Saturday, March 6, 2010

Babies Raising Babies

--------ORIGINAL MESSAGE--------
From: T.A. James
Sent: 2008-01-29 23:12:09
Subject: Message from T.A. James

A Voice for the Voiceless

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Do you really want to know what happens to children in state custody once they turn 18? This article addresses the problems associated with transitioning youth out of Child Services and into adulthood. 
I love your article "A Voice for the Voiceless,” keep up the great work in bringing attention to the not too stable system impact on children even to the age of what's considered adulthood.


Thank you so much for your words of encouragement!
I was voiceless once myself-- but keep checking my site—but decided around New Years and my 35th birthday that I was silent WAY too long and decided to start putting a few pieces of myself out there…

I guess at this point in my life-- I have realized that people need to know that abuse can happen anywhere to anyone even to children "like myself" (a high school drop-out turned Ivy League graduate) should not be discounted.
Born to a wealthy, Jewish family with what appeared to be the perfect breeding ground for success— I found myself on my own at 15. At 22 I learned that my child custody and support orders had been “respectfully” terminated by the courts— and there it was. Just me. No money, no place to go, and a father who is famous for his legal maneuverings and handiwork— however unethical it may be.

People just did not get it. For years. Most probably never will. I still have days where I wonder what I did to make them hate me so much that they would allow me to live with so little— homelessness, penniless, and suffering with an extremely painful medical condition at such a young age; while they have so much.
Millions, in fact. Millions on top of millions. Nevertheless, it happens— even in “political,” beautiful, wealthy, overeducated families like the one my mother still pretends to live in. Just last night, in tears, I asked my sister, an Ivy educated attorney who lives without the burden of student loans collection agencies, and medical bills that must be paid before I can even dream of putting the trauma of knowing that I simply was not important enough to be supported financially, emotionally, or medically.
You see the money was there— the desire to spend it on a mouthy teenager was not. So my case was unprecedented— and though Pennsylvania Act 62 and Blue v. Blue made it to the Supreme Court— I will never see the inside of a courtroom despite the overwhelming evidence (and ruling from the Insurance Department and the Department of Public Welfare that I did in fact have enforceable rights— if not as a child, as a so-called beneficiary on a faulty tax return and three health insurance policies that I could not use.
Yes, there were civil penalties I could have collected, but when your father is one of the most prominent attorneys in the region and the Judge who presided over the termination order— finding representation was near impossible. My mother signed away my rights and my future when I was only 15— I sometimes wonder what I could have done differently to make them care enough to see that my basic needs were met.
However, this was not about needs, this was about power, control, and a profound oversight from every single court and agency I contacted for help. My parents underestimated me. Then again— I underestimated myself too. I think my father would regret terminating my child support order — and in effect— my childhood— if he could see me today. He might even feel a little bit proud to know that I made it on my own and I have managed to make it this long without a dime from any of his offshore accounts.
And if could he could see inside my heart— maybe he would even want to know me or undo some of the actions that have left me broken but beautiful inside and out.

I wish he could see me right now. Who I am, who I have become, and how much I have lost living in the past. Me without the pain— without the memories— and without the questions. Without the debt. Without the shame. Without the shame and guilt, without being a burden on my family or the financial burden I clearly am to society….

I may find my way without my natural born family— but the further I move away, the closer they seem….

I know in my heart that I need to tell this story so no one will ever experience such total devastation due to ignorance of the law— or fear I feel when I think of the future.
Constantly wonder how we can turn our back on any child— but I need to know how they could turn their backs on me.
I am too old too be worried that I might be discovered for the "throw-away" child I once was.

Miss Desiree and Baby Niya

I have battled for years with shame over my lost years (you know, the ones that keep me awake at night and on my toes when I meet someone new; search the internet; or find myself trapped in a place— a memory that I can never truly escape. The words never fade, the wounds never heal, but I have hope that my experience and my voice will bring services (not just comfort and compassion) but compel people to ACT!

Somewhere between the child I never was and the person I am today… I developed skills. Not just fuzzy words and warm sentiments— but I actually learned how to get what I needed. But sadly, for me, it was too late. I have the basics— for the most part— I can get anybody from here to there, so why then can’t I do it for myself?

Thanks for the encouragement-- I was so afraid that I might compromise my professionalism or my ability to be taken seriously if people knew the truth about my past-- but your words and others who have seen what I am working on give me so much strength that I can channel into my work, and the children I encounter each day.

I was reluctant at first to publish that piece because I was afraid that people may see it as transparent and know that I am really telling my own story-- but the response has been so heartwarming that it almost makes up for the silent years where all I had were my journals, my truth, and myself.

Thank you again so very much-- I cried early this morning over the past, but I thank you for giving me the strength to go forward with the rest of my day as the person I knew in my heart I could become. I am revising something I wrote a few years ago that I think you might enjoy-- my story. No holding back-- and maybe one of these days, I'll have the confidence and the courage to post it online, but for now, I think you may also enjoy you may enjoy "Good Fences."

Have a wonderful day and do not forget -- it only takes ONE person to give a child the strength they need to overcome the impossible. For me that person was my graduate school advisor but today that person is you!

My Adviser, and saving grace was Bob Crain-- professor of sociology and politics at Columbia University — and though he is best known best known for his work on the study that became famous for the title "There are no children here," he showed me that I had much more to offer than just a pretty smile.

While I was struggling with PTSD long after I left “home” he always made me feel as though I was more than what the custody papers said— and helped me to find a way to use my past, my pain, and my childhood/adolescent experience to navigate a course that seemed most unlikely and impossible alone.

I took that book title, “There Are No Children Here” and ran with it. Today you will see a sign posted outside my front door that reads, "There Are No Victims Here!"
Thanks T.A., my head is no longer in the past, and my tears have dried. I am ready for a new day— a new fight, and a new challenge.

Have a fabulous day and do not forget to remind someone in your life how they have made your day just a little bit brighter.

With sincere appreciation and gratitude,


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Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.