Terrick Bakhit’s loyalty to his brothers Matthew and Joseph is tattooed across his chest: “MTJ,” each letter representing the brothers’ initials.
As kids, they ran away from home together: Their mother was addicted to drugs and their grandmother beat them with a belt. The boys tried to stick together, but instead landed in California’s sprawling foster care system, growing up apart.
While Matthew and Terrick spent time incarcerated, Joseph was able to use extended foster care benefits to go to college. Their story was the focus of a 2014 article in The Imprint (formerly known as The Chronicle of Social Change), which documented how their unequal access to foster care resources impacted their lives.
The brothers’ story inspired the creation of a state bill that would have allowed foster youth who entered the juvenile justice system to retain their extended care benefits. Terrick and Joseph even spoke before the California Senate. But the bill never made it through the committee.
Nearly nine years later, The Marshall Project revisited the brothers and found them still trying to find their place in the world — and rebuilding their family in the process.
Joseph excelled after high school, in part, because of his access to housing, financial aid and case management provided by federal law and the state statute that extended foster care from ages 18 to 21. He attended UC Berkeley on a scholarship and received a monthly stipend only available to foster youth. Now 27, Joseph married his high school sweetheart Samantha, who went through foster care herself, and lives with her and their two kids in Folsom. Their 4-year-old son will sometimes video chat with his grandmother, Michele, who now lives in a southern California apartment with Terrick and Matthew, after years of being apart from them. Joseph is considering moving near them to pursue a career in ministry.
Terrick couldn’t take advantage of the extended benefits. His anger issues in foster care from the trauma of abuse eventually got him arrested at 17 for taking his group home van for a joyride. He spent his 18th birthday in juvenile detention, and because he didn’t have a foster care placement at the time, he was severed from the foster care system and the support it provided. Terrick left juvenile detention unemployed and homeless. Today, at 29, he works as a sauté chef at the San Diego Yacht Club and has two children, but does not have custody of them. Terrick still struggles with his anger issues, but said he’s “trying to learn to control it and just not let it get the best of me.”
Matthew, the eldest, who came up with their plan to run away years ago, eventually aged out of the foster system just months before a state law extending benefits until age 21 took effect. Without a safety net of financial and emotional support, he spiraled into drugs, experienced homelessness and spent time in and out of jail. Matthew, 31, had a stroke in 2021, paralyzing his left hand and weakening his legs. He now walks with a cane. Struggling to obtain disability payments, he spends his days at home with the family dog Eli, watching TV or playing video games with Terrick and other relatives.
Brian Rinker is a freelance writer and journalist with over a decade of experience covering health care and health policy, mental health, drug addiction, child welfare, juvenile justice, and startups and innovation.
Max Whittaker is a freelance photojournalist based in northern California, focusing on social and environmental issues in California and the larger American West.