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At the age of three, Caitlin and her younger brother were abandoned in an empty building in a small city 120 miles southeast of Moscow, Russia, in the dead of winter. Passersby luckily discovered the freezing children and for the next year, they were treated for pneumonia in a local hospital before entering the orphan system. Over the next two decades, Caitlin was institutionalized, in some capacity or another, while looking for stability, love, and hope.

Life in the orphanage was often brutal. Caitlin was raped by a fellow orphan when she was just five and was physically abused by the staff and even starved. Two years later, a family from New England adopted her, but life in America turned out to be a far cry from the dream so often advertised.

CaitlinÔÇÖs new surroundings might not have been the dingy confines of a Russian building, but they proved prisonlike all the same. Her new bedroom came complete with an exterior door lock, alarm system, and even a camera producing a live feed for her parents. The young girl was often neglected while the remainder of the family enjoyed a normal existence.

ÔÇťI never developed a relationship with my dad and my mom kept me locked in my room like an animal,ÔÇŁ she recalled. ÔÇťShe also drank a lot. She would push me and hit me when she got drunk. I canÔÇÖt remember anything horrible that I did to deserve all of that. I wasnÔÇÖt a trouble-maker. I was seven. I had obviously been through some things and maybe [my mom] didnÔÇÖt know how to deal with that. Maybe in order to get my brother she had to take me too. Maybe she didnÔÇÖt really want me.ÔÇŁ

Her immediate family routinely went on vacation leaving her with a grandfather who sexually assaulted her. The lack of reprieve from the ongoing torment eventually pushed Caitlin to the breaking point and she began acting out.

Three years later Caitlin was sent to live with a foster family in Ohio. While she didnÔÇÖt always behave appropriately, the new location felt more like home than anything she had ever experienced. When the family expressed interest in adoption six months into her stay, however, CaitlinÔÇÖs mother decided to enroll her at ranch for troubled children in Montana instead.

Over the next three years, Caitlin admits that her distrust and anger continued to escalate toward the staff. As a result, she was transferred to a facility with a psychiatric ward, and over the ensuing months bounced among institutions with increasing security and heavier treatment measures.

Caitlin became suicidal and nearly succeeded. She once woke up in a hospital room after attempting to hang herself and later tried cutting and swallowed screws and glassÔÇöall before age 15. Long tattoos now adorn the inside of her forearms covering the remnants of those dark days.

Caitlin was transferred to so many different wards over the following four years that she has difficulty remembering the order. Her stint with institutional confinement culminated in Georgia, however, in a suicide unit providing Level Six psychiatric services. There, a final act of defiance earned her a criminal destruction of property charge that led to nine months in jail.

ÔÇťWhen I got out they gave me a bus ticket,ÔÇŁ she said. ÔÇťI didnÔÇÖt know how to ride a bus. I didnÔÇÖt know when the bus came. No one explained anything to me. I had no ID. Nothing. This was my first time stepping out into the world. I didnÔÇÖt know where to go.

ÔÇťI was so young in the mind,ÔÇŁ she continued. ÔÇťI wanted so badly to find people I could trust. I got connected with some guys at a shelter there and soon I was doing drugs and living on the streets.ÔÇŁ

Marijuana, ecstasy, and cocaine regularly coursed through her system and Caitlin would do whatever it took to get her fix. After being dismissed from the shelter following a failed drug test she began sleeping in parks and on city benches. Savannah became home, but the comforts of familiarity and consistency were tragically woven among the fibers of homelessness, addiction, and broken relationships.

Caitlin tried starting over in Ohio, Tennessee, and Alabama. Unfortunately, her choices led to increasingly darker outcomes. Theft and burglary supported her habit which had grown to feed on heroin and methamphetamines. Facial scars testify to the domestic violence she fled. She even had two children who have either been adopted or are in temporary family custody.

Humbled by brokenness and loss, Caitlin eventually decided it was time for real change. But how do you begin when youÔÇÖve never been shown the way?

ÔÇťI had no ID, so I couldnÔÇÖt get a job,ÔÇŁ she exclaimed in deep frustration. ÔÇťIÔÇÖve never worked before. I donÔÇÖt even know how to drive a car. I didnÔÇÖt know what to do.ÔÇŁ

Caitlin reads a prepared message at her phase one graduation

Caitlin tried a few local nonprofits and eventually made an appointment at JessieÔÇÖs Place. Over the last several months the staff has helped her file government paperwork to obtain identification and other essential documents. She has been progressing quickly through the program and recently completed the first phase.

ÔÇťThe amount of support and love IÔÇÖve felt from every single person here has changed me,ÔÇŁ she said. ÔÇťItÔÇÖs like nothing IÔÇÖve ever felt before. Coming in here and seeing how much everyone wanted to help me has made me change the way I look at things. ItÔÇÖs made me want to take the steps to be better.ÔÇŁ

Caitlin now wants to pursue social work to help others who are where she has been. She hopes to complete her GED by the end of the year and then enroll in college.

ÔÇťIÔÇÖve learned that I canÔÇÖt change the past, no matter how much I want to,ÔÇŁ she said. ÔÇťI went through a lot, but none of it killed me. I believe God wants me to do something in this world, and thatÔÇÖs work with at-risk youth. Those kids just need someone who understands and to love them. And if I can change just one childÔÇÖs life, just one, I think I will have fulfilled my purpose on this earth.ÔÇŁ

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