“God changed his mind!”
- Sam – Journey House resident
Sam finishes a bowl of ice cream as we begin our conversation. “I’m thirty-one but I don’t look it,” she remarks as I take her picture. “I have a baby face.” But hers is not an innocent face. Sam’s slightly turned down smile and tired gaze express to me that she has been wounded.
Sam has lived at Journey House twice, once after her release from prison and the second time for emergency housing after a break-up. Central to Sam’s story is the impact of men in her life - relationships that were catastrophic, celestial, criminal, and caring.
I was born with wolves in me.
Speedball. Cocaine and heroin mixed. Both my parents. I was illegal at birth! I am an open book. I’m not ashamed of my childhood, what I have gone through. My parents lived together on and off. I was at my dad’s house when I watched him in his bathroom shooting up. Some people might think a three-year old would not remember or recognize this, but we do. We do! Doesn’t matter how old you are. I cried for my mom to come, but she wasn’t there. Then my dad shot me up with a little bit of crank too.
He shot you up with a needle?
Yes. To get me fuzzy. And then he molested me. I remember it. I don’t want to make an excuse for him. There is none. But he had crank in him and he was drunk. Not in his right mind. I was not his daughter, I was just a worthless object in his room. Although I do know that his cousin, his drug dealer, later told me Dad tried to kill himself the next day when he knew what he done. He was remorseful but he didn’t die… then. He and my mom joined the fair. I grew up in the fair.
State fairs. Traveling fairs. Rides and stuff. That’s where I met my half-brother for the first time. I was six and he was eleven and he raped me. I have no relationship with him now.
He was only eleven?
Do you think he might have been raped or molested himself?
Yes. I even asked my mom that and she said, yes.
What do you remember about it?
Vivid memory. It happened in my parent’s bed while they were at work. Daytime. We were in Mississippi. I remember the smell there. In Mississippi it smells like straight fish! Dead fish around all over the ground.
Did anybody know what happened?
I told my parents. My dad almost killed my half-brother.
But your dad had been guilty of that himself.
Right. It’s very dysfunctional.
How is it for you to talk about this?
Okay, because I have been talking about it for years.
What’s your relationship with your father now?
He’s dead. An overdose at forty years old. Both of his parents were alcoholics. Two weeks before my dad died his father died. It happened two weeks after my sixteenth birthday. I don’t think he did it on purpose. My heart dropped when Mom told me. I couldn’t even cry. I called my girlfriend, my first real girlfriend. She immediately came over. She was the only one there for me. She understood. I’ll tell you what I actually think happened… I think my stepmom, my dad’s wife at the time, killed him to get the social security money meant for me. I mean, she went straight to the social security office on the very day he died! He always slept heavy and dead to the world. I think she shot him up with cocaine in his sleep and made his heart explode. Right after that my mom’s boyfriend at the time asked me if I thought he would make a good father and I said, “How would I know? I have no idea what a good father is!” I have had lots of mental health diagnoses myself - PTSD, depression, anxiety and bi-polar. I was in a psychiatric hospital after he died because I tried to kill myself.
Why’d you tried to kill yourself then?
(Looks off. Spreads her hands.) Ha! I just wanted to be with my dad!
Where did you imagine he was?
Well… my mom had started talking real bad about him, that God had sent him to hell and all, and I believed it. So, I thought, well this is a way I can get to hell too because God says that if you commit suicide, you automatically go to hell. I can be with my dad. After my dad’s death a huge part of me died too. I was basically worthless, living in hell anyway so what was the difference?
What did you use?
A bunch of pills and vodka.
How did you get involved with substances?
My first taste of liquor was when I was two. My dad put it and Red Dog in my sippy cup. When I was six, I started stealing my mom’s wine coolers. Weed at age eleven. I started smoking meth and crack. That same year, my sophomore year in high school, I got arrested and expelled. Weed on school property. I was sent to Teen Challenge in New Mexico - a Christianity - based rehab program. Every day they expected you to get up and do your hair and make-up for the Lord. I thought, the Lord doesn’t care what I look like. At least I knew that much. I didn’t buy into the place. I had already turned my back on God. I didn’t trust God. He was a traitor. God took my dad from me.
Did anybody in your community help you? A school counselor or another adult?
I went to an alternative school in Kansas City. I went to class high. If it wasn’t for them ladies - two teachers and a director, I wouldn’t have graduated.
How’d you support your habits?
The majority of time I stole from my mom. She knew it. I also supplied and paid for drugs by selling my body to men. If I was too tired or out of it to do it for the money, they just kept on and raped me.
What was your prison time for?
Fake checks. Forgery. I was also arrested with three PCP cigarettes in the glove box of my car that had expired tags and no insurance.
PCP. Angel Dust. You dip marijuana cigarettes or regular cigarettes in embalming fluid (formaldehyde) mixed with brake fluid and smoke it. They can be laced with almost anything…
Yes. Why not?
What’s the feeling?
