I grew up in Brooklyn but I lived in New Jersey for most of my adulthood. I have three younger brothers and an older sister. In the year 2000 at 15 years of age I lost both my parents, that was my first rude awakening to what life can have in store for you.
My parents were originally from Haiti and Spring Valley, where we lived, had a big Haitian community and the area was definitely above our living standards but my parents struggled in order to put us through good public schools.
When my parents died we all suddenly had to grow up a lot faster than we expected or knew how to. When my sister got pregnant with her first child she also became guardian to us younger siblings. It made sense to me, if mum was gone then sister had to replace that role but I didn’t realize the sacrifice she and her husband went through with me and my brothers to keep a roof over our heads and maintain a similar lifestyle.
When I graduated at 18 I was ready to move out of my sister’s home, I wanted freedom and the only way to do that was to move into my own place. I got my degree and moved into my first apartment with my two brothers and only then did I learn what my sister had been experiencing. I was constantly picking up after them, doing groceries, cleaning up for them and their friends, doing all these things I didn’t realize were an issue until it was an issue in my household.
I wasn’t ready to have kids at the time, I was only 18 or 19 but I felt like I had children.
I was working in retail as one of the youngest managers at Walgreens at that time, I was there for seven years approximately then I went to Macy’s shipping management. I’ve always been a leader, I’m good at delivering a message without damaging people and I’ve got excellent communication skills which helps in retail management.
At 28 I was engaged and pregnant for the first time, my fiancé got me and another woman pregnant simultaneously, the other woman with twins and I was expecting a baby girl. We were trying to make it work as I was forgiving and understanding, I was determined to see it through with my first fiancé. My daughter was born prematurely at six months but when I gave birth I was told that she wasn’t going to live. It was my first labor and my daughter died a few minutes later. That experience did it for me, I’d always been a hard worker and accepted life for what it was, I did everything I was told to do but losing my daughter in front of my own eyes took a huge toll on me. It was a small community, everybody knew each other and I just couldn’t handle it, everyone had been so excited for my baby.
I was so devastated that I stopped going to work, I stopped making money, stopped paying my rent, I left my fiancé, I lost my car and I sat there and watched everything crumble to pieces. It wasn’t the best decision I ever made but I didn’t have a need or care to keep going. I was so low in life that I allowed everything to just fall through my hands.
I was 32 when I got pregnant again with my son Bryce, I’d been with his father for two years and it was hard because neither of us had steady jobs.
When I gave birth to my son the hospital drug tested my urine and found marijuana in my system which opens up a whole case for child protective services. I don’t even consider marijuana a drug, it’s one of the few things my religion actually allows me to consume. However, they wouldn’t let me leave the hospital with my son before dealing with me, the system becomes very intrusive and generally unfriendly. From day one they were telling me what I could and couldn’t do but after losing my first child I wasn’t going to let anybody stop me from leaving with my baby.
These organizations then visit again and again and they call, they make you lift up your child’s clothes demonstrate that you aren’t harming the child. There was a situation with a caseworker who was being very hostile at my home, one thing led to another and the caseworker (ACS) called for police assistance, the police also became very aggressive, they lied about why they needed to bombard my home. I had clearly told them that they could not come into my house, I was putting to practice the law that I’d studied but the police still arrested me and charged me with obstruction of justice, endangering the welfare of my own child and two or three other bogus charges just to get me out of there. We did all the things you are told to do, like taking videos but they still broke down the door entering with guns and went for my son. Luckily my brother who was in the house got everything on Facebook live and that’s what saved us.
Emergency removed my son for 24 hours, it was the worst experience of my life, they took him into a foster home while my brother and I were in a cell. We went to court and the case was finally dismissed after 4 or 5 months. I consider myself lucky as I know of mothers who have their children taken away from them for much longer periods.
Navigating the Shelter system can be complicated, Providence House was the first shelter I have stayed at for a prolonged period of time. I love women and consider myself as woman empowering but living with so many can be tough, I would never sign up naturally to living with so many in one facility.
It’s difficult bringing up a child alone though I have gotten used to travelling around with him in a stroller. The old values of women and children first don’t seem to exist anymore, people don’t give up their seats on public transport.
I want to get an apartment for us so we can have our own space, I want to invest in food trucks here in the city serving basic dishes that I learnt through my family’s culture.
