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Justin Reed Early Headshot

Dear America: Young Americans Who Suffer Are Finding Their Villages Disappearing

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Dear America:

I know it's been a while since we have spoken, but I'm getting older and wanted to send you a little note to thank you for all you have done for me. We used to talk everyday in grade school while pledging our love and loyalty for each other. I really miss that...

I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America...

You may not know how important your role was in my growing up, but you were like my real parents because when I was 10 years old my father suspected that I was gay and kicked me out of our middle-class home. I had nowhere to go but because of you and people that care, there were a few families and programs that looked after little kids like me. But when the pain of being rejected and the trauma of being discarded became intolerable I began acting out, doing drugs and even tried to kill myself. I still regret much of my behavior, but I learned some valuable insights and became a survivor. I lived a tough life, homeless on the streets for more than half of my young life. I still have nightmares about watching my 18-year-old friend take a bullet in his head during a street fight and when another friend got stabbed in the heart while protecting her girlfriend from three bigoted bullies screaming homophobic epithets -- murdered because she was a lesbian. Then my 16-year-old friend hung himself because his mom died, his dad went to prison and he could no longer tolerate living on the streets. Most notably, my "street sister," who at 12 years old learned to survive by prostituting herself, disappeared. Her body was found four years later and was eventually identified as a victim of the Green River Serial killer. My juvenile court judge molested me and several other boys and then got promoted to the Superior court, until a newspaper reporter exposed his crimes. The judge committed suicide and never hurt anyone else after that. Thankfully, you put a well-intended system together to help people by funding non-profit programs and emergency services, and if it weren't for these services on the coldest nights and desperate of times -- I would not have survived my own story.

And to the Republic, for which it stands...

I was caught in the revolving door of your criminal justice system when you put my former juvenile attorney back into my life as a judge. Thankfully she made a legal move that helped me get into a drug program because even though I had never done anything right and was a nuisance and a minor criminal, she said I had "potential." She felt it was more cost-effective to treat my mental and physical health problems than it was to lock me away in prison -- where most of my friends that survived were located (including my drug-addicted brother who died because inmates weren't allowed life-saving medications). The program that I went to when I was 22 years old was a long-term facility, which you so generously funded for indigent people like me. It was there I "woke up" and saw all of the things that you had tried to do for me since no one in my life was capable or able to help me. Though it wasn't my first program, it was my last. I went back to school and achieved my GED and the rest is history. I haven't done everything perfectly but I have been able to remain a productive citizen of our great country. I try to give back freely of what has been given so generously to me, and even wrote a book to talk about my story and to honor those non-profit soldiers as well as some as some of the other children I met -- and lost along the way. I try to help other kids that are like I was, so they can be inspired into better lives. It's not much, but I wanted to do something to show you and your people how amazing you are. I am not suffering anymore and I am grateful for my life. I am grateful to be an American.

One nation, under God, indivisible...

But I am very concerned about some recent events affecting our homeless children. The political climate resulting from the sequester, the recession and social programs being defunded has people who are already invisible and disconnected falling deeper into repression. Programs like Sasha Bruce in D.C. being cut and children as young as twelve years old are being denied emergency shelter and are forced to do unspeakable things to survive, because we are failing them. I know most of your people didn't know this and that is why I am writing you this letter. We can treat many of the causes of homelessness and we can help these struggling children and adults become and remain tax-paying productive citizens of society. Remember our creed -- as Americans -- all of your children are "indivisible" -- united, blended, and not separable. The moment I took my first breath as an American, I was equal in your eyes -- as per your Constitution. All of this political debate around LGBTs goes against everything you taught me as a child. By the way -- I am gay -- and I don't think it's fair now that I am a grown man that you want to allow people to second guess my inherent stature as I am -- one hundred percent America.

With liberty and justice for all...

Please accept this letter with my unwavering gratitude and know that if it wasn't for you and the programs that help the suffering -- I wouldn't be alive today. I owe my life to you because there is no other country as great as yours that looks out for her people as you do. Please don't ever change that life affirming quality as you contemplate new ideas and programs to help people who need you today. I pledge allegiance everyday knowing that you will eventually do the right thing for all of your children. By the way, I was able to reconcile with my dying father -- while he was on his deathbed -- because you taught me to stand with integrity and be the best man I can be. My elderly mother now lives with me and tries to make up for the years we lost when I was a child on the streets. She cooks wonderful meals and has become my best friend. She won't clean my room or do my laundry -- but you have also taught me that nobody is perfect.