Laura Price was born in New York to parents who were, according to Laura, "really into drugs. My dad started stealing from people at work, so he ended up getting arrested."
When Laura's dad went to jail, her mother moved the family to North Dakota where they lived with Laura's grandma. Her mom moved out shortly after arriving in North Dakota, so Laura and her sister shuffled back and forth between their mom and grandma.
When Laura was four, her mom got pregnant and they were all excited for a new baby in their lives. But it wasn't to be...at nine days old, Laura's baby sister died on the operating table when they were trying to fix a hole in her heart. Laura's mom moved away shortly after her baby died, leaving Laura and her sister with their grandma.
"My grandma is a really cool lady," Laura said. "She took care of me for the longest time and even after all I've put her through, she is still there for me and loves me unconditionally."
Still, it was hard for Laura to not have her parents in her life. "I had a good childhood with my grandma, but I got bullied in school a lot for only having a grandma. Everyone would ask, 'Why don't you have a mom and dad?' And I didn't know what to say, because I didn't know why I couldn't live with them. Now I know it's because my mom was really into drugs, but then I didn't know."
In junior high, Laura got involved in partying. "When I started drinking, I thought it was all fun and games. I would sleep all day and party all night. I'd go to school, go to work, sleep until 10 p.m., and then sneak out of the house and go party. I'd sneak back in before my grandma got up, and then I'd do it all over again."
Laura drank to fit in and to stop the pain of depression and anxiety, but it quickly got out of hand; and now she realizes the depression and anxiety increased the more she drank.
"It wasn't fun and games anymore. I was drinking heavily and couldn't stop. I was always so sad. On weekends I slept all day. I had panic attacks and would get into 'moods,' as my grandma calls them, and when I'm in a mood, there's no talking to me."
When Laura's grandmother could no longer handle Laura's moods, defiance, lies, and drinking, she contacted Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch. Laura knew she needed help, but she wasn't ready to go to the Ranch.
"I kept telling myself I just wouldn't go. That my grandma couldn't make me," Laura said.
The weekend before she was supposed to go to the Ranch, Laura was in a car accident and tore her liver.
"I thought it was perfect," she said. "I was in the hospital so I couldn't go to the Ranch. While I was there, I talked to my old best friend and she convinced me to go. 'Laura,' she said. 'You need to go. See it as bettering yourself and helping yourself.' I decided to try it out so when they discharged me from the hospital, my grandma took me right to the Ranch."
For Laura, being at the Ranch was terrifying. "I was really, really scared and homesick. I cried a lot for the first couple days and just wanted to go home. I didn't think anyone could help me and I was so depressed and down," Laura said.
Laura's case manager at the Ranch's Bismarck campus, Katie Boucher, said Laura was in a lot of pain when she came to the Ranch.
"She was making unsafe choices in relationships and struggled to find a peer group that supported a healthy lifestyle," Boucher said. "She didn't have coping strategies to manage her emotions, which led to suicidal thoughts and attempts. She was very defiant towards her grandmother's rules and expectations."
Laura says now that everyone at the Ranch tried to make her feel at home. "They were so nice and encouraging. I was refusing treatment at the beginning because I didn't think it would help. Once I got to know everyone, I started listening to them. I started going to therapy and Amber [Nelson] really helped me. We did family therapy with my grandma and I was in a good place. I learned a lot at the Bismarck Ranch."
After just a few months, Laura went home, but it wasn't long before she was spending time with her old friends and drinking again. The next step was to move her from her grandmother's home to foster care.
"While I was at that first foster home, my depression really kicked in and I was going to commit suicide," Laura said. "My foster mom caught me, they sent me to the hospital, and from there I went back to the Ranch in Minot."
Suzanne Erz, one of Laura's teachers in Minot, said she was a quiet young lady when she arrived in Minot. "She had many somatic complaints to avoid school and her work. She often blamed others for her lack of effort and incomplete homework. But I saw moments when she engaged in class and offered great insight."
Erz noticed Laura's sparks of insight and used these to encourage her when she was having negative self-thoughts.
"Laura began to gain confidence and she wanted to correct the errors of her ways," Erz said. "She can slip back to not wanting to be accountable, but she reverts away from that mindset quickly. She has become more accountable for her actions and has a huge caring heart. Laura wants to be a nurse and I know she has the abilities and the heart to do so. I can't wait to attend her nursing graduation!"
At the same time as she was progressing in school, Laura was working through the Ranch's drug and alcohol treatment program.
"I did the whole recovery program, all the letters. For each letter of "RECOVERY" there are things you do and things you write down," Laura said. "I started looking at my life and it just made me think, 'Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this to myself and to my family?' I wasn't just hurting myself. I was hurting my family also. The Minot recovery program really helped me."
When Laura moved back home after ten months, she continued to attend Dakota Memorial School, the Ranch's on-campus school. But she still had a difficult time adjusting.
"I had so much structure at the Ranch and I didn't know how to handle myself. My grandma and I got into a fight and when I walked off, she called the cops. I refused arrest, and then I spent a night in the Juvenile Detention Center before moving into a foster home."
Now 17, Laura has been sober for over a year, about the length of time she has lived with her current foster family.
"They are just the best family I could ask for. They treat me like I'm their own and it's like I've lived here my whole life," Laura said. "They can be strict, but they need to be to keep me in line. They are the best and we have so much fun together."
Laura also keeps in touch with her grandmother and sister and says she and her sister are closer than ever. "When I was drinking, we weren't close. But since I've been at the Ranch, we are close again. It feels like it's back to old times when we were little."
Laura will graduate from Dakota Memorial School in May and plans to go to nursing school. "I was telling Mrs. Erz, one of my main supports here at Dakota Memorial School, that I thought I might want to be a nurse. She had me talk to [Principal] DeGree and they got me into some online nursing courses through the North Dakota Center for Distance Learning. I would never have had that opportunity at my old school."
This semester, Laura is taking a dual credit Anatomy and Physiology course for which she'll earn both high school and college credits. She is also taking a medical terminology class.
Laura doesn't have a perfect life. She talks to her dad only occasionally and isn't allowed contact with her mother because of her drug use. But she knows she is in a better place and attributes much of her success to the Ranch.
"Without the Ranch, I'd probably be in Juvie, running away, drinking, drugs. I'd have probably gotten into hard drugs and who knows where I'd be right now."
Laura said, "When I was drinking, I planned to drop out of high school at age 16. I didn't think there was any way I would graduate. I just didn't have that mindset. Now I'm not only going to graduate, but I'm filling out forms to get into college."
Being at the Ranch has also impacted Laura's faith.
"I didn't really believe in anything. Then when I was drinking, I was sure there was no way there could be a God because why would God want someone to go through all this stuff. When I came to the Ranch in Minot, I started going to chapel and it was amazing. Pastor Rick...you can talk to him whenever you want and ask him any questions. I've started going to church with my grandma again and I believe in God."
"My life has turned around so much," Laura said. "I feel so much better about myself and am so much more confident."
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This article was originally published in Ranch Voice: Spring 2020.
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