This interview started with mistaken identity – Kaalo was not the man I thought I had an interview scheduled with – and I terminated it early on the pretext that he didn’t fit the selection criteria – which he didn’t – but in fact because his cognitive and/or emotional functioning made it difficult for him to participate and it was my judgment that the process was upsetting to no good purpose. He gives a heart-rending glimpse into the importance of owning a history as the skeleton on which to build a persona, and the difficulty of finding a good enough history from a tangled and chaotic childhood. He claims being ‘a mixed breed’, Jamaican heritage, which was not evident from his appearance.
FM: So, let’s begin by you telling me a bit about your family of origin, where you lived, who was in the family, what they did for a living, and anything else of importance to you…
Roots go way back. I’m Finnish so I know my family was involved in farming and all that. I just got pictures from my mom and they had a farm with pictures of a horse and a carriage, plowing the fields, all that.
FM: Are we talking about the family that raised you, or your far-back relatives?
This is my blood family. A couple family members were in the wars in the 1920s and 30’s. Don’t know their positions or ranks or anything, they’re just standing in their uniforms. I don’t know much about the German side.
FM: What about your parents?
My birth parents? My birth mom was born in [a city in north-western Ontario], her parents were born in Finland, not sure where. My father was born in Canada as far as I know, somewhere from the east coast, don’t know too much about him. He’s a mixed breed like myself, that’s where I know about the Jamaican.
FM: Okay, so you say ‘birth parents’. Does this mean you were adopted?
They’re my birth parents, but my dad was abusive toward my mother, physically and verbally abusive, I can remember that stuff from when I was a child. He went around the block, he was a womanizer. My mother, on the other hand, she was real sweet, I know that much, but she had a hard time with my dad because I know we lived in the mountains in BC and stuff – we were homeless and stuff for 3 months, just living in the wood areas in BC.
FM: So you came out of that family, at what age?
When I was between 5 and 7. What happened was when I first came to Ontario. Somehow we made our way to Toronto, with my sister, taken by my dad because he was trying to take us away, he was on the run, he was with the Hell’s Angels, whatever drugs he used to push.
FM: So what happened?
I remember at one point he was owed money for the drugs, that was why he was on the run, and I remember – I was in kindergarten, remember coming back one day and the house was overturned, the dog was stolen, tables flipped over and stuff, they had come and taken what they could. Took the dog to try and destroy our morals. At one point we were actually given to the Hell’s Angels for collateral because he owed them money.
FM: Is your sister older or younger than you?
Younger. By 2 years. She’s 22. I have an older step-sister, older half-brother.
FM: On your mom’s side?
FM: And were you raised with them?
A little bit. Not much memory.
FM: Okay, to just capture this reality, the family is your drug-dealing Hells Angels dad, your fairly overwhelmed mom, you and your 2-years younger sister. You lived in BC but came to Ontario when you were 7 or so, and life was dangerous because of your dad’s activities. Yeah?
Yeah. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a drug dealer. He obviously wasn’t raised properly himself, so that’s why he did what he did. I wouldn’t call him a drug dealer, he just made wrong choices. He’s still a human being, not a drug dealer.
FM: Okay, you’re right, people should be described as people, not by what they do. But to continue the story of your childhood, where from there?
So, when he was on the run, coming to Ontario on the bus, I remember we were at a bus stop and there were flashing lights, cop cars. He got arrested and my sister and I stayed in a family home, one night or a couple nights there. Then they dropped us off in the care of my grandmother in Toronto.
FM: This is your dad’s mom?
Um, to tell you the truth, yeah, my dad’s mom.
FM: And where was your mom at this time?
