REPRESENT JUSTICE X JR: TEHACHAPI
I'm Ruett Foster and I am a survivor of gun violence. This is my family. My oldest son Evan, who was seven at the time, my 10 month old Alec, my wife Rhonda and myself. On December 8th, 1997 my wife had taken Evan to pick up his soccer trophy and to sign him up for the basketball league at Darby Park in Inglewood, and some Crips came gunning for some Bloods. A murder had happened two hours earlier on Manhattan Place in Los Angeles and they were seeking to retaliate. They said that they wanted to kill someone. So they came to Darby Park because Bloods were known to be at the park. However, Darby Park was one of my son's greatest places of inspiration. Evan was in the different intramural sports throughout the year. That particular day, as I said, my wife had taken him to pick up his soccer trophy and to sign him up for another sport. The coach wasn't there with the trophy. As she was coming back out, she was getting him set up in the car, she had the carrier, because my 10 month old was with her as well, and she got the car seat put in. She was talking to Evan and she was explaining to him, sorry we didn't get your trophy today. And he was basically saying, "Mom, that's okay." And he stopped in mid sentence.
Shots began to ring out. The Crips who had come, they had a MAK-90 assault weapon, the shooter. He had pulled it out and my wife saw them with an object. She didn’t realize initially that it was an assault weapon. And then she came to realize as she tried to get our car to safety out of the way of harm. They were actually not shooting at us. They were shooting at another guy who had come to the park for whatever reason also. But the sad thing about it was, he was driving a car, which was the color of the rival gang, so they shot at him because his car was red. And he ran beyond my wife’s vehicle into some bushes and was physically unharmed.
Several rounds went into my wife’s vehicle. Fatally wounded, Evan, my seven year old. And Alec wound up receiving bullet shrapnel in his left eye, and had to have a cornea transplant because the cornea was severed. By the grace of God, the transplant has been a wonderful transplant. With a child that young, sometimes there’s the threat of rejection, but it is held all these years by the grace of God. The specialists still marvel at the fact that it looks so well. He sees 20/200 in that eye though, but he sees a country mile with his other eye. He’s an extraordinary young person.
When this happened to us, it drastically changed our lives. My wife was a stay at home mom and I pretty much was the breadwinner. I ran a foster family agency in the city. I was dealing with children all the time, caring for children, the safety of children, protecting them, working with families. My wife also was in the same field. She was a counselor at a boys’ home. We were given to family and children and this befalls us, this happens to us. We felt rage. We were distraught. It was insane.
But then we gathered ourselves. We have deep faith in God, spiritual beings, Christians, and we said, “God, we’re going to have to trust you for everything. We’ve always trusted you and we’re going to really have to trust you to get us through this as well.”
Early on one of the correctional facilities in Chino, the victim’s impact teacher at that time, they had victim’s impact classes for the wards but they’ve since then cut funding, they’ve cut out a lot of really necessary programming. She reached out. She had her class inmates do a writing assignment. They were writing to us expressing apology for what had happened in our lives. They didn’t think that we would respond at all, but the LA Times was able to get through to us, got the letters to us, and we responded by coming to speak to their class.
That started a platform for us going into the correctional facilities around California and dealing with the young men and young women that had committed heinous crimes.
Our family was outraged as well, and in disbelief that we would do such a thing, that we would go into the prison. Some said, “Those are the same sort of individuals that killed Evan. How can you do that?” And we responded with, “Who better to do it? Who better to do it? We’ve seen the lowest point in this. We have seen great despair, but we also, with our faith, have high hope. And we’ve seen God embrace us and let us know that he’s there.”
We have been doing this work now for 20 some years. Evan would be almost 30 now. It’s been a really bittersweet journey. We’ve been going into the correctional facilities for a number of years and seeking to instill hope in hopeless situations. I know that we make a difference. We make an impact in the prisons. Some of the young offenders that have done pretty severe crimes have gotten released as they’ve timed out and some of those individuals we’ve mentored.
I believe it’s God’s heart that we all have opportunity for change. It’s possible. Not everybody’s going to, but I believe everybody should have the opportunity to change.
I do work that runs the gamut as well as my wife. Like I said, we go into the correctional facilities. I’ve also done work dealing with legislators, going to Sacramento, dealing with the rights of the incarcerated, founding member of a group that involved … and actually Javier was just in here right before me. He’s a director of Healing Dialogue and Action group and I was one of the founding members of that group as well. And working with offender families and survivors and survivor families, because the reality is an individual might be on one side of the gun or the tragedy, but we all come from the same place. We were all created in God’s image and likeness, I believe with all my heart. It’s about me expressing in a practical and functional way the love of God to the next person and really encouraging them to be their best self and live their best life.
The man who took my son’s life, who murdered my son, he’s behind bars and I don’t know how long he’ll be there. He may be timing out. He may be there the rest of his life. I’m just not even sure how it’s going to go. But I’ve made certain peace with life and where things are. I really believe that sometime in the very near future, it’s been several years, but sometime in the very near future I will be connecting with him. There’s a lot that’s in my heart that I believe God would have me say to him that I believe will impact his life in a positive manner as well as continue to help me with my healing process.
We jumped in, and my wife and I did individual therapy in the very beginning. Beyond any stigmas or stereotypes, folks think when folks go into therapy, they’re crazy, but the reality is it’s a tool that can help and it did help a great deal. Gave me perspective, I think a lot faster than if I had not done therapy.
But it’s been a journey, as I said earlier, bittersweet, but at the same time, it’s necessary. It’s an absolutely necessary thing. So to be able to go into a prison or correctional facility and have an engagement with someone and impact them in a way that you know has made a difference, I know that I’m in the right place doing what I need to be doing.
My wife, when we first started going, we would go to a correctional facility in Whittier, which doesn’t exist anymore, and she’d come away with migraine headaches every time, serious migraine headaches. But it didn’t stop her from going. It didn’t stop her commitment. She knew it was the place that she needed to be.
So we’ve aligned ourselves with all sorts of organizations and foundations and we go into the correctional facilities and we deal with legislation and we mentor the young people. I’m also a pastor, so I mean there are all these pieces to our lives. But we seek to live and love and make a difference.
We met some phenomenal people along the way who have hearts that are akin to ours. It’s really about making the difference. I love the young brothers of all colors that are incarcerated. I believe the best about their lives and that they will hopefully rise to the occasion of being their best selves because we need to … the more healthy we are, the better we all are as a society.
I guess I could go on and say more. Well, I’ll say this; Scott Budnick is a colleague and a friend. I heard from him and his crew just a couple of days ago about this project. What was exciting for me was that I was aware of JR and the work that he does, and I was particularly impacted by the piece at the Mexican border with a toddler peering over the border wall. And I’ve appreciated some of the other pieces that he’s done around the world.
So when I was asked would I come and contribute and be a part of this, I didn’t hesitate to figure out how I could be here. It’s really been a real blessing. I believe that even this piece is going to speak volumes to people all around the world, impact people, give them hope, give them pause, give them perspective because we’re all made in God’s image and likeness.