Ariel's Story

photography by Yalonda M. James for the Juvenile Project

photography by Yalonda M. James for the Juvenile Project

“I never really opened up to anybody... then in middle school, I guess one of the deans confronted me about why I was such a horrible student, and I just kind of opened up to them, and I told them I have really bad depression. I have a lot of at home issues. So that was the first person that I got to connect with because it wasn't even like a student/staff thing. It was more like human-to-human because she hooked me up with a lot of help, hooked me up with like a counselor and everything like that, and she helped me pass middle school.”

Ariel is an 18 year-old student in her first year at the College of San Mateo in northern California. She experienced homelessness from a young age, when the apartment building where she was living burned down, and her parents’ relationship spiraled into domestic violence. Following her parents’ divorce, she and her mother moved from place to place around the South Bay. In addition to the instability of not having a permanent home, she and her mother frequently lived in women’s shelters seeking to escape more abusive relationships.

By the time she got to high school, she was skipping so much that she was expelled and sent to an alternative school, where she met other young people who had been adjudicated delinquent for various misdemeanors. Running with this new crowd, her behavior changed for the worse, and she ended up in an abusive relationship herself. Following an incident of domestic violence with him, she went unconscious, but when the police came, they arrested her - resulting in one felony and two misdemeanor charges. She was 15 at the time. The felony charge was dropped, and she was given two years probation for battery on a spouse, and subsequently spent time in detention for every violation of her probation. She attended five high schools before she graduated.

When she was 16, her mother moved back to Guatemala. Ultimately, Ariel went to live in foster care until she aged out at 18. She is currently living with her grandmother, attending school, and working at the Multicultural & Dream Center on campus as an advocate for students who have experienced homelessness.

Interview with Ariel, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on February 11, 2019 via phone in San Mateo, California.

Joann: Tell me your name and how old you are and where you're living currently.

Ariel: My name is Ariel Cortes. My age is 18, and I live in San Mateo, California.

Joann: Okay. So tell me where you grew up and a little bit about your kind of home environment in the area where you grew up and what your significant experiences were as a child and as a young teenager.

Ariel: So I've grown up in the Bay Area all my life. More so San Mateo, and so my home environment, it was a little bit wild. I kind of had an abusive dad, and so him and my mom would fight a lot. And eventually my apartment actually burned down which was really kind of sad. So we had to move around San Mateo between family members' houses.

Then I guess all of that pressure from that situation kind of built on my parents and eventually started getting physically abusive, and then started the divorce process. And I was around I think ten or so when this started happening. So me and my mom kind of were going all over San Mateo with like family members' houses without my dad. And yeah.

So I've just grown up in San Mateo with my mom. She was a single mom, and she had a lot of experience with abusive relationships. So we were in a lot of women's shelters a lot of my childhood until eventually she kind of just left to Guatemala to stay with my extended family. And she left me with my uncle, and then eventually adopted into foster care. So.

Joann: How old were you when she went to Guatemala?

Ariel: I was 16.

Joann: Okay. And you were about [six] years old when the fire happened?

Ariel: Yeah. So my mom started going around houses, and then throughout those years we were just jumping around shelters and all of that.

Joann: Where were you going to high school, and or just school? You would've been still probably even in elementary or middle school during this time.

Ariel: So we stayed with my grandma for a little bit. And I was going to ... Luckily I got to stay in one Middle School. But eventually I was going around, once I got into high school I think I went to about five high schools in total.

Joann: Oh.

Ariel: All in the San Mateo County District.

Joann: So wow, I'm so sorry that you had these experiences. It sounds like it was incredibly chaotic.

Ariel: Yeah, instability has definitely been a problem throughout my life.

Joann: You mentioned your mom and your ... I'm sorry, your grandmother, where you were staying, and your uncle. Did you ever have extended family that you felt really close to that you had a strong connection with outside of ... yeah.

Ariel: No, I always kept to myself, and I guess I had depression as a child growing up. So I was always in my own bubble. So when my mom left, I was ... that was the only connection I ever had. With a family member. So when my mom left, I just kept to myself.

Joann: When you were sixteen.

Ariel: Yeah.

Joann: Tell me a little bit about ... You mentioned growing up that you had some depression. You were an only child. Tell me a little bit about what your life was like before the fire happened.

