Not sure where to start, I guess it all began in Minneapolis on a rainy day. May 1st, 1991, was the day I was born and given life. My family wasn’t like any ordinary family. Judy Weiss was my mother’s name and Stephen John Weiss my father. As far as I know, my father was placed in the foster care system just as I was. I have been told he was Native American by blood; his family had lost their name and lineage because of the Europeans adopting, changing names, and abolishing anything related to or having connections to the Native Americans and their culture. My mother from what I read in my foster care files was a mix breed. Some family came from Belgium, Germany, and Ireland.
Growing up was rough. Mother diagnosed with schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, etc. She became addicted to coke and meth; made her illnesses worse. During this time, mother worked at a bank while my father was a truck-driver. As far as I know, my father was the person who introduced drugs to my mother. He would deliver drugs from Minneapolis to Atlanta. Often times I would be with him and witness first-hand. Growing up, I would find needles in baskets and on the floor.
My sister went out with friends while I stayed home. My father was an alcoholic and beat my mother. I have one memory of my father entering the home drunk, I was about 4 years old. He swung the bottle and hit my mother. She had placed me under the dining room table to protect me. After, she grabbed the phone from the wall with bare-hands and threw it at my father. From that moment on, he was scared.
I have two memories of my mother before her overdose from coke when I was five. The first was Christmas. My father bought her a blue nightgown. She wore it every day until the day she died. Second memory I have is when she became high. Often times, she wrote a suicide note in case she died. I remember the note went like this,
To my son, you are the man of the house. You are strong like your mother. Always remember I love you and did everything I could to give you a good life.’
Seeing this every day, it changed me. I had gone to a Baptist church every day. Prayed, read the bible, etc. I believed in God but seeing my mother in this state, I didn’t know if God saw our pain or if He was ignoring it? My mother one night took a needle which was dirty and overdosed. My father did drugs with her or was out of the house. I remember walking into my mother’s room and laying with her for one hour. I thought she was sleeping. So, I got up and left. I came back one hour later and saw my mother. She was cold and her eyes were empty.
While growing up, our home had been what you could consider Switzerland. Different men and women walked in. Either buying drugs or dealing. Often times, I saw individuals of different gangs. I became associated with guns, drugs, how to spot the difference between an undercover pig and a buyer, etc. I learned a lot. After mother died, my father decided to take me with him on his trips. I skipped 2nd and 3rd grade because of his choices. After my mother died my father went paranoid and became abusive. He believed everyone was after him including the feds and United States government. My father needed another body to hit. So for the next four years until I was 9 years old, I suffered mental , physical, and sexual abuse.
He would overdose from a dirty needle just like my mother. This time he was taking a bath which was opposite of my mother dying in bed. Police and neighbours broke down the bathroom door because it had been locked from the inside. After going through all this as a child; watching both of my parents overdose from coke, suffering from physical and sexual abuse, playing with needles, guns, drugs, running for different people, and many other experiences. I would be placed in the foster care system at the age of 10. Before this occurred, I stayed with several people who included my blood uncle and aunt. They choose to place my sister and I into the foster care system because we were trouble. At this time, my sister had grown accustomed to going out, partying, hanging out with friends, etc. She didn’t see what I saw but she had her own problems.
I stayed in the foster care system for two years when a couple by the name of Gene Zilberg and Darcy Hanzlik brought my sister and I into their home. My sister who by this time was around the age of 16, choose not to get adopted. I had no choice but I wish I did. If I knew what I did now, I would have rejected. At first it was hunky dory, Gene and Darcy were nice. They didn’t ask me to call them mom or dad until one year later. I was told calling them by their real names was not what a child should do. They had brought me into their home so I was told this means I had to call them mother and father. I didn’t understand. During this time, Gene and Darcy had changed my name from its original state of Stephen Troy Weiss to Steven Hanzlik Zilberg. So, they changed my name and asked for me to call them mother and father. They said, ‘either call us mother or father or we will put you back in the system.’
