Mizzfit chose her name after she’d shared her story, which was rushed because she arrived a bit late, paced around the building having a smoke before she came in, and then had to leave to meet her commitment at the police station. She is 19, looks sad, speaks in a tiny voice, was sparing in her responses and emphatically did not want a copy of her story. She learned of the opportunity to participate from Hummus: they are both staying in the shelter. The agency where I met her reported that she had called several times to confirm the appointment. She did not appear to enjoy the interview – the only participant of whom I would say that. She comes from a difficult, transient family background and has been system-involved since an early age. She attributes moving to an urban environment as the factor that tipped her into serious difficulty.
FM: Okay, so start with telling me a bit about your family – where they lived, who was in the family, how they made a living, etc…
Both my parents lived in Cottage County. And they had me in Lakeville after they finished high school. And my mom lives in Middletown now. And my dad is in jail. He lives in [a small town in southern Ontario].
FM: Brothers and sisters?
Yeah, I have a little brother who lives with his dad in Lakeville. I have a brother who lives in Middletown. Two brothers in [a city to the south]. A sister in Riverville.
FM: That’s it? And where are you age-wise in this group?
FM: And oldest, youngest?
I’m the oldest.
FM: And what kind of work did your parents do?
My mom was on welfare – she stayed home. My dad did lots of things, he did roofing, worked in a restaurant for awhile.
FM: Okay. Now, maybe start your story with when you began to think about leaving home.
Well, we lived in Lakeville I moved away because my mom and dad broke up and she lived with a different guy. And he drank a lot and they argued a lot and stuff, so I moved away to my grandparents’ house when I was 9.
FM: And they live
FM: Okay, so tell a bit about them, what they do and stuff.
My grandpa is a boat technician, and my grandma is retired now. They did own a business when I was younger, a restaurant in Lakeville.
FM: Okay. So you lived with grandparents.
For about a year until my mom and her boyfriend broke up and then I moved back home with her in Lakeville. We lived there for another 3-4 years, and then we moved up to Littletown to get away from her boyfriend because he kept coming around and stuff.
So we moved to Littletown and I started getting into trouble. I started not going home and staying with my friends. And then I moved out by myself, like with a boyfriend, when I was 14.
FM: In his parents’ house?
No. We got our own place, because he was 20.
FM: And what did he do to pay the rent?
He’s on welfare.
FM: Is he still your boyfriend?
No. When I was 15, I got in trouble and I was in jail, I met somebody else and started writing him and stuff. And when he got out, he got a place and I moved in with him. And I got pregnant 2 years after that and we’re still together.
FM: And where are you living now?
At the shelter.
FM: Him too?
No, he’s not staying there. He is in jail. He’s getting out in December.
FM: Next month?
FM: And what is he in jail for?
FM: Big theft?
Yeah, break and enter.
FM: And where is your child?
With me. She’s 2.
FM: Okay, let’s unpack this from the beginning. The boyfriend you moved in with when you were 14. What was that about?
The first one? What do you mean, what was it about? I left my house because I wasn’t getting along with my mom and her boyfriend so I moved out.
FM: So the move was more about what you were leaving than what you were going to?
FM: Did you consider any other alternatives at that point? Like perhaps going back to live with your grandparents?
No, because I didn’t want to live with my grandparents. They were too, like, strict. And after living in Littletown, I didn’t want to move back to Lakeville.
FM: Talk a bit about how you went off the rails when you moved to Littletown. How did that happen?
I started going out and hanging out with older kids and drinking and skipping school, and then I got arrested for drinking. And I just met a lot of older people and got into trouble with them.
FM: Was the arrest for drinking how you ended up in jail?
One of the times. I got arrested for shop-lifting, that’s how I ended up meeting the guy that I’m with now.
FM: What do you remember or what do you think in retrospect made you take up with a gang that you knew were ‘trouble’?
I dunno. It was fun.
FM: Do you think being the new girl in town, not knowing anybody, being a bit shy I think? Did that have any influence?
