When Crystal Burrows speaks, it’s with a soft voice. The On Track Academy senior doesn’t complain, but when asked about things, she will tell you, in quiet tones, beginning with the vastly understated observation that “I didn’t grow up in a perfect home. It was kind of tough.”
There was drug abuse, and she lived in terror that the home would be raided. She was raped by her stepfather when she was in sixth grade.
“It took me a while to get back to myself after that,” she said. She began attending church with a friend, which gave her the strength to go on.
In 10th grade, she got involved with a young man and moved in with him. They couch surfed, and she was physically and emotionally abused and began cutting herself. He beat her, causing her to be hospitalized twice, and didn’t let her go to school. She got involved in drugs herself and wound up hospitalized after a bad meth episode.
“I used to be a sweet girl,” she said. “I knew what to do, to go to church. I got lost.” After one particularly bad beating, she spent three days praying constantly, seeking the courage to leave. And she did leave that place and that person (who is now in jail), and she kept going. She kicked drugs on her own and enrolled in high school again – but it didn’t work out the way she hoped.
“There was too much drama in traditional high school, and I couldn’t stay concentrated,” she said. And then she found the On Track Academy, where she is flourishing in the personalized curriculum.
“I feel so confident here,” Burrows said. “I’m always working. People tell me to take a break, but I don’t want to.”
Burrows has a twin sister, who is enrolled in a traditional high school and living with friends. “When we graduate, we’ll be the first in our family to finish high school and reach out for college.”
Even so, life is still challenging. Burrows’ mother lives in her car. Burrows has been happily living at the Union Gospel Mission for the past three months. “At first, I kind of stayed to myself and didn’t talk to anybody, but lately I’ve been in a room with five women who love me to death. They’re helping me get my résumé done, helping me get clothes. Sure it’s tough sometimes, but we all talk to each other, and it’s a supportive place – like here at school.”
Burrows hopes to attend Spokane Community College this fall. She has thought about all the things she’d like to do, things she now believes are within reach. She was told for so long that she was garbage, and she believed it. She doesn’t anymore.
“Sometimes you’ve got to learn the hard way and have to fight back after seeing your life crash around you. I think I’d like to study early childhood education. I want to help children. I think I can.” And she said so with a sweetness that even a hard, tough life hasn’t extinguished.