The youth-written stories in YCteen give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Always Writing Out My Life
Precious Sims
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Everything important has been written down first. Movie scripts are written before they’re made into scenes; songs are written before they’re recorded, and business goals are written before they’re completed. Writing is the first step to creating something. It’s beautiful—it’s taking your inner thoughts and making history.

I once said to my mother, “If we had more writers in the world, there would be less death.” She laughed and said, “Only you would think something like that.” But some people don’t know how to cope with things, so they go out and hurt other people or themselves.

Writing certainly helped me through some of the toughest times of my life. There were times I was so angry that I thought of ways to hurt myself or others. But writing helped me face my problems without taking negative action.

I was in foster care on and off from ages 14 to 18, and those were the most unstable times of my life. Being in care was lonely, and I often felt empty. Writing filled that hole while letting me reminisce on the past.

Still Need It

I still need writing even though I live with family now and have a job at Wal-Mart. Being a writer and working in retail is not easy. The hours are long, and the customers can be grouchy and rude.

I have a personal diary that I come home to, where I write about how work was. You know that feeling when you bite your tongue, then get angry, because you dwell on how you should have said something? Writing in a personal journal works as therapy to let out my feelings without creating a conflict. I keep it in the journal because using social media to vent isn’t always safe.

Throughout my life, writing has kept me calm and motivated. Writing a song and then going back over it is a way for me to figure out what I’m feeling and why. For example, I took this song I’d written about my life, and then went back over it and highlighted words that triggered my emotions:


Today I woke up, I was upset
Heart filled with so much pain and regret
Knowing my father chose that bottle of alcohol over his responsibilities
And my mother was never around but still used me to pay off her utilities
So here I am looking back with a fist full of tears
How they let foster care keep me all them years
I can never go back and be a child again
Only remembrance is hard times in Hollywood and grateful friends
Don’t cry, I tell myself, you are not alone
You will come at peace with your past once you have a place to call your own.


Going back over the song and highlighting the emotional words, I faced my pain and regret. I am not happy with my father drinking; I don’t think he is responsible. I felt used by my mother; I did not like being in foster care. I want to be a child again because I missed so much childhood. But I don’t need to cry; I need to find a place to call my own and then I’ll feel peace.

I reevaluated myself through literature, and that was self-therapy.

Reclaiming ‘AWOL’

image by YC-Art Dept

Like many foster kids, I often AWOLed. AWOL means absent without leave: Foster care borrowed the phrase from the military, where it means leaving your base without permission. AWOLing usually isn’t running away forever; it’s more of an impulse.

A few times I ran away from my foster homes in frustration just to get some air. Being told what to do every second of your life, who you can see, and when you get time for yourself can be overwhelming. There were times I ditched school just to see my father or let my stepmother braid my hair.

AWOL is an idea that still haunts me. On a bad day, I want to run away from my problems. So I decided to transform those four letters into something positive and created a website called 100 AWOL—Always Writing Out Life. Why I named it that: The number 100 represents honesty, wisdom, and completion. Slang for “be honest” is “keep it 100,” as in keep it 100% real. With age comes wisdom, and a lot of people never see the age 100. To complete something means to go through with it 100%.

As far as the AWOL part, I want to flip that phrase around. Absent Without Leave means a human isn’t free to go where they want to. This is the opposite of Always Writing Out Life. Even in jail prisoners find a reminder of freedom by writing. Writing keeps people in jail from losing their minds and helps them cope with their suffocating reality. Always Writing Out Life is a reminder that we still have control of our minds and our thoughts no matter what else is going on.

I launched 100 AWOL in January 2012. People saw it and asked, “Who helped you?” I took advice here and there but everything was done through my gifted hands. I used a free website builder to launch my website. It took about a week.

I wanted to create a place where young ambitious people who don’t have a lot of connections or advantages could show their talent and create beauty. For the launch, I posted a couple of my articles along with poems by a few other people I knew. I made a Facebook page, an e-mail address, a Twitter account, and a YouTube channel to promote the site and connect to more users.

Writing Is Contagious

I wanted the site to reach people who have a hard time coping with life and who sometimes feel like AWOLing from their hard situations. I wanted my website to make them smile, to let them know they are not alone, and to encourage them to send in their own writing. I wanted to build a community of gifted writers who know pain but were inspired to see beyond the obstacles they faced. I wanted to do for others what a couple other publications—L.A. Youth and Represent—did for me.

When I was 17, I had my first article published in L.A. Youth, a youth-written newspaper in Los Angeles. That inspired me to keep writing, and it built my self-esteem. I began keeping more of my writings instead of throwing them away, knowing I could get published and read. Then I started writing for Represent magazine in New York City.
At both magazines, I work with an editor, which makes me a stronger writer. It boosts my writing skills, memory skills, and self-confidence. Editors ask questions that dig deep to the root of a situation. Working with an editor is like putting a mirror in front of yourself and your writing.

L.A. Youth and Represent were part of my inspiration to start my own publication. I always felt like writing made me abnormal or weird because when people asked, “What do you do for fun?” I would say read and write and they would laugh or say, “That’s boring.” I didn’t know other people who liked to write daily, so it was nice to see all the articles in these two youth publications.

When I first started 100 AWOL, I got hate mail from people telling me the website isn’t going to make it because “business people don’t like dykes or girls in suits.” That motivated me to try harder to make opportunities for myself and my fellow LGBT 100 AWOL members. This poem is about how it felt to start 100 AWOL Always Writing Out Life and what I hoped to bring to others.


Free as a Butterfly
I seen the wind in motion and visualized myself with wings
I was finally free
Like a butterfly fresh from the cocoon landing on a fresh flower
Full of sweet powder
Pressed against the petals
Completely leveled
Trusting the garden in which it chose to settle
Not scared to live or give in to life
Not scared to spread its wings and fly
Not scared to be born again and give life another try
I was once a caterpillar; now I am a butterfly.

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(FCYU-2018-01-28)

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