“I thought I was the shit!!"
Veronica - Journey House resident
I was immediately drawn in by Veronica’s animated expressions, flashing dark eyes and charismatic energy. Her story twists and recycles through a maze of enterprises, entrepreneurial forays, and desperate dead ends. Being beautiful opened too many doors. Her story is of a young girl flung out into a woozy world with no inner compass. Or as Veronica puts it, “Huh? I mean… nobody raised me. I desperately needed structure and help but people thought I didn’t look like the type…”
We start our conversation with her early years…
Growing up we ate dinner together as a family. I would get a huge piece of meat I couldn’t chew but I was forced to sit at the table until it was gone. Chewy meat grossed me out. I fell asleep at the table with the meat still on my plate. I remember one time there was blood on the window of my dad’s truck My parents said a bird hit it but later, after they divorced, I learned it was my mom’s. My dad was very violent towards her and me too but not to my brother. My dad would get a belt and he whooped me good. Then he’d go in the living room with that belt and whip furniture instead of my brother. Mom told me Dad never wanted me. That is why he never held me. Now I wonder why she kept telling me that. Probably since she didn’t like him, she wanted me on her side and to not like him either. I never had a chance to be Daddy’s girl. I never knew what it was like to be adored. Girls were absolutely not valued in my family and I think I passed that bad idea onto my daughter.
What do you think caused your dad’s wrath toward you?
I think he wanted a boy at first and then he had one, but my brother didn’t get much attention either. My mom babied him because he was born with meningitis and she thought he was going to die. Now I have a son who is disabled and I treated him much better growing up than I treated my daughter. I mean, wow! Being sober now and looking back I see that I was a way better mother to my son than my daughter.
So, you repeated that cycle in your own life.
Were drugs or alcohol part of the violence at home?
Mom drank. She was always getting something from under the sink. She was a stay-home mom. She must have been bored to death. Another problem was her mood swings. Real odd. I was offended so often because I didn’t know where she was coming from.
Did your mom have a mental health diagnosis?
I know she was bi-polar, manic depression. Lots of suicide attempts. She didn’t take any meds.
So, you had violence and impossible rules from your dad and unpredictable and confusing behavior from your mom.
Right. My parents divorced when I was twelve. I started getting pretty wild. My dad got with another woman and remarried. He was a good dad to her children, but I had almost no relationship with him. My mom met a guy who did coke. He was twelve years younger than her. He had money. His family had a huge mansion. It was party all the time at his parent’s house for both my mom and me. No structure. We did anything we wanted. We broke the rules and let the world just sit back and watch. Nothing was off limits. I didn’t have to listen to nobody. My mom’s boyfriend even knew some kids I went to high school with who were up there.
The cool kids who did coke. My mom got swept up, too. But after a while their relationship got violent. And all the while… Mom and him were building a monster in me. He never hit on me, but once he said, “You have no idea what your potential is.” I knew he meant my looks. Other people had said it too. My dad used to call me, “Stupid.” That was my name! I thought well… if I’m stupid I’ll use my looks, my feminine side, to get me places. So now I start spending time in the mirror. I’m also drinking a lot.
Did you graduate from high school?
I was in Learning Center because of bad ADD (attention deficit disorder). My teachers really liked me, but one day I came home and my mom said, “I dropped you out of high school. You’re skipping all the time anyways and you’re not that smart. So what?” I said OMG, what mom does that? She said I needed to go to work with her. She ran a four-color printing press. She worked really hard. I admired that about her. I think maybe she wanted to keep an eye on me. When she tried to kill herself one time, I was so mad at her for it that I didn’t visit her at the hospital. She held a grudge and stopped buying my clothes. When I got in trouble for breaking into cars, she didn’t get me out of juvenile hall.
Did anybody notice? Did anybody have your best interest at heart? At school?
No. Absolutely nobody. I even told my dad I was doing drugs and he did nothing. His side of the family, the Serbian side, was very old school, very private. Their rule was: what goes on in this house stays in this house. But at least they had rules! But my mom told all our neighbors that I was bad. Before that I used to hang out at my neighbors’ houses but now, I had no place to go. I didn’t even belong in my own neighborhood anymore. My life changed. My mom and dad didn’t want me. I was a piece of dirt. Worthless. I trusted no one. I went internal and started hating people.