One thing I have understood from living in shelters is that one of the best things you can do is to keep your peace, keep order and learn law, these facilities deal with a lot of legal matters and they involve the people in it. I’d never been more into law until I reached the shelter, you need to be informed correctly, not just listening to what people tell you. My head has been in books for a very long time and I intend to teach my son that too, it’s a quality I’d never thought of before, you really have to know where you stand and how to stand up.
I’ve never looked at myself differently from when I was an accomplished woman but one thing is for sure, if I did it once, I can do it again.
I was born in Manhattan and lived most of my life on 93rd St but for the last five years I’ve been living with my mom on 92nd. My dad cheated on my mom and left home when I was in 5th grade, it was tragic and it changed my life. He went to live with a rich woman in Knickerbocker, just a couple of blocks away from the projects where we lived. I missed my father but mom told me to prove that I didn’t need him in my life.
I was heart-broken at the family court when he lied before the judge saying that he could only give us $50 a month, I remember screaming out while my dad just stood there.
In that period the flute became my escape, I would always take it to church with me to play.
Soon enough I got used to people coming in and out of my life lying to me. I became very depressed and started getting mentally ill, I was put on medication but nobody ever explained my bipolar disorder, I just knew that I had a medical imbalance.
At 18 I suffered my first manic episode which put me in hospital for three weeks just before graduation, I still managed to graduate but after two years in college I had another manic episode, this time I also heard voices in my head, that day they revealed to me I was bipolar. Due to my hospitalization and various medical treatments at 22 I was unable to work anymore.
When my grandmother died of Alzheimer’s I became suicidal. I had a plan and I told my aunt that the next time she’d see me was in a coffin, fearing I would actually go through with it she told my mother who took me straight to a therapist. I told him how I planned to go home after my grandmother’s funeral, slit my wrists and go to die in my mother’s arms. At that point my mother started to cry.
In February 2019 I was arrested.
I had been living with my boyfriend who was in the same building as us. He was addicted to weed and vodka but I didn’t do any of that. He was also bipolar and suicidal.
After a few months he started beating me, the first time I went to my mom who told me to talk to the pastor who said that I should get an order of protection against him. I followed the advice but at the precinct I just got laughed at, they couldn’t understand why I wanted a restriction order after just one episode.
I went back to my boyfriend because I cared about him and his two dogs but he continued to beat me.
One evening in February he had me smoke weed which may have been K2 considering how things degenerated, he began recording our whole conversation on his phone and at one point he asked me to kill him stating that he wasn’t able to do it alone, I refused but he said that if I didn’t, he would kill me. I guess because I was high and I didn’t want to die I agreed.
With a knife to my throat he stopped recording and said “how are you going to do this? I want you to stab me in my throat”. There was no way I could do that, in my mind I was rapidly thinking of ideas to act without really killing him and I blurted “I’m not going to stab you in your throat, I’m going to stab you in the heart”. I thought maybe if I injured him just a little bit he would survive.
To reach the heart I would need a sharper knife he exclaimed and went to the kitchen to fetch one, he handed it to me and laid down on the bed with his little dog by his side.
I held it in my right hand and as I stood over him I started to pray, “God I am in this situation, I don’t want to do this, I don’t know what to do but if there is a way for me to get out of this situation, help me, just help me”.
When I looked down he was gazing at me with watery eyes, I stabbed him but the knife entered just a little, maybe an inch or less and as I raised the knife to stab him again he started fighting back shouting “what are you doing to me”? I froze mumbling “what do you mean what am I doing? I’m doing what you asked me to do, I’m killing you”. His was an act to put me to the test and I had failed.
“Are you going to kill Me now?” I said, but to my surprise he just told me that it was the middle of the night and that it was best we went to sleep. “you need a hospital” I cried “I just stabbed you in the heart.” “Yeah” he replied “I kind of feel like I should go to the hospital since you cracked the bone over my heart”… It seemed like I could see his heart beating but he was only bleeding a little which surprised me. I would have called 911 but he made me put the knife away and insisted on going to sleep, he seemed ok.
I felt terrible and as we lay down I prayed to God “please don’t let him bleed to death.”
The next day he woke up as if nothing had happened, he wasn’t even bleeding anymore but just felt a little achy and asked me to take some pictures of him.
A week went by until we got into an argument and he punched me in the face, my nose started bleeding and while I was in the bathroom dabbing my wounds he fell asleep. I’d had enough and went to Mount Sinai hospital.
