Kent is 19, self-describes as a visible minority and says he has a diagnosis of bi-polar. He talked quickly and often when I got behind couldn’t help me pull together what he had said but rather rephrased himself or told another story. His tale is dramatic, full of violence in which he is both victim and perpetrator. His behaviour led to many school changes and moves, and eventual involvement in the juvenile justice system. He sees himself as making a turn-around: he has resolved an addiction to drugs, has made progress at completing high school, and is trying to make good choices while living in a youth shelter.
FM: Okay, let’s start with you telling me a bit about your family, who was in it, how did they pay the rent, and where you lived…
My family is quite a special group of people. My mother and my sister and me was it – my sister was two years younger than me – and then my mother decided to have more kids and had another brother and sister to me. My mom, as bad as it is today, was working at a strip club; she was a performer. And I don’t know how she paid the rent but it didn’t last too long.
FM: Where was the strip joint – where’d you guys live?
The strip joint was in Toronto. We lived in Littletown – I was probably 3 or 4 – and my mom started slowly losing control of her life. We were pretty much forced to move to Toronto because of the cost of travel. Was soon after that my mother really fell into bullshit. She started getting into drugs, not wanting to have children any more, wouldn’t come home for weeks, so my loving Nana, my mother’s mother, stepped into place and is still, to this day, helping my mother.
FM: So you went with your Nana?
No, what happened is my Nana had to come live with us. She left the job she was working at to go to work at a hardware store in Toronto to help my mother get her shit in a row. A couple years went by and my mother was forced to leave her job because of my little brother, complications with him. That went on for a year, then a midnight move. We ended up living in [towns in the Greater Toronto area]. A year later we had to move again, maybe less than a year.
FM: How old were you at this point?
Just turned 5 or 6. Always seemed to be around the time my birthday came around, we got evicted. Got to be a bit of a theme, you never got to have the birthday cake you wanted. My Nana would always make me a cake, showed me that someone would always be there for me.
Shortly after that time, a 6-month period, we had to move again and we moved back to my home town which was originally Littletown, which was where I was born. Wasn’t raised there. My mom met this man, seemed okay at first and then when my mom got a new job, working at Tim Hortons, he kept care of us after school and we began to find out he was a different kind of guy. He never really hit my sister or any of my other siblings, but somehow this guy had a hard-on for me in a way. He used to beat and abuse me. This went on for about two years, have to go to school with excuses, busted lips, black eyes, broken limbs, shit no kid should have to go through. One day mom came home when I was laying on the ground unconscious [having] been hit on the head with a frying pan. She called the police. He got charged.
Something happened during that [time] that I was forced to go to a school in Rapidsville for kids who had problems with anger, generally violent children. Around that time was when I found out with psychologists, psychiatric evaluations, found out that I had bi-polar, was put on meds. Then, within about two or three weeks, found out I had ADD and ADHD so there was more meds being fed to me. These meds started causing depression.
FM: Were you living at home during this time?
Yeah. I ended up being bullied a lot during my time in that school. A lot of really racist kids, made fun of your colour or the way you look or the curliness of my hair. Because of my meds I was unable to be the person I am, [I could] just protect myself, be defensive; [without them] I probably would have punched these kids out. About four months I put up with it, being called names. I was the only coloured kid in the school, saying my mother’s a whore for having a half-breed bastard child; I’ve heard all that.
FM: Lemme ask here, was your sister also mulatto?
Yes, but she went to a proper school, a school – she was young too. I was about grade 4 or 5, that’s the age when kids start being really mean to each other.
I came up with this brilliant idea of stop taking my meds for a month, to pretty much see if these kids would test me then. So coming home, because we weren’t allowed on the school bus with the regular kids, we had a guy who drove us in a van, I started getting all raged up and I brought this pocket knife to school. And after school, on the way home, they were punching the back of my head, pulling my hair, and the bus driver would never do a damn thing. He’d only ever do something when I was involved. So at the stop by my house, I grabbed my bag and this kid grabbed me from behind, so I just spun around, had the pocket knife open, went to stab him in the hand, ended up cutting half his finger off to the point they had to amputate his finger. That’s pretty much when it started.