I remember being sent to doctors, psychologists, etc. I was told I was sick and needed medicine. Everyday asking me questions trying to get me upset. I never was upset. While I was young, my mother taught me that life is a wild ride, a struggle, and God guides and takes who He wills. More importantly, I was taught we as creation will never be able to stop death from happening because it is fate. I understood even at a young age, what happens is fate. I couldn’t change what happened or reverse time. Yet, I kept being told I was angry. So, Gene and Darcy ordered pills and medicated me.
One of the worst memories I have of Gene and Darcy from the start, was of medication and abuse. Even before I became Muslim, there were times when Gene hit me with his backhand, belt, etc. Caused bruises and marks but I was forced to cover them with long sleeves or jeans. At school I was afraid. One memory I have, was when I was in 5th grade. My class was going to the Science Museum. I misbehaved and Gene came to school and threatened me. ‘I was looking forward to going. Just wait, when you get home, pain is waiting.’ When I went home, I couldn’t sit for a week.
This was one instance of many occurrences. By the time I was 13 or 14, I developed my sense of Identity. I knew who I was. I understood that my parents overdosed from drugs and I was an orphan who was forced to go into someone’s house and forced to change my name. I didn’t like this. I never accepted it. I would attend St. Marks for grade school and Cretin Derham Hall for high school. Both were catholic schools and Darcy had identified as a Catholic. I am not sure if she knew what this meant or if she knew what the practices of a Catholic were? High school was the worst. I kept skipping school so I could go back home. I visited friends who I ran with as a little kid and did jobs for. I had started my own marijuana business from the cities. I got back into the business of coke which my parents were a part of. At this time, I acted like two different people. In front of Gene and Darcy I acted like an innocent kid while in the cities I was the guy to go to for whatever you needed.
One of the incidents that I count as the breaking point was when I tried to kill myself senior year of high-school. I had gotten done with a recent knee surgery and took a bottle of pills. Looking back, I didn’t want to kill myself. Instead, I was trying to get people to listen. One of the main reasons was because Gene and Darcy became chronic abuse perpetrators against their sons but hid it from law enforcement, schools, etc.
After I was adopted, Gene and Darcy adopted a kid named Trey. He was a troubled kid but it is to be expected from anyone who suffers as most kids do who are in the foster care system. To this day, I remember finding letters from his mother and brothers hidden in Gene and Darcy’s room. They were hiding correspondents from him. Gene did the same with him as he did with me. He beat Trey every day with belts, fists, backhand, etc. I had grown a little bit and was 15 turning 16. Trey on the other hand was small, skinny, and defenseless. Trey would go to school with marks all over his body and would say he fell and hurt himself. Gene never was charged with battery or assault on minors. Darcy during this time, went to doctors and psychologists and made up lies so she could medicate children. Medication was used so children would become confused and not know it was Gene and Darcy’s fault what is happening.
Lastly, Jordan and Kyle. This was after Trey was put back in the system because he was too much to handle. According to police reports, they had said Trey tried to kill animals and throw Jordan down the stairs. This was not true. I remember that night. Gene had finished his daily beating ritual with a belt. Gene told Trey you are not going to get any gifts for Christmas. Trey was full of purple and blue marks. That morning, Gene had done the same but this time Trey tried to defend himself. Trey opened his bedroom window and was running away. The cats ran out the window along with Trey escaping from the backdoor. In the process, Trey had to get around Jordan while Gene was chasing him with a belt.
Gene and Darcy used lies to get rid of Trey. Next was Jordan; a young Irishmen. One of the cutest kids. Right away, Gene and Darcy introduced drugs and medication into Jordan’s diet along with abuse. After one year, Jordan was brainwashed to think it was his fault. By the time I tried to kill myself, two children (Trey and Kyle (Jordan’s biological brother) had been put back into the system, I was abused, and now Jordan was facing the same cruelty. Kyle who was Jordan’s older biological brother faced the same wrath as Trey faced but instead of running away. Kyle defended himself and started his bed on fire. This made it so Gene and Darcy had to take his bed outside. Kyle later told me, ‘I didn’t do it to hurt anyone. I wanted to someone to see that Gene and Darcy are hurting us.’