It was night time when I got back to the building where I found police officers who seemed to have just arrived. Remembering me from all the past times I’d called them, we greeted and they asked me how I was. My boyfriend had called them and they were on the way up to talk to him. I went up to my mom’s apartment but after a short while I heard the police thumping at the door ordering me to open up, I was under arrest.
I had to sign a protection order to stay away from my boyfriend for at least six months and even though he decided not to file further charges against me I was held at Riker’s Island prison for six weeks and two days, it was terrible.
I should have stayed away the first time he slapped me, all of this wouldn’t have happened and I would have saved myself from the continuous abuse.
Providence House is a good place for me to get a hold of myself again. I’ve been here for eight months and the therapy sessions have been very helpful, they let me cry my tears so it gets a little bit easier every day.
I would love to be back with my mom but that’s impossible right now, I need to find myself an apartment and once settled I’d like to help other people in some shape or form.
If I can save enough money I want to buy back the flute I sold. It was Celestial, just beautiful.
I was born in Manhattan up in Washington Heights, I’m 27 years old and I have a three-year-old daughter named Riley, she is my light.
I am the oldest sibling on both my mother’s side and my father’s, we are a big family even though we are all separated and scattered around.
My mum had me when she was 18 but during her last months of high school I got really sick so she had to choose between School and her daughter, I do applaud her for choosing me.
My little brother was born when I was nine years old. My mom was single and often out at work but my grandmother and my aunt were close by to help raise us, despite this I took on responsibilities of an adult. I was the oldest child picking up the slack around the house, looking after my brother, cooking and cleaning, house keys and cellphone in my pocket.
I barely had a childhood and only just made it out of high school.
My mom was never there to speak about the world, she never sat down and talked to me about womanhood, I learnt everything on my own.
My biological father was completely absent, he was always in prison for drugs or domestic violence on my mother and my brother’s mother. He was a really bad woman beater back then and those two ladies got it the hardest of all.
I have 5 siblings all from different moms, he’s a lady’s man alright.
I have opened up to my dad but you can only change a person if they want to be changed.
I wasn’t the easiest teenager to be around, I was known to have a bad attitude, sarcastic, and rowdy, it got me in trouble plenty of times and around the ages of 17 to 20 I went off the tracks. I fell out with my mom after a physical fight where she got me arrested, I was taken down to the precinct and locked up for 48 scary hours before seeing a judge. I was a minor in a cell with prostitutes and other girls, I didn’t get much sleep that night.
The judge gave my mother an order of protection against me, incomprehensible considering we were living in the same house and it put a big strain on our relationship.
I’ve never spoken to my mother about the jail experience, there are a lot of things my family doesn’t know about me except for my aunt who I confide in.
My childhood friend was murdered by her boyfriend the day I went to prom, she was found a week later in a closet right down the hallway from where his mom lived.
My brother Georgie was murdered just a couple of months ago, he was celebrating a birthday with his friends and a whole bunch of people came shooting and he was hit. One shot to the head and he was gone. I come from a neighborhood where your guard has to be constantly up,
it’s difficult not to end up in trouble. Once I was going to a party in the Bronx and a whole bunch of gangbangers came along, the next thing I know all my friends are running and I have a gun towards my face with five or six guys surrounding me. They probably let me go because I was female and all because my friend was wearing red in the Bronx. I’ve never told that story to anyone, not even my aunt.
Riley’s father moved in with me and my family in 2014 but when I found out that I was pregnant things got bad. When I finally broke the news we got into a huge fight and I kicked him out of the house, I remember it was 15 degrees outside and him chasing me around in his boxers. I was willing to be a single mom if he didn’t want to be there.
The next day he said that he wanted to be a father, in July 2015 we got an apartment together but when I was 8 months pregnant he beat me up. We woke up arguing and we just started fighting, he dragged me across the room naked and bruised me up badly.
The cops came and he got locked up. I was alone in the apartment from that day until I gave birth and he was let out the day Riley came back home.
Soon I was going back and forth to court because we were getting evicted, he hadn’t paid the rent for 4 months but he did buy a new car. The last fight we had was really bad, the house got torn up and needless to say we were evicted.
We separated and I ended up in a shelter with Riley on 104th street. I felt lonely, afraid and I cried every night. I wasn’t used to that reality and nor was my daughter, she understood that it wasn’t where we were supposed to be.
