I was about 14 years old…
when I left home. There was no no real peace at home. [I] watched my mom struggle when I was younger, my dad he left early on – I was about five. And really seeing my mom leave from that abusive relationship to another abusive relationship and just not really understanding why my father wasn't there…
Wishing I had brothers (my mom had two children – two girls, I'm the youngest) and my mom was an only child so there wasn't the cousins and the aunties and uncles it was just us three – my sister my mom and my grandmother, which was my mother's mother. Watching my mom, what I now know, deal with substance abuse and I can remember going to security rooms with my mom while we were in department stores but not old enough to know what that was. And so just grew up missing something-not really sure what it was but just knowing something was missing.
When I was old enough, or thought I was old enough anyway, I turned to the streets. I was always very academically enhanced. And so I can remember awards day like my name being called for almost every award. But my mother wasn't there, right. And so being really angry about that and begin to wondering well, why am I even you know, getting all these awards if nobody's here to celebrate.
And so leaving home, because you know there was some abuse there. Sexual abuse, not towards myself but towards my sister, and my sister telling that but not being believed. And so I had to get away from that, which added more anger because I didn't understand how you didn't believe your child about something like that. And really feeling like you believe it, you just refuse to do anything about it. So not being, uh, not being celebrated and, you know, going to the streets looking to be celebrated-looking to be a part of something, looking to belong to something that meant something, right? And so I remember I would go to school and there would be this group of people on this particular corner all the time. And this one guy would pull up and like everybody just flocked around him, not knowing at the time that this was the dope dealer. But then when I found out who he was, I wanted that. I wanted that celebrity I wanted people to flock like that, right? And so lo and behold, he and I became...I became his little sister, right. And so because I told you I searched, I wanted a brother I wanted brothers, right? And so he began to give me drugs to sell and sure enough people would flock when they saw me. And that was enough at the time. You know, then I started dealing with a man who was my senior who was also a drug deal that had become a drug abuser and began to abuse me. And so, you know, just that whole vicious cycle, but I refuse to go back home because it It wasn't as bad as what was going on at home, right? And so I remember my very first time being arrested. I was arrested on a drug possession. And ironically I felt like I had arrived because, you know, I went to jail. The police took like $2500 from me, you know, and I was right out you know, my buying got paid. So, for me in my mind, that meant something, as crazy as that may sound, you know, and just came right back out doing the same thing some of the drugs but also you know, dealing with the same kind of men and I started using. First, you know, I was smoking the marijuana already but then starting the cocaine and just everything that goes with that life. And, you know, I remember, I was with a guy who committed a murder and the police was looking for him and so I left and went away with him to California. So by now I'm like 16 years old and my family really didn't know if I was dead or alive because I had been gone like a year, didn't contact anybody because you know I was on the run with him. And you know, finally he went to jail he got busted and I had gone to jail in California for drug possession again, but this time I lied about my age because you know, I didn't want my mom to have to come to California and get me out because I was a juvenile and you know because I was protecting him if they knew where I was, they was going to know where he was and you know I think that's where a lot of the codependency started, like protecting these men, right? And so, you know, I went to jail and I stayed like six months in jail because I said I was an adult, basically. But ironically, as crazy as it sounds, I thought that, again, that meant something. You know, that I was able to withstand being in prison when I could have easily just had somebody come sign me out. And so, you know, by the time I got out, he was in, and so, you know, for a brief moment I was like "okay so I'm gonna just get me a job and you know I'm gonna get me a plane ticket and I'm gonna go back home" and that's what I did. But when I came back home it was...nothing changed, nothing about my community had changed, it had actually gotten worse and so, you know, I fell right back into you know it was easy you know I'm home somebody to put some drugs in my hand and gave me my start and and i just began to be in that same vicious cycle again. The only thing that had changed was that I had begin to use cocaine now not the crack, yet, right? And so finally, someone offered me some crack cocaine and it changed my life forever. Like, I was immediately hooked. and so, you know, I was selling drugs and I was getting high, but I thought that I was different because I, you know, I was making money and I wasn't in the streets, you know. I had actually got, I had my own apartment. I just thought I was different for some reason, right? But then the diction began to progress and I had gotten to a relationship with a childhood sweetheart and I became pregnant. And so you know I used everyday. And I remember my baby's father, sister-in-law, asked me to come and stay by her house, she had just had a baby, asked me to come stay with her for a while to help her. So I was going by her for about two months, which actually gave me time to rest. And so I had my first child, and after I had him, I wanted to do something different, I just didn't know how. I was still using, I was using again, I wanted to stop using, I just didn't know how. And I remember seeing a commercial on TV about a rehabilitation center drug rehabilitation. And so I did that. I went into rehabilitation, I was 19 by this time, and, you know, I got