Heartbreak at START

my.operaLast Thursday was Victim Impact with young people in the START (Short Term Residential Treatment) program. This where juveniles land when all else fails, when probation conditions have been broken and less intensive interventions are not working. START is the last stop before full on detention in one of Texas’ lock-down facilities is ordered. The program is 90 days, includes peer-to-peer counseling, one-on-one counseling, group counseling, educational resources, parent inclusion and of course Victim Impact.

I have been doing Victim Impact for years now; you would think it would get easier to tell the story, it doesn’t. You would think it wouldn’t hurt so much; you would be wrong. Some days it is worse than others, there are days when my calendar pops up to remind, ready myself to make the drive to whatever facility I am speaking and my heart clenches, my eyes tear up and I think to myself, “what if I just call and cancel, say I am ill or have had a fatal accident.” I never do though, not once in all these years, no matter how much I didn’t want to stand up and tell the story.

Last week, was one of those days. I didn’t want to stand up and talk. I didn’t want to talk about what happened to my family. I didn’t want to talk about the three young men who ruined their own lives. Last week, I simply didn’t want to do any of it. Last week I found myself hard pressed to find compassion in my soul, the one thing I need when I look into the faces of these young people and tell my story.

Sixteen young men and one young woman marched single file into the room and took their seats. If I had to guess their ages, they were between fourteen and sixteen. None older than sixteen, none younger than thirteen, I have seen them younger but I have never seen them older. These are hard young people; they have seen the world through the prism of indifference, anger, hunger, bad schools, racism, drugs, violence, the foster care system and a host of other things most of us can never imagine, not in our wildest and worst nightmares. This program, it is their last shot before they are permanently marked as unsalvageable and outside of societies care.

Image Tradenewswire.net

Image Tradenewswire.net

Despite the admonishment to sit up straight, they slouched down in their seats staring at their own or my feet. There was a rumble through the introductions; my audience clearly did not want to be in this small cramped room to hear what I had to say. Well, honestly, the feeling was mutual but nevertheless here we all were and we were going to get through this together.

When you look at me what do you see?

Every time I start the same, it breaks the ice and helps me understand how far in the process each group is. Their answers rarely differ much, though sometimes we have some fun. This group, they were more observant than most:

  • Scars, you have had a hard life.
  • Tattoos, a few were showing despite being mostly covered by sleeves and pants.
    • ‘You’re OG aren’t you?’
  • Lots of piercings.
  • You thick (said quietly until I made him speak up) then there was lots of laughter.
  • You dress good.
    • I said well and got blank stares, so I explained.
  • You white.
  • You hard but you smile.
  • You seem like you smart.

That was the list. There were a few more, mostly about my clothes, my hair, my eye color. The list is so they can think about it as I talk and so I can reference it when I am done, so I can make my own list.

The story is always the same; it doesn’t change how could it? Slowly their attention begins to shift from the floor to me. This also isn’t unusual; I am a good storyteller able to speak to them in a language they understand with characters they might have known. The protagonists could be them, the victim not a hero but someone they can see. I don’t hold them for ransom keeping the spotlight all to myself instead I allow discussion throughout.

We talk, I answer their questions; some are silly. Yes, it does hurt to be shot. Some are not silly and I have answered this one more than once, No, I do not regret offering to help a young man I thought was in trouble, though the outcome was something terrible. Some questions are hard though I am asked every single time I speak; No, I do not hate Black people, no I am not afraid of Black men young or old, no I do not even hate my offenders.

Then I was asked a question that broke my heart.

“Do you ever wish you hadn’t lived, with all the pain you have suffered since then; do you ever wish you hadn’t survived?”

The question stunned me. I looked into the eyes of this young man, he couldn’t have been more than fifteen, his eyes held such pain. My heart cracked a little bit as I tried to draw air into my lungs and search for the right answer to give. The real answer was, ‘yes, in the early days sometimes I did wish that.’ This though was my answer.

‘No, I don’t regret living. I don’t even regret the pain; it reminds me I am alive. If I hadn’t lived, I would have missed all the joys in my life. Like seeing, my sons marry and holding my grandchildren, like falling in love, more than once. If I hadn’t lived, I wouldn’t have known what it meant to be stronger than I ever knew was possible, overcoming more than I thought possible, learning to walk again and the great joy of going dancing again for the very first time. No, I don’t regret living.’

In that moment, I felt my compassion finally bloom.

I stared at that young man, but at all the young people in the room. I told them again, they had great worth; they were worth more than they believed and they could choose to be more. I told them again I believed and that was why, even when I didn’t want to, I got there and I stood up and talked to them. They asked how I climbed out of where I started from; I told them I read books. They asked what books, I gave them reading lists. I don’t lie to them, I tell them truth about my life, where I came from and what I did that I was really one of them at one time, ‘A real OG.’