Yes. I’d hate them before they hated me.
How did you show people that you hated them?
I decided that everybody was stupid, stupider than me, that everybody owed me something. I built up excuses against them. Or it could be somebody just like you that I would instantly read completely wrong and start hating. My filter was twisted. I really believed these things. Mentally I was not nice. I stopped fitting in with people.
Why did you break into cars?
After my mother’s boyfriend stopped supplying cocaine for me, I needed money. I worked for a big department store. I embezzled thousands of dollars from the shoe department. I would take the people’s money, staple a blank receipt to it that they didn’t notice and keep the other real receipt. Then I’d give the receipt I’d kept to a friend who would come in and return shoes she had never bought and get the money back. I also stole clothes and sold them. I stopped breaking into cars and stealing from individual people at that point. Now I had a higher class of crime. I was just stealing from a store, not from an individual person. I was proud of what I did.
What happened with the embezzling?
I ended up telling the wrong person... a guy in the men’s shoe department and he told on me. The store wanted to charge me for attempted theft, but eventually the case got thrown out. During that time, I was in jail on and off. Basically, at a point, county jails raised me. My cell would be a mess —make- up and clothes everywhere. I lacked so many basic skills. But I learned some common sense in jail. I wasn’t so distracted. I learned more about myself every time I was locked up. I wondered things like - why do people pay their bills and I don’t pay my bills? Why do I always break the rules? Why can’t I keep a job? Why do I always feel stupid and worthless? Why am I not all right?
You felt disconnected from “normal” people? You had a misunderstanding of the skills needed in the world.
Yes. I am not lying... every time I got in the county jail in Kansas, I felt like I was home. It was my favorite place. The staff has known me forever. They were even the ones who raided my house and they still know me to this day. They are all old and gray now, but they remember me. I always was treated positive there, like a person. Everybody was nice. When I was twenty, I overdosed. It was an accident. I was not trying to kill myself. I was six weeks pregnant with my daughter, but I didn’t know I was pregnant. I was falling out. Incoherent. My daughter’s dad followed the ambulance. It was extremely traumatic. It rocked my world. I stopped cold turkey for a while. My daughter’s dad got murdered when she was eight. After a while I got with another guy who is my son’s dad. I had low amnionic fluid during my second pregnancy. The doctor measured my son’s head while he was still in utero and said he needed to come out early. He has Arthrogryposis which is a stiffening of the joints, and weak, contracted muscles. The nerve supply to his arms was cut off because of the way he was positioned inside me. I thought: I’ll be damned! I need to do something. I don’t even have enough money to buy socks for my kids. I can’t have my son be the broke, special needs kid. In my mind I kept hearing that old thing - “You have so much potential, you have no idea. With your looks you could do anything.” I started researching these really rank, disgusting escort businesses where they take all your money. No way. So, I started my own business. A huge amount of work. I called myself a “provider.” A guy, a friend, did my photos and website and scheduled my appointments. He was having fun with it. He didn’t want money. I worked alone. What I was doing is considered a misdemeanor not a felony. I prayed I’d never get caught. That would be so embarrassing! I was very upscale. I had my nails out to here, blond hair. I paid for my boob job. I wore heels everywhere. I thought I was the shit! Mixing with the pretty, cool people. I felt good about myself. I was in control of my life. Now I’m glamorous - not the low girl wearing flip-flops while everybody else has expensive shoes. I was always home by 5 o’clock. We lived so good. My kids went to good schools. We were okay until my husband found out what I was doing.
So your son’s dad was your husband?
Well… no. Actually, I never married him because I was such a liar and who wants to marry a liar? I was very angry at my mother because she told everybody I was a prostitute... a street walker. But I was not a street walker. She just wanted something sensational to talk about at my expense. My son’s dad showed everybody - including our son - my website. My kids were so young. I mean…who does something like that?
So, before it all fell apart, you played the role of the glamorous people said you were meant to be?
