“Here at Journey House, they are not just managing human trash.
Tracy – Journey House Resident
On a Tuesday morning in March, Tracy sits forward on her chair, shoulders hunched, hands clasped on her lap. She wears a sparkly pink hoodie, her blond hair pulled tightly into a bun. Tracy’s luminous pale-blue eyes are circled by black liner. I wonder if she’s wanting to talk with me or disappear. Her voice is meek and soft, but the story she tells isn’t.
My… uh… parents divorced when I was six. I was left alone a lot. My mother was real busy. She wasn’t very nice. Lots of verbal abuse. Physical too. She had anger she took out on me. Hitting. She blamed me for her having to marry my dad. They hooked up in college and she got pregnant. Her parents made her get married. I ruined her plans. She told me I was the abortion she wished she had had.
We pause our conversation while Tracy’s tears flow.
I was a good kid. I cleaned the house and got straight A’s. I tried to make her happy, but I couldn’t. I didn’t do drugs. I looked down on that but when it came down to it, the drug kids were the only people who were nice to me. They’d say, “Come be with us.” I left home at sixteen. I started getting high to self-medicate my anxiety and depression. It helped me deal with socializing. I found places to stay where there were older men. I got into situations that were… you know… at the time I didn’t care about myself so I didn’t see why anybody else should either. It didn’t seem that terrible.
You got involved with them sexually?
Yes, I got raped. I confused sex with love. I didn’t tell anybody because I thought it was my fault. It took a huge emotional toll on me… I wished I was dead a lot.
Did you try to be dead?
Um… well… I thought about lots of ways. I found vodka in my mother’s closet and drank a whole lot thinking it might kill me. I wasn’t afraid of something reckless because maybe it would help me out.
You thought you weren’t worth protecting?
Did you have anybody telling you different?
My teachers did. I got approval at school, teacher’s assistant type stuff until I kinda fell off. It took a toll on my senior year.
How about your dad?
He got remarried and had a new family. We went there for Christmas when I was eleven. My older stepbrother molested me, but I was so young I didn’t realize it. But after going to counseling classes and stuff, I know it was rape.
So, the issue of being raped has been repetitive since eleven? Have you had intimate relations with men that aren’t rape - that have real caring in them?
Craig and I met when we were eighteen. We were hooked together from that day on. He had big anger problems, but that’s what I thought love was. If somebody loves you, they will be angry and possessive. He didn’t like me to work. He sabotaged my jobs. His love wasn’t nurturing, but we had kids together. He was the greatest love of my life. He defined me. He beat me.
So, you had abuse at home with your mother, got raped by your stepbrother and other strangers over the years and then Craig. Did anything ever come of this? Any kind of intervention?
Not then. I internalized it. The shame. Just keep silent. Drugs blocked it out.
Share a bit about your children. You have two?
I have four. Josh is oldest. He’s seventeen now. Tyler was my second. By time I was pregnant with him the physical abuse from Craig got really bad. My greatest shame. I wanted to do everything right by my children, but over time Josh saw firsthand the way I was being treated. I didn’t realize how awful it was for him and for me. But it took a long time for me to leave Craig. A friend helped me. I got a restraining order and he backed off enough that I believed I wanted him back. We needed to raise our two boys together. I desperately needed my family to be whole. But neighbors witnessed stuff. The cops got called over and over.
Did his battery extend to other people?
He never beat our kids, but I witnessed his violence to his mother. And there were other women. It was always against women. Shortly after our second boy, Tyler, was born they pressed charges. I told the prosecutor, “He didn’t do it” or “It wasn’t his fault,” but Craig went to prison for two years for aggravated battery. During that time, I started another relationship with another man and had a child with him. So, I had three boys and of course I was using meth all the time to keep myself afloat. I juggled running a house, bills, daycare, laundry, soccer, chores.
Was your new guy abusive?
Yes. But he was abusive in a non-caring way. I thought he could kill me and not care.
Did he ever try?
