Dear Straight Talk: My stepfather has a son a year older than me who didn’t live with us because my stepdad didn’t have custody. Since we weren’t blood related, I had a crush on “Unknown.” I didn’t hear much about him for a few years, then sophomore year, "Unknown" was getting out of a troubled-teen boot camp and none of his family wanted him. My mom and stepdad took him in. Well, we had sex and I fell in love with him. Then we had a pregnancy scare and were going to run away. I don’t know what happened to me. I changed. My family found out and sent "Unknown" to foster care, but he kept running away from his foster home to see me, so the cops locked him in juvie. I know it’s not incest, but I let him go. Then we started writing letters and my feelings are back. He gets out in February. I love him but I don’t want my family to disown me. Help! — Arianna, Fresno, Calif.
Editor's Note: That Arianna refers to her stepbrother as “Unknown” speaks volumes. Let’s look at what we know about “Unknown.” He was separated from his bio father (who lacked custody) (and we have to wonder what that stemmed from), then his bio mother sends him to boot camp (a last resort for most parents, so we have to figure he’s into trouble, which means that he suffers emotionally or he wouldn’t be acting out). Then, nobody in bio mother’s camp wants him back when that’s over. So he’s shuttled off to Dad, who he hardly knows. Once there, this boy, obviously desperate for love (“to be loved is to be known”), finds it, albeit inappropriately, only to be punished with the ultimate banishment of being placed into a foster home — not because his original tribe is deemed incompetent, but because they don’t want him. Well, except for one person, who does know and want him: Arianna. Desperate to return to the only love he has ever known, “Unknown” runs toward that. For that “crime,” he is locked behind bars. We know he is close to 18, so upon release from juvie, even the smallest infraction, including seeking someone who loves him, will land him in jail.
We can further assume that his education, emotional development, and ability to learn has been severely stunted from all this trauma and he likely is nowhere near a high school diploma. After release, his ability to find a job to support himself with nowhere to live or family to help out, is low. Prison looms.
This is a typical biography of our incarcerated. This same genetic boy, born into different circumstances, would be on his school’s sport team looking at colleges right now.
They say that all a child needs to be successful is one unconditionally loving parent figure. Nothing: parental divorces, addictions, poverty, multiple moves, holds a candle to this. Unfortunately “Unknown” lacked this ingredient — through no fault of his own.
At this point in our narrative, let’s talk about ACE scores. “ACE” stands for “adverse childhood experience” and a person’s ACE “score” is their score on a series of 10 questions used to assess childhood trauma. The higher the ACE score, the more likelihood of depression, violence, drug and alcohol addiction, inappropriate sex, suicide and other social emotional problems — and chronic health problems later in life. I invite you to take the 5-minute ACE test and see how your own childhood traumas have affected you. I then invite you to consider how every kid in juvenile hall and many in the foster care system could benefit from having that one unconditionally-loving adult in their life. Could that person be you? It’s never too late for these kids — for them, it does take a village. —Lauren
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