clean. I left my baby's father because he was still using and somewhere in the midst of all of that, he decided to get clean. And then we got back together. And so now here comes my second son who I didn't use with I didn't smoke cigarettes with I didn't-he was born clean. And you know, I thought life was going to be better. But then you know, he's got clean and we both working in this two parent household both of us are working and we share, you know, we have an apartment together and we sharing bills and he started looking tempted to other women and so he cheated, and it devastated me, right? And I remember finding out that he was cheating with someone, and I came up with this plan to put him out. But I lost my job the next day, right? So now I have to literally depend on him to keep the household running. and the cheating got so that he wasn't really trying to hide it no more. And so now my mind, in my mind, because right now I'm active in your Alcoholics Anonymous, I have women that I'm sponsoring. And so you know, I'm living, I'm living clean and sober. I'm not just abstinent. So, you know, things that I would do if I was using, I couldn't do clean. So, you know, in my mind, I was trying to figure out how I could kill him and no one knew it was me. And so everyday, more and more, that was what I went to sleep and woke up with. And so because I was in recovery, I knew I was headed for the relapse. So I would check myself in a hospital, right? And stayed in 30 days and worked on my issues of codependency. We end up splitting, I end up in another relationship with the same kind of man who also started cheating. And I didn't like myself, I began to use again, right? And so all the things that I wanted to do to him like to hurt him, I was able to do because I wasn't in a sober mind now. And I didn't, you know, I didn't really have the same kind of conscience. And so I end up pregnant again, this time with my third child, with a different man. By now, I'm using every day. And then I became the abuser, right? And so I had my third child, my first daughter. And you know, the relationship was very toxic. My daughter was four months and I was pregnant again. And so, the relationship was still very toxic, and I'm using everyday and I decided to go into rehab again. And so this time I stayed in rehab until I delivered, so I stayed in about two and a half months. I leave the hospital after I have my baby, my mom had my other kids. I come home. And the day I came home is the day my mom got all of the benefits for my kids. And I went to my home, my house, and she didn't give me a dime. She gave me my kids, but she didn't give me a dime because at the time my mom is in active addiction as well. But she felt that she wasn't as bad off as I was and that it was okay for her to take my kids' moneys and food stamps and spend them all up and that was fine. And so that just added more anger towards her, right? So now I'm bitter and, but this is my mother, so how how can you be angry and bitter towards your mother? But I was and because everything I had ever seen about a relationship I learned from my mother so of course it's all toxic. And my grandmother because their ideal of what a relationship was: was men was supposed to give you money. That's it. So I finally get rid of this baby daddy. I'm doing okay, for a few months. I start using again, because I'm now overwhelmed with these four kids. You know, I do have a home, you know, but I have no education. I have no job. I have, you know, I'm just stuck in this rut. And so I meet this man who's not a drug dealer, drug addict, alcoholic. None of that. And then the first time I sleep with him, I get pregnant. So I don't even know this man, really. I know of him, but I don't know him to have no child with him. And then I start finding out he's not this, but he's very jealous, very insecure, very codependent. You know, so it's same kind of men. And my disease is just, it's steady progressing and progressing and progressing. So now I've started shoplifting because I need a way to support this drug habit and these children and and I mean, I literally got up every day like I was going on a job and I get busted one day. But I still have these children and this drug habit, I get out and I go back. And some months later, I get busted again. And so the vicious cycle of me cycling in and out of jail started. But nothing about my situation is changing. So I finally went to prison. And I stayed a year. And so when I got out, I was clean, you know, things was stable. I got me a job and I'm still with this last child father. You know, I'm seeing him in a whole different light now, because I'm in my sober mind now, right? And I go into this job training program, this is how I got employed, and I meet a man. So do you see how it's like, I've never really had times when I was alone. So I leave this man and I'm with this man and I'm working and everything seems to be going great. And I got paid on my job. And it's Easter. So I'm going to get all my kids Easter clothes. But I found myself shoplifting and I got busted but I didn't think that I would ever go to jail. And I wasn't using I hadn't used for almost three years. So that was the first time I realized I was addicted to the shoplifting as well. And so this time I'm able to pay a lawyer but I got a year sentence. It was like I never got a break, ever I got a year sentence And so this man asked me to marry him because I had to go away and in my mind what Imma need this man to take care of me while I'm gone and take care of my kids because he works every day he's a veteran and you know just all the crazy stuff that I thought, meant something. What I didn't know was he was an ex-heroin addict-the man I married. So by the time I got home he was getting loaded. but I didn't realize because by now I'm like almost five years clean. So I couldn't really see it when I realized it, it devastated me. And I began to try to save him and lost myself and I ended up high again. And then you know as I look back over all the my relationships with men, with people in general, I always tried to save them and lost myself. And so, that vicious cycle of getting high and going to jail to just start it all over again and again and again and again. And so we, we're pre-Katrina by now. And I went to prison again. I came