Yes. I went to a domestic women’s shelter and had no more contact with him. I mean Craig had been abusive too, but it was out of a passionate love, possession. He’d beat me but then apologize profusely, even flowers. You know. And… anyway… so I had the three boys with me at the shelter. We stayed at lots of shelters. Then Craig got out of prison and was back around. He became very hands-on with the kids, school visits, parent-teacher conferences, built a tree house, diapers, and bottles. He said if I wanted the kids, I’d need to be with him, but I didn’t go back then. But our oldest son Josh wanted to live with his dad. He was only nine. As much as it broke my heart it was what he wanted, so I transferred physical custody of Josh to Craig. In dad’s household you must believe what dad believes. If Dad says God is bad and you shouldn’t go to church, then you don’t go to church. Or never let a girl make decisions. My son was witnessing these things, but I felt powerless to change anything. So instead of me, Craig just got a new girl pregnant. She was eighteen. He wanted me to move in with him and his new wife. Come be part of this happy family…
Really…? Did you?
I did. People might think it was weird but, for me, it was a family. I craved a family. I have a picture upstairs in my bedroom here at Journey House. Craig’s new wife is on one side and I’m on the other with all the kids between. It wasn’t your kids and my kids; it was all about our kids. Our family. We loved and helped each other. I changed her baby’s diapers and she helped me. But I did feel under his control. I watched the interaction between Craig and his new wife, the look in his eyes like I’m going to kill you. She’d cower. I thought oh my god. I saw myself in her.
Yes. When she and I would go grocery shopping, I would ask, “Is he hurting you?” But she would never confide in me. She was so young with a bad support system. Craig preyed on vulnerable people. I still care about her. During that time, I got therapy and medication at the shelters. I was on lots of meds for anxiety, depression, and ADD (stimulant meds). Through Catholic Charities I even got a townhouse, rent assistance, food stamps, and donated clothes. Eventually I had my own house with two kids. Making progress…
(Tracy starts sobbing. I get Kleenex and wait for her to decide if she wants to go on.)
So… okay, in 2012 a couple of really bad things happened. Tyler, who is my rambunctious, redheaded, hyper, second child ran right in the street and got hit by a car. I had my third boy in a stroller. I called 911 and ran into the street. Blood pooled out of Tyler’s head. His eyes rolled back. I thought he was dying but he was still conscious. He was life-flighted to the children’s hospital. We were all at the pediatric ICU, Craig and his wife, my two other boys and me. Tyler squeezed Craig’s hand. The nurse told us that means he knows you are here.
Tracy looks up at me, straightens her back, takes a long breath… raises her palm.
That’s the last time all of us were together… ever…
A long silence and sobbing.
And… so… I stayed at the hospital with Tyler and sent the other boys home with Craig and his wife. All Tyler’s facial bones were broken. I had to be very careful. I remember the day I called Craig to say that Tyler was finally getting out of the hospital, that we’d be coming home in the morning. “Okay,” he said. “I love you. I will see you in the morning. Okay.” I called the next morning to say I was on my way over. No answer. Then a social worker called and said, “Craig’s dead.” Apparently, the night before, just after we had talked, he got killed. I said, “Who’s dead?” They said again Craig is dead and your kids got taken into State Care. I guess he and his wife had had an incident and she ran next door. Neighbors called the police and Craig ran. The police chased him and tased him to death and then they took all the kids.
Where was his wife?
I think she went to her father’s house. State Care took her kids too. My two oldest boys went to foster homes and my third son’s biological grandmother took him. I got very paranoid, like a conspiracy theory deal. I thought they’d lied about Craig being dead.
But now you do know he’s really dead?
Yes. This man who controlled me… now he’s gone! I was so scared. Maybe he’d rear back up. Ha! Part of me thought he was invincible. He can’t die. It didn’t compute.
He was truly tased to death?
That’s what they said.
Was that investigated from the legal side?
Any time there is a police killing, the State and Federal Bureaus of Investigation get involved. They did not interview me. But, like I said, I wasn’t right in my head at that point. I had lost touch.
