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angie's story

HOST: This Youth Portrait is from Angie Sanabria. Angie is the only person in this series who didn't actually serve time at Rikers, but she has had her share of difficult times. When Angie was fourteen, she was removed from her mother's home by New York City's Administration for Children's Services -- ACS. She spent the next several years drifting as a truant and a runaway. She's now eighteen years old.

ANGIE: How can I explain? Okay, like, you know what you want to be in life if, when you wake up in the morning, all you think about doing is that certain thing. Like if a writer -- the moment he wakes up, all he wants to do is write. As for me, the moment I wake up, I sing. All throughout the day, I sing. I sing in the shower, I sing on the train, I sing in restaurants. So I guess that's what I was born to be: a singer.

(Singing) Not more than three short years ago, I was abandoned and alone...

My inspiration in my singing and my music is Mariah Carey, because she went through a lot when she was younger, and I can relate because that's how I was also.

(Singing) Still I had to keep on going, never knowing...

I would give the world to meet her. Like I want to be the next Mariah Carey. I tell everybody that.

(Singing) If you believe in yourself enough and know what you want, you're gonna make it happen. Make it happen.

I used to live in the Bronx -- 238th and Bailey. I loved that area. I grew up there. I lived there for about fourteen years of my life.

My mom worked all the time. My dad wasn't around. He left us when I was seven. So my grandmother babysat me and my little brother, Danny, a lot. She treated me like a princess.

ANGIE'S GRANDMA:You so cute. Beautiful little girl, but my God I have to hold you because you used to say hello to everybody.

ANGIE'S MOTHER: That was the problem -- you used to say hi to everybody.

ANGIE: This is my mom.

ANGIE'S MOTHER: You'd say, "No, Mommy, I want to say hi to everybody." Say, "Hi, hi, hi, hi."

ANGIE: When I was fourteen, a single incident changed my family's life forever. Afterwards, none of us were ever the same again. One minute I was living with my mother, and the next minute I got taken away. I didn't have time to tell anyone where I was going, not even my best friend Edwin.

EDWIN: One day you were just gone. You just disappeared off the face of the earth. For like years you were gone. And no one knew anything. I mean everybody started saying stupid rumors, you know what I'm saying? That you ran away, that you were on a milk bottle, you know? That was the block's joke: if you need to find Angie, just look on the back of a milk carton.

ANGIE: It all started with our landlady. She wanted us out of the building. She was related to our next door neighbor, and soon he started harassing us, too.

He was, like, getting drunk, and sometimes when we would come home, he was, like, sitting in the staircase.

ANGIE'S MOTHER: He started knocking on my door, trying to grab me to put in his apartment.

ANGIE: Me and my mother ended up going to the police station and like filing out a report on him, which he found out, and he decided to call the cops on my mother, stating that she left me and my brother home alone. I was fourteen; my brother was ten.

ANGIE'S MOTHER: The call was on a five-year-old child was home alone. That was the call that they got.

ANGIE: We were alone about like one-thirty in the morning because my mom had to do some emergency food shopping because she came home late from work. Which the police ended up coming to my house and they ended up removing us from the home and ended up accusing my mother for negligence.

(Music)

That night she didn't know where we went. She was going crazy looking for us. I tried leaving a note like at the doorway that said, "Mommy, I'm going to try to get in contact with you. The police took us away." And I put it like right on the television. I taped it there. And at first when my mom came home, my mom didn't notice.

ANGIE'S MOTHER: When I got home you guys weren't there. The first thing I thought you guys were playing games, you were hiding. And then the next thing I thought you were outside. Then I noticed the note. The only thing I just reacted, just jumped. I didn't even think. I just did what I had to do, and I just ran out.

(Music)

ANGIE: It was too late. A negligence report had been filed against my mother, and we were taken away. Child welfare said we couldn't go back.

ANGIE'S MOTHER: They want you to have certain amount of income, you know? So they say, "Oh, you don't have enough to take care of your kids. Meanwhile, I had the same budget and I took care of my kids for ... what? Eight, nine years by myself. The same budget. And still it's not enough.

ANGIE: That's how me and Danny ended up living with our father.

(To father) Talk about how that one night changed our family's life forever.

ANGIE'S FATHER: The one way that it changed the family structure is that you and your brother lost your innocence behind it. You lived in a fantasy world. But then when ACS stepped into the picture and took you and Danny away, reality set in.

ANGIE: Things were pretty bad at my father's. I cut school. I lied a lot. I accused my father of abusing my brother and me. Then I ran away, and my brother Danny followed.

ANGIE'S FATHER: I'm still hurting inside because of the fact that you and Danny left here. Maybe I'm happy in that you're making an effort to come around to see me. But since Danny left, I haven't spoken to him. He doesn't want talk to me, and that hurts.

ANGIE: When I turned seventeen, I was finally allowed to move back in with my mom. I'd been gone almost three years.

EDWIN: And then one day you just pop up after many, many years. You just kind of, like, pop!

