I was born on Market Street. I was born right in downtown.
MW: Is there a hospital there?
No, I was born right on the street.
MW: Girl, what?
That’s what I’m saying. Everybody has a story and it's amazing the fact that I… I rarely tell my story because it's impactful. My birth certificate says 1617 Market Street. My story started from there, and I went to a hospital for children from like birth until I was a year old, and then I got transferred out and put into the foster care system. I was cared for by nuns the first year of my life. Knowing my story and being able to still adapt and live in this city and be here through my challenges and hardships -- it's a blessing.
MW: Did you ever reunite with your family?
Yeah. My mom and dad, they had five kids. They were together 37 years. My mom -- I lived with her -- she passed away. She had pancreatic cancer. She passed away when I was six months pregnant, on her 56th birthday. She passed away that day. She was scheduled to come home and be on hospice but she didn’t want to come home, and we all felt it. She told all her kids that she loved us and that she was going home. It was really hard on me and my siblings. We fought. We fought the whole year. But at the end of the year, we all separated and went our own ways, and that was the best thing we did. Because we all got jobs.
MW: So breaking apart and coming back together made your relationship easier?
Yeah, because we all got jobs, we all got our lives together. We needed to get space and not be cooped up in the house trying to kill each other, mad. It's a beautiful thing to have that. I never expected for us to be this strong, where we’re working and not struggling and giving up and letting depression sink in. We went through those phases -- losing our mom, having our dad cry for a year straight. That was his soulmate. Even though they made certain choices, they have to live with them, and they lived with them together. So it's interesting to hear my father say that he still loved us even though he wasn’t able to keep any of us. Because yeah, they had five kids. She had one boy and four girls. And we were all raised in the foster care system. You would never know it… and it's crazy how they stayed together that whole time. Even though they didn't raise me and I wasn’t with them everyday, they didn’t miss any holidays. Every time I seen them I seen them together and they was always happy. In love. And that’s the only thing that mattered, was that they had each other. They couldn’t raise me and I accepted that for what it was. I still loved them for what they were and I always wanted that love that they had.
And I used to tell my brother, okay, what if we lived with mommy and daddy. You think we’d have what we have now? The knowledge? The respect? You know? And he was like, you’re right. And I was like, see? We can do better. What we learned was more powerful than what our parents would have taught us. We didn’t have to see them out there like that. We didn’t have to go through any of that. We got to see them..
MW: At their best…
Yes. At their best. Roses do grow from concrete, you know what I’m saying? After my mom and dad got clean and they got my youngest sister back, they did buy a house in Antioch and they did get on their feet and I am very proud to sit here and say that.
When I lived with the nuns I had my own baby book. And they had literally had my whole little life, my whole first year, in that baby book. They told me how I came to them, how I was born on the San Francisco streets and how when I came to them I had the most big, beautiful brown eyes.
MW: You were loved.
Yeah, and I was innocent. And my fiance had acknowledged that. He told me how sweet and kind I was, and he made sure that when we got together that I knew that people couldn’t just talk to me any kind of way. He said, I’m not going to let you fall victim. I give my everything to my family and he seen that. He said, you are so kind and patient to your family, cooking and feeding and catering to them, and they’re hurt, but you’re pregnant and you just lost your mom. They should be helping you. He was so protective and comforting throughout my pregnancy and he told me, like, you know, you might not have enough money right now -- because we had to spend so much on the funeral and stuff -- but he just reassured me that my daughter came first overall. Even though my family was grieving and needing comfort, she needed me more. He said I shouldn’t have to struggle with my baby. He assured me that I could just be a mother and not struggle, and I love him for that. Because he showed me the same love that my mom and dad had, that unconditional love. So I’m happy.
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Later in my years I became a crack addict.
MW: How old were you?
I'd say 50. At the age of 50 I decided to try crack for the first time.
MW: How old were your children? What was the situation that made you try it?
