Finding my Breakthrough

By Gilbert Howard

It started when I was three years old. I was taken away from my Gilbert-Largebiological parents in New York City and put into a foster home in upstate N.Y., along with my brother and sister. Being so young, I had little memory of being with my real mother and father. I thought these people were my family.

I’ll always carry the memories of the abuse that I had to go through while I was there.

My brother and I were frequently tortured by our foster mother. If we didn’t perform well in school, she would punish us. On a few occasions, she would put duct tape on our mouths, tie our arms around our backs, and tape our feet to the bed. This happened three or four times. Sometimes we wouldn’t eat for days.

I remember several nights, when my brother and I were both laying in bed sound asleep, that she came in and hit us. I had so many scars on my body. I remember thinking, “These people are my family. What am I not doing right?”

By the time I was 9, I left the foster home to live with my biological father in the Bronx. We were told he was ready to take care of us again. It was really hard for me to leave my foster home because I didn’t understand what was happening.

As soon as I moved back with him, the abuse began again.

It became a routine. Every Friday, my father would get drunk. When he was drunk, he turned into a different man—he’d get mean and hit us. Sometimes he’d use a belt. Other times he’d use his bare hands. He’d tell us that we were stupid, and that we would never be anything, or become anybody. I became so sick of the abuse. Eventually, I got to the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore.

So at 15 I ran away. Throughout the next several years, I found myself running from place to place, desperately trying to find somewhere to call home. I eventually went back to my father’s for a short time. From there, I ran away to Covenant House, which housed homeless youth. I liked it there. It almost felt like a dorm. They fed you three meals a day and people seemed to really care, and really listen. But it wasn’t a place that I could stay permanently. From there I bounced around multiple group homes, and an independent living program, before I wound up where I am now, living at my biological mother’s house.

When I first arrived at my mother’s I was 22 years old, and at that point, I had no high school diploma or a GED. I fell into a deep depression. At night, I would sit in the park and drink. I was hanging out with all of the wrong types of people. I was lost and felt like I was searching for some type of closure.

But then one day, I heard a voice telling me that this was not who I was supposed to be. I cleaned up my act. I got my high school diploma, and auditioned for a film in New York City called “Know How,” which featured real foster children telling their life stories on the big screen. I landed the part, and loved every single minute of it. After that, I enrolled in JobCorps, where I was certified to work in any hospital as a receptionist. I also joined AmeriCorps, which allowed me to travel across the country helping people in need.

I was able to turn my life around, but others aren’t so lucky. I believe that the foster care system needs to be improved. People in care are taken advantage of, and don’t always know their rights. I want the next young person to have a better experience in foster care than I did. I want them to know that they have rights, and to not let the system break them down. I stand tall and I’m here right now representing hundreds of thousands of people who can relate. I want to tell those who are still struggling to NEVER give up. You are here for a reason. If you feel like you are in a dark place, know that your breakthrough is just around the corner.

Published on May 23, 2014 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.