Photo by Morgan Plunkett
Jake Lowery sits on his bed, an old red futon in his basement, rapidly messaging his homecoming date. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see his younger siblings’ toys strewn across the floor in every direction. In his ears, he can hear his mother above him, screaming, crying, cursing. In his mind, he’s thinking, “Please, don’t let this be happening. Not now.”
For junior Jake Lowery, this was a typical setting during the beginning of his freshman year. His biggest worries weren’t what color tie to get for homecoming, what grade he had in Geometry or when he would get his restricted license. Instead, Lowery worried about if and how he’d be fed. He worried about whether his mom would hide his laptop again, leaving him unable to do his homework. He worried about the looming day when his mom may break down completely. What Lowery never knew, however, was that his worries would eventually be met with the generosity of members of the East community, people who he says transformed his life.
His mother storms down the stairs, still in a fit of panic and rage. She spats insults at Jake: ‘You’re an awful child. You’re not really my son. I don’t want you here.’ Her arms flail and punch at his face. Panicking, Jake grabs his laptop and bolts up the stairs, while dodging both a child’s art easel and baseball bat being flung at him.
At this point in Lowery’s life, his mother had been abusive for nearly two years. Shortly after losing her job as a cosmetologist, she began to deteriorate, succumbing to the stress of raising Jake and his two younger brothers without any source of income. She turned to alcohol and prescription drug abuse, and became verbally and physically abusive. This night was her tipping point.
Bolting to the driveway, he sees that his mother’s boyfriend, Thad, has just pulled in. Behind, his mother’s screams trail him. He jumps into the passenger seat, locks the doors and begs Thad not to let his mother hurt him. Next thing he knows, she is banging at the windows. Thad rolls them down, and Jake’s head is suddenly struck against the glass, and he’s being pulled by his dark, shaggy hair. He grabs his mother’s arms and pulls them as hard as he can. She cries in pain, and runs towards the house to call the police. “You’re going to jail!” she screams, her voice wavering.
The rest of the night is hazy to him, but there’s one distinct feeling he cannot shake: the emptiness of waking up in a cold, deserted juvenile detention cell the next morning, contemplating the night’s events that led to this moment.
“I didn’t feel like a human,” he said. “I was made to feel like a criminal.”
Lowery thought he would be held for a night, maybe a few. For two full weeks however, he was stuck in an empty cell for most of the day, with only his shaky thoughts to keep him sane. Finally, after the longest 14 days of his life, Lowery was notified that his mother would no longer accept him into her home; he would be leaving behind his former life and entering the foster care system.
Feeling lonely and scared, Lowery had no idea where he’d end up. A caseworker met with Lowery to work out logistics. She asked him the standard questions for children entering foster care, one of which would eventually grant him the opportunity to attend East.
“Have there been any influential people in your life up to this point that could help? Teachers, friends’ parents, others?” she said. One man immediately came to mind: Curtis White, Lowery’s 8th grade Advanced Social Studies teacher at Indian Woods Middle School. Lowery’s 8th grade year was when his home-situation was at its worst, and he had felt comfort confiding in White.
“Mr. White was really cool and did all he could to ease my tough situation. He was the only one who really knew what was going on with my homelife,” Lowery said.
Lowery’s caseworker contacted White, who immediately reached out to do all he could to contribute. White says he was happy to help a student whose story had struck a chord with him.
White could not take Lowery in, but his neighbors, family of 2016 East graduate Mike Bamford, could. The Bamfords took him in during the fourth quarter of his Freshman year. He lived with them until the end of his sophomore year, when the Bamford Family family was no longer able to provide for him as a “temporary” home. The Bamfords are the reason for Jake’s involvement in East; from the very beginning, Mike encouraged Lowery to enjoy high school. Bamford was and still continues to be a great influence in Lowery’s life, from getting him involved in wrestling to improving his work ethic.
“I was so glad to get Jake involved in East,” Bamford said. “It made him realize how much fun school can be if you make an effort to enjoy it.”
The Bamfords accepted Lowery as their own, and although he no longer lives with them, he still today considers them to be his family.
“Jake and I aren’t brothers by blood, but he’ll always have a special place in my family.” Bamford said.
Before meeting the Bamfords and coming to East, he never believed he would find a place he would feel connected, included or accepted. What he now realizes is that he has found it at East. He is involved in choir, wrestling and AP classes.
“East has completely changed my view of life,” Lowery said. “This school has taught me that to succeed, you have to work hard, but that it’s all worth it. I don’t just sit around anymore and wait for something good to happen–I make good things happen.”
Lowery is finally content with where he is in life. He now lives with the Mannys, family of sophomore Tyler Manny. Lowery credits his current situation, and optimism for the future, to the generosity he has found within the East community. From Mr. White to the Bamfords, and many, many others in-between, Lowery has gone from the feeling of homelessness to the feeling that Shawnee Mission East is his home.
It’s a Thursday night. Jake sits on his bed, typing a stream of words into his Macbook Air. ‘Mr. White’ he types into his MLA header, completing his essay for White’s AHAP class. He reflects on the impact that this man and so many others have made on his life. His eyes wander around his own room; his ears hear only the sounds of his fingers clicking on his keyboard; his mind is at ease.