After a tough childhood, Jackie Turner looks to spread hope to others |

After a tough childhood, Jackie Turner looks to spread hope to others

Jackie Turner in chapel at Camp Del Oro in Nevada City on Friday.
Laura Mahaffy/ | The Union

At 28 years old, there are a lot of phrases Jackie Turner can use to describe herself. She’s a college graduate — she attended Sierra College in Grass Valley before transferring to William Jessup University in Rocklin, where she earned a degree in pastoral ministries last May.

She’s a devoted volunteer — she’s spent time working with the homeless and training kids in mixed martial arts, among other projects.

She’s a woman of faith — she just wrapped up a stint working at Camp Del Oro in Nevada City, a Salvation Army summer camp, where she led church services for kids, and she often leads worship at Christian Encounter Ministries in Grass Valley.

But as a child, there was just one phrase that Turner felt really described her — she was “no one’s child.” Throughout her childhood, Turner experienced a series of abuses that left her feeling alone and defenseless to speak out against those who were hurting her.

“There’s gotta be somebody to speak for them, there’s gotta be someone who’s not afraid. I’ve felt for a long time we’ve been too quiet about it.”Jackie Turneron the plight of foster children

“Living in those years, I was locked in internal silence,” Turner said.

It’s taken many years, but Turner has started speaking out — about her past, about her faith, about her future.

She believes her voice can bring hope to others who are experiencing what she went through, and help them understand that there’s a path out of even the darkest situations.

“There’s gotta be somebody to speak for them, there’s gotta be someone who’s not afraid,” Turner said. “I’ve felt for a long time we’ve been too quiet about it.”

Turner was born in New Jersey to a teenage mother. She’s still not clear on exactly what transpired next, but she believes either her mother or grandfather sold her for $1,000.

Around five years old, Turner ended up with a foster family in Delaware. There, Turner said, she was locked in closets for extended periods of time and often starved; eventually, she was abandoned by her foster mom as well.

She was reunited with her biological father in New Jersey, but the abuse only worsened. Turner still has the scars to remind her.

There’s a chunk missing out of her inner lip from the boxing matches against friends and family her father used to force her to participate in; she has a nick in her eyebrow from an injury she sustained after being punched and hitting her face on an entertainment center.

And those are just the visible scars; she said she also suffered emotional abuse at hands of her father, who often berated her.

She attempted to run away a couple of times, but was always found and brought back. She was frustrated that no one could see the pain she was in, or that if they could, they didn’t help.

“I felt like a prisoner in my father’s home,” Turner said.

It was her faith in God that carried her through those years, Turner said. She drew strength from stories about the suffering Jesus Christ endured, and found solace in long conversations with God when she felt alone.

“Everything that happened to me actually pushed me deeper into my faith (rather) than turned me away,” Turner said. “People often ask me why I didn’t run away from God. God was the refuge for me in the storm.”

Life began to improve for Turner around the age of 17, when she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Sacramento County. They treated her well, and she enrolled in continuation school.

But she was hanging out with a rough crowd and using drugs and alcohol. At 19 years old, Turner was arrested on grand theft charges; she spent about a year in a detention facility. When she was released, she knew she had to make some changes.

“I’ve always wanted to fight for life,” Turner said. “I’ve always wanted something better.”

And for the first time, she had the tools to make those changes. She ended up at Christian Encounter Ministries, a residential center that helps troubled young adults get back on track.

She spent about two years in the program, collecting records and information about her past, and working with counselors to confront what had happened to her.

It was difficult to revisit those experiences, to struggle through flashbacks and nightmares, Turner said. It’s one of the reasons she believes abuse victims have a hard time speaking up.

“We fear those who have hurt us,” Turner said. “They’ve done things and they got us when we were at our most innocent, and now we’re almost walking right back into the lion’s den by telling the truth of what happened to us.”

Eventually, Turner enrolled at Sierra College, where she maintained a 4.0 grade point average before transferring to William Jessup. She graduated summa cum laude in May and was the recipient of several school awards, an experience she described as “super crazy.”

On a recent day at Camp Del Oro, Turner led campers in a prayer session. She moved barefoot around the room, facilitating activities, joining campers in prayer or song. These are the times when Turner said she feels most grounded, “when I’m preaching or talking about God or giving people hope, when I’m helping people see that they’re not alone, not lost, when I’m doing something good for somebody else so they can have something better,” she said.

There are also times when she still feels a bit lost; that feeling hits her hardest during the big milestones in her life like graduation, when she wished she had her parents in the audience cheering for her.

A couple of years ago, she took out an ad on Craigslist asking for a family to take her in for Christmas, something that garnered national media attention and connected her to people all over the country who came from similar backgrounds.

Her past experiences will always be a part of her, but she continues to work to overcome them.

“I’ve learned how to cope,” Turner said.

As much as she can, she tries to live in the present moment — and she’s getting “more and more excited” about her future. She plans to enroll in graduate school at Western Seminary’s Sacramento campus to earn a master’s degree chaplaincy and ministry.

A made-for-TV movie inspired by parts of her life is in the works, and she has plans to write and self-publish a life-guide for foster kids with tips on things like putting together a resume and filing taxes.

Her dream, she said, is to “shake up the foster care system,” and shine a light on others who may feel abandoned.

“I guess what I want to see is for those kids who are making it out of that, that there’s hope that you can move forward,” Turner said, “that there’s not always going to be pain.”.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230.

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