Yes. But, thank God, I’m over that. It was exhausting. (Laughs) I kept my game face on all the time. I quit that business but still needed the money, so I sold dope.
Did anybody notice anything suspicious about your kids or your home life?
No. I kept up appearances. But knowing what I know now, I would have looked at somebody like me and been suspicious, even though I didn’t fit the profile of a low-life drug dealer.
The imposter syndrome. Appearing to be someone you’re not.
Yep. But pretty soon I got popped for selling drugs and went to prison in Kansas.
Did you ever get caught for your escort business?
No, just for selling drugs. I became so strung out - leaving every night to sell after my kids were asleep, hating myself. I actually wanted to go the prison so when I got caught, I surrendered my probation option.
You chose prison instead of probation?
Yes. No residential treatment for me. I couldn’t function around people.
Where did the kids go?
My daughter went with my mother. My son went with his aunt, my sister-in-law. Eighteen months in prison in Kansas. I was grateful to be separated from the lifestyle but I was scared. I got on my knees every day at lunch and started praying, praying, “Please forgive me. Deliver me from all the horrible things I have done.” My roommate hated when I pulled out my Bible. I stayed away from everybody. I carried my Bible and I went to church in prison all the time. I made my own rules and boundaries. Nobody messed with me.
Was the Bible like a protective wall around you?
Yes. My shield. I would put challenges on myself to go out into the Yard and ask people if they wanted prayer. And they would. I had amazing things happen to me - visions. I was so connected to God. It wasn’t knowledge, it was a feeling. But when I got released, those feelings lasted only so long. My son still wasn’t walking! He tried to scoot to the wall and pull up, but his knees didn’t work. He finally learned, but he couldn’t ride a bike so I taught him how to skateboard. He lit up. I ran beside him at the skate park. (Veronica moves her fist up and down.) I held tight to his shirt going up and down the little hills and curved things and he got good. He didn’t need me anymore. He was great at falling. He’d had lots of practice! The other boys loved him. He belonged there. He fit in. The kids said: “That dude has special needs and look at what he can do!” I was so proud.” I worked two jobs - welding and bartending. We lived in a pretty affluent area for a while. I wanted my kids to be around money so money would become them. My daughter had a different dance every week. I swear, “How can I afford her dresses?” I thought it would be the best for them, but my son hated it. Kids treated him differently because of his disability. Earlier when we lived in the inner city he wasn’t stigmatized. He fit in that inner city neighborhood better because there’s so much heartbreak there.
Were you living with your son’s dad?
No, he got deported back to Mexico. I knew I was failing my daughter, just like my mom failed me. I had lied to her so much. We had a fight because I came home and she and her boyfriend were having sex in our shower. I grabbed her by her hair and called her a bitch. She ran to her boyfriend’s house barefoot. I went over there and kicked the door. The police arrived and took her to a shelter. A week later they took my son. Both kids in foster care. Horrid turmoil. I am getting high on meth and falling apart. My mom turned her back. Zero family support. I wanted to die. The parents of my daughter’s boyfriend wanted her to live with them. So, to get her out of foster care I swallowed my pride and gave them temporary and eventually permanent custody of her. It was a pretty good place for her then. She had based her whole life on her story: “I was an abused child.” But I did not abuse her. My son was adopted by his dad’s grandma. I would not enter the courtroom for the custody proceedings. My daughter was all dressed up like this was the best thing ever. I refused to be further humiliated. The attorney brought the papers out in the hall for me to sign. After that I never got my head right. I became homeless. I sold drugs. That’s the only way you can live being homeless. I sold for years.
Where did you sleep?
No place very long. In and out.
How was your physical health?
I know that sometimes I looked ravaged - skinny and sucked in. I didn’t smoke cigarettes, which helped. I had some clean times, too, when I jogged and used face masks and took vitamins.
Let’s move forward to your most recent incarceration in Missouri. How did you go from all of that to being in prison this last time around?