Two hours and some change later, I gave them my list:

  • Mother
  • Grandmother
  • Sister
  • Aunt
  • Friend

When they can see a stranger on the street, see instead of ‘other’ they are the same, then they will begin to understand empathy and compassion. By the end though, that is what they saw in me. They didn’t care I wouldn’t tell them my race or ethnic heritage, only that I told them it wasn’t important. They didn’t care that I wouldn’t tell them my religion, only that it informed me.

In my hour-long drive home, I couldn’t stop thinking of some of these young people, the ones who might make it and those who likely wouldn’t. The ones who fronted to look hard but asked questions that told a different story. I weep, for them and for us. We fail them, each time we cut back on education and services, when a young person says to me his only option is to commit crimes if he and his siblings are going to eat that day, I weep. When a young man hangs his head and repeats my story of delinquency, foster care and running away, holding his head in his hands; I know it is his story. I weep. When a young man begs for a reading list because his school isn’t serving him, hungry for knowledge and way out, I weep.

Argicles.businessinsider Image

Argicles.businessinsider Image

 

So should we all weep. But when a young man asks if I sometimes wish I hadn’t survived, then my heart breaks because no fifteen year old child should know that much pain. Ever.

 

Victim Impact the Series: https://valentinelogar.com/category/series-victim-impact/

The Story: https://valentinelogar.com/category/series-crime-and-punishment/

Comments

  1. Reading this type of post really hurt me. I just think on my little children…

  2. That was a heartbreaking read. Children shouldn’t have to suffer the way they do, yet it is they who bear the brunt of society’s injustices. I admire you for what you do Valentine…..I can imagine the toll this must take on you. You are their angel. Bless you.

    • Thank you Madhu, I don’t know that I am their angel so much as their wake-up call. We meet on solid ground though, I am different from what they expect and different from others who talk to them. I think it helps, I have walked in their shoes, don’t judge them and want their success more than expect them to fail.

  3. I think it’s amazing that you do this–that, despite the pain of revisiting certain moments, you do so for a greater benefit. I am especially touched by this post, with your blooming of compassion. I know it cannot be easy, but it is magnificent. I love you and the hope that inspires you to push forward with these visits even when getting yourself there is a challenge. You inspire me.

  4. Thanks for sharing your powerful, impactful story with them, as well as us. I was guided here by friend Amaya. I am glad I am came. Best wishes to your strength to dig deep and retell your story and make a difference. BTG

  5. I knew as soon as I started reading this post Val you would have me in tears by the end of it.. And sure enough eyes are full to the brim, I had to take five before commenting..

    You said a while back you didn’t feel strong, you didn’t feel courageous… Well every time you step into a Victim’s Impact programme room.. There you show your true grit… and if by suffering all you did Val you help just One of those abused and confused teenagers whose life has dealt them a raw deal which has resulted in their embitterment and lack of self worth… Then the heart break you suffered can then also show how it can be mended and healed…

    Reaching out and showing others compassion, and also showing them that you can come from being homeless and in a similar place and make something with your life.. Its not an easy road.. And your roads I know have been far from easy… But one thing I do know Val, its this…
    Your Life may have been a one roller-coaster ride of ups and downs.. But your Heart has never been in Question as being in the right place through out all of your journeying…

    Love and Blessings Sue xox

    • Sue, your gentle reminder even today when I am feeling a bit trodden upon, it helps. You are so right, it is only one that makes it worthwhile. If it is more I am so blessed. Thank you.

      Val

  6. Reblogged this on BrabbleRabble and commented:
    Please visit Valentine’s blog and read this beautiful and so very powerful post. Her courage and compassion will move you to tears.

  7. I used to regret surviving, as that 15 year old expressed to you. Now I am grateful. I see you as a good friend Val and I value friendship so much.

    • He didn’t express his own regret, only questioned whether I regretted my own survival Christy; that in itself was frightening to me. Like you though, I am also and always grateful, for your survival as well. Like you, I value the friendships I make and hold them dearly.

  8. ***No, I don’t regret living. I don’t even regret the pain; it reminds me I am alive.***

    Your. VOICE))) Makes. A. Difference.

    WOW.

    I Love you. xx

    • I love you right back. XOXO

      You know Kim, I keep getting reminded recently of these very hard lessons. I am stopped in my tracks, I am literally breathless at times. I live in utter panic right now. Then I am pulled up short and someone says something or does something and I am stopped and reminded, I am here, standing and fear is simply something we walk through.

  9. What you do Val, always blows me away… if none of those children ever make it, they have still had the experience of being in company with a great person, one with compassion and courage and goodness. you must be an inspiration to them. and the memory of you must sustain them in tight times. with love, Valerie

    • Their lives are so hard, Valerie I suspect that brief two hours fades from memory as they struggle just to survive. It makes me sad. I hope something I say sticks, I do. I hope the reading list gets read, or the truth that I believe they can not only survive but climb out, that they believe it and do it. But truly, if it is only one, I would be grateful. I always hope for more, but always if it is only one it is worth it.

