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“I felt like a throw away child,” Natisha started out. Abandon by her mom at birth, her dad in prison and unaware of her existence, she began her young life in foster care. Although quite young, she can still remember the day her dad came to collect her from her foster parents; the memory of her father’s first words to her, and even the clothes she was wearing, were seared in her memory. It was years before she understood why she was taken by this “stranger” to live with him and his wife.

Although her dad treated her kindly, he was in and out of jail numerous times during her young life, leaving her with his wife who eventually became abusive. “I would do the smallest thing wrong, or even make a mistake, and she would beat me with a cord or something else that really hurt,” Natisha said.

Because her dad was in prison so frequently, it took years before he found out about the abuse. During a long stretch at home, he accidentally discovered it and when he did, justice was swift.  “He didn’t say a word just drove home and told me to stay in the car,” Natisha recalls. As much as Natisha was glad her dad believed her and was going to protect her, she was traumatized by the screams of pain she heard from the house when her dad went inside to confront his wife and gather their things. They never went back.

When she was a little older, one of Natisha’s uncles began “doing things to her.” Natisha wanted to tell her dad but could never catch him alone. She would beg to go with him when he left the house, hoping for a quiet moment to talk but he never took her along. She believes he was headed to drug deals and wanted to protect her; what he didn’t realize was his little girl wasn’t safe at home either.

In the end, she finally confided in her dad’s new girl-friend, who in turn told her dad. Again his temper flared, this time resulting in a broken jaw for her uncle. After this episode Natisha moved in with the girl-friend, finding sanctuary for a few years. Although her dad had taken her side, the episode seemed to ruin their relationship. “I think he was mad because I told his girl-friend before I told him. He blamed me, thinking I didn’t trust him.” Her father became distant from that point on.

Eventually, Natisha returned to family, moving in with an aunt. One night, a fight broke out between her aunt and some neighborhood antagonists. Naturally, Natisha took her aunt’s side but after being kicked in the face she was scared. Knowing the conflict was ongoing, she left. Having run out of places to go, Natisha turned to Covenant House Michigan and found safety and support. “The staff actually wants to help me find a job,” Natisha said. In addition to a place to lay her head, she is appreciative of the cafeteria which provides meals each day.

When you ask Natisha about her future, she says “It’s hard to dream after so much hardship and it’s scary to think about success after a life of failure. What if I succeed and don’t know how to handle it? What if I fail again?” Natisha shared. Having lived through so much, her fears are very real.

When she does let herself dream, Natisha wants to become a lawyer and then a judge, so she can help teens who live through circumstances like hers. Her current focus is more short-term: enrolling in a GED program, getting a job and moving into her own apartment.