Yeah, because I didn’t really know anybody and they were a big group and I liked them, so…
FM: Before you moved to Littletown, were you a ‘good kid'?
FM: Not drinking, drugging, skipping school?
No, I was good when I was in Lakeville, but when I moved to Littletown, then I started getting into trouble.
FM: Can you think of anything that might have made that transition, that move, more comfortable, offered better choices to you?
Not really, because I didn’t have a choice, I had to move there. And it wasn’t like I could bring all my friends from Lakeville with me. I did go to all the youth groups and stuff, but there were a lot of problemed kids there. So I don’t think it made a difference where I hung out. Because there’s bad kids everywhere.
FM: So you went from being a ‘good kid’ to being a ‘bad kid’ pretty suddenly. What did your mom make of this?
She didn’t know what to do. Like I got arrested and cops brought me home, and she didn’t know what to do. I got put in a group home for a couple of weeks and then the group home called my worker back and told them to come and get me. I wasn’t cooperating; I was being ‘bad’.
FM: And your worker, there, was a CAS worker?
Well, the group home was run by CAS and the group home told them to come and get me. And then I went back home.
FM: What were you told about the reason for putting you in a group home?
Because my mom couldn’t handle me, and my CAS worker – I kept taking off, so every time the CAS worker came, I wasn’t home. So the CAS worker thought a group home could handle me better.
FM: And how old are you at this point?
That was when I was like 14. Because CAS tried to make my mom make me move back when I moved out with that guy, because they said I couldn’t move out until I was 16 or something.
FM: And did she?
For like a couple of weeks I moved back home, but then I left again. As soon as I got back from the group home I left.
FM: And was that guy, that first guy, was he good to you?
Yeah, he was good.
FM: What was in it for him, do you think?
FM: Did he make a habit of taking in 14-year-old girls?
FM: Okay… how did that relationship end, then?
Well, I just decided that I didn’t want to be with him any more. Because he kept getting in trouble.
FM: What kind of trouble?
Thefts, just like little things but…
FM: Okay. So the story I’m hearing is that you’ve been surrounded by people who have been in trouble with the law, almost since you were born. Including your dad?
FM: Talk a bit about that.
I don’t want to.
FM: Fair enough. Let’s go to education. How have you and school gotten along?
I was good until about grade 7 and then I started skipping, and then I quit in grade 8.
FM: Did you like school, at some point?
FM: Because some kids who have rough families find school a refuge of sorts, a safe place, a place where they can be a kid. But that didn’t work for you?
No I hung out with the older people, kinda like partying and having fun, probably from the time when I was 12.
FM: Was CAS involved before you hit adolescence?
FM: From what age?
Probably 7, 6.
FM: Because of violence in the family or what?
Well, I think because of my mom’s boyfriend. I don’t know why else.
FM: This is the boyfriend that she left Lakeville to escape?
FM: Okay, so a very unsettled childhood, ended early, before you hit puberty, really, you were with the ‘old guys’?
FM: So the CAS had a crack at the family, and were involved with you as a teenager. Any other counseling offered?
Yeah, there was a lot of counseling put out, like probation, but I didn’t go to it. Like probation had a lot of counselling set up, but I just didn’t do it.
FM: And why is that?
Why didn’t I go? Because it didn’t think it would help me.
FM: Did you have an idea about what would help you?
FM: Did you think you needed help?
FM: Really? That surprises me, because it sounds to me like a really rough reality, scary maybe, and you’d want some help, some protection, some peace, maybe?
I dunno but I’ve managed to do it by myself. Always have. I’ve lived by myself from when I was 13, 14. Couldn’t even get welfare until I was 16.
FM: So I’m hearing you say that even when you were with your guys, you really felt like you were on your own?
FM: Okay. So school not much help. Helping agencies not much help. When were you in jail or on probation?
I was in jail on and off a lot when I was a teenager. I’m still on probation. I have to sign in at the police station in the next 45 minutes.
