Jesse Equihua
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Crashing Into Adulthood: Jesse

Jesse Equihua, trapped inside the foster care system since he was nine years old, recently aged out. “Damn, I’m actually going to graduate, emancipate. I was happy but I had this little voice in my head right there that says you got to make the biggest leap from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. It’s a big old step, the biggest jump for any group home kid,” says Equihua. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
With the help of his friends, Jesse moves into his new apartment in Tustin. Jesse’s roommates would later say they didn’t miss him when he got kicked out two months later. Supposedly he mooched food, trashed the apartment, spent all his money on cigarettes and let the phone get cut off. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Jesse recently emancipated, moves in to his new apartment made possible through Rising Tide, a transitional housing program with subsidized rent, run by Orangewood Children’s Foundation, a private offshoot of the county social services agency. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Jesse with girlfriend, Vanessa, in his new apartment, hours after emancipating from the foster care system. “It will make him or break him,” says Vanessa, Jesse’s declared true love this month. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Unemployed and flat broke, Jesse spends nights partying and days sleeping. By August, he’s given a two week warning from staff at Rising Tide to get a job or pack his bags. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Jesse was accepted into Rising Tide, a transitional housing program run by Orangewood Children’s Foundation, a private offshoot of the county social services agency. Several apartments at Flanders Point in Tustin houses these emancipated foster care youth. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Jesse’s latest girlfriend Vanessa is history. She won’t return his calls. Moody and depressed, he calls several girls, hoping to line up a date for the evening. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Jesse hangs out with his friends, other emancipated kids from foster care system, who lives a few doors down from him, at an apartment complex in Tustin. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
After being kicked out of his apartment during day time hours to look for a job, Jesse hangs out with girlfriend, Rebecca, at the end of his street. He was given a two week warning to find a job or lose his transitional housing. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
“I’ve been called a loser, I’ve been told I don’t know how to do anything. I’ve been told that I won’t amount to anything. It’s not my fault that my family doesn’t have pride in me,” Jesse says. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Jesse arrives by skate board to Edwards Theater in the Tustin Market Place. He landed this new job after being put on probation and the threat of eviction from Rising Tide if he didn’t get a job. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
With the help of staff from Rising Tide program, Jesse lands a job at Edwards Theater in Tustin Market Place. The head of the theater chain happens to sit on the board of directors for the Orangewood Children’s Foundation which runs Rising Tide. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
His current job is at Edwards Theater at Tustin Market Place, but Jesse has other ideas in mind. Arriving to work in a wrinkled shirt and exhausted from partying the night before, he starts his 11am shift with a yawn. “Well, I have a plan for my future, I don’t want to work at Edwards all my life and work at food places. I’m not saying I’m one hundred percent ready but I’ve got a plan,” says Equihua. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Days later, Jesse and a friend are arrested in a pellet gun shooting incident and held at Theo Lacy Jail in Orange. The jail is just yards from Orangewood Children’s Home, his first stop in the foster care system nine years earlier. The system once again is telling him when to get up, when to go to bed, what to eat and when to take his meds. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Walking single file, inmates at Theo Lacy Men’s Jail enter the mess hall to eat lunch. “I’m lost and lonely in here man. This is hell,” Jesse says, on the verge of tears standing alone against the wall. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Inside Theo Lacy Jail, Jesse has time to reflect on his life. “I was always in group homes, never had a say in my life, never had a chance to request anything for my future. That’s part of the reason of me being on drugs,” he says. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Never religious in the past, Jesse starts attending both the Catholic and Protestant services in the chapel at Theo Lacy Men’s Jail. He fights his depression by spending most days in bed, sleeping the lonely hours away. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Depressed and lonely, Jesse is coping with his depression by taking Trazodone and Paxil prescribed by the jail doctors. Deputies put him on suicide watch the day he arrived at Orange County Men’s Jail in Santa Ana. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
“I wish I could tell everybody at Rising Tide, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t shoot the gun,’” says Jesse, depressed and lonely. He spends most of his waking hours in a drug-induced haze from antidepressants. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
At his trial, Jesse listens as Judge Robert Fitzgerald reduces the charges to three misdemeanors, and sentences him to six months in jail and three years of probation, plus restitution to the two people wounded in the pellet gun attack. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Linda Lopez drapes an arm around Jesse the night he is released from Theo Lacy Men’s Jail. Linda and her husband, John, have been one of the few support systems in Jesse’s life. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Jesse temporarily rents a room in an Orange County suburb from a friend he met in jail. Isolated in suburbia without his friends or any means of transportation, he entertains himself playing his bass. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Hanging out with his buddy Josh Wilkinson, also a former foster kid, Jesse spends his hard-earned money playing video games at the neighborhood bowling alley in Mission Viejo. He’s temporarily living with Josh until he can get a place of his own. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)
Jesse finds steady employment at a coffee shop. He is making minimum wage and trying to pay off a $7,000 fine for probation and restitution costs. (GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times)