"I was born May 18, 1997 in Sonora, CA. My father was 76 years old and my mom was 36 years old when I was born. I am the youngest of a total of 14 brothers and sisters. Growing up with my parents was far from what would be considered a normal lifestyle. I never lived in any one place longer than a few years. When I was six my family and I moved to Iowa to live with my brother. I was first introduced to cigarettes at 7 years old while living there. I just wanted to fit in. There was a lot of conflict in the family so my family moved to Nebraska when I was 8 years old. At that time my mom was addicted to crack cocaine and one day she decided to teach me how to smoke it. I smoked it with my mom for several months. Around that time was I was sexually assaulted the first time by two older males. I never told a soul about that. Partly from my pain and from not wanting to be judged. I tried marijuana at 9 years old. My mom went to rehab soon after and was kicked out on foul play. Seeing no other options, my family moved back to California when I was 10. When I was 11 years old I was sexually assaulted for the second and third time by two different males from the same apartments where I lived. Again, I never told a soul.
My parents divorced when I was nearly 12 years old. I did not know why and I blamed myself for it all. In my mom's drug addiction she signed legal guardianship to my sister who was mentally, emotionally, and verbally abusive. My father moved in with my sister and I so he could be closer to his kids before he died. My dad passed away April 16, 2010. The pain from him dying was unbearable and I became extremely rebellious. I tried to move back with my mom but that ended up with me getting sent to juvenile hall for battery at 14 years old. The only person who was able to take me in was the same abusive sister.
When I was 16 I tried cocaine for the first time and I liked it. I soon started to run away from home on the delusion that I could make it on my own as a kid with nothing to my name. My senior year in high school I ran away and dropped out. A few months later I returned and somehow managed to get back into school and get my diploma. All the while still a runaway. I moved to Sonora again and started attending Columbia College where I became addicted to LSD. My addiction made it to where I became chronically homeless. I dropped out of college and moved back to the valley to be homeless in the place I knew best. To try and make some quick cash I started breaking into houses and loved the rush of it. My sister that help raise me soon became a target. That was when I received two felonies and a strike. During this time I became addicted to meth and by the time I was 19 I started manufacturing my own LSD. It took me 18 months to check into probation.
My probation officer brought up the idea of going into a program. I chose to take up that opportunity and went to the Merced County Rescue Mission. I honestly feel this place helped me to completely change my life. The Mission was the first place where I ever felt like I had a home. The staff there are so understanding and loving and I finally knew I wasn’t alone in my journey through life. I found a family that I can love and know they only want the best for me. For the first time I had found hope. Hope that I can live life drug and crime free. Hope that I could pursue my dreams and not be afraid of any obstacles that may arise. Hope that one day I can be independent and be in a position where I can give back to the community. This program did one thing I never thought possible, which had brought me back into Christianity. I now firmly believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior. My past no longer defines me, but God’s grace does." - Joseph