Being invisible, what dreams are made of!
But if you don’t understand and appreciate the dream, you’ll think it is a nightmare and you’ll want it to end.
Would you like to get rid of your birth certificate and SIN (SSN) number? Many freedom minded educated folks do.
This kid, in the story below, never had those pesky documents and found his future hopeless without them, so he desperately wanted them.
Ignorance can be bliss, or it can lead you down the garden path.
Read his story and imagine how hard it is for the average person to grasp the idea of freedom from the system, when everything seems to require you play their game, if you believe they are the only game in town (in many ways they appear to be and it’s more work to play outside the game).
April 27, 2010
‘Kid who doesn’t exist’ looks to future
No birth certificate. No Social Security number. No official identity. Without a past, Manual student could have little hope.
A few weeks ago, Brent Jones was on the verge of graduation but facing an uncertain future because of a simple yet frustrating problem. He couldn’t prove his identity.
I heard about the 18-year-old senior from an administrator at Manual High School. She told me the story of a boy who had gone through life without learning the basics of his background — where he was born, where he could find his birth certificate, who his birth parents were, and even if the name and birth date he used were really his. The questions weren’t only frustrating; they threatened his future as the end of his high school years approached.
Because Brent has gone through life without answers, and without the birth certificate or Social Security number he needs, everything from a driver’s license to a job has been denied him. School administrators told him he couldn’t receive financial aid for college. He faced a post-graduation black hole.
A few days after the administrator shared Brent’s story, and after I said I’d like to meet him, Brent spotted me in the hallway on Manual’s third floor. Smiling and friendly as always, he introduced himself.
“I’m Brent Jones,” he said. “I’m the kid who doesn’t exist.”
Before I tell the rest of this story, I should mention that Brent is one of the most optimistic 18-year-olds you’ll ever meet. Still, as we talked that first time, and during dozens of conversations since, he made clear he understood the severity of his dilemma.
“I am very excited about graduation,” he said as we sat in the school’s main office one morning. “But still there’s this fear that I’m not going to be able to do anything with my life. I can’t mow lawns forever. That’s not a life. I am a person; I am living, breathing flesh. But to the government, I’m nothing. I don’t exist. I just want to be able to live my life — to go to college, get a job, a license — because pretty much right now I’m stuck.”
Brent’s story began 18 years ago in a blue-collar section of Orlando, Fla.
It was 1992 and Brent was about 6 months old. His mother, who was addicted to drugs and prostituting herself, often left Brent and his 3-year-old sister at an off-the-books child care run out of an apartment in the complex where they lived. A young woman named Kim Roberson, who lived nearby with another woman, would sometimes visit the couple who ran the child care. She remembers noticing that Brent cried constantly but would stop when she picked him up.
Before long, Roberson became friends with Brent’s mother and offered to baby-sit her children, knowing they needed more attention than they received. Brent’s mother agreed, and because her life was spiraling further into a mess of drugs and poverty, she’d often leave the children for days.
Within a few weeks, Brent’s mother decided to leave the state. She wanted to take her daughter with her but didn’t feel capable of caring for Brent. She asked Roberson and her partner if they wanted to raise him.
“I said, ‘We’ll take care of him. We can make this work. We’ll know you, and you’ll know us,’ ” Roberson, who was 25 at the time, told me recently. “The thought was we would be his caregivers, but we would all stay in touch.”
That didn’t happen. After a few months, Brent’s mother disappeared. The phone numbers Roberson used to contact her were disconnected. Calls to her friends turned up nothing.
A few months later, Roberson and her partner moved to Indiana. They helped Brent during the next year fight through serious health problems tied to poor prenatal care. The couple split up not long after, and Roberson raised Brent on her own. Although she never adopted him, she was named his legal guardian by a Marion County court in 1994. He calls her mom.
“She’ll always be my mom,” Brent said, “no matter what I find out about my past. She’s the one who has always been there for me.”
The unanswered questions were an irritant as Brent grew up, but they didn’t cause him serious problems until recent years, as he watched fellow students obtain driver’s licenses and part-time jobs. This year, even though his grades are good enough, he saw his goal of studying culinary arts at Vincennes University, and eventually owning his own restaurant, delayed indefinitely.
He and Roberson have spent seemingly endless hours through the years trying to solve the mystery, calling offices of vital statistics in nearly a dozen states in search of a birth certificate. They visited local Social Security Administration offices, receiving little more than blank stares. They hadn’t known about the adoption agencies that could have helped them, and a lawyer they hired came up with nothing. They searched the Internet, but the name Brent’s biological mother had used at the time, Elizabeth Bennett, is so common that no leads turned up.
“People don’t understand how ridiculous this is,” Brent said. “It’s crazy. No matter how much you try to explain, people say, ‘There has to be a way.’ No. I’ve tried everything.”
As frustrating as Brent’s case is, Marion County juvenile court Judge Marilyn Moores said it isn’t unique. She comes across a handful of such cases each year. As with Brent, the story often begins with a birth parent handing a child off to a friend without taking the legal steps required.
“All of the systems of government have to become more sensitive to this issue,” she said. “You can’t tell these children they don’t exist as far as our system is concerned. You can’t penalize the child for the sins of the parent.”
Brent transferred to Manual in January. After spending three years at Ben Davis and Herron high schools, he was forced to move because Roberson’s financial problems led her to move to Missouri last year. Last fall, Brent attended Monrovia High School while staying with family friends, then moved in with another friend near Manual before this spring semester began.
Brent was allowed to enroll at the schools because students who are unable to prove their identity aren’t turned away. Nonetheless, the system did fail him. Many school workers knew his story, but nobody made the effort to help resolve his lack of legal documentation.
