home for the holidays.
there are songs about it. hallmark makes a fortune selling cards either affirming the practice or lamenting ones ability to get there. its something i look forward to with great anticipation. however, this year, while i was sitting in my dad’s recliner that he never actually sits in when i’m home, eating a dinner lovingly and deliciously prepared by my mother, while enjoying silly conversation with my 6.5 year old niece and nephew, i thought back to the youth we have had the chance to talk about over the last semester.
what does it feel like to experience the holidays without a home? something i always take for granted. something that seems to me to be as special a time in the year as any, that i have, for the first time stopped to think, that many do not enjoy. learning too early that santa only brings presents to some people (perhaps not in the foster home or group home, certainly not in prison or juvenile detention centers). or perhaps of being in a foster home, away from siblings, extended family and parents. wishing you had such a luxury to go “home to the holidays”. perhaps not even able to comprehend what that might look like.
and i enjoyed my time even more. but with a hint of guilt, or sadness. at the experiences, holidays being just one, that i have always known and take for granted which i am now keenly aware is not the case. and i wonder what it is like to not be home for the holidays. not have a home to go to, or even if you do, not be able to get there.
soon after the joy of christmas we welcome the new year. hallmark sells more cards filling us with the rhetoric that it is a time of new chances, new opportunities, where anything we dream can be true. yet, once again, that rhetoric is only true for a select few. those who perhaps didn’t have many struggles in the previous year, or even if they did, were surrounded by the warmth of home, support and family needed to overcome. but to add salt to a fresh wound, we celebrate new opportunities and new chances with people who have little to no control over their outcome. who rely on other adults to make their future better and brighter. and while the world celebrates opportunities and fresh starts, they are left with the same slate, the same past, the same obstacles as they had at 11:59.
happy new year.
full of promise and opportunities and new beginnings.
Many of my posts in the past have revolved largely around the foster care system, however, just tonight, I came across an interesting article on Gawker, “Letters From Death Row: Ray Jasper, Texas Inmate 999341“. As it is said in the article, every year, Hamilton Nolan sends a letter to each person on death row set to be executed in the upcoming year. The above linked letter is the first reply. I don’t pretend to be able to add anything meaningful to Mr. Jasper’s response. It is beautiful and poetic. I also don’t plan to take a stance on the death penalty. However, I do think that there are many, MANY important conversations that need to be happening that are not happening. May I also recommend another book to follow your reading of Mr. Jasper’s letter: Autobiography of an Execution. Learning more about the Death Penalty, setting aside even the question of guilt or innocence and instead engaging in a conversation about justice is something we cannot avoid in the new year, or any year. It’s one I most certainly look forward to having.
While looking for some reading to pass the time over Thanksgiving Break, I came across the novel, Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital a non-fiction account of twelve patients encountered by Dr. Eric Manheimer during his time as the medical director at Bellevue. Though I wasn’t aware when I picked it up, the second chapter entitled “Tanisha” is the story of a young girl in the foster care system who found her way to Bellevue.
Though I could spend this entire blog simply summarizing the chapter, I will instead encourage you to read it, and will devote this space to a reflection on Tanisha’s story. Though I had no idea this story was hidden in this book, and it was only a small portion of the entire book, its memory lingers with me.
Tanisha had spent sixteen of the seventeen years of her life in foster care, with the exception of one home, that of Abuela, the only loving and supportive home that Tanisha ever had, only to be removed after Abuela’s death. Tanisha was then placed in an abusive home followed by neglectful home in a cyclical pattern that was without end. Though Tanisha’s stories of abuse, neglect, and horror haunt me still, there are so many positive, yet cautionary lessons that are to be taken away.
First and foremost, Tanisha was a fighter. She advocated for herself. She did not give up on herself. She was strong willed, intelligent and even when placed in vapid surrounds, kept herself sharp and alert. It is what allowed her the ingenuity and wherewithal to walk herself from Flatbush to Manhattan and to ACS in order to avoid either being killed or killing someone in self-protection. I say this only to say that there are some positive results to this story, but not all of the children put into foster care who experienced these same misfortunes would necessarily find the same conclusions. To do so takes a uncrushable spirit like that of Tanisha.
Secondly, “Dr. Eric” as he is so lovingly called, went far above and beyond what is expected? required? of doctors. Tanisha wasn’t his patient, but he went out of his way to learn about her story, to not give up on her, to find a way to extend her stay in Bellevue in order to afford her a safe place to stay, to buy her notebooks and both model and encourage her to write down the thoughts and feelings, but also to follow through on that act…reading what she wrote, taking it seriously. I want to call his actions heroic in some sense, but instead, perhaps they could be more appropriately labeled as “aware” or “available.” He never gave up on finding Abuela’s daughter and talking to her, telling her about Tanisha, taking the one in a million chance that perhaps they would be willing to take her back into the family. His actions, if nothing else were most certainly out of the ordinary. I wonder, and am glad I won’t have to know, what would have happened to Tanisha had it not been for the hospital staff and most notably, Dr. Eric.
Because it is impossible to avoid this revelation, Dr. Eric goes out of his way to find Abuela’s daughter who had held the family together, and to offer Tanisha’s story to her, and ask her to consider being a foster family to Tanisha. They found ways to keep Tanisha in Bellevue in order to avoid her being put back into the system before a decision could be made. They never gave up on a happy ending for her, and in the end she did get her happy ending. And the reader walks away feeling as if justice has prevailed.
But I think more critically now. Tanisha is one girl. And granted not every child in foster care has this traumatic experience. But for those who do, what about the many children who cannot get themselves to Bellevue? Who cannot find their way to a Dr. Eric to be listened to, protected, and advocated for in a way that they were unable to do for themselves. Where are they now? How many are there? How do we reach them? What outlets do they have now to reach out to people who can provide them the support and help they need? I hope others will have a chance to read this chapter and reflect upon these same questions as they pertain to court-involved youth, in particular those involved in the foster care system.
I recently came across the article about Davion, a 15-year-old orphan living in St. Petersburg, Florida. Having spent his life in the foster care system, Davion took a pastor’s message that God helped people that helped himself, and therefore took to a local church to make a plea that someone adopt him.
This story caused me to take pause to think about both Davion’s bravery, but also how discouraging it is that the children in our foster care system feel the need to take to a pulpit, a platform, a stage to market themselves as valuable humans worthy of a home and family, something so many take for granted. To stand in front of a group of strangers hoping that one of them might want you or know someone who might want you is utterly heartbreaking.
At the time of this post, Davion has not yet found a home, though it is reported that several people have inquired about him. This is discouraging to hear though as it would be a joyful ending that Davion had found a home but equally troubling at the precedent it would set. Would foster parents or foster homes take to “auctioning” off children, or exploiting them in some way to move them along? However it also raises the concern that perhaps the foster care system is too “out of sight out of mind” for most Americans, and Davion’s step to the front of the church is symbolic of how the entire foster care system should be a more central point of conversation and policy making in this country. However, in doing this a balance would have to be found that bring foster care to the spotlight without exploiting the children who are a part of it.
I hope Davion is matched with a family–someone to take him to football practice and provide him what he has waited so long to find. That would be my hope for every foster child. The question is, short of every child in the foster care system having to sell themselves on a stage, how do we take the burden and place the system on the stage instead?
- Florida Orphan Pleads for Family to ‘Love Me Until I Die’ (abcnews.go.com)