By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
When Jose was three, he watched his father tie a rope around his mother's neck and attach it to the back of a Ford F-150. His father then drove off, dragging his mother behind and leaving Jose alone on the sidewalk in front of the family's house. Jose's mother spent two weeks in the hospital after that, where doctors had to wire-scrub her entire back to remove the asphalt and remaining skin before conducting elaborate reconstructive surgery. She still has the scars. Then Jose's father was sent to prison for seventeen years for murdering a man, and it was just Jose and his mom.
Not for long, though. His mother soon had two more boys, and when Jose was seven, she moved them all into the house of a man named Brad. Brad abused Jose's mother, too, screaming at her and hitting her, once even knocking out some of her teeth. He abused Jose as well, throwing stuff at him and hitting him with a belt whenever he squabbled with his little brothers. Jose would escape and wander the streets. Finally, a bowling alley where he showed up a few times begging for food called social services. Jose was eight years old.
"They came to my mom's restaurant," Jose recalls. "Then they asked her where my brothers were. She told them, and they collected all three of us and took us to a facility in Adams County."
And so began Jose's life in the system, a seemingly never-ending trek from foster home to group home to detention and residential-treatment facilities. Since 1998, Jose has lived in more than twenty places.
"I'm a runner," he says with a grin. "Always have been. I get sick and tired of being told what to do, and I'll want to see my family, so I'll just run."
But not every new placement was a result of Jose's tendency to flee. There was the home in Aurora that gave him up after his grandmother died and he started talking suicide. There was the foster family in Centennial who moved away and couldn't afford to take him. There were the houses where he was abused. And then there were all the places he ran from just to run, a short-lived series of residences stretching from Boulder to Colorado Springs, some of them rehabilitative, others placements with normal families. And every time Jose ran, it was another strike in his file, strikes that tended to magnify other charges, like when he got busted for selling weed at the fountain behind the Museum of Nature & Science in May 2005, and the cops discovered that he had an outstanding warrant for running.
Soon after that, his mother's rights to her son were terminated legally because she'd neglected her boys, and Jose wound up at the Aspen Living Center, an independent-living program. While there, he attended Westminster High School, where he played varsity defensive tackle. But he got into a gang fight during the season and had to quit the football team and move to another facility. He ran again and was picked up for a drunken altercation on a #31 bus. After Jose bounced between a few more placements, Jose's parole officer sent him to Lost and Found, a Christian youth residential-treatment facility. Jose has been living at Lost and Found's facility, in Morrison, just past Tiny Town, since the beginning of the year. He's never tried to run. "The first few months I felt the urges, but I don't feel that way anymore," he says.
One reason is that Lost and Found gives him occasional weekend passes to visit cousins or his brother living in a Denver foster home. But another big reason is that at Lost and Found, Jose has learned to think before he acts. He tries to remember what his grandma told him: to walk away from trouble, to make better choices, to live a better life than some of his family, to turn out different.
"If all goes according to plan, I'll be getting out of here in July or August and be able to go back to school again," Jose says. "I worry about falling back into some of my old traps, but I think I can walk away from that. I'm able to talk to people now. I can be more open about certain things. I feel like I have things to look forward to. Basically, I feel like I'm just now learning how to be a normal kid."
Before, he never got the chance. "In Jose's case, he's been shuffled around the system so long, every time he got moved, he would get all stirred up and become volatile," explains Terry Rogers, Lost and Found's residential director. "And a lot of the moves were not his fault. One program closed on him, his mom abandoned him; half the things that happened to this kid are not of his doing. We've been helping him get some clarity on that. There are still pieces of his behavior that he needs to look at, but he's understanding that he is not to blame for everything. That's where a lot of his hope is coming from. He's seeing that he doesn't just have to be a victim of the system, that he can actually get out of it."