home, so now I met a woman. I'm trying to try something else now, right? Never really understanding that it was my codependency, and the same things happened. And I ended up high again and I ended up back in jail again. But the one thing that happened this time different was that I was sentenced to a much longer sentence. So I was sentenced to 80 months. But I was already on parole, so they chose to run my parole, wow. Which mean I do the parole first then the sentence. So instead of doing the six years and eight months, I did seven years, four months, 28 days. And in the process of doing that sentence I lost a lot. And then my only sister that I had died while I was in prison. Katrina hit while I was in prison. All three of my sons were brutally shot, they all survived, but they all were shot up while I was in prison. and I just knew if I had any chance on surviving This time I had to do something different, I had to. I went to school while I was in. I got a trade, and I came home. And because of all the convictions and not really having much education, even with the education that I took in prison, and not really knowing what to do, I ended up-I couldn't get a job. So I went to school. While in school-and I have to say, I found out while I was in prison at the age of 40 that I could even go to college. I didn't know that black people who didn't have money could go to college. I did not know that. I was 40 years old. My professor in prison told me she wanted me to go to college because my grades were so well. And she told me that I could go so I went to school. While in school, I had started going to some board meetings at Hennel. One of my mentors, Miss Donna Jonnagan, she always did sit on different boards with Hennel, and she was telling me about this policy they were trying to get changed around criminal backgrounds. And so I started going to the meetings and I just started learning, you know, what was going on with that whole policy. Though I had been out-no, my conviction was long enough, that I could apply for public housing, there were other women that I know I left in that would not have been had they came home right now. So I wanted to be on board with that policy change. And so I started, you know, I got to really know like, the director of Hennel at the time. So when they handed over this contract Veera Institute of Justice with New Orleans, pretrial services, they included funding for them to hire someone from the section three, which meant low income, public housing, as an intern. And so I applied for that job and I, I got it and that was the first time in a long time that my efforts to do something different produced anything good, right? And so as I started working for pretrial services, and finding now what they really worked on-because I didn't even know I just knew that the job paid $15 an hour. I had never made that much money, ever, without selling drugs, right? And so I just started researching and applying myself and you know I found myself sitting in different rooms that were talking about reentry and criminal justice reform and so the internship was for four months and you know I was their administrative assistant and at the time I was in school for administrative assistance, right? And because I, I guess applied myself, they decided to keep me on permanent, right? And so it allowed me to then start going in rooms where they were talking about me, right? People that I left were me and I remember sitting in a reentry conference, had been there two hours a
When I when I was released I was homeless. I hid in my mother's house for a full year. She couldn't have anyone live with here. So I left before her office would open, I stayed gone until it was closed. For a full year I did that. I didn't have any clothes. I didn't have my own change of underwear. I didn't have just basic personal hygiene items for at least 90 days after I was out. I was using someone else's underwear, personal hygiene items. I didn't have my own. And so the reentry piece for me wasn't wasn't nice. It wasn't one that I want other women to have to endure. The housing piece, right now there's nothing that I can do about that. My dream is to open a transitional house here for women, haven't had a lot of support with it but it's going to happen. But when it comes to the clothing and the hygiene items, you know, we got that. I was just telling you all you know partner with Syrita. Syrita, this closet came out of conversation me and Syrita had, and she took off and made it happen, right? And she-she's far exceeded what we could have envisioned. The sanitary products, all of that stuff I have over at VOTE. I created a women and girls formerly incarcerated women and girls project inside of VOTE because VOTE, we we focus as you know, on policy, right? We don't do program, we don't do reentry, but I do because I know we need it. Women need it. right? There's a first 72 plus for men. There's recovery houses for women. I didn't need a recovery house. That's not what I needed. After almost eight years. It's not what I needed. There are women who served over 20 years. They don't need a recovery house, they need somewhere to transition from prison to real world to on their own, right?
My family came and got me, but I had just gotten out of prison before I got that sentence, the same prison. They brought me to the bus station, left me at the bus station. When my bus came, I got on it and the bus dropped me off in New Orleans. That was it. And the dope dealers were at the bus station in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. They gave me a $10 check, a bus ticket and sent me on my way. And the only way you can cash the check at the bus station was if you were buying the ticket All I had was my prison ID. So I didn't even have ID to cash the check once I did make it to the city. this time when I left there was a period where the DMV had a, a truck-a bus that came to the prison. I had gotten an ID in 2008 because that was my first release date they gave me, which was wrong, right? So the ID I had was about to expire when I did get out because you know it's four years. Since been a being in that boat, you know, I've learned a lot about what led me to prison. A lot. The trauma definitely led me to do the drugs which led me to commit the crimes which led me to the prison.
