chronic and everything.
I started staying out all night and not going home. But I just didn't care until I got locked up at Sempervirens for a day.
Every time I got stoned I would feel that I did not need my home, my parents and my family. But of course I was wrong. You really do need your home, your parents and your family. If you don't have any of that, you're nothing and you'll just end up in juvie or jail or prison. And if you're not careful, you could lose everything.
by SHAWN, 17
Why do I get high? My feelings just tell me to, but at the same time they tell me not to.
Most of the time I'm emotional and lonely, and I turn to marijuana as my friend. It mellows me out when I am hostile or upset, but at the same time it doesn't help me. Marijuana is my friend, but it's not.
My father passed away when I was 2 months old. My whole life I have never had a father figure and it hurts me so I don't know what to do.
I look around and see all these people with their dads and I wonder what life would be like if my dad was around today.
I need a father to support me in what I've got to do — like having my own kid, for instance. He would be there to help me out to feed and clothe my son. He would help me get a job and do sports. There are just so many things you need a father figure to help you out with.
Bad Choices 'n' Good Choices
by SHAWN, 17
I used to be the "I couldn't care less" kid, doing whatever I wanted to and not listening to what anyone else said. I hung out with the wrong crowd of people, doing things I shouldn't have done.
I was always depressed and angry and getting in trouble in school. One of the worst things I ever did was down south at a little itty bitty high school.
On my fifth day going there, someone dared me to throw an Ex-Lax into the teacher's coffee. I took a couple thoughts and decided I was going to do it. Why? I don't know.
The teacher's cup was almost empty when I did it, so when he went to take the last drink he saw the remains of the pill in the bottom of the cup. He almost had a heart attack because he thought someone was trying to poison him.
Later that day, another student snitched me off on a tape recorder. The police showed up and questioned me in the principal's office. Of course, I denied it until they pulled the tape recorder out and played the tape. Then I had no choice but to tell the truth.
Combined with another charge against me, they expelled me permanently — even after they found out the pill wasn't a narcotic.
I felt really bad about scaring the teacher. I gave him several apologies, and he forgave me, which I greatly appreciated.
After I got kicked out, I did home schooling for about seven months, then I convinced my mom to move back up north. I went to orientation at the 5th and M Community School, but I knew where I needed to be: Blue Ox, where I'd been before we moved down south.
I've made a lot of changes in the couple years since then, some of the most important changes I could make. I go to school every day, or almost every day. I do my work. My bad attitude is now gone, and I try to do positive things with my time.
Blue Ox is different from other schools because it is a project-based school where you do school work but also do a lot of hands-on work like blacksmithing, ceramics, welding and auto mechanics. It's a lot of fun.
Also, we're all pretty much family here at this school. People are understanding and willing to listen to your problems and try to work them out without degrading you or putting you down.
My life can still be difficult. Last year, I lost one of my good friends, Shawn Garfield. He was shot and killed over some female.
When I received the news that Shawn had been murdered, I broke down. I felt like a chunk of my life was gone. It hurts knowing I'll never be able to see him again.
I know who killed him, and it makes me hostile thinking about him. But I try not to think about it.
It feels good that I have all these people to help me out now at school. I don't get in trouble on the streets anymore. I maintain a good life and I'm just going to try to keep it that way.
I just want to thank everyone at the Blue Ox for helping me out over the two years I've been here. The teachers are the best I've ever had: Don, Jan, Eric, Viv and Laura. They have done wonders in this school.
by SHAWN, 17
Just a few days ago I received the news. At first I didn't believe it. I thought that it was a joke until I saw a picture of him. He looked identical to me when I was a baby. So I went out to Manila to see him.
When I got out there I talked for a little bit with Sarah, the baby's mother. The baby wasn't there at the time, he was with his grandpa. I was about to leave when Sarah's dad walked through the door with Jade. Sarah brought him to me and said "hold your kid," so I took him into my arms and held him tight. Right when I got him into my arms it was like he knew I was his dad. He looked into my eyes and smiled.
In that moment, nothing else in the world mattered to me. I felt like a million bucks. He didn't cry once when I held him, all he did was look in my eyes and smile.
I'd never felt that way before in my life, and I'm looking forward to raising my son. Every time I spend time with him I become more attached to him, like he's been around me my whole life. I want to start doing more things with my baby and his mom, but she lives out of town so that makes it hard. I'm thinking about having her move in with me or something.
Just the other night Jade and Sarah came and spent the night with me, and when we were all together that night I felt whole for once. You know what I'm saying? I would give my life to feel like that every day. Now I have what makes me the person I want to be.