ANGIE: That's my best friend Edwin again.

EDWIN: I was in my bedroom that day I saw you. It was like dark and gloomy. I was chilling in my bedroom, and I decided to look out my window, and like I know how you look from a distance, so I was like, "Oh, that's Angie." So I got dressed real quick. I ran downstairs and started walking toward the house. I didn't want shout your name out "Hey! Angie!" -- so I just walked toward the house and I saw you and I felt happy to see you again, you know.

(Music)

ANGIE: I don't live in the Bronx anymore. After we got taken away, my mom couldn't stand to stay in our old apartment. She lives in Harlem now, works during the day, sings karaoke at night. My mom doesn't like to talk about the incident. To this day, the memory of it still makes her panic.

(To mother) How did it affect you the most?

ANGIE'S MOTHER: Emotionally, it ripped me apart. I used to go into anxiety attacks, which I suffer from sometimes. I lock myself up into screaming stage, like a release of pain. I wish we were all together again back over there in same old apartment.

(Music)

ANGIE: Right now, I'm in the courtyard of my building. Oh, man. Memories are just flying through my head, flying through my head.

I decided to go back up to the Bronx for a visit. I'd been to the neighborhood but never back to my building itself. I was nervous about what memories might come back, but I was also excited about saying hi to people.

ANGIE: Why don't I buzz Winnie and let me see if she still lives there? I don't know if she does. I pray she still lives there. Winnie? Hi.

WINNIE: Oh, my God, Angelique, how are you?

ANGIE: Winnie and I stood in her doorway, talking about Danny and my mom. It made me want to live in my old building again.

ANGIE: I see there's an apartment empty over there. Because I wouldn't mind getting an apartment in this building, getting my own place in this building, and move back in this building. I wouldn't mind.

ANGIE: Right then, my old landlady sneaked down the stairs. I couldn't believe I was seeing the one person I didn't want to see, the person who broke up my family. She still had her lazy eye and her spooky laugh. She seemed as mean as ever, but I really wanted to ask about that empty apartment.

I see you have an empty apartment here.

LANDLADY: It's taken already.

ANGIE: Oh it's taken already? Hmmm.

I kept talking to her. I wish I hadn't. She acted like she knew nothing about the incident, like she just wanted me to go through the pain of telling it. After all these years, she still claimed my mom neglected us.

LANDLADY: I see you sit on the stairway, waiting for your mom, remember?

ANGIE: No, not really.

LANDLADY: Most of the time.

ANGIE: No, not really, because my mom had to work a lot, so there was just one night that mom had to run out to the supermarket. The cops ended up coming into our house, and they took us away. That's how come we haven't been here anymore. The cops took us away.

LANDLADY: Why'd they take you away?

ANGIE: Because there was some report that -- they charged my mom with negligence. And that wasn't true.

LANDLADY: My memory is you always alone by yourself. I don't know why.

ANGIE: After I saw my old landlady, I didn't feel like going up to my old apartment. I just wanted to leave.

(Singing) There's a hero. If you look inside your heart, you don't have to be afraid of what you are.

It's like, yeah, me and my mom, you know, we go through our hard times and everything. I mean, what children doesn't go through that with their parents, you know? But my mother's my best friend, you know? And I love her no matter what. And sometimes, like, my friends get jealous of my mom, you know? They're like, "Oh, you'd rather hang out with your mom than with us? Come on, we're your friends." I said, "Well, my mom's my friend too, you know?" Because we went through a lot. And it just feels good to be back with her again.

(Singing) And you'll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you.

(To mother) What do you want me to accomplish in life?

ANGIE'S MOTHER: Follow your dreams. No matter what it is or how people misjudge you or judge you. If heart is there, you'll make it. If you believe in yourself, that's the main thing. Do you believe it?

ANGIE: I believe it.

ANGIE'S MOTHER: Okay.

ANGIE: Now, that brings me to my last question. Um, you want to do a little karaoke right now? Just some a cappella stuff?

ANGIE'S MOTHER: Yeah.

ANGIE: What do you want to do?

ANGIE'S MOTHER: "Knowing Me, Knowing You," from Abba.

ANGIE: Okay, let's do it. Ready? One, two, three...

ANGIE AND MOM: (Singing) Knowing me and knowing you, uh-huh, there is nothing we can't do...

ANGIE: We're all trying to move on from the incident, but it's going to take time. When everything in your life changes in one night, you see the whole world differently. Everything that happens after seems related back to that single bad thing. That's why I'm going to make sure that from here on out, everything is good. This is the story they'll tell about me when I'm the new Mariah Carey. Until then, I'm going to keep my life together. And I'll keep singing karaoke with my mom.

ANGIE AND MOM: (Singing) Knowing me knowing is the best I can do.

ANGIE: Okay, that's it.

HOST: Angie Sanabria lives with her boyfriend LeVar and works at McDonald's. She's expecting her first child.

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