I was 50 years old. My children were grown. My youngest daughter had just graduated high school. I had two granddaughters and one grandson at that time. I lived a lifestyle that was not pleasing to my children. I lived with women at that time and I wanted to do some changes. So I started going to church and I met this young man in church that turned me on to crack cocaine.
MW: What do you mean?
Well he would take my vehicle and be gone all night. And I wanted to know where he was because I thought he was cheating with someone, not knowing he was cheating with the pipe, you know. Well anyway, I jumped in the car and went with him. And when we went to this place where they were, I had a choice. I knew it wasn't right to do... but he started to smoke the stuff and I wanted to try it. I had no idea that I was going to like it. I had no idea.
MW: How soon after the first time did you do it again?
Maybe a week, two weeks. I'll say two weeks. We did it off and on -- I said I'd only do it with him -- and less than a month later I was selling things out of my house. My kids would wake and up and the stereo would be gone, or they would wake up and the pictures off the wall would be gone. It was never a fun thing -- it came from me doing things people would not expect me to do, just starting off. I never had a fun time, it bloomed straight away. In a month I had sold just about everything out of my house, with his help. I started doing it a little more frequently then he started cheating me out of the drug, so I started doing it by myself. Smoking it in my car, wherever. He died about two weeks after that from an overdose.
MW: Is that when you stopped using?
No! (laugh) It got worse. It got worse then because I didn't quite know where to get stuff so I went back to the people he first took me to. That's when my drug addiction really went off. It skyrocketed off. My children started trying to find places for me to go, and I got evicted because I didn't pay rent. They needed to stay with me because they had mishaps in their lives and their children, and I let all of them down. I started selling the grand kids stuff, sold my daughter's clothing, prom clothing, took their toys and sold them at Christmas, took their shoes out the middle of the hall, they were brand new. Whatever it was that needed to be sold, I did it. I had not yet started with myself, starting selling myself, because I still was able to hold down a job. But I did break into my girlfriend's house, stole her TV and stereos and stuff like that.
The next year I went into a mental health facility. I went there voluntarily, I was so high and I went there and they ended up locking me up. Fifty nine days in a mental institution. I stayed there and I received my GED (laughs). That was the craziest thing.
MW: In 59 days?! (laughs)
In 59 days I took the test and received my GED. I'd been to adult education centers and never was able to finish because life and situations, or it interfering with work. But I went into that mental health facility, and the only reason that I was able to finish, you know they had smoking privileges. And the only way you could get smoking privileges was either to work in the cafeteria or go to school. So I picked school. I was under a lot of medication that they had me under, and the teacher told me, why don't you just try and take the test? And I passed it by two points. That's how I got my GED. Believe me, that was not the plan.
MW: Well sometimes its God's plan I guess (laughs).
O-kay! It was God's plan, it wasn't mine. So I came out with a GED. After that I continued to smoke crack. I worked. By God's grace I was always able to keep a job.
MW: When you were in there for 59 days, you were clean? For 59 days?
MW: And then when you came out you started using again?
Yeah. I was gon' start using. It wasn't like they did anything to me. I could have told you, I'm gon' start using. Because I had a problem coping with stuff, and I couldn't deal with myself knowing I got my kid and my grand kids put out. Dealing with that on a clean and sober head was very hectic and embarrassing, so I started getting high. I didn't want to think about it. When you high you don't think about all that. You don't have no conscience then. So I started back getting high. My son gave me a vehicle and I sold that. I was just selling everything. To the point where nobody wanted me to stay with them or anything like that. Eventually I started selling myself. Stepping in and out of strange cars and stuff like that. Nothing I was proud of but that's where it started. It went down to that level. My oldest son would come out, Ma come on go and take a bath. He wouldn't give me any money but he would make sure I eat, give me a pack of cigarettes or something. Plenty of times he had tears in his eyes. He couldn't trust me. My daughter moved in with somebody else, she didn't want to have anything to do with me. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Because I made things like that. I can face that now but at that time it seemed like they were doing me wrong. They were all doing me wrong and none of this was my fault.
