“When I was 19 I had a big question: Will I ever fit in, be like everyone else?”

“Get the car, the house or apartment, the boyfriend?
Was I going to be able to have all that?
I felt like those things just weren’t for me.
Sure, I wanted them. But I was too different.
I could tell I hadn’t had the same opportunities and privileges as other kids my age.”

If Sophie had always wanted to fit in, it wasn’t so she could blend into crowd. It was to live the life that had been denied her.
To make herself like a beautiful, freshly baked cake, whole and perfect, its crevices ready to soak up icing like so much happiness.

Looking at her smile today, you feel she’s finally made it.

“I was the sort of little girl who wears a dress to go play in the dirt with four-wheelers. In no time at all, I’d be plastered in mud.”

Sophie’s laugh is like honey.
It’s easy to picture her as a happy little scamp mucking around in the dirt. Or as the dashing Robin Hood type she used to be, a swashbuckling hero already tempered by a keen sense of responsibility.

“I was still a little girl when I started taking care of my brother, and then my sister.
Making soup, pastries, doing the cleaning.
‘Cause my mother started work at 8 a.m., and got off at midnight.”

Caring and warmth bubble up in Sophie, irrepressible. But in those days, her family environment was full of conflict.

“My father was a real despot.
I didn’t dare put a toe out of line.
It got so I couldn’t take it anymore.
I locked myself in my room to get away from my parents.”

Family life grew increasingly stormy. At twelve, Sophie was placed with her first foster family. To provide her with a better environment, they said. But the promised reprieve didn’t materialize.

“I wound up with people who fostered kids for the money.”
I wasn’t allowed to see my friends, go out, or touch a computer. And yet I saw their own kids playing video games, or running around the yard until eight at night… They’d take off for the weekend without me every chance they got.”

To protect her sense of self and give herself a space where she could breathe, Sophie began to rebel. Stay out past curfew. Experiment with alcohol. Hang out with friends she wasn’t allowed to see. Making mistakes and breaking the rules was her attempt to cobble together some kind of adolescence.

After a year, at her own request, she was moved in with a new family with four other young girls.

“These parents treated us more like people. They’d bring us along on outings. They were horrified by what I’d gone through with the family before. And for that whole year, I was as good as gold.”

It may be obvious, but Sophie points out that a healthy home environment healed her. It gave her a chance to thrive. Like a soufflé in the oven, she was rising, but still delicate.

“I think that was the only foster family that ever treated me like I was worth anything.”

In her voice you can hear palpable gratitude for the people who gave her a normal childhood, for a while. But the couple’s relationship broke down, and Sophie had to leave. She wanted to go back to her mother, who was now divorced, but her health was too poor to care for her daughter.

“That’s how I ended up in a juvenile home.”

“It was a shock.”

Even though she had no criminal record or mental health issues, Sophie was placed in the security wing of the juvenile home. Simply because none of the other units had space.

Fences. Wire screens. A bedroom door that locked automatically. Set times to use the showers. Things like chains, jewelry, radios, and pencils were confiscated. Every other day they were allowed one fifteen minute phone call. “And it was timed.”

“Just because you end up in juvenile detention, it doesn’t mean that you’ve been through the court system, or that you’re a juvenile delinquent.”

Let’s say you lost your parents in a car accident and there’s no foster family. That’s where they send you.
Mental illness? That’s where they send you.
Child prostitution? That’s where they send you.
Committed a crime? That’s where they send you.
It’s like they just toss everyone in there together. And some of those people really shouldn’t be mixing.”

Instead of receiving the care she needed, Sophie was forced to comply with the restrictions of an institution ill-adapted to her own challenges, mild oppositional defiant disorder and ADHD. And it was even more damaging to her plucky spirit, and hopes and dreams. She toed the line, did her chores, and followed the rules. But she soon discovered that the most disruptive girls were the ones allowed to go out, since their absence gave the staff a few hours of peace and quiet.

