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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My Brother’s in Jail
But I need to focus on my own life
Joseph Segarra
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Before my older brother Kurt got addicted to drugs and started running with a gang, he was a straight-A student. He wanted to show everyone, particularly his father, that he was smart and could accomplish anything. He had an easygoing personality and didn’t worry about much. His plan was to be the first boy in our family to go to college.

Then he started skipping school, and when he was in school he was getting in trouble. He lied a lot, like when he sold his and my video games for drug money and said I lost them.

By the time I was 10 and Kurt was 16 and a junior in high school, I knew that addiction had taken him over. He started acting angry and aggressive when he was sober. When he was high he was calm and nice.

He acted like nothing mattered to him. Not his family or himself. He started disrespecting my mom by getting high around me and my little sister. I could smell the weed throughout our home. He was in and out of jail for possession.

One night, my uncle had a talk with my brother, and it seemed like he might be ready to get help. They talked in our bedroom and I sat on the bed and listened. It was dark because the shade was down. I couldn’t move because I was stunned at how hard my brother was crying.

My uncle told him that he could live with him if he felt it would be better for him to get out of our house for a while.

“I want to do whatever I can to help you stay out of jail this time,” he told him. “If you keep this up, no one will hire you, you won’t finish school, and it will affect your entire life. Please keep trying to straighten your life out and don’t give up.”

He said this a few different ways over and over, and my brother just listened and cried.

But nothing changed. Kurt seemed deaf to the truth. To
reality.

I Looked Up to Him

Before his addiction, we had fun. He played video games with me and took me to the pool. He loved me and it felt good. Although I get love from other members of my family, his love felt special because he didn’t show anyone else that love. It felt like it was only for me. Whenever my other two brothers picked on me he’d defend me.

He often talked about how he felt about us having two different dads. That made me feel good because he didn’t usually open up to people.

I looked up to him because he was my older brother. He was tall for his age and outspoken about his feelings and opinions.

image by YC-Art Dept

I admired his talent at drawing and writing stories. One day I found his writing and sketch books and looked at them while he was in the shower. Kurt didn’t want to show me his work but he’d talk about it. He’d drawn a little character who was alone writing about someone who was alone. The title was intriguing: “The Destruction and Resurrection of Loneliness!”

“I wrote a story about a boy being alone,” he said. “It’s a character who is finding his way to happiness and love and closure.”

My Brother Becomes
a Stranger

Over time however, it became clear to me that he was addicted not just to drugs but to the streets, the drug money, the gang life. He stopped spending time with me.

One night he said, “I don’t care for no one but myself and the way I live to support myself.” He didn’t seem to care that he was a bad influence on me.

When I was 12, I was home watching “Storage Wars” with my two other brothers. We had a mattress on the floor with white sheets on it and a pillow. When Kurt came in, the only light was from the TV and it was dim. I could still see he had blood all over his face and clothes. The blood got on our sheets.

My dad walked in and had a look that said we all needed to get out of the room. It felt hard to move. I was breathing heavily and felt stuck. But I forced myself up and left.

From the bedroom, I heard my dad ask Kurt questions about where he had been and what he’d been doing that led to all the blood. Kurt was vague and not truthful. I felt this rushing feeling of anger. First I was angry at the people who had jumped Kurt, but then my anger turned toward him.

I was angry that he had lost his way and was not reaching his potential. I was angry that he was becoming just another statistic. I was angry that he was involved in illegal activity that got him jumped and his head smashed into brick, and that he came home bleeding and making excuses to hide the truth—which is that he’s a drug dealer and addict.

I still feel like that.

But a part of me had and has other feelings that conflict and confuse me: Why should I care for someone who doesn’t want or need help? That night I let my frustration out on the wall and I bruised my knuckles.

How His Actions Affected Me

Over the next few years, I lay awake at night a lot worrying about where Kurt was and if he was OK. The cops would often come to the door, either with him, because he had been caught smoking, or without him, to notify my parents he had been arrested.

image by YC-Art Dept

This caused my mother a lot of stress. Kurt’s father was a deadbeat, and she worried that he was going down the same path. My mother took it out on me and my little sister by yelling at us a lot. I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help her; it was so hard to help her calm down and feel happy. Sometimes I felt lost. I wanted to make her proud of me and change her day from stressful to happy, but sometimes I didn’t have the strength.

When I was 13, my brother got picked up once again for drug possession. Instead of giving his name, he used my middle name and last name when the police were looking up his record (we have different last names). As a result, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) came to my school to ask the guidance counselor personal questions about me. Questions like if I was safe at home with my parents. Other kids saw me in the office with the ACS worker and a social worker. I was embarrassed and felt so alone.

After that my parents had to show up at the ACS facility, where they asked me and my little sister if we get hit or whipped or don’t receive enough attention or love, and if our home is decent. This not only angered my parents but me as well, knowing there was a chance that me and my little sister might be separated or taken away.

After this, I finally realized that Kurt no longer cared about me. He hadn’t thought about the consequences of giving my name to the police. He never apologized or acknowledged how he had jeopardized me and my whole family.

From Worry to Resentment

My worry for him slowly turned to anger and resentment, but I still couldn’t give up on him. I kept hoping he would turn around.

When I was 14 and Kurt was 20, there was a period when he wasn’t in jail or rehab but just home. One day my family piled into the car to go a relative’s house. Usually there was tension when my brother was with us; in the car we needed music or sports radio talk to make it feel less awkward.

I don’t know why, but on this day there was no tension. We started brainstorming ideas for positive ways to get my brother out of the house. I suggested he get his GED. He liked that idea. He had also recently interviewed well for a stock boy job at a warehouse. So we were all feeling good. That day was one of the few happy times with my family. But he didn’t go get his GED or the job.

He found his way back to the people who were no good for him. He got picked up again, and there was a cycle of getting picked up and judges cutting him slack and sending him to rehab. He’d come out a little bit better, but he always got back into it.

Conflicted Feelings

Then one day, I found liquor and weed stashed by his bed. I never told my parents nor did I tell my brother that I knew about the drugs.

Soon after, he was convicted of theft and sentenced to four years in prison.

I feel like if I’d confronted him I might have prevented him from continuing on the wrong path. But another part of me knows I can’t guide him through life. I am just his little brother, after all.

It isn’t just how he turned on me and my family that makes me angry and disappointed. I don’t understand how someone with such an intellectual mind could throw that away. I wondered if, even though he seemed confident in school at the time, that maybe he felt like he wasn’t smart. Maybe he hid that part of himself away and just gave up.

It’s been two years now since my brother went to jail. He sends me letters saying he is sorry and how he’s aware of his wrongdoings. I don’t write him back. And I don’t speak to him when he calls. He tries to make me feel bad by writing that he has no one. It is so hard for me to give up on him, but I need to focus on my life and not put my time and emotions into someone who doesn’t care about himself or me.

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(NYC-2018-03-21)

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