Ariel: I guess it was pretty normal. I mean, my parents were together. I was a kid. I was going to elementary school every day. My dad would take me out like every weekend. It was like really normal.

Joann: Yeah?

Ariel: Yeah.

Joann: Were you still at the same school? So you said you stayed, you were able to stay, kind of at the same school. What were the things that you remember? How did the school support you or not support you when everything happened. I mean, I imagine if there was a fire with an apartment building that there were other children possibly going to the same school who had a similar experience. Was that the case?

Ariel: No. My school actually never found out. So after that happened, I was kind of like a troubled kid. I guess that fire happened around when I was six or seven or something. So I started getting into like a lot of trouble in elementary school, and they never really knew why.

Joann: I see. How ... When you say you were getting into trouble in elementary school, describe what that looked like, what that experience is like for you.

Ariel: I was kind of a bully. Honestly, I was kind of a mean little kid. I would pick fights with everybody, and I was like turn my classmates down, you know. Put them down a lot. I guess that was 'cause of my own personal issues. Once my parents started having problems, my dad started reflecting that on me. So I was kind of aggressive when I was a kid.

Joann: Did you ever have any other adults in your life through school or through any sort of other outside extracurricular activities that you made any sort of connections with?

Ariel: No. Not in elementary school.

Joann: Okay. What about as you got older, did you have anybody that you told about your home experiences and the kind of instability? Did you ever share that with anybody, or even friends or other adults?

Ariel: Yeah, I guess I had friends that I would talk to, but I never really opened up to anybody like that. And then in middle school, I guess one of the deans confronted me about why I was such a horrible student, and I just kind of opened up to them, and I told them like I have really bad depression. I have a lot of at home issues. So then that was the first person that I got to connect with because it wasn't even like a student/staff thing. It was more like human to human because she hooked me up with a lot of help, hooked me up with like a counselor and everything like that, and she helped me I guess pass middle school.

Joann: Yeah.

Ariel: Yeah.

Joann: What grade were you in when you were able to make this connection?

Ariel: I think seventh grade.

Joann: Yeah.

Ariel: And she helped me throughout [inaudible 00:07:50]. And she just helped me kind of get my things together, I guess.

Joann: Yeah. Yeah. So you pass middle school, and you had to go to high school, and you said that that was ... you kind of moved around a lot. I imagine at some point ... So tell me about kind of the timeline, so to speak, because I know you said your mom left when you were sixteen, but I know also we're having this conversation because you had experiences in the justice system, and I'm kind of curious about what that looked like for you. Like when you started getting into trouble that meant that you were having to interface with the justice system.

Ariel: It started when I first went to high school. I actually got kicked out because my attendance was so bad. I was ditching all the time. They sent me to an alternative high school called Gateway, and that was right next to the juvenile hall over here. So a lot of the faculty that worked at the juvenile hall was also extended to alternative [inaudible 00:09:08]. If that makes sense. Does that make sense?

Joann: Yeah, you actually ... the call dropped for a second so I didn't actually hear that last little bit.

Ariel: Okay so the staff that worked at the juvenile hall were also working at the alternative high school down the street.

Joann: Okay, yeah.

Ariel: Yeah, so then I guess I started getting into the wrong crowd 'cause a lot of troubled ... a lot of kids there weren't even there for their lack of attendance. They were in and out of juvenile hall. They had committed misdemeanors and everything like that. So they were kept close to juvenile hall. So I ... wrong crowd, and I started doing bad things, and I never really got caught up until I had a relationship with somebody there, and it was an abusive relationship, and just one day he got really intoxicated. He started trying to fight me in his house and everything, and then eventually he called the police. And then I got locked up even though he actually pulled a knife on me, [inaudible 00:10:28] the knife.

He made me blackout, but I guess the police still took me in so I got I think one felony charge and like two misdemeanors.

Joann: For that experience?

Ariel: Excuse me?

Joann: For that particular experience where from the-

Ariel: Yeah, when-

Joann: Okay.

Ariel: When they arrested me, they got a felony for me saying that I forgot, what was it, oh assault with a deadly weapon. So that was because my ex-boyfriend at the time lied to the police and told them that I had a knife on me the entire time, but really he took out a kitchen knife and so they took me in for that, and eventually a few days later my ex-boyfriend actually wrote a letter to the judge saying that he was extremely intoxicated when this happened, and he lied to the police. That he was responsible for everything.