Is losing touch with reality something that still happens?
At that point I still believed in my own capabilities, but not always. When it came down to it in court, my third son’s grandmother got custody of all three boys. She still has it. She doesn’t let me talk to them. She doesn’t give them my letters. She threatens legal action if I send things. I am cut off.
How is your physical health after all this?
I’ve had a lot of head injuries. I got hit in the head a lot, blackouts and strangled. Did that have an effect on my brain? Maybe. I thought I might never come back.
But you have.
Yes, I have. But I remember wandering the streets in a daze. A lot of the medications like Xanax and Klonopin stopped anxiety, but they only numbed it up for a little bit and then I had to take another one. For better or for worse, I didn’t kill myself. But I didn’t heal either.
You have had massive amounts of trauma.
Yeah. When they took my kids, I wanted to die. They were the only reason I was alive. I was done. I wanted to die real bad. I would be up on the roof and I’d think here I go. But something pulled me back. I started using meth more. I could go for a day and not think of killing myself. Otherwise, I would wake up every morning thinking, “How will I kill myself today?”
Do you still have that feeling?
Not every morning. Rediscover is helping me a lot. I have a safety plan.
What is your safety plan?
To talk to one of the Sisters here at Journey House. Or go to the hospital. Wanting to die has been so consistent in my psyche it is hard to break.
A habit of thought?
Yes. I wandered the streets. My mind went right there if anything pushed me. No future. I only wanted my past back. So… okay… in my days of wandering around somewhere in my head, I started looking for a family. I was so lonely I got pregnant with this person I didn’t even know. I thought the baby would save my life. A family starts with just two people, right? The guy wasn’t very smart. I worried that the baby might have his brain, but fortunately he got my brain. (Smiles) But I was still using meth a little. It was the only way I knew how to function. I had community support. I named my fourth boy Price because he was priceless and wonderful. I still love him so much. Does that make sense? But I got turned in. The State was watching me, just waiting for a reason to come in. I had to pee in a cup. It was dirty, little bit of meth was in Price’s system from my milk so they took him. I was imprisoned for three years for child endangerment. I got served his adoption papers in prison but I couldn’t make myself read them. Finally, I met the family. They’re good people with two other adopted kids, a brother, a sister and a dog. He has a home and a whole family. He deserves that. I pray he will seek me out someday.
Tracy, I am thinking right now how much courage it takes to sit here and say: I used meth. I got raped. I wandered the streets. My ideal life and family never happened. You aren’t hiding in shame anymore.
Holding shame in doesn’t work.
What was your time in prison like?
It was like being yanked out of the world. But I didn’t like the world. In prison you can’t kill yourself very easily. People are watching. There are no sharp objects. I was mad about that at first. But eventually it forced me into a place of acceptance. A lot of my anxieties went away in prison. There wasn’t much that could hurt me. I felt pretty safe. Men weren’t coming to get me.
A respite from the chaos and danger.
Yes. I made it with no meds. No numbing it up. I detached from emotions that overwhelmed me. It’s a skill.
What did you do?
A lot of meditation. I had a therapist in prison I liked a lot. That’s when I began talking about my suicidal ideation. Sexual issues. Behind prison walls I let this awful junk out. The walls shut everything out. Prison forced me to find a spot to fit in and to find something I was good at! I learned that I am an intellectual. I spent a lot of time in the library. A lot of people in prison don’t have their high school diploma. I found my spot in education helping people get their GED. I am a meek person, but in prison I found out I am a strong teacher. A lot of people there know down deep that they don’t know how to do stuff, but they can’t admit it. Umm… so for whatever it is about me… they were comfortable being that scared little five-year-old again. Admitting it! They could feel vulnerable with me. I’ve seen a lot of really tough women cry when I did flash cards with them. Nobody had been like that with them before. We’d start at whatever stage they were at. Right there. It was okay. Not embarrassing. That’s where I found my spot.
