Kristen Stillman, whose story Westword first told back in the September article "Kristen Stillman puts her family first: That's why she's letting her four kids go," was sitting with her twin brother Will at a local Denny's yesterday, making the kind of plans for their future that they could never have dreamed about three years ago.
When they were eight, Kristen and her twin brother, Will, were left at a home in the 2500 block of Irving Street by their mother. And there, they were subjected to over a decade of unspeakable physical and sexual abuse. Kristen was first raped by Eric Torrez, the head of this horrific household, when she was twelve; by the time she was twenty, she'd given birth to four children fathered by her rapist.
Even after Eric Torrez, his father, his wife and his son were arrested, though, the horrors didn't end: Kristen, who decided that she could not handle the four children, gave them up to the Denver Department of Human Services -- and wound up being billed for their foster care.
This outrage prompted friends to put Kristen in touch with me. It had to be a mistake, they said; there was no way a system that had so let down this young woman could bill her for the care of the children that had resulted from that neglect.
But it was no mistake. Months after I first met Kristen -- a month after Westword first put her picture on the cover and told her story, and only after a lawyer took her case, -- Denver County finally agreed to erase that bill, which now totaled more than $5,000. By then, Kristen had already relinquished her parental rights to the four children, so that they could be adopted by good families and given the life she'd never had.
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Our lunch yesterday -- coincidentally, the same day that Kristen and Will appeared on the cover of the Denver Post -- was a belated celebration for the cancellation of that bill. It was a small victory for Kristen, whose biggest victory of all was surviving.
Kristen hasn't had much to celebrate in her life. But she's now expecting a baby by her boyfriend, Travis. Her first boyfriend. And after giving birth four times, she's looking forward to the birth of this child, the first conceived in love. She's named the girl, started making plans for how she will welcome the baby.
Plans that will include Kristen's very first baby shower.