By Jacob Factor, Features Editor (Photo by Jacob Factor/The Bison)
There are plenty of stories of kids getting “lost in the system”: ones who stay in
foster care their whole childhood and age out without any knowledge of life outside it. Some kids, however, have stories that are testaments to the ideals of the foster care system. Pierce Spead, a senior news and information major, has one of those stories.
Pierce’s story starts like most would. He grew up living with his mom Carolyn, dad Terry Sr., older brother Terry Jr. and sister Jasmine in Texas. They moved all around the Dallas suburbs, from Desoto to McKinney, and even to Waco. The normality ends there.
“Our house wasn’t “unstable” growing up, but it was a different experience,” Pierce said.
He said his parents were harsh discipliners who sometimes took that too far. He’d get hit with belts and switches. He’d had a canned good and a pot thrown at him before, and his brother had been hit with a tire iron.
“We’re kids, not adults. We don’t understand.”
When Pierce was almost 13, he and his family moved to Oklahoma. At some point, Pierce said his dad developed paranoid schizophrenia.
When they moved to Oklahoma, Terry Sr. started to think Pierce’s brother was trying to kill him. Pierce said it even got to the point that his dad would have him write down the license plate numbers and colors of cars that passed their house to see if anyone was following them.
Pierce said there was a white Cadillac they began noticing that they’d also seen
in Texas. One day Pierce’s brother and his friends got in the Cadillac.
“My dad was thinking, ‘My son’s trying to kill me,’” Pierce said.
Pierce said when Terry Jr. got home later that day, his dad, who was waiting at the door, punched him in the chest.
“He said to my brother, ‘Why you hanging around those people? They’ve been following us from Texas to Oklahoma.’”
Pierce said his brother told his dad he would stop associating with those people, but the next day he did it again. When Terry Jr. got home that day, instead of punching him in the chest, his dad was waiting in his room with a tire iron.
“My sister and I were in the living room, and we could hear yelling and stuff being thrown around,” Pierce said.
Then it got quiet. When Terry Jr. finally came out, he told Pierce and Jasmine he was thinking about running away. Pierce said his brother was 16 years old, his sister was 14 and he was 13 at this time.
“I was crying so much I guess I convinced him to stay,” Pierce said.
The next day at school, Pierce said Terry Jr. wore a hoodie and covered up all his bruises.
“He had marks all up and down his arms and on his ribs,” Pierce said.
When Terry Jr. took off his hoodie, Pierce said his teacher saw the marks and reported it.
He went into DHS custody immediately, and later that day the police showed up to Pierce and Jasmine’s school. When they went into DHS custody, Pierce said they were taken to the Allen Couch Center in Norman.
“That was probably the worst time of my life,” Pierce said.
Pierce said foster parents are more likely to take older kids because they don’t have to care for them as long, and since Pierce was only 13, he was there longer than his siblings.
Terry Jr. and Jasmine were only there for a month, but Pierce said he was there for six. When he finally got out, Pierce said he went to the home in which Terry Jr. was staying.
“It wasn’t bad there, but it wasn’t stable,” Pierce said.
The couple was in their 60’s and 70’s, and there were eight boys between the ages of 13 and 20 years old at the house.
“We just kind of did whatever. Sometimes I didn’t go to class. Sometimes I didn’t come home,” Pierce said. “It was normal.”
Then, Pierce said, Terry Jr. got into an argument with their foster dad, and he kicked both of them out. For two weeks after that they stayed at Pierce’s friend’s house.
“They never called us to ask where we were at. They never asked if we needed anything. Nothing,” Pierce said. “I didn’t take it personally. I just thought, ‘It is what it is. I made it this far.””
When they finally went back to the foster house, Pierce said they found out they’d been moved to another foster family.
“They didn’t ask where we were, but they moved us,” Pierce said.
Pierce said they’d been moved to the family he lives with now, the Vasses.
“We were only there for a semester the first time because my parents were up for
their rights to get us back,” Pierce said.
When his parents did get their custody rights back, Pierce and Jasmine, who had been staying in a group home in Moore, went back to them. His brother, who was 17 then and was able to choose where he went, decided to stay with the Vasses. Back with his parents in Ardmore, Pierce said he could hear his parents fighting.
“We didn’t see it, but we could hear it and picture it. There’d be blood on the wall,” he said. “I kind of expected it because they’d always done that. That’s just what happened.”
Later that year Pierce said he and his family moved back to the Oklahoma City area.
When Pierce and Jasmine came home from school one day, they found their mom crying and their dad trying to apologize to her. Pierce said they’d gotten into a huge fight, with “fighting, spitting, cussing.”
“I guess that night just put my mom over. After 22 years she’d had enough,” Pierce
That next morning, at about 6:30 a.m., Pierce said he was woken up by the sound of four gunshots.
“I see my mom standing over my dad. She’d shot him four times,” Pierce said. “My sister’s holding my mom who’s shaking. When my mom finally came to she kept apologizing and saying, “please don’t hate me.””
Pierce said after that she did “the adult thing” and turned herself in.
“We’d just got back with my parents. It was only about a year, and then boom, we get taken again,” Pierce said.
After Pierce’s mom was arrested, he said he called the Vasses to tell them what happened. He went back to stay with them. Pierce said the next day the Vasses told him he had to go to school.
“They said I couldn’t just sit around and mope. I was like, ‘Yes I can! That’s what I’m supposed to do’.”
Pierce said the first class he went to, English, he cried the whole hour.
“I didn’t go to the rest of my classes. I just stayed in the office and talked to the counselor,” Pierce said.
The first semester after his dad had been shot, Pierce said he gained 40 pounds and his GPA dropped to a 2.2.
“I was quiet. I didn’t talk. I didn’t have a lot of confidence,” Pierce said.
Luckily, the Vasses were there for him just when he needed them.
“When Terry and Pierce called us [after their dad was shot], we told them they’d always have a place to stay here,” Kim Vass, Pierce’s foster dad, said.
The Vasses, Kim and Ginger, originally got into foster care because they weren’t able to have biological children, and when they got Pierce, Ginger said, they were still learning.
“It was new to us, but with Pierce it was a blessing,” Ginger said.
Pierce said they were a lot different from the past homes he’d been in.
“They interacted with me. If we were going to school they would talk to me on the way,” Pierce said.
Pierce said Kim would challenge him to meet ten new people every day and tell him three different things about them. If Pierce didn’t do it one day, he’d have to do double the next day.
“Get comfortable with uncomfortable,” Kim said. “That’s how you’re going to grow as a person.”
Kim said eventually he started doing the challenge as well; his wife even joined in
later. Then, Kim and Ginger worked with him to make sure his grades were good, and the next semester he achieved a 4.0 GPA for the semester.
“It wasn’t that he couldn’t do it,” Kim said. “He just didn’t have anyone to tell him
“They pushed me and I just kept growing, and by senior year it was smooth sailing,”
Now, four years later, Kim and Ginger still love Pierce.
“He’s our son,” Kim said. Ginger said the same thing, “They weren’t just foster kids to us, they were our kids,” she said.
Pierce is set to graduate from OBU in May.
“It all started off bad, but it ended up good. I’ll be the first person in my family to graduate college.”