Life for Steven as "Dennis Parnell" would prove much more helter-skelter than the life he had enjoyed with his family in Merced.
Steven would move 12 times within northern California during his seven years living with Parnell. Parnell and his "son" lived briefly in Yosemite Park, Ukiah, Manchester, Santa Rosa, and various rural areas north of San Francisco. Steven probably never had a chance to settle into any single area or school, as Parnell's whims and need to find new jobs kept them constantly on the move. Many of the places they lived in were fairly remote, as Parnell probably didn't want neighbors asking too many questions.
Over time, the ruse worked. Looking back, many who knew the two stated that they appeared to be a normal father and son. One of their landlords said later that he had no doubts about their relationship and that they "got along real well."
I Know My First Name is Steven
Steven tried to cope with his chaotic new life as well as a young child could. As time went on, he would fabricate a family lore about himself and Parnell that he would recite to neighbors and other school kids if they asked – although he would rarely, if ever, volunteer any information. When questions were asked that weren't included in his story, he would ignore them. Once, in the later years of his captivity, a neighbor was giving "Dennis" a ride and asked about the boy's mother. Steven acted as if he hadn't heard and changed the subject.
Despite Parnell's statements about having legal custody, Steven later said that when he was about nine, he began to suspect that Parnell had lied to him about his family's giving him up, but he didn't pursue it. Parnell even left him on his own while he was at work, and Steven later testified that he didn't fully understand why he hadn't tried to escape earlier in his captivity.