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  • It's time that I start to publicize the stories of people who need to be heard amidst all these talks on government spending.

    These stories happened two years ago while I worked as a social worker for at-risk teens in an urban alternative high school. Because of privacy reasons I've had to delay their publication and still, now, each of the names in this account are changed to preserve this privacy; locations are kept vague.

    But the stories of these youth, their stories are real.

    And I hope they can be added to the vast dialogue of facts, rhetoric, pain, and science that is accumulating to whatever social policy could be created. Because real stories are just facts that show no remorse and, often, require no comment.

    This one is about Rebecca***. Bright. Witty. Drug addict. Music-lover. Writer. Outcast. Broken.

    All of these traits are traits we shared and continue to share.

    We made pretty good sense together.

    This is our story.
  • My office at an alternative high school. Pink pajama pants drizzled with dirt and old breakfast. Ripped Uggz dusted in salt and grime stains from the wintered Brooklyn streets. A worn hello-kitty backpack half out of 16-year-old irony, half out of it being the only trendy backpack at Goodwill. Hipster glasses slid down unconsciously to the tip of the nose. An ajar mouth, quivering.

    And the eyes. Those bloodshot, tear-stained, full blue eyes.

    “I need to talk.”
    “Sure. Come in. Come in. Door closed? [Nods] Ok.”
    “[She sits in the open chair. He closes the door and sits across from her leaning in. She breathes twice] Hasan, I… I can’t do this anymore.”
    “What do you mean? What can’t you do? What happened?”
    “This, this morning I got up and went downstairs and saw my mother with a half-filled bottle of vodka. She drinks. A lot. She, well--I showed her my report card yesterday. It had a couple A’s, a couple B’s and a C or two on it. I came downstairs and… and it was all marked up in red. It said, ‘Bitch can’t get an A,’ with circles around my below A grades… There was other stuff too, things like stupid or retard or something--I don’t remember the rest; I blocked them out... She used to drink and hit me when I was little, when my dad wasn’t watching. Then my dad left and then we were alone and she could do it all the time. She beat me for 12 years. When I was 12, I grew strong enough to defend myself, stopping her fist with my own hand. It caught her off guard and she fell down. She hasn’t touched me since… but she has continued to abuse me verbally. It’s been 16 years of, of… of this. And I--. I… I can’t DO this anymore. I… I--I can’t--. I’m trying to get my life back ON track. But she--she just--. I feel like she wants me to fail. She--she… And, I’m sorry for doing this but I just… I’m fucking sick of this shit and I don’t have anywhere to go. I’ve told this story to everyone here, but they’ve done nothing with it. You’re the only one I trust here right now and… and I… I…”
    “I’m so sorry Rebecca***. I’m so so sorry.”
    “I am just so tired of this fucking shit. I just--.”
    “It’s ok, it’s ok, I heard you… and I’m here for you.”

    “Ok… First, thank you for coming to me, and for caring for yourself enough to share this. It took a lot of courage to do what you just did. Listen. I wish I could stay here and help you. I know I might be able to but Carl*** my supervisor probably won’t allow me to do this for legal reasons, and I might miss something that licensed counselors would check on. Listen. I need to let him know what’s going on and talk with him about the best way to go forward. I know you said you don’t trust him, but I need you to trust me when I say this. I’m going to make sure you’re looked after.”

    “Ok. Here [she takes the box of tissues]. I’ll be right back.”

  • “Carl***, I have a situation. Rebecca*** came into my room after a very hard morning. She was abused by her mother who had been drinking. She’s an absolute mess right now and in no state to go to class. I wanted to come to you to make sure she was taken care of, to get a higher level of help. I can sit with her if you need me to while you guys figure it out.”
    “Ok. Thanks for telling me. How long has she been with you?”
    “About 10 minutes.”
    “Oh… That’s too long. She needs to go back to class.”
    “Thanks I--uh, what?”
    “We need to get her back to class.”

    “Carl***, she’s hurting right now. I just heard her out. She just needs someone to lend an ear for a little bit longer.”
    “I hear you and I understand that she might but she can’t be staying 15 minutes outside of class.”
    “Right, ten.”
    “I completely disagree with you. She’s not going to be focused at all in class. She needs help.”
    “I don’t care whether you disagree with me or not. As part of this program she is obligated to go to class the minute she steps in the building, and as a worker for this program, you are obligated to help her do that. You need to get her back to class.”
    “First, this is not a normal school. This is a school that is coupled with psychotherapeutic support. I was under the impression that we have social workers like you here to help with crises like these and I apologize that I had the wrong impression. Second, I’m sorry but I can’t send her back. I won’t do it. If you want her to go back now, then you get her back. Don’t bring me into this.”

    “Fine. I appreciate your opinion but it’s wrong. We’ll talk about this later.”
  • “[Offers a pb&j] I’m sorry about earlier Rebecca***.”
    “[Takes the free lunch] It’s ok. I know what Carl*** is like. He wants to get me back to class.”
    “It’s his job.”
    “Yeah. I’m glad you understand that.”
    “Yeah. [Leaves]”

    “[Comes back, hesitates] Hey, I uh also heard what you said…

    ... Thank you.”
  • ...
    “You’re welcome.”
  • Rebecca was discharged from our supportive program three months later, because she was seen as deliberately disobeying and disrespecting the program's standards and expectations of her.

    She didn't last a month back in public high school.

    Neither did her drug addiction.
  • I got in touch with Rebecca last week for the first time in two years.

    After an intense drug rehabilitation, she's living in a group home away from her biological mother. She no longer uses. She's working part-time and about to graduate with a GED. She plans to go to a college in New York City and major in psychology.
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