Eventually I went to PATH and they sent me to Providence House. It’s very different here, it feels much more like home, my mom even came to visit.
My 3-year-old daughter still sleeps on top of me, we are very close and I know that our relationship is going to be different from mine and my mom’s and her mom. I always tell Riley that she’s beautiful, phenomenal and strong, I make sure she knows that.
I have a boyfriend now, he’s a cool guy, funny and very humble, I’m starting to like Brooklyn too and I’m learning to get around.
Hopefully soon I’ll have a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in childhood education and I really want to find a home for me and Riley to live.
Everyone calls me Jenny, it’s short for Janizza which is my middle name. I’m from the Dominican Republic but I grew up in The Gran Cayman. I’ve had a green card since 1999 through my mom but she lost hers when I was seven due to a mistake she made that landed her in jail. During that time I stayed with my grandmother in Puerto Rico while my sister went with her dad. Mom was supposed to do 10 years but she got three years with good conduct and was deported back to the Dominican Republic.
I came to the US again in 2013 to go to nursing school staying with my aunt in the Bronx. I also started a job as a home attendant but then I fell into depression deciding to quit the job and drop out of school too.
When I got married to my daughter’s dad, we were very young. Soon he started getting out of control, losing respect, abusing me verbally and mentally. The arguments became a daily thing where he’d accuse me of not wanting to do anything, of being lazy and constantly telling me to get out saying that he paid for everything. When we argued the whole neighborhood could hear us but they never did anything, I was praying for someone to call the cops because I didn’t have the courage. We began hurting each other and when it got physical I decided to leave him, I didn’t want that environment for my daughter.
He started harassing me and threatening to call the police, he said that I’d kidnapped the baby so I was scared to go back home. I couldn’t stay with my cousin and I had nowhere to go so I went to PATH and from there I ended up at Providence House. My husband used to call here asking for me but they refused to give any information. He now lives in Connecticut and I guess it taught him a lesson because he’s become a better man and I take our daughter to visit so that they can be together.
I’m glad I didn’t go to a shelter because I’ve heard many bad stories and I would be scared. It’s not ideal here, I’ve had a few issues, I even had a fight.
The staff are very helpful in directing you but you have to help yourself and understand that things don’t always go the way you want them to. When I first got to Providence House I found a job at the Medicare customer service but then my daughter got sick and day care wouldn’t look after her so I had to leave the job. I’m pregnant again now and for me it is a blessing but when I have the baby I’ll have to leave to be transferred to another shelter because this facility only allows for women with one child. It’s difficult for me trying to make it on my own without any family support nearby. What I will say to all the moms out there in this situation is that you have to be strong and have courage, keep going for the kids’sake because at the end of the day everything we do will affect them in a good or bad way.
I was born in Staten island New York, I have an older sister and a brother with autism. Growing up it was difficult to speak to my parents about anything that wasn’t happy or positive. My father was a raging functioning alcoholic who also abused drugs, an Irish Catholic so what happens in the home stays in the home, it’s not spoken about you don’t tell anyone. Therapy is not allowed, you don’t tell the priest, you don’t tell your girlfriend you don’t tell the bartender. I had to be happy and say thank you so much for the brand-new bedroom set because you set my room on fire. I was trained to pretend everything was great.
One day my dad came downstairs covered in black powder, I must have been six or seven standing there in my night gown, he said “my hands hurt Chelsea, my hands hurt” “I’m hungry” I replied and asked him what the stuff was all over his hands. They were burnt to a crisp like he had put them in the flames so I put Neosporin on his hands, cleaned and wrapped them. Turns out he was smoking crack so much that he burnt his fingers.
At the same time he was my biggest fan, occasionally he was wonderful and supportive, obviously making up for something but he was so great that I couldn’t hate him. But soon he started hurting mother, he hurt my sister and he hurt me a lot in every possible way and he loved it, he just loved it.
I would try to be asleep by the time he stumbled home or spend the night out, by the age of 18 I lost count of how many times I’d run away from home.
I was 22 when my mom and dad got divorced after I demanded she go upstairs and tell him to leave because he was loaded, he was so loaded that he thought we were trying to kill him and so he tried to kill us.
