By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Finally, she realized that she would have to give up her children permanently, voluntarily relinquishing all parental rights, if they were ever to get the help they need, have a real family. "Realistically, me taking care of four children...that's crazy," she says, clasping her hands.
On September 14, there's a hearing scheduled in Denver Juvenile Court to permanently revoke Kristen's parental rights.
But she'll have plenty to remember her children by, including big bills. Denver County has been charging her for their foster care. Charging the victim of countless rapes for the care of the children who resulted from those rapes.
Kristen couldn't cover the thousands of dollars for foster care with her Jack in the Box pay. And she lost that job after she lost her driver's license: The state took it away when she did not pay child support. The bills keep mounting — over $5,000 by now.
The Department of Human Services, which cannot comment on this particular case (the information in this story came from court files and interviews), says that it has no leeway in assessing fees for foster care, citing this language in the state statute: "The county department or designee shall collect a fee from the legally responsible custodial parent(s). All fees must be established using the Colorado child support guidelines to determine the amount to be ordered. County staff shall not deviate from the guidelines."
Eric Torrez is not paying child support, because he is in prison for life. His parental rights were terminated — but he is appealing.
There's an appeal process for her child-support bills, too; Kristen hasn't explored that yet. But then, she hasn't had much luck going through official channels. "It makes me mad when I think how we told people and social services didn't do anything. We could have been out of Eric's house. I don't understand how no one saw."
The foster-care bill isn't the only one Kristen thinks about. She still has hospital bills for the births of her children. This woman who endured unspeakable horrors worries about her credit rating, the minutes left on her cell phone. She writes down all of her appointments in a notebook covered with notes in colored ink. She has trouble making many of those appointments. She gets distracted. She recently lost her bus pass.
She asked a guy at the bus stop for change, and he gave her two dollars. "I had a half hour to wait, so I talked to him," Kristen says. "He told me that he was going to kill himself because he was going to jail for three years for driving under the influence. He felt there was nothing left to live for. He was serious. I told him every life is worth living, and yours is, too. He told me no one cared about him. I told him, I care about you. How do you think I'd feel if I heard you were gone? He told me I was his guardian angel — that made me feel good."
Kristen helps out an elderly woman who lives across the street; she calls Kristen her guardian angel, too.
Back in 2009, Kristen had a set of angel's wings tattooed on her back. "I feel like I've earned my wings," she says. The "family first" tattoos were inspired by one of Will's T-shirts.
Kristen thinks maybe she was meant to survive so that she could tell her story and help other people. "That's what I think my story will do," she says. "I'm sure it will help lots of people. I know there are more people living a life like me, and they're not going to say something...if they don't kill themselves."
Kristen tried to kill herself when she was twelve, cutting and starving herself. "I thought the people I was living with would do it for me," she told a therapist. "This would have been a blessing." But now she's glad she didn't succeed in her suicide attempts, glad that she survived the Torrez house. She knows she has so much left to live for.
She has a boyfriend, her first. "I was afraid of love," she says. She met him when he was dating her best friend: "That's not a story to tell our kids."
And, yes, Kristen is pregnant again. "I went to the doctor, told her I had four kids, and she looked at me like I was an idiot," she says. "People look at me like I'm so bad." She will be 23 next month.
Somehow between pregnancies, Kristen got her GED. She's now enrolled at Metro State College, taking all kinds of classes, spreading her wings. "I thought I was nothing. Now I'm a college student. I want to succeed so bad. I know I will. I just want to do everything. I want to change the world. Or at least some of the world."
Kristen recently looked at her grades for her summer classes.
She got a B in public speaking.