I’ve talked with Brent dozens of times, continually struck by his optimism and by the way he doesn’t let his situation drag him down. I’ve watched him in classes; he always pays attention and contributes to discussions. I’ve watched other students gravitate toward him, attracted by his positive attitude and affability. I’ve listened to him insist he and other students shouldn’t use their circumstances as an excuse to fall into common traps such as drugs and alcohol. He knows the future should be full of opportunity.
Last week, we sat in counselor Rhonda Grady’s office as Brent checked his spring grades.
“You’re doing really good, baby,” Grady said.
“All A’s and B’s?” Brent asked.
“All A’s and B’s.”
Then Grady told me about the list of scholarship and financial aid programs for which he could not qualify. She showed the blank spots on his transcripts next to fields for “Social Security number” and “mother’s maiden name.”
“It’s not right,” she said.
When we met, Brent didn’t have answers. But he did have something important to him — a file filled with personal information. It includes medical and dental records back to when he was 2 years old. It includes court records declaring Roberson his legal guardian. It includes school records from elementary through high school. It includes letters of praise teachers have written.
He often carries it with him.
“When I turned 18, having control of the file was a big deal to me,” he said. “It’s my security. I can say, I am this person. I’ve lived a life, and I can prove it. It’s all in here. You might not believe it. There might be people who don’t believe it. But this is who I am.”
One day recently, he stopped in a convenience store to buy an energy drink. But there was a problem. The clerk wanted to see his ID because the drink couldn’t be sold to anyone younger than 18. Brent insisted he was 18. It didn’t matter; the clerk wouldn’t accept his word.
With years of frustration pouring out of him, Brent pulled out his file, nearly begging the clerk to accept medical records from 1993 and court records from 1994 — records that list his 1991 birth date — as proof of his age. The clerk stared at him, just like the workers at the Social Security office.
I decided to write about Brent with the hope that telling his story would rattle an often-unmovable government bureaucracy. Perhaps a politician would intervene and demand action. Maybe a university would step forward. His story was compelling. Surely someone would react.
But I did a little research first.
Initially, there wasn’t much to be found. I scoured a year’s worth of birth records in the Orlando Sentinel archives, thinking Brent had been born in that area. But there was no listing of a Brent born to an Elizabeth. A Florida criminal records request turned up a few arrests for Brent’s birth mom but nothing in the past 17 years. I found nothing else online.
Then, there was a break. One of The Indianapolis Star’s librarians, Cathy Knapp, scoured public records databases for any trace of Elizabeth. Along the way, she found something intriguing: a listing for an Elizabeth Anne Bennett that included other names associated with her. In one, her last name was Jones — the same as Brent’s. That seemed like more than a coincidence. Another record listed a more current name: Elizabeth Jones-Gati.
From there, after I called a long list of phone numbers that turned up nothing, a very 21st century thing happened: I found her Facebook page.
I also found a listing for her on an online directory that mentioned a former employer — a horse farm. An employee there, reached in the barn late Monday evening, remembered Jones-Gati and agreed to pass along my phone number.
A few minutes later, Jones-Gati called me, sounding confused. As I explained the situation — that I was looking into the story of a boy given up by his mother 18 years ago — she began to cry.
“Oh, my God,” she said, asking almost immediately if he was healthy.
I said he was.
“What’s he like?” she asked.
“He’s one of the most impressive kids I’ve ever met,” I said. “He’s really friendly and optimistic. He’s very bright.”
“What does he look like?”
“He’s a really good-looking young man,” I said.
I told her more about Brent’s problem, that he was unable to prove his identity and faced a scary future. Jones-Gati cried a little more and then filled in the blanks. Brent was born in Virginia, she said, not Florida. She verified his name and birth date. She gave me the name of Brent’s father and told me about the problems she was dealing with 18 years ago. She said she is now healthy, that she has been sober for seven years, and is living paycheck-to-paycheck as a horse groomer in South Carolina. Brent’s older sister lives in Arizona.
“Does he want to talk to me?” she asked. “I’d love to talk to him.”
Brent had told me he was interested in doing so, that he had long wanted to ask his birth mom questions. So I agreed to give her number to Roberson, Brent’s guardian, the next day. Before I was able to, however, Jones-Gati reached Roberson through Facebook. Not long after, Brent had her number and was dialing the phone.
Brent called me after the conversation. He finally had answers.
“I was 9 pounds, 12 ounces at birth,” he said, sounding excited. “Can you believe that?”
It’s been a whirlwind in the days since then. After receiving Brent’s birth certificate from Virginia, Jones-Gati sent it to him Thursday. The two have been texting back and forth for days and wrote about their reunion on their Facebook pages.
“Having the best day ever!” Jones-Gati wrote, below a photo of Brent.
“I just talked to my biological mom!” Brent wrote.
At Manual on Thursday, Brent sat in the main office and read the latest text message from Jones-Gati. He called her Elizabeth; he said he’ll always call her that. Roberson, the woman who raised him, is mom. But he looks forward to meeting his birth mother and to doing the things he’s waited so long to do — get a license, a job and a college education.
Jones-Gati and Roberson, meanwhile, friends two decades ago, had a long conversation last week. They decided to reunite in South Carolina next month so they can drive together to Indianapolis to be with Brent for his graduation.
It’ll be a big day. And now, Brent can start planning for all the days after it.
Imagine going through life treated like you don’t exist and not knowing that could be a good thing.
The law says you don’t exist! How can that be? I’m right here.
Kinda funny and kind of sad that more people don’t get it. Do you?
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