Fostering Change: One man’s story of abuse in the Alberta foster care system
Michael Matthews’ earliest memory is from when he was three years old. He was abandoned by his parents and along with his brother and sister, he was left alone in a Calgary garage. There was no food and no one to care for them.
Police found them and that marked the beginning of Matthews’ life in foster care.
He would spend the next 15 years of life in the system; many of those fifteen years as the victim of abuse by foster parents.
It was years later before any of that abuse would become public. He said he was always too afraid to tell anyone.
As an adult, Matthews was approached by police. Investigators were looking into allegations of sexual misconduct at the hands of one of his foster fathers, Garry Prokopishin.
Prokopishin, a man once named “foster parent of the year” was eventually charged and convicted of sexual exploitation against several foster children. He is currently serving a 10-year prison term.
But Matthews’ story goes far beyond the Prokopishin home.
By the time he got there, he says he had already endured years of abuse in the foster system.
From the age of three until he was a teenager, Matthews describes being victimized by his first foster mother.
“She would say, ‘I’m your mother, I’m your mother now,’ but she never treated us like she was our mother,” Matthews told Global News.
He had a court-imposed publication ban that protected his identity lifted so he could openly speak out about his abuse.
“It started out with just hand spankings but it upgraded to the belt, and then to the electrical cord, and then the broom handles and curtain rods,” he said.
Matthews described spending most of his childhood locked in a tiny room.
“It was smaller than a jail cell, had a bunk bed a dresser. We’d have a piss bucket in there,” he said.
Looking back, Matthews said it’s hard to know which was worse: the claustrophobic feelings being imprisoned in the room or the torture he experienced outside of the room.
“She would drag us by our ears and drag us into the bathroom and hold us in the shower under ice cold water…that happened many, many times,” he said.
Matthews became especially emotional when he spoke about noxious substances he was forced to put in his mouth.
He said his foster mother would make him put soap or laundry detergent in his mouth and hold it in for hours.
Matthews said that’s why he’s now missing many of his teeth.
Matthews’ first foster mother was investigated by police years after the abuse.
She was charged with 12 different counts — including administering a noxious substance to Matthews for the laundry soap in his mouth.
Earlier this year, she pleaded guilty to one count of assault with a weapon. She was sentenced to one-year probation and a $100 surcharge.
According to an agreed statement of facts, she admitted to using a fly swatter to strike Matthews. All other charges were either stayed or withdrawn.
The years of abuse took a toll on Matthews.
As a teenager, he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with feelings of helplessness.
“Not thinking there was any way out, wishing you were dead every day…just so you wouldn’t feel the pain no more, the hunger.”
It all set the stage for his next home, where Prokopishin welcomed troubled teenage boys — and preyed on their vulnerability.
Click here for Fostering Change Part 2
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