I would like to take him to the photographer to get his pictures taken, and I'd like to take him to the mall to get clothes, and get him into sports and do everything for him that my dad could never do for me because he died when I was a baby.
Now it's time for me to get a job to earn the money to take care of my family. Jade needs toys and new clothes and shoes and all the standard necessities. I want him to have an awesome life, and as time passes by hopefully I can do that for him.
His mother and I are having some technical difficulties right now with each other, as far as talking to each other. I think it is because she thinks I'm not going to be there for Jade. She is wrong. It takes time and it just doesn't happen all in an instant.
I'm willing to delete everything else and just give all I've got for Jade and his mother, Sarah. I would like to succeed in life and now I've got my reason why: my baby.
Life Without a Father
by BRANDON, 16
When I was a baby, my life was messed up because my father was killed, and my mom had three kids to raise on her own.
When I got older my brother got me smoking cigarettes and pot and once in a while a drink of beer. As we got braver he wanted to turn it up a notch and steal stuff. We stole cars, broke into houses, stole marijuana, dirt bikes and other stuff to get money.
I ended up in juvenile hall seven times. I also was sent to the New Horizons regional facility. The regional facility was weird because it is for rehab people, and I was just there because juvenile hall was full.
The worst place was a group home. The kids there were punks, and they tried to molest me. If I owned the group home I would get a huge house and I would adopt a lot of kids, and one way or another I would guarantee that I would change their lives around.
Being on probation sucks, too. You can't even stay the night with your cousin without having to tell your P.O. You have to be in at a certain time. You even have to tell them the license plate number of the vehicle you will be riding in when you go camping or somewhere in the county.
It is really hard not having a father. If he was here today I am positive that I would not have ended up on probation and I would not be smoking cigarettes. I would be graduating and going to college.
My dad would not have let me get into trouble. He would have taken us all hunting or fishing, given us a job and our own house. He would have been a good father who would have kept us out of trouble no matter what.
When my brother turned 18 he went to county jail for grand theft auto. His life has changed around since he went there. He realized how serious his situation was when he was listening to the judge, who told him that if he messed up again he would do prison time.
When he got out, he told me that he didn't want me to end up in jail because it was horrible. So he helps me stay out of trouble. He also helps me get along better with my family.
When my sister and I fight, my brother will say, "come on," and we'll take a cruise down the road and wait until stuff cools down.
My brother, believe it or not, stops me from getting into trouble. I've gotten off probation again and I'm being a good kid and not getting into trouble anymore because he's being a good big brother.
Going to the Blue Ox School helps me too. The people that go here treat you like their brother or sister, with a lot of respect, and they don't mess with you. The teachers are good. They help you with whatever you need help with.
I Can Go On Without Him
by SARAH, 16
It all started at a party. From the moment I walked in the door, I couldn't take my eyes off of him.
I sat down and chatted with my friends to find out a bit more about him. No one really knew anything. After a few drinks I finally got the nerve to go talk to him. He seemed really nice and fun. We spent all night together and even hung out the next few days. To me everything was perfect.
After two weeks of dating, I started to hear things. Him dealing drugs, sleeping with girls a lot younger than him and even being in jail. Being the person I am, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I started staying with him, running away from home to be with him. Everything seemed to be going great, but not for long.
We started fighting, and the fights got worse. He was very controlling. I barely ever saw my friends. I quit going to school, and I even turned against my mom.
After a while my mom found out where I was staying and sent the cops to come and get me. While the cops were there, I found out a lot more about him. It was hard to sit there and listen to it all: the drugs, him being in jail and being a pedophile. I should have seen it before. After all, he was 21 and I was only 15.
I was being used. He took advantage of my feelings and my love. I would have done anything for him, but not now. It's all over and I want nothing to do with him.
When it ended, I felt everything get ripped away from me, but now I look back and see that in a way I just let it all go.
I had gotten so caught up in wanting to be loved that I didn't realize what I was doing. I was not only hurting myself, but the people around me. I was being selfish. All I cared about was me being happy, even if it meant hurting other people.
I was drawn into this relationship because he made me feel not just wanted but needed. I felt like I couldn't go on without him, that he was the only one who could ever love me like he did. The only one who could love me with all his heart.
Well, he didn't love me at all. The people that really love me are the ones here by my side to this day. The people who were there for me through everything, even when I pushed them away. People like my mother. If it wasn't for her I would probably still be with him and maybe even dead.
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