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Long Way Home

May 14, 2011

You’re a kid. You want to sleep at a friend’s house, but first his parents have to get checked out by the state. You play football at the YMCA, and they want to take a picture of the group, but not of you, because you’re in foster care. In fights, you feel powerful. That’s the only time. By your 15th birthday, you’ve packed up so many times, it’s hard to keep track of the number. You think maybe it’s 20.

Jounelle Joseph — call him J.J. — has a word for the way his old life made him feel:


But today, he has a reason to celebrate. It’s Mother’s Day.

This spring, he got adopted.

This spring, he won a most-improved-student award.

The grownups in his life don’t think the timing’s a coincidence.

At Coleman Middle School in South Tampa, he’s one of the few black kids in the eighth grade, one of the oldest, one of the biggest. He’s got round cheeks and chin hairs and wears a T-shirt that saysOne Man Wolfpack.

Two months ago, he wouldn’t have told this story. But now it feels okay to talk.

“I was brushing my teeth.

“These men came in and took us. I cried for my mom.

“I was 3…”

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