FM: Gotta ask: what is the ‘it’ that started?
Let’s just say I snapped that day, stopped taking medications, stopped taking bullshit.
FM: What age here?
About hitting nine or ten, around this age. I got expelled from the School Board. I was not allowed to go to school anywhere within the region. That’s when I moved to [a small town in Lake County].
FM: With your family?
Yeah. My mom couldn’t get money – because of the deal my father had about child support, she couldn’t get it if I wasn’t in school. So I moved to [the small town]. Small-ass town. Started getting home schooled. Did that for about eight months.
Then they found another school I could go to, in [a near-by town], which is not a part of the [same] District School Board. Probably around 11 or 12 at this time. Everything was good for half a year and then this group of kids came up, came from small hick town, had this mentality of Aryanism, where they hate everybody that is un-white. So another half a year went by until the school was just about over and [a golf course] gave our school a school trip, where you could go golfing. The teacher said he had to go to the washroom. When he went, these four racist kids beat me black and blue, broke my ribs, caused concussion, all that shift. Teacher came back, didn’t do a thing, said he couldn’t do anything because he didn’t see it.
Then my mom made the decision to move to [a village 40 km distant]. There I met this woman, a young lady. She kinda made me feel like a better person, in a way. She lived the same kind of childhood as I did. Her mother had Multiple Sclerosis, her dad was a workaholic. We became really close together, hanging together all the time. I loved being with this woman for about three years.
FM : What do you mean by ‘being with her’?
I was probably around 12 or 13, once you reach that age you start developing feelings for women. She was two or three years older than me. She developed an understanding for me, she knew what I felt or liked, she was always there for me, whether or not it was about her or not. If I had a problem with her, she’d understand where I was coming from. This lady was my first love, actually, a little puppy love kind of thing.
FM: But were you in her home, or just the two of you hanging around together?
She lived down the street from me a little bit, around the corner from the corner store. That’s how I met her one day, going to get a Slushy.
I ended up moving, I can’t remember where, but we always kept in touch. Did a lot of home schooling when I was in [that village]. So when I was about 14 -
FM: Can I ask about the home schooling: who was the teacher?
I can’t remember, there was something weird about her, a young lady, too young to be a teacher in my mind.
FM: She came to your home?
Every day for two hours. I don’t know if they’re allowed to do this, but one day she brought her daughter over. I didn’t know my teacher lived in [our village] until she brought her daughter over one day. Her daughter was about 17 years old. You’re not supposed to do that – but I remember getting a note saying that I was no longer eligible to be home schooled no more.
FM: How’s your mom or your Nana - is she still there? – how are they supporting the family?
Well my mother broke too many bones when she was young, can’t really work no more, just sitting home collecting cheques. But my Nana is still to this day helping my mother out, probably will until the day she dies.
FM: Okay, so you’re 14, no schooling available, in [a small village in Lake County]. What next?
So I moved back to Littletown.
FM: With your family?
Yup. I did about – I got into a huge fight at a [store] on main street, ended up grabbing a wine glass and smashing this kid across the face with it. The kid ended up going into a coma for two months. The school didn’t know for the longest time what happened until the kid woke up and tried to press charges upon my family. So I was forced to move to Middletown.
FM: Just a question here: if the fight was on main street, was there no police involvement?
I left the scene as soon as I hit the kid. I’m almost positive no one saw it because no one ratted me out until the kid woke up. That’s when I started being a criminal.
Moved into Middletown into ‘D block’. Met this group of kids because I lived on the street, I’m just going into grade 8 and started getting conned into stealing cars and breaking into people’s houses, robbing people, beating people up, threatening people, getting into all kinds of drugs..
FM: Can I just clarify, when you moved to Middletown, was it with family or on your own?
