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He came to realize this when even the Job Corps, set up to help young men like him get honest work, rejected him over his Metro tickets. “We have a zero-tolerance policy,” says Job Corps admissions counselor Thap Lam in an interview months after John came through his office. Lam had seen 10,000 young men much like John during his career, but he was retiring with 15 files left “open” — cases of young men who never got into a program that could have set them straight.
On Christmas Eve of 2008, a year after she refused to upset her Christmas break by filling out the paperwork to provide immediate wraparound help to foster mom Kendall, Ealey-Tutt filed her last report on John. It would terminate him from a life in government care.
The Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles says that of the 1,600 to 1,800 young people who walk out of DCFS every year at age 18, half are high school dropouts, and a quarter will become homeless or be incarcerated. Now the only thing between John and the street was his baby’s mother, Karina, and her tight-knit multigenerational Mexican-American family, living deep in South L.A., which had taken John in.
Last February, I helped John move from Karina’s home to a room shared with day laborers and drifters in South L.A. It cost $250 a month, within his tiny budget. As we drove in my car, John was brimming with hope. For two months, he’d held down the job we had found together at Wing Stop in Inglewood. Karina was proud. Her family was proud. He was leaving their home so he could learn to stand on his own two feet and be a better father to Adrian.
But he would not even spend one night at his new home. Instead, he saw his old friends from the system. He skipped work three times and was fired. He would soon be on a Greyhound heading for Montana, abandoning his son.
Superior, Montana, has two motels and a grocery store. The deep, cold, fast-moving Clark Fork River holds much excitement for young people, who seem to outnumber older adults there. At the town’s one bar, the talk is of selling old tools, hunting and working at the sawmill.
Doundie Kyzer and her husband, Dallas, live on one of a dozen poorly paved streets. In the alley behind them is a squat dark house where I recently visited John.
The continental heat beats on their corrugated-metal roof. Sun spills into Doundie’s living room. “As far as me and my son,” whom John left with Karina and her family in South L.A., he says, “it hurts like fuck. Every day, it hurts. Knowing that he is out there.
“I feel like I did what my dad did. That’s why it hurts me because I feel like I just left him. I feel like I abandoned him. And the whole time, I was saying if I ever had a kid I’d never do that. I hated my dad for a long time for doing that and I did the same thing.
“No matter what anybody tells me and whatever they say about it, I can’t change the fact that I left my kid. Everybody can say, ‘It’s not your fault. You had to get out of California.’
“But I had a job out there. I had a place to live. I had no excuse why, and I should have made sure everything was okay and I didn’t do that. I came out here because I needed to be out here and I was thinking about myself. Not him. That’s what hurts me.
“I did just leave my son. I can’t change it, I can’t hide it. I can’t do anything about it. I left my son.”
John starts to cry.
Addendum: As of press time, John Kyzer had moved on again, this time to the farming town of Ritzville, Washington, where he has been working at McDonald’s. His new girlfriend there is pregnant.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.