They got divorced because I made her throw him out, that started her journey to freedom but started my journey to homelessness. I was getting into trouble, drinking and driving which cost me 10 grand, my college fund and I did 60 days in Rykers for DUI.
When I got out of Rykers I got a ride from a boy I was dating and I went back to my childhood bedroom and there I basically turned into my dad so one day my mom threw a red duffel bag at me and told me to get out, she said and I wasn’t contributing because I didn’t have a job.
Being homeless meant I had to steal to survive so I have a lot of shoplifting charges too.
The last shelter I was in was more geared towards domestic violence so there was no radio, newspaper, mail, calls were monitored, you couldn’t step outside, that lasted three days after which I left. A woman there had given me an application for Providence House so I applied
and was accepted into the program and it changed my life. It was so much nicer than people are used to, it’s beautiful, it’s spacious and it’s clean.
I love sister Pat, she is weirdly filthy, she is realistic and awesome. Back in the day she worked with AIDS patients when no one would touch people with AIDS.
Sister Pat understands humanity and she’s bad, I love her and I love this place.
I want to do things that come easy to other people, I am managing to keep my job now because Providence House taught me not to act impulsively, they taught me that I am worthy, I’m allowed to be happy and I’m allowed to be proud of a small accomplishment like waking up and going to work. They taught me that it is ok to have a bad day but it’s not ok to let that day turn into a year.
I wouldn’t be thriving and where I am without the people at Providence House and I’d like to say that without crying or snorting.
After the one year program I was discharged and they found permanent housing for me, it wasn’t the best, welfare was paying for it but it was mine. After a year a studio opened up, I had 24 hours to pack and go, in the homeless community that is the lotto, it’s the mega-million to get your own studio.
I talk to my mom now, she is proud of me. She told me that she never thought I’d keep a job for more than a week without breaking someone’s face. I’m like “thanks mom, Love you too”!
I just turned 21 and I have a three-year-old daughter who is very sassy and never stops singing.
I was born and raised in Brooklyn but from the moment I reached middle-school I started following the wrong crowd. I was fighting a lot and getting in trouble and though my mom made me change four different middle schools I just kept mixing with the wrong people.
My mom wanted me to have a different learning experience so she sent me to School in the Caribbean for two years, that helped me a little bit. When I came back I went to high school where I met a boy, we were inseparable and almost 2 years later we had a daughter. He was happy when I got pregnant, we were very young so we didn’t think it was a bad idea at all.
At the beginning he was around for our child and he was so excited, but then he started getting locked up, in and out of jail. I wanted him to be there, to be a dad but suddenly his friends were more important than his family and we were left to live alone. I felt like he’d abandoned us and I had to choose whether to chase after him or stand up and be a mother…I chose to be a mother.
Having a baby made me grow up, your child needs you and I was always there for her, I put her before everything and everyone else.
I’m the type of person that doesn’t keep things inside, I just brush things off and move on, I feel like I’m too young to be stressed so I’m usually happy and I don’t let things get to me.
The last time my daughter’s father was jailed for robbery, I went to see him three times with our daughter but he kept asking me what I was doing there. It was a real blow because I had always been supportive in every moment, even when he went to court, nobody else was there except for me. I felt betrayed so I just stopped going to visit.
He used to call me but I got to a point where I’d had enough and I blocked his number, packed my things and went back to live with my mom.
Me and my dad soon had an altercation, we weren’t getting along with each other so it was time to move out.
It was then I started to go through the whole system and a friend who was in a shelter showed me what to do, I filled out all the applications and I was accepted.
I’ve been at Providence House for six months now, when I first got here I was a little scared, I didn’t know what to expect. In the movies on TV the shelters are always a bad place but it’s not at all like that here, it’s actually really nice. I feel safe, everybody tries to help and gives good advice.
On my 21st birthday sister Mary, who my daughter calls grandma, put up signs all over the house and gave me a card signed by all the women and a Wallet as a present.
At Providence House they set you up to be independent for when it’s time to leave even though you’d love to stay.
I’m working at the moment in a daycare center but I intend going back to school to become a nurse, I want to be a good example for my daughter. Now I have a boyfriend who has two daughters of his own, he knows how the girl thing works and he loves my daughter too, I really appreciate him for that.
I’m from Poland, I’m 21 and I’ve been in the US for 5 years.
I like doing photography and modelling, currently I’m going to school for cosmetology.