Family. One day I was partying, woke up extremely hung over, my little sister two years younger, wouldn’t quite bugging me, told her I was hung over, would she leave me alone. For an hour she wouldn’t leave me. All I know is I blacked out and came back to and I had three cops sitting on top of me with my face in the ground. Started freaking out – y’know, one minute you’re in the kitchen and next you’re outside on the ground. Ended up learning I tried to kill my sister. I started strangling her, she got free and ran across the street and my mother called the cops.
I was forced to move out, had to go live with this lady down the street. This lady was definitely a special individual. When she took me off the street, when the cops were saying I was going to jail, she said – she was about three years older than me. I lived there for about a year, kept doing crimes, did cocaine, all kinds of shit. Then this lady calls me one day down to the living room and tells me she’s pregnant. I said With who? She says You. For nine months I put my ass on the line, robbed and stole and pillaged to feed that woman, feed my habit, and make sure that baby had what it needed. I got charged and ended up getting locked up like an animal for six months.
The kid was already born when I got charged and tossed in. I get out and go back to her house and she’s got this guy sitting on the couch, a little darker skin than me. And then she tells me the kid isn’t mine, it’s this guy’s on the couch. I snapped and I smashed every expensive thing in the house. I was about 16 at this time.
Anyways, I tracked down my mother and she was living over on the east side and I begged her to let me move back in. About that time I got addicted to crack. I did that – a year of my life went by, felt like a month. I woke up one day and saw this letter on the table. It was by my mother. She said if you don’t quit this drug, I’m taking the kids, taking everything and I’m leaving you. That day I quit cold turkey. I went through the most insane withdrawals. It was insane.
I was 17 and I’m 19 now, so I ended getting locked up again for assault with a deadly weapon. I did four months, got out and decided to try to fly straight. So I started going back to school, try to get my grade 12. Had a really hard time, I’d sign up, drop out, sign up, drop out.
Could be because the only idol I ever had was my old man. The only story I ever heard about him was your dad punched this guy out. You dad robbed this guy, almost killed this guy, pretty much put into my head I was supposed to be really bad-ass like my father. One day my father calls me, he’s going to court for me because he broke his back and wasn’t working, so he had to go to court to arrange for change in support payments. So I always wanted my father and my mother to be together. I’d chase out any boyfriend my mother ever had because I wanted my mother to be with my father so bad. My dad gave me this option: he said you can move with me, go to school and work and live a stress-free life. I took him up on that option. Around this time, I just turned 18 when I moved in with him, actually my birthday the day I moved in, I got myself on track. I got my grade 9 and 10 in a six-month period. And roughly around mid-way between there and six months ago, dad came home one night, all drunk and all coked out, sat me down at the table and tried to make me eat my dinner but it was too hot. So he said either you eat it or you go to bed. I said Fine, I’ll go to bed. Then he started yelling and screaming. I decided to go for a walk. My father stopped me, said you’re not going nowhere. Pushed me up against the wall. I swung and I missed and my feet didn’t touch the ground after that.
He threw me across the kitchen so hard my feet literally skimmed across the tile. I broke the back of the couch. Before I even knew it, I tried getting up and he was right there. He picked me up, slammed me into the couch, broke the couch some more. Threw me head first through my door. Then I started packing my stuff up and pretty much moved back [to the youth shelter].
FM: So you’ve been here, this time round, how long?
On and off, maybe four or five years maybe. Been here since I was 15 or 14 and I’m 19 now.
FM: So this your home away from home?
There’s no home like the home that you’re raised in, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t the most sturdy, the most supportive, it’s still home nevertheless.
FM: So are you in contact with both your mom and dad now?
Yup, after me doing that and moving out, something must have hit him hard. I go up there and see him weekends and he’s a bit different now. After I moved from my dad’s, two months later, my mom’s house burned down. We were all homeless, and my youngest little brother and sister wanted to go live with Nana, and my second oldest was forced to couch hop. My mom stayed with her old man and me, I was living with a girlfriend. Almost come to the end of the story. Any other questions?
FM: Yeah, I have some finish-up questions that might help a bit. First question: In order for the people who will read this story to see it in context, to give it the shape and focus that you intend, what would you say is the most important event that influences how this story unfolds. It could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen, an absence. What would you say It is?
