By Sandra Bang

What do you wake up to in the morning? Is it the sound of birds in the air? Is it the smell of your breakfast? Have you ever woken up to the sound of your door smashing to the ground and the sound of cops yelling, “Get down here”? I should hope not. But in the middle of August, around the start of my 7th grade year, I did. And I will never forget the experiences that followed that day.

The first thing they did was make us (meaning my father, my sister, and I) come downstairs to the living room where they cuffed my father. My mother wasn’t at home at the moment because she was in Australia. Then they proceeded to question me: Name, age, do you know why we’re here, and all the little formalities. Then one by one, they wrote down the information and made us line up in our home to take photos of us like we were criminals, first the face shot, then then the profile. At the moment, I could feel no fear, and the only thing going through my mind was that I was going to be late for school.

The next thing they did was take us into the police cars. As my sister watched my dad being led to separate car from us, she began to cry. I don’t know why but I became increasingly irritated. “Shut up!” I told her and she immediately stopped. I think the reason why I got mad was because if she started crying, I would start too and if I wanted to stay strong, that couldn’t happen. The female officer that led my sister and I to this car eventually came back and we were driven off, without a single person telling us what was happening to us. When we finally arrived at the destination, we were taken to a waiting room where the movie Remember the Titans was playing. Then the police officer left us alone for about an hour until she returned with another woman named Pam. She told us we were in a place called a “receiving home” and told us this was where kids go until they were “placed”. I didn’t really understand it at the time but eventually I realized that we were going to be put into foster families. She led us to a dorm room, where I met other girls who were about to be placed.

For a month, we stayed in the dorm and I learned many different things bout the receiving home. First the boys and girls dorms were separate, on opposite sides of the home. The boys and girls would eat at different times usually and only during “school” or events were we allowed to mingle with the other. Each child was given an allowance, corresponding to their age, and depending on how good you were each day, you earned points, which allowed you to buy things from the store. There’s different people who come during each part of the day in order to keep surveillance on the kids. For example, during the evenings, Ms. Micayla would come in and watch us; then at around 10 p.m., Micayla would switch off with Sarah.

During my time there, I met a variety of people who were there. There was a girl there named Alena whom I really looked up to as an older sister. It was her 3rd time coming to the home. She told me her previous foster mother had a child that didn’t take too well to her. Apparently, the child tried to stab her but the foster mother didn’t care about Alena because she wasn’t her real child. So when Alena tried to defend herself by fighting against the girl, the foster mother became enraged and Alena had to return to the home. She always wore long sleeves and when she lifted them up for me to see, there were many old scars which were remainders of the days when she would cut herself due to depression. When I talked to the other girls, their stories were similar. They would tell me about how the foster families would usually forsake them for their real children and at times, they would be abused and go AWOL. In the home, I’d hear about some girls that would go AWOL, and they would usually be caught soon. But at other times, I’d hear some of the dorm workers tell the officers to forget it. So some of the officers wouldn’t even try to look for them. I remember hearing one of them say, “Who cares if a kid or two go missing? This place has too many kids anyways.”

My mother eventually came back from Australia. My sister and I were informed by our social worker and eventually, my mother was granted the right to visit us. Needless to say, it was an emotional reunion. She told me how the house was in shambles from being searched and how she was an emotional wreck because the lawyers were continuously hammering her with accusations and questions, saying how she was in on the “crime” with my father and how she abused us. She brought us some school books and our backpacks, which still had my wallet in it that held about a hundred dollars. When my mom left, we had our backpacks placed in storage. Before the visitation was over, my mom told me to beg my social worker to let us come back to her, and to try to be good so that they’ll let us out faster. I promised I would but nothing usually works out as plan.

Near September, we met with two different foster parents on different days. I felt like we were at an interview and they were trying to sell themselves to us. There was an African American couple and an Asian one. Our social workers placed us with the Asian couple, whom we eventually came to know as Eddy and Kathryn. She said that she felt we would be more comfortable in an environment that corresponds with our ethnicities. She said that she really wanted to get us placed as soon as possible because we were behaving very well in the home and deserved it. She also said that they were willing to take the both of us, which was rare for foster parents. Usually sibling are placed in different families and never have the luxury of meeting so frequently with each other. So soon after, we moved in with Eddy and Kathryn, our new foster parents. When we packed up to leave with them, I remember that three of our dorm mothers were very depressed. I remember especially Pam, the first person we met at the home, who hugged each of us and teared up. She said, “You two are such good kids. If they weren’t taking you, I would adopt you both.” After I left, I found her online and we talked for a while until she stopped responding to me. Then I found out the reason why was because she had cancer and to this day I still don’t know what happened to her.

We were with Eddy and Kathryn for about ¾ of the year. There was already a boy living there named Joey, who was 17, and soon after, they would take in another boy named Darrien, who was the same age as me at the time, 13. We bonded with both of them and eventually, I felt like they really were my brothers. I was very nervous being in their home. From the stories I’ve heard from the other kids, I thought my sister and I were going to suffer horribly, and probably be attacked from all sides. But we didn’t. And we got to know the two of them and we also bonded with them and it felt like they were family too. We got to know their family members and were taken on many different trips, like camping or snowboarding. From what I know, we were very fortunate to end up with such wonderful foster parents like them and I’ll never be able to show how grateful I am to them for taking such good care of us and giving us experiences we probably couldn’t have had with our own parents. The best part is that even when we returned to our mom, we still stayed in touch with them, their families, and our foster “siblings”.

During the summer after the end of 7th grade, we returned to our mother. And for a couple months after that, we attended court to our father’s hearing, where he was placed in jail for over a year for growing marijuana (before it was legal) and marital abuse. My mother divorced him while he was in jail and soon after that, our social worker told us we were finally released from the system. Just as suddenly as it all began, were no longer wards of the state and people stopped coming to check up on us. We were finally free.