But they still took me in. However, they dropped the felony charge to a misdemeanor for battery on spouse. Because in the report, in the police report, I had told them that I pushed him when he was hitting me so they charged me for that. So I was put on probation for two years for that. Even though he pulled out a knife on me. He was banging me against the wall and everything like that, and the only thing he got charged for was when he admitted to the judge, he got charged for brandishing a weapon. Which is a horrible experience with the justice system, I guess.

Joann: Yeah.

Ariel: 'Cause [inaudible 00:12:25] that trauma I was being charged falsely even when he admitted to it.

Joann: You said you spent two years on probation. How old were you when this incident happened?

Ariel: I think fourteen, fifteen. So then I was on probation I think up until ending of 16 or the beginning of 17. While I was on probation I was just in and out a lot for probation violations. Like ... Well not a lot. Specifically like three times, and both of those times were for me being under five minutes tardy to my class. So I ended up missing more school. And then the other one was just because I didn't make my curfew. So.

Joann: Oh. So during this time period, when you would be charged and when you're arrested, when the police came and took you out of that house and ... Were you ... Did you ever have an attorney? Did you ever ... Was your mom able to be present. What was ... Tell me about all of that.

Ariel: The court process, everything went well. I was assigned a public attorney. And she was pretty good. She definitely helped me out with my charges. And yeah so my mom was able to be present during court and everything like that.

Joann: So you had the two years. Were you able to be released after that two years when you were sixteen, I mean before you entered the foster care system at some point?

Ariel: It was before I entered the foster care system.

Joann: So tell me a little bit about that process like what happened, how you ended up getting into the foster care system.

Ariel: So after I'm done with my probation, about 16 or 17, when my mom left it like really hit hard. I'm getting into a lot of trouble. I was doing a lot of pills and stuff like that. And yeah so I remember one night I just kind of had like an I don't care about my life moment, and I took about fourteen Xanax pills, and I was found by my uncle blacked out in a park. Then eventually I guess that ... So when this happened, my uncle had custody of me. So when he saw that, he didn't want responsibility of me anymore. So that night, the police took me in, and they gave me a few charges that were eventually dropped because they found out that I was gonna go into the foster care system from then.

So then from juvenile hall, I was in there about a week, and then they found a foster home for me. And then I stayed there until I aged out.

Joann: What was your foster home like?

Ariel: They treated me like I was second class. Every time they would have dinner, they wouldn't tell me or my foster roommates, and then they would hide their leftovers in the second fridge that we weren't allowed to go into. So in our fridge we had a lot of expired food. And my foster mom would always act really sweet in front of my social worker, and then she kept allowance from me. She never bought me any clothes. Yeah, so I had really old clothes. Yeah. It wasn't a great experience.

Joann: Did you ever say anything ... I mean were you ever able to seek with a social worker and express any of this, or did you just kind of stick it out?

Ariel: When I was sticking it out at first because I was just grateful alone that I didn't have to be in juvenile hall because it was either that or I go back to juvenile hall. So I stuck it out, but once I was coming closer to opting out, once I turned eighteen, it just started ... It was just too much, and I just reported it to my social worker, and me and my social worker were really close. We had a really good relationship, and she took it really personally.

So she took it to court, and my foster roommates were moved to another foster home, and that foster home that I lived in that I reported was shut down.

Joann: Wow.

Ariel: Yeah.

Joann: That's pretty impressive. I'm glad you had a good relationship with your social worker, with your caseworker.

Ariel: Yeah.

Joann: So as you were kind of preparing to ... So when was your eighteen birthday because you're still eighteen.

Ariel: It was September.

Joann: Okay. So when ... Were you able to age out before the age of ... I mean, did you actually stay there until everything got shut down? What happened? If it went to court, I imagine it was a process.

Ariel: I stayed there until I was eighteen. I guess I always kind of knew in the back of my mind my grandma would let me into her home. So I [inaudible 00:18:57] reaching out however. If I needed anything, I probably wanted to stay at the foster home. But once I turned eighteen I was still living there> I was still living with the foster home, but my foster mom just texted and was like, "Hey, you have to leave today." Yeah.

And I asked her why, and she said ... I guess she kind of once I aged out she literally did not care. I guess she had no filter and she just said it was 'cause she wasn't gonna get any more money. I went back to my grandma's house within the same week, and I've been here ever since, and everything's been fine. Everything's been a lot better, actually.

