I've never really had a home of my own
Systems must help children grow up in a safe and loving family environment – a story from a 17-year-old boy in conflict with the law
I don't remember my mother and father much, it's all hazy. Sometimes when I say ‘mom’, I mean my grandma, or when I say ‘dad’, I mean my uncle, because after my parents passed away, they took care of me. I was only three when I was left without my parents.
While I was growing up, I lived with my uncle and his family. He was poor and he didn’t have much to give us, so everybody stayed separate. We didn't get together even at mealtime. My fondest memories are the swings and the amusement park, we would go on the slides, ride the bumper cars and eat sunflower seeds. I was only young, and I didn't know how to eat the seeds properly, so I ate them whole, husks and all.
When I was old enough to go to school, I remember that my grandma and grandpa would take me there, and I would run away from classes. They would find me in the park, knowing I hang around there, they would pick me up and return me to school, to the teacher. I can’t explain why I ran away from school; I just remember constantly being afraid of something.
As I was growing up, the street beckoned more and more; since to be honest, I've never really had a home of my own. I tried marijuana for the first time at a very young age. It was a big mistake, but I was just following my friends’ footsteps.
We then joined up with a criminal group, and we learnt the ropes from them. At first, we would watch them steal, and then they taught us the same. I was just eight when I started. We mostly stole gold. We learnt that when you’re stealing, you need to know how to sneak up from behind, slowly, and to be careful they don’t notice you, and then you move aside carefully, you tear the necklace and you run away, to avoid being caught. We also burgled houses, to steal gold and cash.
Later we started stealing cars. We would steal a car, take it to the park, they would pick it up and take it to another place. They would pay us for doing the job. We do the jobs; they would pay us; but they also taught us that the tourists had more cash. We weren’t educated; we didn’t understand what they were saying, but we knew that if we don’t understand them, they should be our target.
At the age of ten I was taken to a home. After the first home, they took me to another one, but I ran away from both. We would frequently sleep out in the street, on benches. During that time, I frequently had crises, too. The last thing I stole was meat from the butchers; I had nothing to eat.
At the age of 17, I’ve seen it all. I don’t know how long I will stay in the home, and whether they’ll move me to another, but when I leave, I don't want to end up on the streets. When you’re outside you sleep with one eye open, fear and stress lurk with every step.
Here, in the home, we are learning, socializing, we are playing basketball, football, table tennis. We also watch movies. I can’t stay here forever; I know that one day I’ll leave. I am hard-working, I don't shy away from work; and I imagine and want to continue the work that my father used to do, to get a license to be a lumberman. It’s not the most lucrative job in the world, but even if it’s modest, it's at least mine.
The story is part of the campaign “I am more than what happened” which is implemented within the frame of the programme “Just(ice) children – EU for juvenile and child-friendly justice” funded by the European Union and co-funded by UNICEF to support the Government reform efforts to ensure the justice system protects the rights of all children who come in contact with the law.