Young Man Starved by Adoptive Parents Finds New Life

The first public photos of Keith Jackson evoked both horror and heartache.

In 2003, Keith -- one of four New Jersey brothers found emaciated and allegedly beaten by adoptive parents Vanessa and Raymond Jackson -- was 14 and weighed just 40 pounds.

Today, he barely resembles the waif from those infamous photos and wants to forget everything about his dark past, right down to his own name. He has changed his name to Tre'Shawn Mitchell.

"Tre'Shawn is the new me," he told "Primetime's" Chris Cuomo in an exclusive interview.

The name celebrates Tre'Shawn's new family and the new chance he has received at life.

"Tre" honors his new brother, Tremaine, while "Shawn" is his nephew's name.

"He wants the world to see that, 'Yes, that did happen to me, but look at me now,'" said Fulvia Mitchell, Tre'Shawn's new adoptive mother. "I did gain weight. I am growing. Yes, I was starved. Yes, I was mistreated. But look at my family now."

A Dark Secret

Authorities discovered Tre'Shawn and his three brothers when a neighbor spotted the eldest brother, Bruce, rifling through a trash can for food. At 19, Bruce weighed just 45 pounds. Brother Tyrone was 10 years old and 28 pounds; Michael, 9, and 23 pounds.

The brothers had come to the Jackson home as foster children, and Tre'Shawn said the abuse started after they were formally adopted. Their story alerted the nation -- and New Jersey -- to the growing crisis of lost children.

"The child welfare system is badly broken," said Kevin Ryan, formerly the New Jersey child advocate and current commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services, at a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee in 2003. "The playgrounds of heaven are too crowded with children we should have saved, and we are lucky that we count the Jackson boys among the saved and not the lost."

Tre'Shawn didn't feel lucky living what he described as a life of deprivation with the Jacksons.

"Nobody outside of the house ever knew anything about what was happening inside," Tre'Shawn said. "They always thought they were the nice kids, nice people, nice family."

Tre'Shawn says the Jacksons considered taking food from the kitchen as stealing, which was punished with anything from a time-out to a whipping.

"I had, well, -- I had stole like, I think, two -- or one time, because I was hungry," Tre'Shawn said. "I was too scared to go in there and just ask her [Vanessa Jackson] for something to eat."

Supporters said that the Jacksons loved the four brothers and that they suffered from dramatic eating disorders. Tre'Shawn said the Jacksons knew what they were doing.

"The mom, yes. I know she knows what she was doing," he said.

A Second Chance

Nearly three years after being removed from the Jacksons' home, Tre'Shawn has gained 90 pounds and grown 13 inches. He now lives with Mitchell, who originally took in all three of the youngest Jackson brothers.

"They had to ask for everything," Mitchell said. "'Can I go in the kitchen?' 'Can I brush my teeth?' 'Can I?' They asked permission for everything. 'Can I change my shirt?' Keith would eat like there's no tomorrow. And I would often tell him, 'Slow down.' I will open the cabinet and show him I have plenty. You don't have to worry. It's going to be there tomorrow."

Vanessa Jackson pleaded guilty to child endangerment in February and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Ray Jackson was also charged but died of a stroke in 2004.

Tre'Shawn and his brothers will share a $12.5 million settlement from New Jersey's child welfare system, which is accused of ignoring their suffering for years. That payout settled a lawsuit that blamed state social workers who had visited the Jacksons' home on numerous occasions for overlooking their conditions.

"The turning point became when he realized, 'OK, I am in a safe place,'" Mitchell said. "She is not going to mistreat me. She's not going to deprive me. He said, 'I want you to be my mom. I want to stay here forever, and I don't ever want to go back there.'"

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