Joann: Are you currently ... I mean, Danny referred you. Are you going to school at San Mateo? Where are you going to school?

Ariel: I'm going to college in San Mateo. I'm a full-time student. My major is psychology, and I'm currently on my second semester.

Joann: So you were able to, even with like everything you've been through, you graduated from high school. Like all the different high schools. Tell me about the high school experience actually like graduating or however you know, like the process of being like, "I'm gonna go to college in the fall." There's a lot going on there. Tell me about that.

Ariel: Getting in a lot of trouble at school, but I guess I don't know. I just grew really close with faculty there. Like the principal, the vice principal, the dean. Like everybody I would visit them like every day, and they would buy me food. It was that great.

Joann: Which school was this?

Ariel: It was [Mills 00:20:55] High School. It was the school that I stayed for my junior and senior year.

Joann: Okay.

Ariel: And they just, they were so supportive. I was able to open to them, and they totally understood. I was suspended like I think about ten times, actually, and they never expelled me. 'Cause I guess they knew that I was just a troubled kid, but I had good intentions. I guess they saw my potential, and when right before I was gonna graduate, one of the campus aides, the one that would catch me ditching a lot, pulled me aside because we had such a great relationship. He would tell me like ... he gave me money for food when I found out that I was almost gonna become homeless in the foster home. And he would tell me like, "Hey, don't ever let life put you down. You're a really strong person. You're super resilient."

So yeah. Just those people. They were such a great support. They helped me graduate, they gave me the motivation to. And yeah.

Joann: That's amazing. So you had apparently in middle school you had somebody who was really looking out for you, and then you had some more instability, and you were able to find it again. And I imagine your junior year you would've been about sixteen so this kind of coincided with your mom leaving and going into foster care. Like how-

Ariel: Excuse me.

Joann: I'm thinking about the timelines when you would've been going into your junior year. Tell me about the first few years of high school, and then how you were able to find and make connections at Mills because I'm thinking about how old you are when you're a junior. You're like sixteen, and that would've been about the same time that you would've gone into foster care.

Ariel: Well, in the beginning high school I wasn't in foster care, but I have a lot of issues. So I actually, I was the kid that would actually kind of eat my lunch in the bathroom, and I never made any connections. I was always alone. Like even when people tried to talk to me, I would burn those bridges down immediately.

But I guess throughout my high school years, throughout these four years, me going through all of this shit kind of made me think that my social anxiety just wasn't shit compared to everything else that I was going through. So then eventually I became less anxious about making connections with people so then when I stayed at Mills, I made these connections with people going through my really bad struggles. And yeah. It's a little bit hard to explain.

Joann: Well how did that start? Was it with the adults in the school, or did you have ... I mean who was it that was the first person that you kind of confided in at Mills? And how did that happen?

Ariel: My campus aide, Michael. 'Cause he kept catching me ditch all the time. And eventually he just pulled me aside because I was with a group of friends when I always ditched, and he just said, "Hey, man. What's going on?" 'Cause yeah. I was just a really troubled kid, and then I just told him straight up like, "Dude, like, my mom's gone. I'm depressed as fuck. I'm doing a lot of drugs." And then yeah, I guess from that day on he just always kind of looked out for me, and then I don't know. I guess since, I guess all the faculty saw that he was really cool with me. So eventually they all kind of grew on me. So. Then they all kind of found out my situation and they all looked out for me.

Joann: Wow. So you mentioned that you'd gotten suspended, but they were like, "Okay, we're not gonna expel you." Was that something that they had ... in so many school districts, you know, there's like the different strikes and the different points, and then there's like a requirement that you be expelled. Was that something that they just kind of said, "Well, we're gonna override that and just say you can stay here."

Ariel: Yeah, they really gave me so much leeway. I have no idea. I did not get expelled, but they really understood my situation, and they were so patient with me. Never really did anything too drastic to make them feel like they had to expel me. I was just ditching a lot, and then the most drastic thing I did was like get into a fight with somebody because they made a remark about my mom abandoning me. So. And then they didn't expel me because of how that fight started like they understood.

Joann: So obviously you were able to get support, and in terms of just on a more personal level and emotional level, were you able to find ... Did you have a counselor, or did you have people that you were working with?

Ariel: Yeah. I did. School was ... Mills High School was the only good stability in my life at that time.

