Power of One iconPower of One
Ezra Alem

Before SB 5290 was implemented and passed, I participated in finding better solutions for vulnerable youth and young adults based on my own experiences. These issues are very important to me, both personally and professionally, due to how my life turned out. I have had a complicated and stigmatizing relationship with the juvenile justice and foster care systems — one that has left me feeling constantly targeted. Even hearing someone say my name triggers me into thinking that I did something wrong. When I was on the ‘run,’ I saw many things that I didn’t want to. The thing that impacted me the most was seeing children being abandoned. I couldn’t do anything to help those kids, because I did not know what to do. I was helpless and so were they. I was more worried for them than worried for myself.

Ezra Alem.adjI moved away from my family in another country at age six, then I left my family in the United States at age twelve. As a result, I felt done with the idea of family; for myself at least. My family experiences broke me, both mentally and physically. I felt I had to take care of myself. I felt that other children deserved a home and family, but I was destined to be on my own. Because I was in foster care already, I was given things that I didn’t want; loving foster placements and attempts to reunify me with my birth family. I couldn’t replace my family, nor did I want to. I was most comfortable with the idea of being on my own. If the adults responsible for my care had listened to my desire for independence and autonomy, I would have had fewer memories to suppress and less contact with the juvenile justice system.

“I was most comfortable
with the idea of
being on my own.”

Although it was long time ago, I have gotten used to frequent moves and feeling numb. It’s hard to establish connection with my own family and other people. Deep down, I feel this emptiness — like I don’t exist. I try to fill that void by always doing something new. When I’ve done something for a while, I move on to something that will distract me from my reality, or just to feel “real.” Things like going for a run or riding my motorcycle. My next activity is to go skydiving, and then snowboarding, or heli-snowboarding (it’s a real thing). These are things I didn’t get to do as a kid but heard other kids talking about — now I get to decide what to do next.

Foster youth are still children. They come from different backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences. Some need more family support than others and some need more independent living skills. If youth and young adults are expected to take responsibility for their actions and understand what they are doing is socially wrong, it is up to the community that acts as their parents to teach them rather than punishing them for not knowing. Let’s build them up rather than creating barriers. Let’s support and give them what they need, that way when they are adults, they can say, “I am ready.” The impact of our choices and the words we use, as lawmakers and as community supporters, affect the outcomes of youth in foster care today and in the future.

Back to Mockingbird Times