But anyway, I continued to blame them -- they don't love me, they don't care. I went down that road. But after... oh I must have jumped in so many cars this one night. And that morning, me and the ladies was still seeking to get high, still waiting on one more. I jumped in this truck. This man connected eyes with me and I jumped in his truck, and he says, I don't normally stop for people. I don't know what it is, but I stopped for you. I got in his truck talking bout, what you want head or ass? Whatever, you know, let's get this over with. So I can get my money, get my hit. He looks at me, he says, ma'am I don't want anything from you. But some kind of way, I been clean for 13 years and God told me to stop. He said, what you doing out here? Why are you out here? You don't belong out here. And I just broke down crying. He said, where is your family? Where is your people? And all I could remember was my baby son's phone number. And he called him. And my son told him to put me on a bus. He said, don't let her go back to get nothing because she gon' run off. And he put me on the bus, and he gave me a pack of cigarettes. I smelled so bad, I know I did, because I had been out there selling my body for two days and ain't had no bath so you can just imagine that. This man didn't never tell me I smelled. He put me on the Greyhound bus, my son paid for the ticket on that side, so since I couldn't cash in the ticket I had to get on the bus. He bought me a sandwich and gave me a big bottle of water because I hadn't ate in a few days. So I was really hungry. But anyway I got on the bus. When I got to my son, he said we were moving to a city a couple hundred miles away. I said, these muhfuckas trying to take me off some fuckin where, I won't be able to get back to my people, what the fuck Imma do way out there...
Oh this some real shit. I said, oh he think Imma come way out there and he gon' be my fuckin daddy, fuck all this shit, this too real, let me get out here away from all these crazy muhfuckas.
These were the things I said to myself because I wanted help but I didn't want it from my son, you know?
You know, not your children! But that son was the most like me from before, when I wasn't using, you know what I mean? He was very disciplinary. But I said, he ain't 'bout to tell me what to do, aw that's bullshit! So anyway, I went out of town with him. Remember I didn't have any clothes because he'd told the man not to let me go back and get anything. I had one jogging suit that my daughter wore in high school. I had gotten that small. And when we moved we was around all these white folks. We ain't in the hood no more. What the fuck, I don't like none of these white people. When I got here, I thought they was gon' kill me, all these white folks. I ain't trying to hear all that, staying with these white folks, at home we stayed in the hood! Now we looking and the neighbors is white? I'm like, these motherfuckers gon' kill us. They gon' try to lynch us. I ain't never seen this many white folks at one time.
(Laughs) I mean I seen 'em but not these many!
MW: I know what you mean.
I told my son, I said listen, I don't know how we gon' make it. So I decided to start going to meetings to get some help. I got a sponsor -- cause it wasn't no black women -- got a white lady to sponsor me and she helped and she was very nice, and she would tell me I wasn't making the meetings like I should. Well I was too embarrassed to tell her I didn't have any other clothes. It had got cold and I didn't have a coat. I didn't have boots or none of that. So she kept getting on me and I finally told her why I wasn't making the meetings, and she took me to the thrift store and bought me a coat, some boots, a couple of outfits, and it was like brand new to me as far as I was concerned. And then I said, oh these white folks ain't that bad. Me with an addict mentality, still on that trying to get something for nothing type shit, I used all I could get out of her.
I got into a live in program and I got my own little room, I got a key. I got a key, somebody trusts me now. I got a job and I was able to pay my own rent. I stayed clean for 22 months. I applied for another program and I got in, but between when I was accepted and able to actually go, I relapsed. So they could no longer accept me because I was using.
MW: Where did you get drugs from?
There were drugs all around. There's always a way to get drugs. We know each other when we see each other. You go somewhere and you know what the deal is. On the streets, you know where the drugs are. I don't have to be using and I can tell you where they selling drugs at. So I started using, and I lost my place. What happened was that I got a car, and I drove back to my hometown to go to the gay parade. Like I said, I had a sponsor and I had 22 months clean, but I wasn't working on myself I was just getting clean time. I went home and me and my father got into it, and I got angry and started back smoking cigarettes, and... then I got one. I gave the car and some money to somebody to go get some crack and he never did bring my car back. He kept the car, the money, everything.