Joann: And that's only been ... I mean, it's been less than a year since you graduated from that school, right?

Ariel: Yeah.

Joann: So what has it been like ... Like what, since you graduated, who have been consistent ... Do you still have people who are supporting you and consistent with you? You mentioned a social worker through the foster care, and your grandmother.

Ariel: I grew closer to my family after I graduated high school because with those positive connections, I just had a really great experience, and I just started getting closer with people in general. So now I just really look out for my family, and they really look out for me.

Joann: Tell me about your family. Who all do you have relationships with in that area?

Ariel: I have a good relationship with my uncle even though all of that happened. I have a good relationship with everybody. I've matured as a person. I think it wasn't them, it was more so me because I never gave them a chance, I guess.

Joann: Well you were going through a lot of stuff. I wouldn't necessarily ... I think that's ... Have you had conversations with them about that? What do they say when you say stuff like that? Or when y'all talk about it.

Ariel: We don't like to talk about the past.

Joann: Okay, that's fair enough.

Ariel: Yeah, it's just like too much, you know?

Joann: Yeah. Well, I know ... I mean, I imagine that your contact with the system and its various forms was obviously traumatizing on top of the other experiences that you had, but I would like to hear a little bit more about the specific ways. Like what your treatment was like and what your experiences were like when you were actually housed at different facilities. Particularly in terms of the justice system. What the alternative school was like. You mention that the alternative school that you were going to that was like right next to juvenile hall. Like...

Ariel: Oh my god.

Joann: Yeah, so tell me a little bit more about that. Tell me about your experiences during that time period.

Ariel: Hillcrest would not let me out. They kept me in a cell all day, and the only times I would go out was for my shower. And sometimes if somebody was behaving badly, they wouldn't let them shower. They treated us like animals. They, I don't know. I don't know.

Joann: Did they-

Ariel: I definitely-

Joann: I'm sorry.

Ariel: Felt like suicidal in there, and when I was [inaudible 00:29:51] just to sit outside for a second because my mental health wasn't that great. They [inaudible 00:29:57] that-

Joann: I'm sorry. It just dropped out. What did you say when your mental health wasn't good, and you were able to sit outside. What, it dropped out completely.

Ariel: They just refused to let me, and yeah. So they never really took anybody out.

Joann: Outside? Is that what you mean?

Ariel: Yeah.

Joann: Yeah.

Ariel: Not even just like yeah, just outside.

Joann: Well describe to me, because I've never been there, describe to me what the building was like and what the cells were like and when you say outside, does that mean in a courtyard? What does that mean? What is outside?

Ariel: The building pretty much just looks ... I don't know. I guess it just kind of looks like a whole bunch of offices just because of the area. They didn't want to make it look like a prison, or like a juvenile hall. But on the inside, it just looks so dark and depressing, and it's cold as fuck. And there's just cement floors. Then our cells, it's like maybe a 5’x6’ or something like that. And our beds were just a very thin metal slab that was hanged up on the wall. Our blankets were like extra thin towels, and it was cold as fuck. So the kids would get sick a lot, and then when we would get sick, they didn't give a shit. They didn't give, for instance, I actually got strep throat or something, and it got really bad because they were kind of neglecting me when I asked for extra blankets and if I could see the nurse. They didn't give a shit, like obviously.

The only times they would take us out and we could actually minimally socialize with each other was when we were told to clean our cells.

Joann: To do what? Clean your cells? You totally dropped out so I can't hear you. Are you there?

Ariel: Cells.

Joann: Oh, clean your cells.

Ariel: Yeah.

Joann: So okay so let me get it straight. This was ... How long were you there?

Ariel: I've been there multiple times. The first time was maybe about a month. The other times were like 48 hours, and then the last time was like a week.

Joann: And those were like probation violation?

Ariel: Yeah, the 48's the probation violations, and then the last one was when I got ... right before I got sent to the foster home.

Joann: So this whole time you were in high school, did they ever offer any education?

Ariel: Oh yeah, they did.

Joann: So tell me about that.

Ariel: So we had like teachers come in in a different section of the entire building. So it was like ... it was a really huge courtyard type thing, type building. So on the other side, on the opposite side of our L, we had like classrooms, and then these really shitty teachers would come in, and they would just teach us like elementary school type shit. The teachers obviously didn't give a shit. They just let us fuck around during class. And we would be woken up from 8:00AM, and I'm pretty sure it would end around 3:00PM, and we would go through a hallway of classes each hour, and it would be a different subject with a different teacher.