“I came to understand the unfortunate truth that, if I pretended to throw a fit and trash the whole common room, I would get my outing.
So that’s what I did.
Though I gotta say, those outings weren’t all that.
Going to the park beside the home.
Getting candy at the corner store.
Just being outside.
Because otherwise, you were inside the whole time: school was inside, meals were inside. You never got out.”

Sophie started running away.
With the clarity of hindsight, she can now identify the feeling that boiled over in her whenever she escaped.

“It was yearning for freedom.
You know, it got so intense. I just wanted to have my own life, do my own thing.
But there are so many rules in the juvenile home…
All I wanted was to spend a day on the Plains of Abraham, or at Place d’Youville, without having to account for every little thing I did.
To go play at the arcade.
To just say, ‘I was out with friends,’ without getting the third degree.
I felt like I’d given up.
I needed to feel alive.”

She still remembers her first time.

“This girl said: ‘We’re gonna run for it tonight, some of us are going camping.
You coming?’
I said ‘Sure’
It was as simple as that!”

Sophie’s honeyed laugh, warm and rich.

“Right before we left, I got super nervous. What was going to happen? Where were we going?
That part always makes you anxious, for sure.
But I told myself:

Hey, it’s the first time I’ll get to go camping. Out in the woods with my friends, just sitting around a campfire with a guitar.”

Sophie had to fight hard for these carefree moments. They didn’t always end well.
“We were no angels, for sure.”
But it was a way of reclaiming her youth, getting a taste of what other kids her age got to experience.

Her breakouts started taking her out of Quebec City. They’d hitchhike to Trois-Rivières and Montreal. She got an opportunity to see the province, to mess around, make mistakes, laugh and have some fun. “There was a time when my whole life fit in a backpack.”

Even more than going MIA once in a while, two things helped keep Sophie strong.
Her mother: “I called her on the phone once a week.”
And the day when she would finally have her own life: “When I came of age.”

When she turned 17, Sophie was finally able to get out of the system of group homes and foster families.
And, just before turning 18, she got her first apartment, in Limoilou.

“Walking into that apartment, it still didn’t really feel like my place.
I kept moving all my things around.
For so long, my entire life fit into a backpack.
And now here I was. My own home.”

She still had a nagging feeling that she would never be fit in. That even her modest dreams were out of reach. But as time wore on, the urge to flee grew less loud inside her. Her place in the world grew clearer. She’d found her refuge, the place where she could be herself.

“Now that I’ve got an apartment, I look at all my furniture and I say: that would never fit in a backpack!”

Now, with her high-school diploma, a part-time job, and driver’s license in her wallet, Sophie is no longer bound by her past. To her, the future looks luminous, surrounded by love that she has created for herself.

“After everything I’ve been through, I’m happy with who I’ve become. I have my two children. I’d say I have a good life.”

As time passed her relationship with her family has improved. “With my father, it’s great. My brother and I are super tight. It’s getting better with my sister too.”

Above all, Sophie now understands that the baggage she carries has value. Her humanity, resilience, and determination have become things she can share with others.

“Now I can tell myself that I deserve to have something, and I let myself have it.
And I want people to know that that’s okay.
I’ve shared my story in some publications, for La Maison Dauphine.
I also went in front of Parliament in 2012–2013 and told the ministers about my journey.
I’ve helped raise funds for an organization that helps young parents when they’re starting out. I’m on their website.”

The time has come when people look to Sophie for guidance and inspiration.

“People have said to me: ‘You’re like the definition of courage. It’s like, if you were thrown down a cliff, you’d just climb right back up!’”

Again, that delicious laugh.

The crowning achievement, if life allows it, would be an opportunity go back and help out in a juvenile home. To give that humanity that she wasn’t always allowed to receive.

“I would like that — once my children are a bit older — to be working on the front lines.
This winter, I was a home support worker for people with paraplegia. I like that relationship, being a caregiver.
Maybe saving young people.
Maybe I’d be able to see things that others wouldn’t think of.
‘Cause you name it, I’ve lived through it.”

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