Pongo Project Journal

Sharing stories of our work with teens
Apr 18

Starcia Ague’s public story is inspiring in itself – the story of a young woman, now 23, who spent 5 ½ years in juvenile jail for a serious crime, but who worked her way to an education, a Governor’s pardon, and a research position at the University of Washington where she addresses juvenile justice issues. She earned the support of mentors and guides who helped her. She found God. And along the way, Starcia went public with her own history of growing up with addicted, sometimes homeless, drug-dealing parents. Her history includes abandonment by her parents and terrible abuse from an acquaintance of her mother. 

But I want to add to Starcia’s story here. There are unrecognized qualities and strengths in people who are resilient after childhood abuse. I’m finding that these survivors… 

  *     Make fiercely independent decisions in order to change and survive 
  *     Engage in deep and private processes of emotional and intellectual growth 
        that empower their change 
  *     Go it alone in significant ways, as they are forced to leave behind family and 
        old friends who are often destructive and rejecting 
  *     Are the objects of prejudice for their past suffering and survival behaviors, 
        even from significant people in their new lives 
  *     Are purposeful in their desire to help others 
  *     Suffer always from the effects of the childhood abuse they once endured, 
        even as they survive and thrive 
  *     Are happy with their lives 
  *     Don’t always know how extraordinary they are 

Here are a few instances from Starcia’s life… 

Starcia’s pardon is a wonderful gift to her, but it’s also a mixed blessing. In a fiercely independent and purposeful decision, Starcia has chosen to make her history, and her crime, part of the public record. Anyone who searches her name on the internet can find out about her past. But Starcia has made this choice so that she can work for other youth. The pardon enables her to work on juvenile justice issues. Today she is advocating for legislation that would seal juvenile records. 

While Starcia has had tremendous help from mentors along the way, there was a time of deep and private thought for her that facilitated change and growth. It began when a woman visited the church service at juvenile jail and told her own story of childhood abuse and recovery. Starcia saw a possibility for herself, and she spent time with her Bible then, reviewing her life, and seeking answers to difficult questions about meaning and forgiveness. 

Like many survivors of childhood abuse, Starcia has had to make painful decisions – enduringly painful decisions – in relation to family and old friends. She would like to help people she cares about. At the same time Starcia is criticized and rejected by many of these people for the new life she has created. And some people from her previous life would not be safe for her. In important ways, Starcia has had to go it alone. 

Many survivors of childhood abuse and its consequences make their own decisions about whether or not to share their histories with others. But with her openness and her work in the juvenile justice field, Starcia spends time with people every day who know about her past and her record. She understands that sometimes people are suspicious of her. 

For survivors of terrible childhood traumas, there is a continuing ordeal into adulthood, in spite of their accomplishments and satisfactions. Starcia said to me that if there is one thing she could change about her life it wouldn’t be the time in jail or anything like that, it would be the continuing emotional and physical effects of childhood abuse. 

So, coming back to Starcia’s public story, she is someone who suffered a terrible childhood, committed a crime in adolescence for which she served time, achieved an education, and attained meaningful work to help others like herself. But in addition she has shown an independent spirit and sense of purpose that fueled all her current accomplishments (with significant help from wonderful people along the way).
And, importantly, she has experienced a private world of ongoing challenge and growth that is extraordinary. She has my best wishes and admiration.