(Editor’s note: This story is the first part of a multi-part series “Stolen Innocence,” about children who have been victimized by abuse that begins in Issue #1 and will continue through Issue #6. Several staff members took it upon themselves to interview, take photographs and conduct research. The results of their combined efforts follow.)
by: CHESANIE BRANTLEY/Editor-in-Chief
Samuel T. Moore is on the shore of Corte Magore. He is a sea crab who would like to make this place his home, but faces obstacles along the way.
Tonia Gould is the author of the children’s book, “Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore,” and CEO of Tagsource. According to Gould, she has always wanted to be a children’s and young adult author. After writing her book, she realized its hidden message was the story of her own life.
“The themes were naturally ingrained in my life, and it was a story that I knew I had to tell,” said Gould. “I think it was a subconscious thing more than anything. Then after the first and second draft, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my story.’”
She said while she was writing the book, those feelings from her childhood began to resurface.
Gould grew up in northern Indiana, and she said her parents had the cards stacked against them. They got married and pregnant very early in their young lives and were not equipped to deal with it.
“I was a product of foster care at the age of 15,” said Gould. “I was actually taken from my family and placed in social services and the state of Indiana.”
According to Gould, her experience in foster care was very unique. She was placed with a family, but the husband ended up getting transferred to Alabama. So, she was only there for a short period of time. While Gould was waiting for another family, her English teacher, who was very supportive of her in school, found out she was in foster care and was in need of a new family.
“My English teacher and her husband both became foster parents, and my experience with them was amazing,” recalls Gould. “I lived with them for almost a full year when I was supposed to go home.”
Gould lived with them for a year. She said that year with them taught her a lot about consistency and what it was like to come home to a nonvolatile environment. After that year, Gould had graduated early from high school and enrolled herself in Ancilla College Domini. She was also holding down three jobs all, by the age of 17. Then she went before a judge to see if she had to go home, remain in foster care or whatever the judge decided.
“I was basically living on my own and paying rent on an old farmhouse in Culver, Indiana,” said Gould. “Really, I think the judge had seen I was better off at that point on my own than with my family.”
Around the time when Gould turned 21, she followed a man to California. She said she would laughingly tell people she was running away from her family. She went as far as she could go without touching the ocean. The man she went there with was integral to her life, according to Gould.
“I was carrying a lot of toxic energy around at that time, and he said to me, ‘I can totally understand why you can’t forgive and forget,” Gould says, “but maybe if you try to forgive and not forget, you won’t carry around this toxic energy for the rest of your life.’”
Gould said she knew he was right, and eventually she decided to let everything go and allow her family to integrate themselves back into her life.
“It’s such a better way to live than feeling like a victim or feeling hurt,” said Gould. “I can’t say that you push it aside. Those memories are always there of what it’s like growing up in an abusive situation. But at the same token, it was so much easier for me to understand their lives and where they came from.”
Gould’s book, “Samuel T. Moore of Corte Magore,” is about a sea crab who washes up to the shore of Corte Magore. He wants to make the shore his home forever, but he has to overcome the big, bad tidal wave.
“In other words, that wave is kind of his bully, so the bullies in my life were the people who were initiating the abuse,” Gould said.
Samuel had to overcome the beast in his life, and he had to do it all on his own. He is also in a time crunch. He has to build his home before the next wave, or else he will get swept back into the ocean. He has to pull himself up by his bootstraps. He fails over and over, until he finally overcomes the wave.
“I think a lot of children who break the cycle of abuse have to do it on their own,” according to Gould. “They might have social services behind them. They might have foster parents behind them. But, ultimately, it’s up to them whether or not they want to break that cycle.”
Gould said the cycle is something that will never be broken unless each person who has actually been through it can try to figure out how to overcome.
Gould also said she has received a lot of great feedback from parents about the book. She said that she thinks the book teaches children about managing life, and that no matter what obstacles are in your way to keep picking yourself back up. Gould said parents have also told her
the book is lengthier than most children’s books. But since it is written in prose, it is very easy for children to memorize.
“I think it’s a book that teaches kids about life’s lessons, and that everything is not always peaches and cream,” Gould said.
Gould is still in touch with the English teacher who took her in. She said she is her foster mother in every sense of the word. She also has a good relationship with her birth mother, and although her birth father has now passed away, she forgave him a long time ago.
“My family is very tight knit, very different from how I grew up,” Gould said. “One of the things that was important to me was not to bring into my marriage, or when I started my life and family almost 21 years ago, is that I wouldn’t perpetuate that cycle.”
According to Gould, striking her children has never been an option. Anytime her children get angry and want to hit someone, she reminds them that they are not a hitting family.
“We use our words,” says Gould. “We talk it out. We sometimes yell and scream like any other family. We have a very normal life.”
She said her children have been exposed to the life of Gould’s family in Indiana, but they recognize that way of life is not normal. She said they know what is normal is the way they are living.
“I think that there are so many taboo subjects in society today, and child abuse is one of them,” Gould said.
According to Gould, child abuse is something that needs to be approached. She said that if it were not for her teachers in Indiana who saw her talents, she does not know if she would have the confidence to overcome her obstacles.
“I honestly think that saved me.” Gould said. “The other thing I think is such a tragedy is when schools do not have in-house libraries.”
Gould donated 1,000 books to the First Book organization, which puts books in the hands of children who otherwise would never have one. She said if she could have her way, she would put a book in every child’s hand in America.
“Books saved me, outside of teachers,” said Gould. “I was able to read about life that was normal and consistent and teach me that the life I was living at home wasn’t necessarily how I was supposed to be living.”
Gould also said there is a project in Nicaragua called the Finding Corte Magore Project. A team is working to keep children in school. She said one third of students drop out of school before they reach the sixth grade.
“They don’t have the same social services we have access to, or the same access to education,” according to Gould.
Gould said the biggest message she wants to send to children who are going through anything, particularly child abuse, is that they have to come forward and talk to someone about it. If nobody is seeing the signs, he or she has to step out and know there are plenty of resource options available.
“While going through foster care was a pretty scary experience for me, I know that my process worked,” Gould said, “and here I am today a writer and a business owner.”