Editor's note: The writer spent much of his childhood in foster homes. At age 11, he ended up at Vista Del Mar, an orphanage in Cheviot Hills that later became a residential treatment center for disturbed youths. He wrote this letter in response to the Jan. 5 cover story "Family Matters."
I had a lot of emotional problems. I was a lost kid, confused and upset. I learned to exist. I had no parents, and had to sit and watch as most of the other kids went home to their parents. Years went on, there were volunteers that took us out from time to time, but to me it was just passing time.
I have no idea how I held myself together. When I was 15 I left Vista and went to another home until I was 18 years old. Then the state stopped paying and I had to leave. With no training or skills, I found myself living on the streets until I was 20, when I met Bonnie at a theater. We became the best of friends and I soon moved in to her house. If it wasn't for her, I'd hate to think what may have happened to me.
You are never prepared to face the world when you are in group homes. You are a number. Vista tried, I guess, to help. But if you are a troubled youth and do not have the luxury of a family that would help you, and the state cuts the funds at 18, you live by sink or swim. I still have a learning disability to this day. And everything I do is still trial and error, even with the help of a counselor and being under therapy for about 16 years.
It's a long road that for me will never end. I just want you to understand how painful it is and the only thing I ask is that by my pain, someone will listen. Help other kids and take the time to hear the cries for help, even though they may be silent. I also ask for the state and government to make funds (for treatment available) after 18 years for those who do not have (money). I have a long road ahead of me. If the message is strong enough, I believe things will change and we all will be given the chance to build a future for all.
JOHN COLEMAN, Los Angeles