Senior year after being put into the hospital for depression. I was asked, why did you try to kill yourself? I told the social workers what I am writing right now but no one believed. No one believed Gene and Darcy were and still are monsters who abuse children but hide it behind medication and fake deeds. I remember one night during my senior year. Darcy woke up in the middle of the night and felt terrible. So, she donated money to an online African organization.
Senior year before I attended Saint Cloud State University, I crashed Gene’s car three times. The first time was on accident. Second time was when Gene and Darcy told me after I confronted them about abuse, ‘no one will believe you. You are nothing. Just an orphan.’ After, I was angry and again accidentally crashed the car. The third time was when I passed Masjid Dawah on University Avenue in Saint Paul. I received a call from Gene, who told me, ‘ come home or I will call the police and tell them you stole my car’.
Freshman year of college I participated in the South Africa first year experience program. I studied abroad and attended Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Before I left, Gene and Darcy warned me, ‘You better not come back as a radical or a nigger lover. If you do, you will never be able to come back and visit Jordan.’ South Africa changed me and I will never forget the experience. Before this, I interacted with Somalis, generally Africans, and Arabs. Minneapolis was a diverse city so I knew about Islam but never became educated. So, as I was studying, a brother by the name of Muhammad Hussein gave me a copy of the Quran. I read the Quran in a week. I wanted to know how to pray. So, Mohammad taught me how to recite Quran and pray.
I remember the first time I went to a masjid. Mohammad and I walked into a masjid in South Africa which was a majority East Asian population. They were confused why a Somali and an American were walking into a Masjid together. After we told them I wanted to take my shahada (Allah (s.w.t) is the only deity deserving of worship and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last and final Messenger) I learned brotherhood. Gene and Darcy were not aware I had become Muslim. I would learn more about the Quran, Sunnah which means what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) allowed and forbid, etc. When I had a basic understanding of Islam, I emailed Gene and Darcy. Their response, ‘so you’re a terrorist. Is that what you’re telling me?’
I traveled through East Africa visiting Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, etc. One of my favorite countries I have visited is Somalia. When I had become Muslim, Somali’s taught me my religion, housed me while I was homeless, and fed me. They were my brothers and sisters, they were family. While visiting Somalia, I met people who the media calls ‘pirates’. These brothers whose business of fishing was taken from them after America and China dumped pollution in their ocean, are doing the only thing they can do and that is protect their coast from transgressors.
Honestly, I became Muslim for one reason. It had nothing to do with science, logic, etc. I became Muslim because I realized after everything , Allah (s.w.t) protected me and guided me to the truth. I should have been dead at 18, but, Allah (s.w.t) kept me alive. Islam not only made sense but it explains everything. Tells me my purpose, how I am going to succeed, where I am going, and answered many other questions I had. For me, Islam was simple and an easy answer.
Coming back home was the toughest decision I made. Mostly, because I witnessed the same abuse Gene and Darcy had done before I left and watched it continue against Jordan. Gene and Darcy requested, ‘you can come back home as long as you disown your religion’. I didn’t know how to react. I decided to go home and give them a chance but that was the wrong move. While being home between the years of 2012 to 2013, I experienced more hatred. Gene had burned my Quran in the garage and hid pork in my food. Darcy made lies against me towards family and friends. Not only that, Gene had physically hit me several times which caused me to have scars on my back.
Now, after a year I moved out and lived on my own, I would try to fly to London in 2013 but was detained after finding out Gene (who is originally from Kiev, Ukraine) called Homeland Security telling them, ‘my son is a terrorist and is flying to London. You must stop him.’ I would be detained for a week. Enduring endless questions, purposely given pork sandwiches, and several other methods of interrogation.
After coming back to the United States I stopped having contact with Gene and Darcy. I started writing poetry and continued my education. In 2014, I would go work in Sana’a (Yemen) as an English teacher. I am Muslim and many people don’t realize what I have gone through to get to the place I am at. While In East Africa, Yemen, etc. I witnessed drones, merciless killing, etc. But none of that changed my view of Islam. I am Muslim, I believe in a way of life that has both peaceful qualities and self-defense if the need arises. I helped bury children, been in dangerous countries, etc. I know what it is like. I hope this short introduction helps you understand who I am as a person, how, and why I became Muslim.