MW: OH MY GOD.
I had only had my car one week. It was brand new. I never got that car back. The people at NA had to send for me. So I got in a van and went back. But then again I was still using, I wasn't ready to stop. I lost everything I had and I began being on the streets in the new town same as I was on the streets back home. Walking the streets, sometimes getting no sleep, staying where ever I could. I ended up staying by a friend of mine house, and they smoked. The job I was working, I ended up going to them and telling them don't take no resources out of my check like taxes and I ended up smoking like $20,000 worth of crack up in that house.
Yeah, I smoked $20,000 worth of drugs. Thank God I didn't die. From there I went to treatment, and from there I just tried to be clean. I tried to stay wherever I could. My daughter in law let me stay a few nights there. She didn't trust me and she was scared of me being there. Because she knew I'd steal everything we got and sell it. But I was tired and I no longer wanted to do that. It was hard to build that trust back because I had stole so much from them and carried them through so many changes. They thought I was going to be clean a long time, and then I got that 22 months, and I always say, Imma get clean, Imma get clean, so it took a lot for her to trust me. But through that process she let me sleep on her couch for three years, and I came up with three years clean and still was like homeless. And I was just was tired, and I contacted an organization here, and they helped me get an apartment. And when they put me in an apartment, that's when my life started turning around. I got into a program for people to study English literature and the humanities, and I graduated. The program lets you earn college English credits. Something happened in that moment that really made me want to change my life and go back to school.
I never did know what Socrates was about. And I kept hearing about Socrates, and Socrates really interested my thinking process. Because they would ask me, what is your allegory of your cave? And I'm like, shit, my allegory was drugs. My situation was drugs and drinking -- and they told me that I could get clean but I didn't believe them like the people in the cave.
MW: Yes! You in the cave like, ain't no world out there! (laughs)
Yes, turned the other way! They telling them its life on the other side but its like, oh no, we wanna stay like this. Well that was me and that hit me real hard. I said wow, that's fuckin me! So that was the start of the grass turning over in my life.
And then something happened. I was working as a Certified Nurse's Assistant and one of the residents fell because I fell. Its because my knees gave out on me and they took me to the hospital and told me I had rheumatoid arthritis in my left knee and the doctor said I could no longer work as CNA. I worked as a CNA for 32 years -- who the hell is going to hire me in my 50s? You know what I mean? This is all I know, this is what I raised my children on-- so I went into a depression on that -- a deep depression. I was like I gotta make a new career change in my 50s. Alot of people was telling me it ain't nothing wrong with it and I thought about my sponsor. She was very encouraging to me. I started going to school and I remember when they gave me that syllabus I was like, I can't do this shit! Aw naw, I'm in the wrong place. But someone I went to meetings grabbed me and said, you can do this! They must have saw the fear in my face. So I called my sponsor and told her, I have English, I don't know how to write no paragraphs, I don't know none of this. I am not prepared for this shit! So I got a tutor.
But anyway, I graduated from my program! I'm working in Human Services. I am a respectable woman in the community. I am coming up on seven years clean! I am married. I have a two bedroom apartment. I am presently in school earning my bachelor's.
I want to help people. That's what I'm trying to figure out, I want to help people with substance abuse but I can't... that's not going to be my call. I want to deal with something in the area of that but I can't deal with it 24/7 because I'm an addict myself. I still go to meetings myself. That will be for the rest of my life. I have accepted that. I have to do whatever it takes, in order for me not to pick up. It is possible. Do I ever feel like getting high? Hell yeah. (laughs) I don't do it. I don't do mind mood altering nothing. I am not able to go into bars and kick it. I don't do that because I'm not challenging my recovery. I ain't gon' be able to do that one. I'm too afraid and its a good fear, for me. So far that's keeping me clean. I abused my privilege on getting high or drinking a drink. I'm presently working on myself. I still have a sponsor. I chair meetings sometimes. I have sponsees. I am doing the things that are expected of me in order to be a productive member of society.
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