If you had asked me at the age of 7 what my meaning of home was, I probably would’ve answered with “I don’t know.” When I turned 7, I was taken from my father and placed into a foster home. I remember my social worker telling me that I was going to a sleepover for a few days. Even though I didn’t know this lady, I believed her.
As the strange lady walked me out the front door, I saw tears in my father’s eyes. He told me to be brave and to always remember that he loved me and that no matter what happened I would always be his little girl. I didn’t know why he was crying, but I didn’t like seeing him like that. He kept begging the lady not to take me away, but she didn’t listen to him. I remember sitting in the backseat of the lady’s car, next to my brother Dragan.
I remember the two-hour car drive to the stranger’s house where the sleepover was taking place. I remember the smiles on the parents’ faces as they showed us our rooms.
I remember the paralyzing fear I felt when I realized I was never going home to my father again. I would never have a normal childhood.
These people weren’t my parents. They were complete strangers. I begged the lady to take me home, but she just smiled and said that their place would be my home from there on.
I remember crying myself to sleep for the next three weeks. I remember the first beating and the second and third beatings, too. I remember the trips to the emergency room and the lies they made me tell. I remember being bounced around to different homes and going through it all as if I was stuck in an endless loop.
It went on for the next four years. Each place was worse than the last.
I remember getting into trouble at school because I was too afraid to go back home with those horrible people. I found my home a few days later in the local library one day after being locked out of the house.
It was my love for reading that saved my life. Reading became my way out.
I knew I couldn’t escape the homes and brutal foster parents physically but reading allowed me to escape mentally as I dived into new worlds and adventures.
Books had become my new meaning of home. I remember being able to read at a college level before the age of 12 and getting good grades. I remember spending the sixth grade wanting to attend Berkeley college because I had just finished reading a book about a social outcast attending Berkeley who was never happier. My teachers said I would do great at a school like that. I was Berkeley bound.
A few years later I got into some trouble and ended up on probation. I served 2½ years in a juvenile detention center. That was where my life was truly changed.
I remember the lead attorney in my case being awful at her job and saying that she could care less about where I ended up because I never mattered to society anyway.
I remember hating her for saying those things. I remember I gave up believing in my dreams after that. That night my father’s words crawled into my dreams and put me back on track. “Never give up, never back down, and never let them see you beat because then they win. Show them you’re strong and that you can’t be easily broken.”
The next day I was released out of court with a new start. Unlike my attorney, my judge had faith in me. She believed I wasn’t a bad person, and that I didn’t belong behind bars. Judge Hill never sentenced her clients to placement. She always sent her caseloads to camp, but not me. I was always sent to placement. I never got sentenced to anything longer than six months because Judge Hill believed in me. She trusted me, and I remember how the one court day when my attorney didn’t show up the judge stated that she felt my attorney wasn’t properly doing her job.
In that instant we connected on a level no one would ever understand. From there on, she would bring in chocolate for me every court date, and we would talk about things completely irrelevant to my case. She would bring in five books for me every week because she cared about my education.
All this time later, it’s clear Judge Hill was like a mother to me, especially since I never actually knew my biological mother. The day I was released, she came down from her stand and gave me a hug.
She told me to never forget who I was and to never give up on who I want to be. She was the reason my life changed for the better, yet before I left the courtroom, I turned to the lead attorney in my case and thanked her, because if it wasn’t for her, I would’ve never have wanted to become a lawyer for at-risk youth.
I told her that I would graduate from Berkeley Law School and become a lawyer for at-risk youth, and that I would make sure that my clients knew I would help them no matter what.
I’ll make sure no one has to go through what I did. Though I don’t have very many good memories of the past, I will do whatever it takes to be a good memory to someone else.
Rose M., 19, just finished her first semester of community college. When she’s not reading, she takes interest in making a difference and being there for her friends and family. She also enjoys causing trouble at the InsideOUT Writers office.