FIJ Quarterly - Summer 2022 Edition

to showing me traveling on a Greyhound bus to Washington, DC, to screen the movie for members of Congress and industry people. Flying on an airplane wasn't an option; I didn't have an ID. I'm 32 years old now, and I still have problems obtaining state identification which prevents me from working legally. Years after being in the system, I have had time to reflect on my experience and how it affected my life. My mom died on a Saturday when I was 14. By the following Wednesday, I was a file on a social worker's desk, on my way to becoming a statistic. There was not a day I was in care that I was a person; I was a problem. The system had group homes to solve it. By the time I left care, I had been in five of these homes. While in these places, I felt responsible for the paychecks of about 75 people. I never felt cared for as a person. I was an object moved from place to place—never a person or child. I knew then that I was an orphan who needed a family and a community of people who would love and welcome me. Instead, I disappeared into an uncaring, self-absorbed bureaucracy that existed because of, not for, children like me. I was alone and would stay that way. In Montana, a social worker I loved died in a car accident on the way to pick me up for court. A couple of other people were good to me, but they never became the family I was desperate to have. Even so, their kindness made a difference because there was very little of it for me as a ward of the state. Fourteen years after being ejected from state care, life remains complicated. I still lack a family, education, or support. I have a girlfriend and dogs. I have always loved dogs; they love me no matter what, which has been essential to who I am since leaving the group homes, and they bring meaning and purpose to my life. I also love to work hard. I think as I work about being respected as a good worker who earns his wages. I am especially good at demolition; I like work that brings down things that need replacing. I have had trouble with the legal system where I live. I was placed on probation five years ago after I pleaded no contest to a charge so that I

could be let out of jail to care for my dogs. The agreement was for three years of probation. But I am still on probation five years later because I can't afford to pay the fines. If I don't pay the court in full by fall this year, I will go to prison for ten to thirty years. At a Senate gathering on Capitol Hill in 2011, I shared that my superpower is a heart that could swallow everyone in the room. The film cast and crew went to dinner while we were in DC. Everyone ordered food but me—not because it wouldn't be paid for, but because I was used to starving and I needed to keep my calories as low as possible; it helped my stomach pain to maintain a ketonic diet rather than rely on calories from the food I couldn't afford. I have learned to survive with very little. Foster care taught me about having nothing. Friends I have met riding trains taught me a lot about surviving and living on the far edge of American society, the only place I have ever been welcome since my mom died. To prepare for this article, I imagined two pictures and two questions. The first picture is an image that captures the life I have been living since being removed from my family, community, and church. I imagine a forest fire as big as Yellowstone National Park. I'm running just ahead of the flames; my dogs and the animals in the park are running with me. My mom was Yellowstone for me. So this is my question: Where am I going, and how will I end? The second picture comes from this: What would it look like if my life was working and things were good for my dogs? It would be a barn-raising; the whole community, whoever is willing, stops and helps. Then, when the barn is raised, we go in and have a party celebrating life together and the work of building rather than tearing it down. So this is my question: Who is on my team celebrating my existence? My thesis for life is to try to build something good. I want my faith to be a part of it, whatever it will be. Whatever happens, I am grateful for the life I have. ______________ 7 Williams, Paige, Director. From Place to Place , 20 Oct. 2021, place/. Accessed 2 May 2022.

30 | FIJ Quarterly | Summer 2022

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