It was a second-degree burglary charge in Missouri. I tried to steal a big shop generator from the garage of an abandoned house. I mean… really? How stupid is that? Me and a guy manipulated it into our truck. The police showed up. I told them I was scrapping. On the run. I desperately needed help. This time I actually felt something in me that did not want to die. So…here’s the deal. I said to the judge, “I want to surrender. I want to do my time.” He said, “I don’t advise that.” But I said, “I am not doing any good out here. I might hurt myself or somebody else.” It was unbelievable. People have always thought I didn’t look like the type. That has been a theme my whole life - people not taking me seriously because I’m pretty and can appear to have it together. I went to prison for twenty-two months to get to the root of me. Two years of sober time.
How was that?
My past times in Kansas prison were okay. We were very well treated. Missouri was awful. Teachers didn’t show up for the prison classes. The Corrections Officers mostly treated you terrible. You were a piece of shit. If they find a tiny bracelet on you it’s contraband. The medical care was awful. I saw awful things…
How’d you end up here?
I started researching my home plan eight months before I got out. I wrote fifteen application letters to different places. I had been beaten up and homeless and in prison and kicked out of everywhere. I was a mess and I needed a place like the Journey House. It has such a low recidivism rate. It seemed like a place to be, to belong. God wanted me here. He gave me the confidence to press for it and I did. Georgia accepted me after a phone interview! She said, “We want you here.” I just made it. Like my son always says to me, “When something comes easy, when it just falls in place - that’s God.”
What’s your relationship with your kids at this point?
They both live around here. My son is twenty and my daughter is twenty-seven. They are as different as night and day. They are both amazing. Me and my daughter talk now. She’s married and just had her first baby. She reminds me of my mother. I have always been so honest with my son, but I lied to my daughter a lot. My daughter was just like me being in a haze growing up. Girls in my family weren’t valued. I had no idea how to raise a teenage girl. Nobody raised me. My son and I have always had really good conversations, even when he was a little kid. His arms still don’t work well. He had to have them cut and rotated like this. (She demonstrates by turning her arms out). He could write before that surgery, but afterwards he can’t hold a pencil. He writes so good holding the pencil with his mouth. The Journey House is so wonderful. It is amazing. The heart is here. How you treat others. I know God’s promises. I know how Jesus walked with goodwill, faith and love. He came to earth to show us idiots what to do.
How did your religious ideas develop?
A Spiritual Advisor talked to me from Jehovah’s Witness. I saw how they take care of each other, take care of their own. I need to be connected. Be deep. It brings so much light to me - it is magical. Only God can provide. Understanding the Holy Spirit. The circle. I have a foundation I am mastering bit by bit. I am even starting to have a relationship with my father.
How you see yourself six months from now?
I see me going to school, connecting more with daughter and grandbaby, being free and living a sober life. I had never seen this option before. My life before was based on lies.
What do you do every day?
I’ve been here a month. I do treatment three days a week. I love my counselor. She helps validate my weird quirks. I can heal now. I’m forty-seven. I want to learn underwater welding. I want a comfortable life style connected to my kids and grandkids. I want to explore the world after I get off probation and can travel.
What a journey!
I am so glad that I am finally on a journey. Not treading the deep end. I hope I will help others by telling you all of this. But now…it’s time for me to show you these awesome pictures of my kids…!
The Drive Home:
My dizzying conversation with Veronica has taken time to sort through. One thread is the names and labels she accepted as true of herself: stupid, dropout, streetwalker, low-life drug dealer, bad mother, liar, provider, never a daddy’s girl, “the shit,” idiot, useless daughter, Jehovah’s Witness, scrapper, welder, bartender, and perhaps most crippling at times - beautiful impostor.
Veronica’s mother colluded to highjack her daughter’s sense of her true self during her formative teenage years, exposing her to every kind of risk. She undermined her education, her neighborhood security and belonging, and eventually her relationship with her children.
Veronica begged God, county jail staff, and even judges to limit her, parent her, be her life preserver in the deep end.
Where did she eventually, finally find security and genuine belonging? With her son, the man with no functioning arms who has kept her from falling. Although he cannot hug his mother, his words do, “Remember… when it all just falls into place, that’s God.”
At the time of this writing Veronica has a good job – but not as a “provider” or an under-water welder.