And here’s another repost from January 26, 2018, shared today because I just wrote fresh content about the Turpin case.
Every once in awhile, I read something that really makes me stop and think. Jennifer Turpin is one of the thirteen “kids” who were discovered living in a “house of horrors” in Perris, California a couple of weeks ago. Authorities found her and her siblings living in filth. Some of them were shackled to their beds, completely removed from the outside world. I have been following the horrifying story of the Turpin family. The more that comes out about them, the more bizarre and insane their story is.
This morning, I ran across a very poignant Facebook post written by Taha Muntajibuddin, a man who knew Jennifer Turpin when they were both kids. At one time, Jennifer Turpin had been allowed to attend school, and she and Muntajibuddin were third grade classmates at Meadowcreek Elementary School. Evidently, in those days, Jennifer Turpin was thought of as one of the “cootie kids”. No one wanted to be friends with her because she was dirty and smelled bad.
Muntajibuddin remembers that after that year, Jennifer moved away and he lost track of her. There had been times when he’d tried to track her down through Facebook. He wondered how she’d turned out and hoped she’d turned into someone totally different than who she was when they were eight years old. But he never was able to find her and imagined that maybe she was one of the few people in the world who hadn’t succumbed to the lure of social media. Naturally, like so many people who recently discovered the Turpin family, he was horrified when her real story came to light.
In his very reflective Facebook post, Muntajibuddin reminds people how important it is to be kind. Better yet, they should teach their children to be kind. Every elementary school has a “cootie kid” who gets picked on. Sometimes those kids are able to rise above that moniker. Sometimes being harassed and bullied leads them down a dark road in which they turn to violence or substance abuse. Sometimes, it turns out the “cootie kid” is a survivor of a hell that no one else knows about or understands.
My own class had a “cootie kid”. I have written about her on this blog (ETA: Maybe I’ll repost about her, too). Like Muntajibuddin, I went Googling to see how she turned out. Unlike Muntajibuddin, I actually found our old “cootie kid”. I was gratified to see that it looks like she turned out alright. She’s one of the ostracized kids who had enough resilience to rise above being picked on and bullied in school. Just as Muntajibuddin describes Jennifer Turpin as “pleasant” and having a “whimsical optimism”, the “cootie kid” girl I knew was very plucky and friendly, despite her challenges. She had some really good qualities, in spite of being made the odd girl out. She was worth the effort of kindness and consideration, as most people ultimately are.
I don’t have kids of my own, of course, so I have never had the responsibility of trying to teach anyone right from wrong. I’d like to think that if I’d had children, I’d try to teach them to be nice to others. I’d like to hope I’d encourage them to befriend kids who need friends. On the other hand, I’m also a realist and a human. The reality is, as lofty as those goals are, they often fall flat. Humans are horribly flawed and fallible. You can have the best of intentions and still be a total failure in some areas. You can try to be an excellent example and still not manage to sway anyone to follow your lead.
If there’s anything to be learned from kids like Jennifer Turpin, it’s that everyone is fighting battles that aren’t readily apparent to the naked eye. Kids make fun of other kids when they are different somehow. I was made fun of when I was in school. So were a lot of my friends. We didn’t have the misfortune of being total outcasts, but we took our share of licks. I remember how that felt and how it still feels today. Life is hard for most people, but it costs nothing to be kind.
And yet, as I write that, I know there are times that I’ll fail to be kind because I’m human and fallible. Perhaps if I can take anything from Muntajibuddin’s Facebook post, it’s the reminder that sometimes the reality of another person’s situation is much more horrible than you can ever know. If it weren’t for Jennifer Turpin’s sister’s bravery, there’s no telling how much longer she and her siblings would be living the miserable life they were living.
You never know how you will affect other people. Jennifer Turpin surely doesn’t know how she affected her classmate and how her classmate is, in turn, affecting everyone who reads his poignant thoughts about her. Just by existing, she’s already changed the world.
Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m sure those who had contact with the Turpin kids now regret not speaking up and calling the authorities. There’s a fine line in knowing when it’s right to call for help for someone else’s kids. Some people do it at the drop of a hat. I think most people would rather not get involved when they see someone like Jennifer Turpin. I can admit to feeling that way myself, even though I have a degree in social work and would likely have been one of the people who got called when a situation like this is discovered. It’s hard to stand up for other people. It’s even harder to know when a situation warrants making a call to the authorities.
The Turpin kids needed a lot more than friends. In fact, it sounds to me like they weren’t really allowed to have any friends. But the ones who went to school no doubt interacted with others. We should teach kids– really each other– to simply be kind… and Muntajibuddin’s post is an excellent reminder to do so.