- Friends & Family
submitted by: Jaime McDonald
I believe every neighborhood in every big city has a notorious crack house. In the neighborhood I grew up in, that crack house was my home. It was a two-story house with a concrete yard wide enough for a kiddie pool and surrounded by a chain-link fence. On the top floor lived my grandma and abuelo (grandfather). It was peaceful. They prayed to Jesus. On the bottom floor lived my mother. It was chaotic. She practiced Santeria, talked to the devil, and smoked crack. My father moved out when I was three years old and was not aware of my mother’s new addictions and the living conditions she now settled for. He agreed to let my grandparents raise me upstairs along with my siblings from my mother’s first marriage. He would pick me up on the weekends, and everything seemed swell.
During the week I would wait to hear my grandparents snore, and I would roll out of bed like a sly little five-year-old fox. I would creep downstairs to the party. How could I sleep when I could feel the bass of the music in my bed? Downstairs everyone was laughing, dancing, hooting and hollering. It was a good time. It was the late ’80s, and the tables were all mirrored. There were even square, plated mirrors along all the walls. There were white lines of cocaine along the tables, beer bottles everywhere and the smell of hairspray in the smoky, dense air.
By the ’90s the music that used to wake me up had become the sounds of screaming and violence. Police officers were knocking at the door at 2 or 3 in the morning. When I’d go downstairs now, it was like a circus freak show. The people were not glamorous anymore. They were smelly and deranged looking. There were roosters in the freezer with their heads cut off. There were people chanting. The only thing in the refrigerator was baking soda. The only thing cooking on the stove was crack. Instead of the smell of hairspray, there was a strong smell of burning plastic. There was trash and random stray animals everywhere. Prostitutes were working in various bedrooms. Drug dealers set up in the living room. My home had been taken hostage by terrorists. No one dared tell my dad what had become of our home. He was left in the dark. As long as I kept my grades up, he could be left in the dark.
At twelve years old, after years of fighting my mother and her scandalous ways, I joined her. In a basement with three boys and a girl from school, I experienced my first drunk. I blacked out and woke up in the hospital. I was bleeding from my head, my neck and below the waist. I had no recollection of what happened, but the marks all over my body could tell the story. I remember flashes of images and sounds like my girlfriend banging on a door and screaming at me to let her in. I knew the consequences, but all I could think of was the way the alcohol had made me go numb, and all I wanted to do was drink again. Over the next several years, I also started snorting or smoking cocaine on a regular basis. My grades failed, and my father became aware of my new condition. He put me in an all-girls Catholic school. I was expelled within two months. He put me in a prestigious boarding school. I was expelled within two years. He put me in a mental institute, detox, and therapy. Nothing worked. He could not fix me. For his sanity when I was sixteen years old, we had to part ways. The one person who exhausted himself trying to save my life could no longer be a part of it.
Within six months of saying goodbye to my father, my addictions to drugs, alcohol and crime had their way with me. I was involved in a heinous crime which left me locked up away from society for the next four years of my life. It was a tragedy. Later in my life, I would learn that for me it was also a miracle. This time was necessary, not only as a consequence but as a life saver. I needed to be caged, because at the age of seventeen I had turned into a wild animal. Evil had become me. With the help of one of my brothers and through bullet-proof visiting glass, I surrendered my life to the only one I believed could save me, Jesus Christ. Over the next four years, I was introduced to 12-step programs. A woman who became my sponsor took me through the twelve steps within my first year. I shared my experience, strength and hope with whomever was willing to hear. I attended Bible studies, therapy and group meetings on a weekly basis.
I learned how to share. I learned how to make a request without manipulating the situation or being passive aggressive. I learned how to be assertive and not aggressive. I learned how to stand up for myself without standing on someone else’s toes. I learned how to trust. My behaviors had been modified, my faith solidified and my heart renewed. When I was released back into society, my father invited me back into his home. Three months after my release, my mother was found asphyxiated, face down on her carpet and surrounded by over fifty prescription pill bottles. I enrolled in school full time, became a quality employee, attended 12-step meetings, became a sponsor, became a daughter, became a teammate, became a friend. Eventually I was afforded the honor of becoming a wife and a mother. I graduated college with a degree in legal studies. I obtained my real estate license. I graduated university with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a concentration in philosophy and political science. I love school so much that I just recently applied to a graduate program in social work.
My gift to help others is undeniable. I participate in a road race each year in memory of a dear friend who passed from a heroin overdose in 2008. I also participate in local events. I list these accomplishments not to gloat, but because, at seventeen years old, I could not get out of bed before three in the afternoon, never mind attend school. I had become a shell of a human being motivated by addiction and gang mentality. Over the past 15 years, I have gone from desensitized to compassionate and empathetic. Every day when I wake up, I am grateful to God and inspired to contribute the best I can offer to my family and to this world. Is every day perfect? Heck no! I totally live life on life’s terms and keep it super simple, one day at a time. One of my best friends bumped into an old friend of my mother’s last year. When they realized they knew the same JoJo, the woman looked at my friend with tears in her eyes and said, “I cannot believe she is still alive. And doing so well! I’ve never seen a little girl grow up in worse conditions than her. She is literally a miracle.”