Joann: Okay. And it was all pretty much the same?

Ariel: We had a lot of hand-me-down furniture and textbooks. Even hand-me-down teachers, I guess. Yeah.

Maybe one positive thing was that they offered church on Sundays. So I think that was respectable of them to say the least.

Joann: Did you go?

Ariel: Yeah. I honestly only went because that was the only way I could be out of my cell. Yeah. 'Cause the confinement was just so toxic, I guess.

Joann: Yeah. So you spent time at juvenile hall. You never had to actually go to a different facility, it was always the same facility?

Ariel: Um, yeah.

Joann: So tell me a little bit more about your ... the probation agreement. Like what were all of the different things that you could potentially violate, and what did you have to do?

Ariel: So I had to report to my probation office, call her at least every week. She would come into my school almost every day to get a pee test, and if I pee tested dirty, she would use that against me in court. And she always threatened to send me to camp for six months if I was tardy at least one minute to school or my curfews.

And I had to get a job. I had to go to a whole bunch of group therapies weekly, and she put in a crazy amount of hours of fucking community service. In which it was the worst. Every weekend. We had to go to the juvenile hall, and we would just have to hoe the weeds from 8:00AM-5:00PM. Just straight. And we only had I think a twenty or thirty minute break in between. So we were just up in the hills in the blazing hot sun just doing this. And if we stopped for one second, they would tell us that we have to stay longer or that we didn't get a break and we would have to keep going. And then if we stopped to rest, they would report it to our probation officers.

So that shit was like fucking slavery.

Joann: Did you have the same probation officer this whole time?

Ariel: Yeah, she was really harsh, but during the end she just kind of stopped checking on me so much because I had my shit together. I wasn't that bad of a kid, I guess. By the end of-

Joann: When you were at Mills?

Ariel: Yeah.

Joann: Yeah. So how have you been able to deal with the transition and just like becoming more stable and more emotionally stable it sounds like obviously with stability you can have that, and I know, I mean, I'm making an assumption. I shouldn't just make an assumption. How were those group therapy visits?

Ariel: I just got in with the wrong crowd again. She thought ... I guess my probation officer really wanted me to get mental help and everything like that, but she put me in a drug and alcohol group, and I just got mixed in with a whole bunch of kids that were doing worse shit than me. And it was kind of like almost the same situation as when I went to that alternative school. I just got mixed in with the wrong crowd, and I was doing ... I don't know, I guess I was drinking a lot. Kind of made it worse.

Joann: Yeah, so I had my assumption was it didn't help. So-

Ariel: It made things worse because she put me in this environment surrounded by a whole bunch of people where what they were doing every day sounded really fucking tempting to me at the time, you know?

Joann: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So things ... That made things worse. Did you ... There's this whole, the idea of like mental health counseling and drug and alcohol counseling is being like two separate things or things that aren't addressed. So tell me about kind of an evolution of what you needed and what was helpful to you. And if you actually were able to get any of that kind of as you grew older, as you grew more stable.

Ariel: So you're talking about like from my groups, my therapy groups?

Joann: No, I'm not talking about your groups, your therapy groups, I'm just talking about for you personally. Like eventually you were able to get support, and you had a support system at school. But in terms of having any sort of counseling or therapies that were working for you, what did those look like, and did you have that outside of just a general school support, and what did that look like for you? Like what was actually helpful?

Ariel: So I guess one thing that was really helpful was actually a school counselor. Just because compared to my group therapies, I had to go to those group therapies because I had to fulfill a requirement.

Joann: Yes.

Ariel: But with my counseling, I went there because I felt like I wanted to, you know. So I guess the fact that I wasn't forced to, it helped me open up to somebody a lot easier, and I had that school counselor for about two years. So that was like a good stability. As to with those group therapies, it was like a timeline. Like this is when you're gonna start, and this is when you're gonna end.

Joann: Yeah. So you say school counselor, does that mean that that was just somebody that was available on campus?

Ariel: Yeah.

Joann: Wow, that's really cool.

Ariel: Yeah, definitely. He was amazing.

Joann: So how, you know, obviously leaving that environment and not having access to that counselor, what has it been like for you since you graduated and you moved in with your grandmother and you're going to college. What's it like now? Have you found anybody else to continue that, or?