FM: But an event.
Stress is an event; it’s just a life-time event. I was walking down the street one day and this craziest old man you’d ever meet stopped me and said You’ve had a hard life. I asked How do you know that? He said, I can see by the look in your eyes. Tell you something: Stress doesn’t kill you, it’s how you take it. And no progress without struggle. For some reason that really got me thinking. We wouldn’t be nowhere if we didn’t try, we wouldn’t even know what happiness is or the joy of having something or keeping something or being something if we didn’t have pain and stress and struggle. That’s my perspective on my life; not life in general, but mine.
FM: So I’m hearing that there’s not a pivotal point so much as an on-going theme of struggle against adversity.
That’s interesting. Not necessarily a point, more a point of view. Everyone’s raised different. I have to say if I hadn’t gone through the shit I did growing up, I wouldn’t be the responsible, outgoing outspoken person I am today. I got this idea on life. It’s that you can make life be a beautiful thing or you can make it something ugly. You can have this terrible childhood and you can have an amazing life or you can just keep it the way it has been. It’s always been that individualist’s choice to do something or not. Some of my friends are still in that rut, partying, drinking, acting like [a] clearly irresponsible person that has no sense.
FM: What would you attribute your ending that phase and beginning the next phase, what would you attribute that to? What resources or – you talked about this old man speaking Truth. But if – well, we’ll get there another way, a couple of questions later. So now, Q2: judgment. The people reading this story are going to form an opinion about how they believe this story will turn out. What do you say to them: how do you think this story will unfold as it goes forward? Good? Not so good?
I guess that’s for time [to tell], really, because you never know if your life is going to be good or not. I hope it is. I plan to go somewhere forward in my life, instead of same spot or backwards.
FM: Okay. More there, or ready for the next question?
FM: Okay. First of two advice questions. What advice would you give your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take that advice, that would help this story unfold better or easier or smoother, whatever. What advice?
Forget the drama. You get into drama, you get charged, you start acting like a person that obviously god did not have plans for. I would tell my younger self to forget all the naysayers and listen to yourself. There should be no better perspective for yourself than your own or your mother’s. If your subconscious tells you to not do something, you should probably listen.
FM: Let me ask about how a young child who is the recipient of drama, not the maker of drama, how does a youngster ‘forget the drama’?
Just say no. If someone asks you to do some things that you would generally not want to do, or puts you in the position – you’re not making your own decisions, someone else is making them for you. To say Yes is to do something someone else wants you to do. That should never be the case.
FM: Okay, last question, an advice question. What advice would you give to people like us who would wish to be helpful to young people like yourself, that would help us be more effective in making these transitions, these challenges, easier to manage or resolve better…
Attention. All youth these days are hungry for attention. So hungry they don’t care if it’s good or bad, so my advice would be to give them positive attention. Give them a structure where they feel like they’re being liked. Every kid wants to be liked. So in school, like if your teacher is there for you, some friends are there for you, you can make it. A lot – that young lady who just killed herself in BC over being bullied, not getting the positive attention that is needed. That’s what District School Board officials and these guys need to realize, that they need attention. If they got positive attention they wouldn’t be doing these things, fighting, killing themselves.
FM: Okay. I just realized I’m not clear on your involvement with the legal system. It was mostly the juvenile system, right? Did you have adult charges?
No, because I cleaned up my act before I turned 18. Because if you catch a serious charge as an adult you can’t travel. Because I’m an artist and I plan to travel the world some day and make art, so …
FM: All right. I think that’s it. Anything more from you?
I just think whoever is going to read this should take into consideration, if they have a kid or not, to stop and think that at some point that kid is going to need a role model, a positive role model to show them that being an adolescent and being liked in a negative way is not what you want. This guy is doing something with his life and I want to do it too. It’s that whole monkey see monkey do thing. Everybody wants to be what they’re not; that’s life.
FM: And on that note we end?
I could do this all day.