FM: [discussion about police appointment]
I have to sign in every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
FM: Is that so they know you’re in town? Because?
Because I have charges. I pled guilty to them already but I haven’t been sentenced, and they don’t want to have you leave until you’ve been sentenced, so they want you to sign in as often as possible.
FM: What do you think the sentence will be?
I already know. My lawyer has it worked out. It’s going to be a conditional sentence.
FM: Conditional on not re-offending?
No, it will be like house arrest, probably.
FM: You’re 19 now, so this is adult court. But you came to adulthood with a juvenile record, right? So are you seen as a repeat offender?
FM: And how does that feel?
I dunno. It sucks. It’s going to be a long time before I can do anything like go to the States, go to school. Like I can’t do anything like placements for school or anything until I have all my charges dealt with.
FM: What kind of things are you in trouble for?
FM: What’s your relationship with drugs and alcohol? Is that a factor?
No, I don’t drink. I smoke cigarettes, that’s it. I used to drink and stuff but since I had my daughter I don’t.
FM: Right. Talk a bit about having your daughter – and that story.
I got pregnant when I was 16. I had her when I was 17. I lived with my mom for a bit because her dad was in jail. And then when he got out we got a place in Middletown and then we both got in trouble. And my bail conditions were that I had to live at the shelter. So that’s where I’m living.
FM: With your daughter?
FM: For 2 years, basically?
At the shelter? No, I had an apartment with my boyfriend for over a year and a half, and then for the last 2 months I’ve been at the shelter because my bail conditions are that I have to live there and sign in and stuff.
FM: And who or what supports you and your daughter? Financially, socially?
Ontario Works and Elizabeth Fry.
FM: They’re helpful?
FM: I’m assuming you have an Eliz Fry worker; do you like her?
FM: And you said your grandparents picked up your daughter for a visit. How often does that happen?
Once every couple of months.
FM: So more about them having contact with her than them helping you out?
Yeah, it’s more like them seeing her.
FM: Okay, can we talk mental health? You’re very quiet and ‘flat’, i.e. not much emotion. Is that your personality, or is that mental health?
Um, that’s mental health. I have anxiety and post traumatic stress and stuff. I don’t think about my past; it’s stressful, so I just don’t do it.
FM: So this is a bit hard for you?
FM: Why’d you volunteer, then?
Because I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be, and because I need the money for my daughter.
FM: Okay, mindful of time, let’s go to the finish-up questions… In order for the people who will read this story to understand it the way you mean to be understood, 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 or a hole of some sort.
Moving around so much. Because I moved a lot, like even all over Cottage County. I moved a lot, changing schools and stuff. And when I moved to Littletown, that’s when I started getting into trouble.
FM: Let’s go to the next question and we’ll come back to something… ah, the judgment question: People who read this story will form an opinion about how they think the story will end up, for good, or not so good. What do you think?
FM: So you’re optimistic?
I don’t know what that means.
FM: It means you are a glass half full person, that you tend to see the positive in the future.
FM: But that could be whistling in the dark, making sounds to keep the frightening stuff away… know what I mean?
[significant eye contact, but she wouldn’t speak.] Maybe…
FM: Okay, advice questions: What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice, that would help this story turn out better or easier or smoother or something.
Probably should have stayed at home.
FM: And what advice would you give to those of us who would hope to be helpful to young people like yourself?
I don’t know. Not to be judgmental. Because older people don’t really understand so much.
FM: Do your peers understand?
FM: Are they helpful?
Yeah, more than older people and family and stuff. Like if something happens I’d call my friends before I’d call my dad or my family or anybody.
FM: Just one more question: Is there anything that we older people could do to strengthen the support that peers offer? Like some way to give them more resources to help each other? Anything come to mind?
No. Not that I can think of.
FM: Okay, you need to rush. Thank you for sharing what has been hard, a bit sad. And I don’t think I got much more than the top layer, and that’s okay, thanks anyway.