A significant aspect of CRIME STORY’s mission is to draw attention to programs that have demonstrated success in helping stem the tide of over-incarceration. As part of that mission, we published The RightWay To Shut Off the Foster Care to Prison Pipeline by Sean Smith. That piece told the story of how the RightWay Foundation — based in Los Angeles — is working to address the core reasons why 25% of California’s recently emancipated foster youth are incarcerated within two years of emancipation. (This has become known as the Foster Care To Prison Pipeline.

As a critical part of these efforts, the RightWay Foundation provides therapy for these youth to help them process their trauma and reclaim the narratives of their lives.

In Sean’s piece, CRIME STORY and the RightWay Foundation announced the launch of a unique creative collaboration. Building off of their therapy efforts, and working closely with CRIME STORY journalists, a self-selected group of RightWay youth will craft narratives about their experiences in and out of the foster care system. These accounts will be published on the CRIME STORY website periodically. 

This is one of those accounts; This is Lafawn’s story.

My name is Lafawn and I am 23 years old. I didn’t have my parents growing up, so I grew up in foster care. My mom passed before I got the chance to even know who she was. My dad was never there in my life. On my birth certificate I read that he’s from Texas, but I’ve never looked for him. It is what it is. I’ve lived in four foster homes and around 30 group homes. I was forced to move everywhere around Los Angeles — South Central, Watts, Long Beach, Compton, Inglewood, Gardena, even spent some time up in the Valley. So many hoods, so many schools, so many different faces I had to meet. I was lost in the world and I had to figure things out on my own. I never even got the chance to call my mama “Mama,” you know what I’m saying? Never got the chance to call my dad “Dad.” I was in a messed up state of mind growing up because I didn’t want to be in group homes. People were cussing around me and doing stupid things around me constantly. It got implanted in my mind. I didn’t want to be that way. I used to think, what if I was just growing up in a white neighborhood, it would be totally different. Because I was growing up in this type of neighborhood, it brought the worst out of me.

I was three years old when I first entered the foster care system. During that time my brothers, sisters and I were staying with my uncle in Compton. He’s not my real uncle but that’s my siblings’ uncle on their dad’s side. I’m the youngest and the only one with a different dad. I was also the first one to go into foster care. My brothers told me that one day some people (Social Services) came and picked me up. They were all crying because they didn’t want me to go. Til’ this day I don’t know why I had to split up from my brothers and sisters. It’s like a question mark. I’ll never know the real answer. Even though I was young, I remember my first foster home; I was sleeping in a liquor store. I was too young to even say anything about it. I guess the lady who had me in her care was dating the guy who owned it. I still pass by it sometimes over on Century and Figueroa. It’s just more question marks that will never be answered, because I’ll never see them people again.

In foster care, some people do it for the money, some people do it because they care. I feel like I was in the position where it was always for the money. No one ever said anything about adoption. I didn’t even want to get adopted. It was a weird feeling because I still wanted to go home and be with my own parents. When I was younger, around that time, I saw the Like Mike Movie with Lil’ Bow Wow. In the movie they were getting adopted and everything. All I could think about was that if I do get adopted, I hope I don’t go to the wrong family. I just wanted to go to my regular family. At one point, my brother Larenz came to live with me at a foster home for a couple of months. It was a good time. I was happy he was there. We went to the same school and everything. I already went there so I was introducing him to everybody. It felt good to have a brother to introduce to people. Most of all, I knew I wouldn’t be by myself and that he had my back. Everything went by so fast and he just left. I don’t know what the reason was.   

When I turned 12, my foster mom took me out of the room and told me I was moving back with my uncle in Compton. My brothers were also there and that changed my life at the time because I’m actually living with family again. But we lived in a dangerous neighborhood. I used to run with tagging crews and was around a lot of gang bangers; Crips and Bloods, whatever you want to call it. I lived on a Crip block but it was a Blood hood right up the street. They used to always shoot at each other and kill each other. I had friends from both sides. They were trying to show me something that I didn’t want to be a part of. The person I am now knows that I didn’t want to be a part of that. I went to juvie for the first time that same year for a fight. It wasn’t enjoyable or anything but then I got used to it. Every time I got out of juvie, I would get out and go back to doing the same thing.

When I was like 13 or 14, I started AWOLing from Valley group homes. I felt out of place at this particular area and school that was predominantly Mexican. There were literally like three black girls and I was the only black boy. After that, I just stopped going to school. I bounced around to different homes and eventually ran away with a girlfriend when I was 16. We were basically homeless and lived our life together. Some people go homeless and their whole life is over. I grew up in the street and foster care. So I was used to being homeless. We did that for like a year. Because I was caught up in the streets, I never finished high school. I only have about 15 credits left and I’m working on that. I know I’m nothing without my high school diploma or a GED. Back then, I just never wanted to go to school. I always wanted to party, be with friends, and smoke. Now my mindset is way different. Now I look back on all that and think I should have done better. Way better.

My change started to happen when my brother Timothy introduced me to the RightWay program in March. He walked me up to the Crenshaw Mall and showed me the place. I was tired of not having a job and he told me this helps you out. I signed up, went to the classes, went to the training and got a job. It feels good to work and get checks now. Franco really helped me out and sometimes I just tell him, “Thank you.”  He put me into a position to where I’m in my life doing better than where I was. Now I can actually see how bank accounts work, I actually see how to save money, I can actually see how to do this and that at a young age. 

Not long after I found RightWay, Nipsey Hussle was murdered. That’s what changed my life permanently. That made me think about my life and my future. I was homeless in a car with my brother Larenz off Crenshaw and Slauson right behind Nipsey’s shop. I remember when I met him one day and had a conversation. He was like “alright man, stay up, I hope to see you at the top.” And that really stuck in my head. Once he passed, I just couldn’t believe it because he used to really speak words of inspiration and died over nothing. Out of everybody, I never thought he was going to die. He’s probably seen the same things I’ve seen and went through the same things I’ve went through. He was a gang banger from Los Angeles, CA until he got time to grow and learn. He got knowledge and learned the right way go. If I had to give advice to current foster youth, I’d tell them that life is not perfect. It’s full of bumps you’re going to have to experience. We’re going to have our ups and downs. Foster youth are in a position where we don’t have our family but want to be with our family. But you have to suck it up. It might be for the better, it might be for the worse. Just keep your head up and be strong. You still have time to make your own family for the family that wasn’t there for you.

This is the third RightWay youth story that we have presented. You can also read Belle’s here, and Leo’s here.

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