  10. I don’t think I’ve the strength or the restraint to do what you do, Val, and I admire you for that.

    • I suspect you have both, you are kind, compassionate and full of great empathy. I always admire you for your insight into humanity. I would bet you would be there and you would see the great capacity of these children for good if only given the opportunity. Thank you Eric, but I think you would be there also.

  11. I imagine it’s always painful for you, Val. (I won’t say I “know” because I don’t.) Yet, it’s so critical for the young ones to hear from people like you, so maybe they can think again about their futures. I feel the most critical statement is that, while your assailants damaged your life, they ruined their own lives. They’ll forever have that mark of criminal on them. But, you’ll forever have the label of survivor on your soul – one you can proudly brandish. Thanks for this piece.

    • It is strange, some days are fine other days, like last week are truly a struggle. I don’t know why this is. I agree, the youth they need to hear the stories and they need to hear from people who can say to them, ‘I was like you, I didn’t stay down.’ I am not blowing my horn, it is a simple pragmatic truth. That young man though, he shattered me. Truly what we are doing to our young people it is terrible and it is forever sometimes.

  12. My brother is a probation officer in the correctional system here. His job is to counsel those who are going through the kind of transition you mention in personal and group sessions. He has been attacked and wounded but still feels it worth while to try and rehabilitate these unfortunate troubled youth. The stories behind each case are tragic and sometimes overwhelm him but he feels it worth the effort. But you can do this having gone through tragic experiences yourself so your efforts would be even more helpful. You are a very brave soul and have my respect for what you are doing.

    • It is worth the effort, I am certain of it though not always before I get there. Sometimes it is simply overwhelming. I don’t know Ian, brave doesn’t feel right, determined feels more like the robe I put on. Thank you though. Your brother, he does good work too. I work with the PO’s in the facility, the ones who work with the kids it is a choice they make it isn’t an easy one.

  13. It’s great you’re involved. It takes chosen folk to do this type of work. Not easy at all. Sadly, these young folk have a rough patch very early on. They’re angry at 5 and that’s just the way it is until those positive messages register, if they do at all. What amazes me are the natural talents they have but it’s overlooked on account of always being in survival mode.

    I salute you for this holy work you choose to do.

  14. Jueseppi B. says:

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

  15. This was so powerful, Val. You ARE a smart lady, but you are far more than that . . . you are wise. The question he asked was earth rattling. And yet, you handled the question carefully and delivered a compassionate response, knowing fully well every word would be weighed. That moment was so precarious.

    Thank you for continuing to share these experiences with us. It’s safe to say most of your readers wouldn’t ever step into such a room–not to give a speech or even simply observe. Most would feel fear and/or disdain for the group. You’ve shown us that even in a place of last resort, empathy is possible.

    I have no more words–just gratitude to you for the (real) work you do.

    Luv,
    Sue

    • The real work I do, oddly when I started my family begged me not to all of them except my heart mother. She, just nodded her head and said to me wisely, ‘God picks his angels from the strangest fields’.

      Given our very different belief systems, I smiled and hugged her. I told her it would be fine, I would be fine. Here I am all these years later, hoping she is proud of me. Wondering if one of them will one day stand where I stand, reach out and pull someone else along.

      Thank you Sue.

      • I’m sure she is proud of you, Val. All you need do is try to get through to them. If you get through to one, it will make all the difference in the world. No doubt other lives will be saved. All you need do is try. The rest is up to them. Angels or not, every person has free will to make their own choices; sometimes they just need to be reminded that their lives are not entirely left to fate.

        Sleep well, angel. You’ve done a good day’s work.

  16. Whenever I read these pieces it takes me time to collect my thoughts enough to comment.

    First of all, it is a wonderful thing you do, Val, and at great cost to you and your heart. I understand your desire to do so — especially with your own background as a troubled teenager. It is a gift that you give these kids. And while I imagine there are some you don’t reach, well, then I think that perhaps they would not be receptive to anyone. But most, I am certain, hear you and remember the lessons you’re teaching them.

    Selfishly, I’m glad you survived. I am honored to know you my friend.

    • It is a gift they give to me Elyse, isn’t that odd? I always say, each time I walk through the door, whether with the young people or the adults, give me just one and it is worth it, just one. I wonder often what happens to them, do they make it? I hope they do. It is so hard out here. I remember their faces for days, sometimes weeks; some so hopeless and then, they will smile or crack a joke and I remember they are just kids. Kids, just like I was, scared and lost. I wish there was a way to save them all.

      So then I just remember, just one more if I can, but it is worth it if I can have just one.

      Thanks Elyse, I have always been grateful for your friendship.

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