New Year, New Skills: Koren Brand

As a young child, I was diagnosed with various mental illnesses. This was only the beginning of my childhood challenges. I was in second grade, about 7 years old, when I was first put on medication. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Even the first medications I was prescribed; adderall and risperidone. It was set up for me to get my meds in the nurse’s office at school daily. I remember feeling as though I was different from all of the other kids. For most of my existence I felt this way. I never felt like I truly belonged. That feeling brought me into dark times, too many times, in my life. In grade school I had an Individualized Educational Plan (I.E.P.) for behavioral issues, and struggled with reading, writing, and speaking. I met with both a speech therapist and someone to work with me one on one for reading. I never put honest effort into either because they were both things I was taken out of class for and the last thing I wanted is more reasons to stand out from others.  All I ever wanted was to fit in, make friends, and have the childhood I saw the other kids have. 

Well that was not the plan others had in store for my life. At home I had no one to teach me about life or help with education. Home life for most of my early childhood was difficult. I was sexually and physically abused on a daily basis from age 5 to 12 years old. My nights at home were not teaching me to read and helping with homework but instead fighting to survive. I was growing up too fast, too young. 

In grade school I acted out in search of attention- good or bad. Fourth grade was the first time I was ever expelled from a school. By the time I was in 6th grade I had been expelled from three schools. At this point, schools were becoming unwilling to accept me. From an outsider’s point of view, I was out of control and would never change. Although those who choose to remain open-minded, and who really got to the person inside the behavioral nightmare, always had faith in me, and saw far more in me then I could ever imagine. It was those people who always believed in me, who gave me the strength to believe in myself. I never had someone who believed in me and wanted to support me in being my best myself. When first meeting these individuals often I would try and push them away, because it felt unnatural and uncomfortable to me. I have learned in recent years to remain open minded and give people a shot before denying their support.

School remained a challenge. At the age of 12, I was sent out of state to a residential school for girls 12 to 21 years old who struggled with mental illnesses and public school. I remained in Massachusetts until I was 17 years old, although I did not remain in the same residence. I bounced from psych ward to different residentials over those 5 years. Never having true stability or knowing where I’d be next. Those years weren’t spent on education though, those years were spent learning to control my actions and live with my mental illnesses. Working through the trauma of my childhood, and learning to cope through the many flashbacks and nightmare I suffered through daily. 

At 17 years old I moved back home to Vermont. Home wasn’t like childhood with the abuse but it still remained unhealthy. I watched my family struggle with alcoholism most my life and as my brothers and cousin got older drug addiction as well.  I was no stranger to either. Actually I struggled with both even before spending those 5 years in Mass. I started drinking at age 9 to deal with the abuse, but at 10 years old the man abusing started buying me a 5th a night. That continued until age 12 when I watched that man die in front of me- alone. 

Before being sent away to Massachusetts I started hanging out with teenagers smoking weed and eventually formed an addiction to opiate medication. My best friend’s mom had a year’s worth of oxycontin. She was 16 and I was 12. She ended up stealing a couple bottles. At first I said ‘no’, the next day we were smoking, and drinking out in woods. Then I chose to join in with them and do a line. That one line wasn’t enough though instantly I wanted more and more, until they had to be taken away. That continued for a couple of weeks until I was given the news about going to Massachusetts.

I want to share this story with everyone, with the hope of giving others the strength and confidence to do something that might scare them. I want to remind you all that nothing is ever impossible, so, never give up. I know how easy it is to feel hopeless and discouraged. I truly believed that my dream of being able to read and write was an impossible one to reach. I wasn’t able to even read a chapter book. Reading was beyond just challenging.

Today I read on a daily basis, and am able to read much more than a mere chapter book. Learning to read changed my life.

Koren (Korey) Brand is a returning citizen. She is passionate about writing poetry and essays as a form of sharing her experience. Korey wants to change the world and one way she is doing that is by volunteering for The UnPrison . Read Korey’s full bio.