Ralph has a deep voice, a huge smile, and a gentle spirit. He is a kind and gracious man who commands your attention. Ralph wanted love and acceptance throughout his childhood. Nobody ever wanted Ralph.
Ralph’s story begins at age two when a social worker took him and his brother Sam away from their parents. They stayed in the homes of various friends and temporary families until he was four. His father came to visit them. His dad loved him. He still doesn’t understand why he could not go back to live with his parents, or why his Mom lost him and his brother to the court system.
That day when he was four, his case worker picked him up and never brought him back to his brother. After that, Ralph was moved from foster home to foster home. He went with the circumstances because they gave him no reasons.
One of the families would lock him out of the home when they wanted to punish him or to go on a family outing. When a neighbor confronted the family about this, they said that they didn’t love Ralph.
Another family would force him to stand in the corner against the wall, balancing a penny on his nose. Another used a large paddle with holes in it to “correct” his behavioral problems. At last he threatened to use the paddle on his foster parent during one of these “corrections.”
There was one family that really cared about him and accepted him as their own. Ralph still regrets that he sabotaged this relationship when he spoke angrily to his foster mom about something that was said to him. Within an hour, a caseworker had come to pick him up and take him away. He was 13 years old. It was the last time that he would be in a home.
After leaving the final foster home, Ralph spent a weekend in juvenile detention. At the end of that, the caseworker gave him five minutes to decide whether to stay there in juvenile detention or to go to a boys’ home. He went with the boy’s home.
In the boys’ home, Ralph began to experience drugs and alcohol. When he was 16, some of his drinking partners put him in the back of a truck and told him that he was being kidnapped and brought to California.
He jumped out of the back of the truck and split his head open on the highway. Another car stopped at the blood on the road and took him to the emergency room. After almost dying, he spent the next week in a coma. They called him John Doe at the hospital since he had no ID and no family to call.
It was the first time he had heard about religion. After his traumatic childhood, he did not feel that just one more traumatic life experience was reason to believe that life has meaning.
He lived at the boys’ home for a total of five years and left at age 18, with no educational diplomaand no GED. He had no idea of what to do, how to get a job, or even where to sleep. It was the beginning of life on the streets.
Ralph is now 55 years old. He is still haunted by the feeling that he did something wrong to lead to his own abandonment, and he still shuts down against everyone to cope with his pain and fear.
He has been married to his wife Becky for many years, following 4 previous marriages, divorces, and multiple children who are themselves lost to the foster system. Becky reads for him since few of his foster parents encouraged his education and he did not learn how. He credits it to her that he is not on hard drugs.
Ralph hates the fact that he never had a relationship with his parents, and that he has no relationship with his own children. He’s been told that there were thirteen foster homes that he stayed in during his childhood, but he looks at that number skeptically. There seemed to be more.
Originally posted on SalaamGarage
Story by Jeff Bettger
Edited by Molly Miltenberger
Video by Justin Benjamin, Jeff Bettger, and Will Foster
Photos by Will Foster
Music by Justin Benjamin, Mitch Orr, & Jeff Bettger