Ariel: Yeah, so I actually have a psychiatrist at Kaiser. That's a hospital over here in the Bay Area. So I just see her like every month or so. And then what else? Yeah, that's honestly all the support I really need right now.

Joann: That's great, congratulations.

Ariel: Yeah. Thank you.

Joann: So what all do you do for self care when you're not able to immediately talk with somebody?

Ariel: Throughout these years, I found a lot of healthy coping skills that my school counselor helped me make. I paint a lot, and I write a lot. So if I'm really feeling like I'm really suppressing my feelings, and I need to get it out there, I just write about it. And that seems to help me a lot.

And then I also have a good group of friends that I can always reach out to.

Joann: Cool. That's good. Do you ever, when you write and you paint, do you ever share any of that, or is that just for you?

Ariel: I share it a lot, actually. Especially with like ... stuff like that.

Joann: I'm sorry, just with what?

Ariel: Just with my friends and everything.

Joann: Okay, cool. So tell me how you were able to connect with Danny, and tell me about your experience of participating on panels and stuff like that.

Ariel: So how I connected with Danny was once I started going to CSM, I got an internship position being a resource scholar intern for Former Foster Youth over here at CS. And he works in the same office as I do which is called the Multicultural and Dream Center. So I met him through our colleague meetings where we kind of talked to each other. We update each other on collaborations that we might want to do with each other or just updating on what we're working on. And so I was able to connect with him through that.

So ever since that, we've been like good friends. And I kind of opened up to him about my experience being incarcerated and my foster care experience and yeah. So here we are now.

Joann: Yeah, that's really cool. He was telling me more about the Dream Center, and it's really really cool that y'all have that on campus.

Ariel: It's amazing, yeah.

Joann: Tell me what you do in your job.

Ariel: I am a resource scholar intern for Former Foster Youth, and my role pretty much is I like to do little projects that involve making resource pamphlets for low income families and foster youth. And right now we're working on making a social group to find the foster youth community because over here at College of San Mateo, we're very underrepresented so we're trying to make kind of a movement for foster youth over here, and we decide like panel discussions focusing on homelessness and low income.

Joann: Tell me a little bit about the California system. Do you have to opt out when you're 18, or do they have an extended care service?

Ariel: So once you are aged out, you are no longer a word of the court, however you do have the option of continuing to have a case open with another social worker. That case program would be called AB12, and AB12 is where you still get government assistance like through that social worker you get I think about $950 every month to help you out with your rent, and then they have a lot of good resource programs that they can always refer you to. Then they help you out with school supplies.

AB12 is I think the only program offered for former foster youth that are opted out, and it ends when you're 22. So you get that monthly allowance up until you're 22, and then they also offer healthcare through that program until you're about 26 or so, I'm pretty sure. I'm not too sure about that last thing. It could be through another program, however. Yeah.

Joann: Did you take advantage of any of that?

Ariel: Oh yeah, I'm on AB12 right now.

Joann: Okay, cool. So what are the requirements of that? Do you just qualify, and then you're able to get the assistance? You know like once a year you have to fill out paperwork? What are you ... Are there restrictions?

Ariel: The only requirement is if you have stayed one or more days in foster care and that you aged out of it.

Joann: Okay.

Ariel: So I was actually ... before I turned 18, I was actually going to move to Guatemala during my foster care experience. However, my social worker told me that it's best that I stay until my birthday because that is when I'm legally eligible to get AB12.

Joann: Gotcha. Well that was good advice. Do you ... So how do you communicate still like ... Tell me about your family in Guatemala. Have you been there to visit? Is your mother still there?

Ariel: Yeah, I've been there to visit last year. My mother is still there. I guess my family's really great there. They all live in the same neighborhood so they're super close with each other. Yeah. I was supposed to visit this year, but I have college to focus on during the summer. So.

Joann: Yeah. Is there anything that we didn't talk about today that you really wanted to share that I didn't ask you about, or any sort of ... yeah?

Ariel: I think we covered it all. We talked about a lot.

Joann: Okay, cool. Well thanks so much. I'm gonna ... I know you are a busy college student, and you work, and have places to be, and things to do. So I'll let you go, but thanks again, Ariel. I really appreciate it.

Ariel: It was really nice talking to you.

Joann: It was good to talk to you as well. It was ... Thank you for allowing me to listen to your story.