Being completely powerless over what happens with your children. If you're, if you left children-I left five. My three sons all were brutally shot. I had a daughter who had run away and had-you know I was gone and specifically my my my oldest daughter she refused to let anyone take my place in her life. So it was hard. She went through transitions, different just transitions. I thought I had let I had let her go live in Woodland, California. In this gated community with my aunt, my father's sister. My aunt's husband-my daughter was 12-was making comments about him and my aunt's sex life to my 12 year old daughter. And so because I had taught her you tell, I don't care who it is, you tell. She wasn't comfortable telling me because my made it uncomfortable. She called to New Orleans to my niece and her oldest brother and told them, who were at the time 17 and 16 themselves. And they came up with a plan to get her away from there. She had met some friends in school who she had shared it with who agreed to have the ride waiting to bring her to the bus station. And the ticket was there waiting in the friend's name so that my aunt wouldn't detect. I mean, it was a whole plan and it got her away from them. And to this day, my aunt acts as if that never happened. But I believe my child.
We just actually was talking about it the other day. And you know, because something that came on TV and she said "who raised them?" It was something with some girls and she said "who raised them?" I would have been told. And I said to her, "everybody parents don't make it okay to tell." And she said, "That's why I'm asking who raised them." And for me, that's the hardest piece of being imprisoned, if you're a parent. I mean if you're a mother like me. Like, every day, I worried about my kids. Every single day, every day. Prison have-I mean they use everything to threaten you with. So they would use things like your visit and the phone calls and that type of stuff to keep you in line like to keep you, you know, because... one of the things that I say, women's prisons-I've learned doing this work-we got rolled up for some of this stupidest stuff that men, although it's a rule, they just don't write men up for it.
Talking in the chow hall. I aggravated disobedience. I aggravated disobedience that cause you not to be able to visit. Yeah. I've seen women ask to go to the infirmary or fill out these EM-it's called an EMT, emergency medical treatment, to go to the infirmary and you know, get in and the guard, if the guard feels like you just don't want to work, they write you up, you can get locked up for it too. And I have seen women get locked up for faking, the guard said they're faking, and those same women die a week later from the same thing that they said was hurting them or wrong with them. And so for me, my biggest fear was dying in prison. And my biggest worry was my children.
That I'm just like them. I'm a human being and my crime isn't who I am. It doesn't even begin to explain who I am.
[I want] for everyone who comes to the exhibit to see us through the art. Understand what brought us here. We don't look for excuses, we just need you to understand. You know, people, it's easy for people who have haven't had to struggle to say "well, they had other choices." Probably, just didn't know them though. it's easy for someone who has had resources to talk about their parents having it rough but persevered and- yeah, I bet they did, because your parents didn't have crack cocaine out there. They didn't. Your parents, you know, it's just so much stuff that wasn't there. It just wasn't there. And how do you know? You don't know what your parents did. You don't know. But one of the things that I do know is even, even people who have committed crimes, gotten caught, that don't look like me, they still didn't go to prison. And when they did, it was because they had no other option but to send them this time.
Well, society believes that women should be in the home, taking care of the family. Who takes care of the women? We carry it all and we, most times we never complain and when we do complain it goes all falls on deaf ears because we shouldn't complain. And that's not just for women who have been incarcerated. Women period. we supposed to just deal with it, but no one's telling us how to deal with it or giving us what we need to deal with it. We just supposed to figure this shit out. Don't complain. Suck it up. And deal with it.
Yeah that, one: women are in prison. Two: that we're not there because we want to be there. Three: every woman or girl that goes to prison has trauma. Has trauma. You know, we give excuse for everything except, a woman going to jail, going to prison. You know, we were trying to create this legislation we trying to get this legislation passed, the dignity for incarcerated women act. You know literally had two legislators talking about you know, why, why women why does this legislation needed to be passed, like. He focused on the fact the piece of the legislation that said men not being able to go into areas where women may be unclothed- he focused on that piece. He didn't focus on the piece that talked about women needing an unlimited amount of sanitary products. Well, for me if you feel like men feel harassed by female officers, then you need to write some legislation. But don't minimize our need. Because we are in prison it's okay for y'all to just see us and it's ok. Because that's the mindset. And if you dug, you know and I say this all the time, if you dug into their lives, they did some inappropriate shit with somebody's daughter, somewhere. But what goes on in the house stays in the house, you know? So for me I guess the facts would be that, we're human. And we're survivors because it takes a lot to survive this shit.
It takes a lot.
I am a survivor. I'm not a victim.