Your “meekness” is strength. You also learned something vital about yourself from those flashcards!
(Tracy looks up) Yeah. I like doing that a lot.
Just to say… your expression just changed from sad to confident.
Yes. I am worth something because I can help somebody. And we kept working together and I watched them walk across the stage at graduation. They’d look out and say, “Hey, there’s my tutor! Ms. White, you helped me do it.”
If you hadn’t been tender and patient and timid, lots of women would not now have their GED!
People respected me. Word got around. People sought me out. I did it for two and a half years. Most people hate prison… a pure mix of pain and resentment and anger. There are lots of violent people. But I never felt seriously threatened. In prison I also learned that I like to garden. And there’s a big garden here. Gardening helps me get out of my head. The earth. Dirt. Dirt is dirt wherever you’re at!
How’d you end up here?
Word of mouth. I didn’t have anywhere to go. No good home plan. I could have walked right back into a new mess. Plus, there are lots of men willing to offer you to home-plan with them.
Men on the outside whom inmates don’t know invite them to home-plan with them?
Yep. Lots of women get support from men on the outside that they don’t know.
What’s motivating these guys?
Wanting a female companion. Maybe other stuff.
How do they make that connection?
There are lists. Word of mouth.
Is it dangerous?
Could be, but I’ve heard of lots of people who are happy with it. But if I had had nothing else, if I hadn’t had Journey House, I would’ve considered it. I did consider it. It would be a home.
Would the prison agree to this type of plan?
You don’t tell the prison your details.
What had you heard about Journey House?
I knew some were Catholic Sisters and that they help you be safe and get self-sufficient. I never heard a bad word about Journey House in prison where all anybody wants to talk about is how bad things are everywhere. I mean, that is saying something. Are you kidding? How could that be true? It was the first place I called and Georgia answered. We had an interview. She just asked me a little bit about my background. Nothing too intrusive. I thought-that’s all? She said, “We want you here.” She didn’t even know I had been homeless or that I had mental issues. Or how broke I was. She just accepted me.
This quality of acceptance is in you as well, Tracy, in your tutoring women in prison, working with them right where they were, no judgment.
(Smiles) I didn’t believe I was accepted. Usually, I don’t believe in anything. If I don’t let myself believe in something, it can’t crush me when it doesn’t happen.
So, this is one time something good and loving has come true.
This is the best thing. It has saved my life. It’s genuine. The truest place. Extremely rare. Always somebody is out for something, but not here. Like a gem. This is the truest place. Precious.
What would you like people to know or understand about you today? A message from you.
Maybe… hope. Because before hope got messed up, there was something for me. Some reason for me on Earth, a purpose to offer the world.
What do they do here that makes you feel loved?
We learn from each other. Because we are mothers, we share our pain of separation from our kids. Like some of the older ladies here know that their children will come looking for them. That is my inspiration. That is in my future. Your children can’t be kept from you forever.
What do you imagine for yourself six months from now?
Volunteering. Giving back. I can help people who are in abuse, crisis, and drug addiction.
Who better than you? You have helping at your core. Is there anything you would change about Journey House?
No! They believe we have potential, that our pain can be managed. Self-worth is everything. Here at Journey House, they are not just managing human trash.
Thank you so much for listening to me.
Thank you so much for talking with me.
The Drive Home:
My conversation with Tracy was rough to absorb, but there she sat, full of guts, naming - not numbing - her grief and her hope. I’ve listened to our interview multiple times on long walks. It’s almost as if she is walking with me. I recall things she has said to me days later when I pass certain spots. I am especially captured by the promise in Tracy’s voice rising from meek to resolute as she describes tutoring other prisoners – her steppingstones on the path out of aching loneliness.
Tracy and the staff at Journey House share a common nature. They bend toward dignity for women who have deeply armored feelings of unworthiness. They connect to the homeless parts in each other. They accompany each other right where they are, in the midst of whatever wars are inside. And the more they do it, the more they do it.