by Mary Brocato
The 2019 Young Achievers Award goes to Savanah and Siarah Hall, two sisters who have already accomplished much in their lives. Their story is an inspiring and unique one.
Savanah and Siarah Hall moved to Sabine Parish in 2009. They were born to biological parents who were both addicted to drugs and who both chose drugs over being parents. The sisters endured neglect, abuse and repeated abandonment, but came out of their experiences strong and with hopes not altogether dashed by their sad situations.
Savanah once wrote, “We were born in 1998 and 1999. Our parents (to be more accurate,the people who biologically created us) we both in their early 20s when they had us.
Siarah wrote, “To us, our “parents” were both good parents. We didn’t know any better, at least not for a while. They loved us, I can only guess. They took care of many of our basic needs. I mean we didn’t die or suffer any permanent physical damage from their parenting.”
”We loved them both. I think we did anyway. Drugs, though, often and probably usually stood in our way when we were kids. We grew to hate drugs and to hate what they did. We didn’t use drugs, of course, but that didn’t matter to the drugs. They found a way to affect our lives…to butt into our lives. And later on, drugs affected the lives of our younger siblings as well.
Siarah added, “You could say we grew up with drugs. They were almost always around us in one way or another. We either saw them or smelled them at any given time, or saw the effects of them on people around us. And, looking back with 20/20 eyesight, we saw the effects of them on us.
Savanah wrote, “People sometimes ask me if I knew things were “different,” or if I knew things “weren’t normal” when we were little kids being around drugs and all the mess that came with them. When you are a kid, though, you only know what you know and what you know is, well, I guess you could say normal.
Siarah then wrote, “For us, normal was drug use.
Savanah then explained, “Our normal was our mom sleeping most of every day, our dad disappearing for many hours or many days at a time. Normal was moving to different houses with regularity but not enough regularity to really be regular. Normal was eating at irregular hours… even eating sometimes just whenever we could find something.
”Our normal was filled with sudden personality changes in either or both of our parents. These changes, which could be quite extreme, we often witnessed daily and, many times, throughout a single day.”
”Our normal was seeing a lot of fighting between our parents and, later, between our mom and her boyfriends and her family members. Our normal involved a lot of strangers coming and going to our “home”, or us coming and going to plenty of strangers’ homes, even having them live with us sometimes and us living with them sometimes.”
”Our normal was seeing drugs in our house and in our vehicles, and seeing things that are used to take drugs.”
”To us, those were the sort of things which were normal.
”Until they start seeing more of the world, kids really don’t know what is normal or what is different.
From Siarah came these words: “Our normal was a bit “crazy.” We know that now. We did not, however, know that then.
”I suppose when people say it’s important for parents to set a good example for their kids, it just may be so their kids will have an acceptable and stable picture of normalcy, or, at least, not a crazy, way-out-there, anything goes picture of what normal is… or isn’t.
”To us, as little kids, drug use was normal. Drugs were normal. Seeing and smelling drugs was normal. Jack Daniels whiskey was a normal drink for our parents. So as far as we knew, it was a normal drink for all adults.
”A mother and father whose personalities rapidly cycled from one end of the pole to the other — that was normal also.
”There were no normal eating times for us. Normal was to eat when there was food and, if we were lucky, eat when we were hungry. There were no normal bed times, or normal get-out-of-bed times, no normal nap times. Normal was go to bed whenever, get up whenever, nap or don’t nap… just whatever. There were no normal bath times, or even so much as regular baths, in general. Bathe… whenever.
”Our normal was pretty much anything goes, “concluded Siarah in the paper she wrote about the lives of her and her sister.
Savanah and Siarah’s lives finally changed for the better when the two sisters were fostered and then adopted by Marion and Shannon Clements-Hall, owners of SatCom Computers in Many.
But the girls, in their hearts, never left their brothers and sisters behind. They had five biological siblings, three whom they were particularly close to. Last February, Savanah and Siarah learned one of their biological siblings had died under tragic circumstances.
Their brother, Solan Peterson, had just turned 13 when he took his own life in a juvenile detention center in nearby Coushatta. He had been incarcerated at the Ware Youth Center for setting fire to a roll of toilet paper at the middle school he attended. Solan was a good student and a good kid with no prior incidents of trouble. Once the toilet paper roll ignited, he quickly informed adults at the school and the fire was extinguished with no injuries resulting.
When Savanah and Siarah learned of these details, and that Solan had been put in solitary confinement for days at the detention center, they determined something needed to change. Solan was scheduled to have a psychiatric evaluation one month after he was first incarcerated. But for one long month, he was to sit in a prison cell, alone with only his thoughts of years of abuse and abandonment. He killed himself by hanging himself with a bedsheet, 3 days after another youth there had killed himself the same way.
Savanah and Siarah were determined that their little brother’s death would not be forgotten and that things must change for the better — that Solan’s life must count for something.
Savanah and Siarah teamed with representatives at Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights and eventually with members of Solan’s adoptive family.
Legislation was created to give judges guidelines when considering cases involving juveniles who are not accused of violent crimes. The girls met with members of the Louisiana House and Senate as well and spoke before panels in last Spring’s Legislative Session to get the legislation passed.
They also agreed to interviews with area media to help inform the public about the goals of the legislation. Once Solan’s Law passed and was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards, the girls immediately began looking to the future, seeking to make further changes in state laws regarding juvenile justice. Specifically, they are continuing to seek to see the practice of placing juveniles in solitary confinement prohibited and to require that psychiatric evaluations be conducted immediately on children entering a juvenile detention facility, rather than scheduled for days, weeks or even longer into the future.
KTBS TV NEWS once asked Siarah Hall, “You guys aren’t done fighting for your brother?” Her response: “Absolutely not. No. We won’t stop until there’s major change that is understood and enforced.”
But for now — the sisters say Solan’s Law is a big step in the right direction.
”This is a win for Solan. Hopefully, the first of many,” Savanah Hall said.
Both Savanah and Siarah are graduates of Many High School.
Savanah is 20 years old. She is a student majoring in history at Northwestern State University. When asked why history, which she gets asked often, she replies “Why not?” She is undetermined on the precise path she wants to take for her future, but has plenty of ideas.
Savanah began learning to fly a plane before she knew how to drive a car, and today she continues to have a deep passion for aviation. She is also a certified personal fitness trainer and is the manager of All Hours Fitness in Many.
Siarah, 19, is an honors student at Louisiana Tech University, majoring in environmental science. She is a certified diver and has a deep love for the oceans and marine life. Siarah spearheaded the launch of a sustainability organization at Louisiana Tech and volunteers on various projects at school. She is a fitness enthusiast and has a quest for adventure.
Both girls love traveling and spending time with good friends and their family. Their lives are far different than their younger years were.
Although the sisters had an extremely difficult start in life, they have already made their lives count for something. We predict that these two achievers will truly make a difference in our community, the state and perhaps even our country and the world.
For all these reasons and for what they have already accomplished, the Many Christmas Festival Committee is proud to name Savanah and Siarah Hall as the Young Achievers of 2019.