BY NATALIE ST. MARTIN AND JESSICA GARCIA
Hello, I am Jessica, 23 years old. I’m the oldest of 9 kids. I entered foster care at age 5, with 2 brothers 2 and 3 years younger than me. I can’t quite remember how I was take, only that we were left alone for so many days. Since 1997 I was in 57 different foster homes. I was physically abused in a few foster homes. At some places I stayed, they treated us ugly and verbally abused me. I felt almost like Cinderella minus the prince part and 10 times worse.
Jessica Garcia was the very first person to sign up to tell her story with us. She responded to our request eagerly, pouring out part of her life story even on the intake forms. I corresponded with her for a few months via email before we finally managed to meet at Street Bean, a coffee shop that is run by New Horizons. She had carefully hand-written her story on ruled paper; front and back of five full pages. She read it aloud to me. It is a heartbreaking story. Jessica has scars to show for it – as well as a smile that is strikingly beautiful.
At age 9 years I returned with my mother. She had a crack addiction and would leave me with 4 kids to watch. She beat me and gave me alcohol to shut me up. There were times when there was no food, lights or clean clothes. There were rats in the home, and we lived in unclean conditions. We were taken away. I was separated from my siblings at 10 years old and lived in Spokane. I was abused in one foster home, then went to live with a family that cared deeply for me and I felt alive and loved. I loved this woman so much. She had a great heart and believed in God. I was moved back to Yakima due to my closeness with her. They wanted to adopt me. But due to my mom being part native, I was in Indian CPS and my mom didn’t let me go.
I was miserable from then on and turned to drugs and alcohol for comfort. I started staying with strangers. I moved to Seattle at age 16 years and went to treatment, but ran. I then was placed with my mother again, only to have the worst time. I was getting high of weed and she was smoking crack. I was removed from her home because we fought a lot. I went to group home after group home, and ran away. I was told by my probation officer to get back into a foster home. I was so lost, sad, tired, hurt and traumatized that death ran through my mind. I met a case manager who worked with homeless youth and she told me to tell her what I felt and my hurts. I asked her, “why do you care?” and she said, “Because someone needs to care for those of you who are being left unheard.”
This case worker got her into a shelter with YouthCare and she was able to be stable for a while, even earn her GED and get a job with Mockingbird Times. But as her 18th birthday approached and she faced aging out, she sunk into a depression. She was moved into an adult shelter after her birthday, but there she started drinking again and soon got kicked out. Living with her mom after that was as awful as it had ever been, so she left and was homeless for a while.
I would drink at parties only so that I had a place to crash. I slept with men to stay places but it wasn’t a lot of them, 3 or so. I didn’t like doing this so I walked away from them, but remained with one of them. I was so tired of living and tired of sleeping outside or at parks, buses and in alleys.
This was a low point for her. She recalls going to the University Presbyterian Church drop-in center and praying with a woman there. A series of events that followed convinced her that God heard her prayers.
I was picked up by the case manager from the shelter. They took me to their office and they fed me, gave me clothes and some gift cards…I didn’t believe God was real till I remembered my prayer with Gretchen at the U-Pres, and I said, “God is real.” I had gotten so much in just one day. It was hard to believe. The program paid for the cost of rent and utilities. All I had to do was attend school or find a job.
I attended college. And then I found out I was pregnant. I was scared but happy. The guy I was with I had known since I was 18 years old. It was one of the men I slept with to have a place to stay. I thought he was a good guy only to be told by his other baby’s mom that he was playing with us both and that he lied to me…he was deported and left me with nothing for our child… Later I had a C-section and had a lot of help from Gretchen and Mars Hill Church. I never felt so much love and care in my life. I was brought food and clothes for my daughter and got a crib though my housing.
She lived with a family from the church until she was able to find housing on her own, but then things went really wrong. The baby’s dad came back and she believed him when he said he wanted them to build a family together. Meanwhile, she was still struggling with alcohol. One day she told a relative that she didn’t want to live anymore, and he called her friends saying she was suicidal. They called the police and her daughter was taken into Child Protective Services. Her relationship with her baby’s dad continued to spiral downward as he became more and more violent. She tells the story of when he stabbed her in the back with a knife, and she would have died except for neighbors calling for help. He was sent to jail, and she did her best to move on. But Jessica says it has been very difficult to figure out what to do with her life.
All of this stuff is due to my growing up in foster care. And not knowing how to have a normal life or even know how to start a life of my own. I wasn’t told in foster care about adulthood. I continue to face trials daily or feel sorrow from the pains of my past and for my daughter. I let her go with her dad’s mom who doesn’t let me see her. I’m trying not to cause her more pain than I already have. It hurts me more to be without her. I’ve been doing trauma counseling and reaching out to people to heal and grow. The system has a lot to do with my trials and struggles in this life. I know its gonna be hard to grow because I don’t like change and don’t trust it…I won’t give up or stop trying or making better decisions for my self. I realize in order to have I have to let people go and try new things.
The training she did receive was on how to cope with constant transition and short-term or volatile relationships. She is friendly and easy to talk to, but hard to keep up with and hard to track down. As of July, I have known Jessica for a whole year. In this time I have gotten a feel for what life is like for her now. So much has happened in a year it would be hard to tell, but even though there have been quite a few different living arrangements, a new guy, and now another baby on the way, overall I have seen her get a little bit steadier. Only once did we manage to meet when we scheduled to meet, however.
Although we couldn’t schedule a photo shoot, she did spend Thanksgiving with me and some friends last year, and I have one photo of her from that day. She is a delightful and surprising person, who deeply appreciates any act of kindness. She is one of the most thankful people I have ever met. And yet I see how hard it is for her to really receive love and believe she is valuable.
She recently came by for dinner. We talked about how she is starting to see her part in her relationships and conflicts, and we celebrated that she has been sober for over 100 days. She continues to describe how she feels God is helping her.
God reminds me he is here for me that he cares for me and that I am worth everything good in this world. It doesn’t come easy to trust in God when he’s invisible, but love, respect, peace, joy and random acts of kindness have been God’s way of showing me not to give up. I’m grateful to have faith and belief; without it I wouldn’t be where I am. I do get discouraged and fall down but God continues to fight my battles no matter what. Support and understanding is what I need in order to grow. It’s hard not to know my path in life. I get scared of another program ending, I fear a lot due to my experiences and my fear is what keeps me from growing. I know it will get better, and It won’t always be great at times but God says I will not be alone.