Either you are the strongest person in the world or you are hallucinating. I was addicted with my first hit. I have an addictive personality. I eventually did a drug rehab treatment program the first time I was in prison. I had a bad image of what I had seen on TV about prison but this wasn’t bad that time. But after that I got two outstanding felony warrants for forgery and possession. I skipped out (left state) but the cops eventually found me. For nine days I rode an awful bus with other absconders who were extradited back to Kansas City. There was a bathroom on the bus so we were totally stuck inside the whole trip. It was sickening. Demeaning. Horrible. But I was honest with the judge at my hearing. What’s the point in wasting his time? He said, Sam, you need some clean time under your belt.” He did the right thing. He gave me my prison time. It’s crazy but I think it was to try to help me. That guy made me do what I needed to do.
You trusted the judge.
Yeah. He truly cared about me.
Did you think that going back to prison would help this time?
It was my second time in. I prayed to God while I was in there.
You prayed to God? Earlier you said you didn’t trust God.
On my twenty-seventh birthday on a Sunday morning, I was sitting outside at the smoke pit. (A circular stone area where smoking was allowed. Smoking is now prohibited in prison.) There was nobody around but me. I looked up at the sky and I said, “God, “Give me peace of mind. Please. I need peace in my mind.” And for a second… I felt it! Peace. The sky was pink and yellow and blue and orange. It smelled so fresh. A momentary relief.
Seems that you pulled that peace right out of the sky.
(Smiles) Yep…but my third time in prison is what really did it. Fifteen months. The prisons in Missouri are so packed now. There are only two prisons for women. You are sent to whichever one has room. There used to be two bunks for four people but now there’s another bed added. Five people to a room, plus lockers, four stools attached to the floor called buddies. The sinks and showers are outside the room.
Did you use drugs in prison?
It was very possible but I didn’t want to get another charge. I mean who wants to be high in prison? That’s the stupidest thing ever.
It’s stupid to get high out of prison too. I was sick of being stuck on stupid! While I was in there this last time, I got down on my knees. I cried out to God, “Please! Why? Why did you take my dad from me?” God listened. I know it. God explained it as clear as day. I swear. I heard it in a low, powerful whisper. “Sam, your dad could not live in this world sober.” I got my answer! It helped so much. God really understood him and He understood me! Well… it’s like God sort of changed his mind!
God’s message to you switched from the burn in hell concept, into a way for you to understand the unlivable demons that haunted your dad. Maybe it helped you to be free too, to stay on earth with peace of mind.
(Sam smiles). Yep! And I have been completely clean for three years. I eventually want to become a substance abuse counselor. We need more people doing that, people like me who have been through it. Lived in hell and survived. I know exactly how hard it is. The immense struggle on the inside. There are reasons why we are addicts.
You could very well become a substance abuse counselor.
Lacy is my best friend here at Journey House right now. When I was having an awful day Lacy said, “Sammy, you cannot mess up.” And I said, “Oh really? Just watch me!” And she said, “You cannot mess up, because I look up to you! You are my hero.” (Smiles). That was like boom! It smacked me right in my heart. The perfect truth. She put me in tears. …I am in tears thinking about it right now. I am an example to these ladies. It hits my heart. I have to do good for them and for myself. I’ve made my own recovery group on Facebook for people who are still in their addiction and recovery. I’ve been in some other recovery groups on Facebook and I know how they were structured. A mix of people. They are allowed to message me and talk to me if they need to. I know exactly what a person needs because I need it too. I truly care. I think the only people who can truly help addicts are recovered addicts. Us addicts would have much more of a chance if we had more people helping who had actually been in the shoes.
So, you could very well become one of those people.
Uh huh! I tell about the need to let go of the guilt if you relapse. I say you need to get up, dust your shoulders off and get going again. Guilt is killer. I have this one girl I started my group with and she decided to go get help and she is clean to this day! Two of them are my best friends. One I consider my sister. I could die a happy woman if I just help one person. But… I have helped more than that. I am still young…. Actually, I want my own family. I want to have a baby myself. And do right by my baby.
What does that mean for you?
I will do everything my parents did not do. Like care. My parents did not teach me how to live.
You are doing a lot of good now.
(Looks off) Yeah. I can still see those old women out in the prison yard, just sitting in the dirt. Lifers in their seventies and eighties crumpled over in wheelchairs and walkers. Half dead. Mixed up. Alone. I will not be one of them.
You have chosen to bloom!
I know it. (Smiles) I’m an onion growing out of the dirt… one layer at a time…
The Drive Home:
Theologian Howard Thurman says it this way: “There are few things more devastating than to have it burned into you that you do not count and that no provisions are made for the literal protection of your person.”
Sam picked hell so she could burn with her dad, the place she was sure he was, the place he surely belonged.
But lo and behold, the words God whispered in Sam’s ear spun inside her. His voice not only gave her freedom to live her own life but the hope to someday give life to a child.
I will forever wonder - who or what whispered in Sam’s ear?