To tell you the truth, I have no idea, because whenever that happened, there were still blanks: I don’t have the full story. I’m not too sure if that was my dad’s mom. This is the information I’m trying to get from CAS, been trying since I was 16. They have [the information to fill] these blanks and they’re giving me bull crap about getting this information. They put me on a list and it’s going to take a couple of years for me to get that information. And yet, when I got charged one time, here in Peterborough, they pulled out information on my life and that’s how I found out that my dad was in Hells Angels and stuff. And I figured out if they can find that out, I can get that information. So I found that ironic, how I’ve been asking CAS for information for eight years of my life, and I get a simple charge and the judge says, you don’t look like someone that would do this type of stuff. He basically said I have a good head on my shoulders and he gave me the benefit of the doubt. Because when he looked at my file, he decided that the choices that my mother and my father made affected me and so he didn’t put all the blame on me, because they had made wrong choice. I had made wrong choices, obviously, but that was because of my parenting.
FM: Okay, just to detour for a minute – how old were you at this time and what was the charge?
I was about – I got my first charge when I was 19, so no youth record, and that was from – what happened was me and my buddies had a couple drinks and my one buddy wasn’t feeling good because he’d had one too many so we decided to walk him home. So one of my buddies, well I thought they were buddies, there was an old porcelain sink on the road and they picked it up and they broke it on the road. Then they said let’s break into a house and I said that was stupid and argued with them. I decided to continue walking my buddy home, and then I saw two girl friends from high school who asked what I was doing, and I told them our buddies were breaking into a house. So they called the cops, I agreed with them. I go back to go stop them and I warned them again not to do that, and they persisted and so I left, they continued to do the home invasion. And then I’m walking up the street and heard glass breaking. An undercover cop came down the street -
FM: Can we just cut to – what was the charge?
The charge would have been – I didn’t get charged. It got thrown out because I wasn’t involved.
FM: So this is when the judge gave you a break. Okay. So can we go back to when you came into CAS care, then.
That started – my grandmother died at the age of 53 in August, 1996, due to lung cancer. She was a heavy smoker. Her husband was black – that’s where the Jamaican bit comes from. I don’t know if I knew him or not – she was with my step-grandfather when I lived there. And then he had a hard time coping with the death, or so I was told, and he went back to the woman he’d lived with and had a child with before my grandmother. And later, I felt like he’d ditched my sister and I into the foster homes.
FM: So at this point you are how old?
FM: And you came into CAS care and were put in a foster home?
CAS was involved after the foster home. I’m not too sure what was kind of program was in place.
FM: Well, you were little and probably quite confused by circumstances, and quite likely there wasn’t much explanation given…which might be why you’re anxious to get hold of your CAS records…
Because growing up, not knowing that information, made me anxious, confused, didn’t know what truth was, because the truth I was supposed to get from my family I didn’t get. When I was in the group home, they sent me to a doctor in town who used to poke around in my brain, but whatever techniques he used didn’t work. What I told CAS – they made the assumption that I was too young to understand so they didn’t tell me – that if they’d told me earlier, then I could have learned to live and learn from it, and make the appropriate decisions in my own mind.
FM: Well, now I’m confused – you’re confusing me. So let’s try to be fairly factual about, more concise, about the living trajectory - actually, let’s start with when you left the CAS because -
Because after the foster homes, I went to my grandmother’s friends, so me and my sister lived there in Mississauga, I was 9 -10, and that’s when I came into CAS care. They decided to adopt my sister but threw me into group homes, and that was Jan 27, 1997. That’s when I moved to Westville.
FM: In a group home?
FM: And how long were you there?
I was there from 10 until 17, about 7 ½ years. The group home moved out of there in the summer of 1997. I moved out of the group home in the summer of 2004. They sent me to Guided Independent Living in Middletown.
FM: And you ‘graduated’ from CAS when you turned 18?
What do you mean by graduated?
FM: I was being humorous, because at 18 you legally cease to be a child so you can no longer be a ward, you become legally an adult, and sometimes that’s when CAS closes its file. Did that happen to you?
No. I was a ward of the CAS until I was 21.
FM: Living in their independent program?
It wasn’t a CAS program, no.
FM: But it was the Independent Program?
