This is the sixth story in Pain of the Prison System, a series proudly presented by Narratively, written by high school students for POPS the Club – a nonprofit dedicated to providing a safe space for high schoolers whose lives have been impacted by incarceration.
I feel as if I’m still being punished for his crime.
I was seven years old, a second-grader at Miramonte Elementary School in Southeast Los Angeles. My mom dropped my brother and me off every morning before school in the school’s childcare facility. We also played there after school until she picked us up. I didn’t mind staying there until five or even six o’clock because it felt like my second home.
A teacher, I’ll call him Mr. Alexis, was new to the place. He was Mexican, in his late thirties, and he had a big, black bushy mustache. At first he seemed like a cool teacher. I thought of him as my second dad. In time Mr. Alexis became comfortable with the school and all the kids.
One afternoon after school my friend Brenda and I were reading a book in the library section of the school when Mr. Alexis suddenly grabbed my right arm and pulled me toward him. He placed me between his legs and grabbed my private part with his huge man hand. As he squeezed me, he let out soft moans. I begged Brenda to pull me away. She screamed, “Let her go!” and pulled me away. I sprinted to the restroom. I felt confused, physically hurt and didn’t know what to do.
For the next few days I avoided Mr. Alexis, terrified to go anywhere near him. He told my mom that I was ignoring him, as if he didn’t know why.
One day after school in the childcare facility he threatened me. He said if I spoke out he would report my parents to immigration and my brother, sister and I would be forced to live in foster care.
He touched me two more times. I didn’t breathe a word. My mom noticed that my private part was red and asked if anyone had touched me. I said “no.” She said I could tell her anything, but I felt afraid, ashamed and confused. Even at age seven, I knew what he was doing was wrong.
A month passed before I worked up the courage to tell my mom. When I told her, I felt relieved, yet simultaneously more terrified than ever. My mom reported Mr. Alexis to someone at the school. A few other girls came forward and reported that he had also been inappropriately touching them.
Mr. Alexis was arrested.
Eventually he was convicted and sentenced to a fifteen-year prison sentence.
My mom sent me to a therapist. I hated going. Over a period of years I saw several therapists and each one asked me the same questions:
“Where did he grab you?”
“How many times did this occur?”
And I would have to retell the same story over and over, in greater and greater detail. I felt as if I was being punished every time I repeated the story.
I spent the next six years in and out of therapy. I also had to appear in court and explain what happened in order to put Mr. Alexis behind bars. Sometimes the court sessions dragged on all day and I hated being pulled out of school, away from my lessons and my friends, and driven downtown and hanging around the courthouse until I was called to the witness stand to testify.
I remember telling my mom, “This isn’t fair. Why do I have to keep coming to court and repeating the same story they’ve heard before?”
My mom told me that this was how the justice system worked.
When it was all over I thought, “Thank you, God. No more repeating this ever again.”
I locked these memories away, trying to forget what had happened to me as a child. I’ve worked hard to forget the pain and the crying and the ongoing punishment of being victimized by a pedophile.
At the time I didn’t notice, but I was no longer the same little girl I had been before the incidents. I began to hate school and all my teachers – not because they assigned me too much homework or because a few of them acted mean, but because of the incident that had happened so long ago.
Years later I learned that even before my abuse, Mr. Alexis’ file had been red-flagged due to his actions at a previous school. And yet the Los Angeles Unified School District allowed him to work around children and to perpetuate the same crimes over and over again before he was apprehended.
Ten years have passed and still I feel as if I am serving a life sentence of having to deal with shame.
Until this moment I have never told anyone except for therapists, lawyers and judges, because this story is not something that is easy for me to say.
And yet now, sharing my story, I begin to feel a sense of relief. While writing these words, I cried and let out a lot of pain that I had been holding back for more than half my life. Writing this story has lifted a heavy weight off my body and soul.
I sense and I hope that this is my path to healing.
* * *
Julie Ford (a pen name) has gone on to publish many more pieces under her real name; she is flourishing in college and stays in close touch with POPS the Club, appearing on occasion as a guest speaker.
Alison Rutsch is an artist and educator living in New York.