Yes. The people who own it, she’s just a really great person, a Godly woman, and she has huge care for people who have rough upbringings and that, owns this apartment / house. She had her own kids but she was, like, motherly, and they have staff there that shared the same views. Like they help with budget. In group homes they don’t do that, they just tell us the do’s and don’ts. There were a few staff I paid attention to because they showed love to me, they weren’t just doing their job. Like I found a lot of people didn’t put their heart and soul into their job, and that was really tough because I didn’t get love I needed. My first hand experience is that they love money and hated God.
FM: Okay. So the focus of this research is about youth raised rurally and how they make the decision to leave home to move to a more urban place, or alternately, to stay where they were raised. So actually, you weren’t raised in the country, except for the few months that the group home was in Westville?
By country, you mean the country of Canada?
FM: No, by country I mean rural, specifically in the three counties of Cottage county, Lake County and Farm County, but not in the cities of Littletown or Middletown. So technically, you don’t meet the criteria of this research.
What do you mean by that?
FM: Well, the purpose of the research is to increase our understanding of how youth who are raised rurally, that is, in the country part of those three municipalities, how they think about and manage the challenge of deciding whether to stay where they were raised, which makes them vulnerable to homelessness in some ways – e.g., they may not have access to post-secondary school or good-paying jobs or housing that they can afford, or transportation, in the absence of public transportation systems that urban people have.
By urban you mean?
FM: City people.
Is that a generalization?
FM: I guess you could say so. Most cities have public transportation and most rural areas don’t.
So urban is classified by people who have public transportation? Are you going by status?
FM: I’m not sure what you mean by status.
Where they’re at in the world, by political standards or government or how high they are or money, rich vs poor, poverty vs millions type of deal.
FM: No. I’m just identifying people in terms of where they were raised, which I’m defining as having spent 10 or more years of their life before 16 in a rural area, specifically one of those 3 municipalities but not the two cities. And of that group, looking at the ones who left where they were raised, looking at those who moved to Littletown, Middletown or city of Toronto
So you’re stating that I didn’t meet the research criteria, and why would you say that?
FM: It doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy or won’t get paid for this interview, but what it means is that you don’t fit the description that we chose for this research. And that’s important because we are looking to make a statement or learn something that we don’t already know about that very particular group of people, that is, youth raised in this particular rural environment. So if we put your information in with theirs, it muddies the water, so to speak. So nothing wrong with you or your story, it’s just that it doesn’t meet the criteria for this particular piece of work.
Doesn’t add up to what you guys see fit?
FM: Yeah, you could say that. We had to – any researcher has to – put boundaries around what they do so that they can make firm statements about the facts on which their conclusions are based. So you would be what is called an outlier, that is, someone who is different than the other ‘subjects’ in the study.
In other words, and – I’m taking the word liar for one.
FM: No it’s not liar, it’s outlier, which is something that lies outside a boundary.
So otherwise an outcast type.
FM: Not at all. It’s just a statement about which side of a fence you’re on, nothing about the right or wrong side. Another researcher could be interested in studying young people who were raised all over the place in the CAS system, and then you’d fit very nicely in their study population. Or someone could study young people whose parents were involved in organized crime, and then you might fit. It’s just that that’s not what this study is about. So I can’t use what you give me.
So it’s invaluable, in other words?
FM: Well invaluable actually means valuable, oddly enough, one of those odd words.
FM: To my study, but not useless in the broader sense. Just not for this study.
I’m not trying to be big-headed or nothing, I’m just learning as I go.
FM: Yes, and actually, the direct scribing methodology that I’m using, this thing where I type when you talk, that methodology was developed with young people leaving CAS care who, like you, were very anxious to pull together their stories, including getting information from their CAS files and in some cases putting their version of the stories that the file told on to the file. So we developed this way of helping those young people sort out their stories or tell them.
That’s the problem with me not knowing, I’m trying to get the verification not just from the court system but from the CAS.
FM: I’m going to stop typing and tell you a story.
[The story I told was of a young man who, like Kaarlo, learned about what was in his CAS file when he was being cross-examined as a witness in court, and commenced a writing campaign that was eventually successful to access his full file, rather than the very brief summary previously offered. Kaarlo was not very interested in the story.]