My mom was living in NY and I joined her after 3 years, during that time apart I was living with my grandparents back in Poland. When my mom moved from NY to Pennsylvania, I went to live with her for a while along with my son Nicolai and his father but we decided to go back to New York as it was easier to find work. Later I was left on my own without any family except for my son who is now 9 months old.
Before I came to Providence House I was renting a room but I’m going to court at the moment and the court order is that I need to live in a shelter momentarily due to domestic violence from Nicolai’s father. I need to stay here to be protected.
My advice to other girls suffering domestic violence is not to call the cops because you’ll end up in a shelter, just run away to another country, that’s the easiest thing to do.
It’s good here though, I’m allowed out for up to 48 hours, they cook nice meals
and they help you find an apartment. Sure, it’s not the easiest thing living in a shelter but it’s also not the worst. I’d heard a lot of rumors before coming here that turned out not to be true.
I’ve been in the system for 4 or 5 months now, before coming here I was in a domestic violence shelter which was different, I had a whole apartment to myself but they were very strict. I was closely watched and asked lots of questions about where I was going and who was picking me up. I had to meet taxis or people 5 blocks from the shelter, which could be tough in the rain or when I had a lot of stuff to walk home. They controlled me constantly asking questions the whole time even things that were none of their business.
I’m looking for an apartment and I’d like to find a regular job because my son can go to day care now. I’m getting government vouchers to live on which I can use for rent but landlords don’t like to accept them so it might be difficult.
Around this area people try to follow me sometimes, they want to talk and I don’t feel safe on the streets. I’d like to live in Queens where I have a lot of friends who can help me look after the baby sometimes and it would be nice to live in a secure area like Ridgewood, Glendale or middle village.
I try to stay positive and see the good stuff even though I’m in a difficult situation. I’m sure that in a month or two it’s going to get way better when I get my own apartment. Hopefully I’ll save up some money and travel.
My mom is very supportive, she helped me get out of the abusive relationship when she understood the situation and it was necessary for the baby to be protected. In the beginning I hid things from her but then in the end I told her the truth in order for her to help me and give me the advice that I needed.
I had a rough childhood growing up in the Bronx. My parents were both drug addicts, they were there but not mentally so I spent most of the time with my older sister who dropped out of school to raise me. I was a selective mute choosing not to speak until I was five or six.
I didn’t like the atmosphere around me and I sensed things weren’t right. This made me a very lonely child and at 10 years of age it dawned on me that I had to fend for myself so at that very early age I found a job packing bags.
I was never incarcerated but I had a lot of close calls and it was a pretty big scare that finally stopped me from doing bad things. I still remember the day I was selling drugs at the park and something told me to leave, moments later the cops stormed in and arrested everyone in the park and I had just gotten away in time. I had so many drugs on me that day that I would have been put away for the rest of my life. It was a wake-up call but I was 19 and I was still in self-destructive mode so nothing meant anything to me.
I did stop selling drugs but I was fighting the whole time, that was just part of being a gang member and it was only when I got pregnant with my son that I decided to put a stop to that way of life and I went to a pregnancy shelter. They skipped me all over the place until I got section 8 and was able to live in my own apartment for a while.
I adopted my middle child after I was dating her father but he became abusive so I ran to a domestic violence shelter and stayed there for a long while.
When he found out that I was pregnant with my current husband he was furious and managed to find me but they ended up arresting him. It was then that Providence house took me in.
I’m not where I used to be, I’m not where I want to be but I’m better than where I was. I came here with nothing and now I have everything.
I was an only child with a very loving mother, but at 7 years old I was separated from her when she was taken into a Psychiatric Hospital, that’s when all my problems began.
I was placed into an unprotected environment at my grandmother’s house where I couldn’t talk to anyone so I wrote a lot, I wrote everything down and school became my refuge. In that house I was molested and abused but I couldn’t tell my mother these things because she was trying to get better and it would have destroyed her.
I was so happy when my mom was released from the Psychiatric Ward and got an apartment in the Bronx. She really tried but it only lasted a few months until she couldn’t take care of me anymore so I had to take care of myself. She would just stare out of the window until one day I just had to call my grandmother.
I was very good at school, I earned a diploma and went to college but as I grew older I used to fall into very deep depressions, as I had nobody to talk to I learnt how to come out of them by myself.
I had my daughter at 20 years old, she was my whole life so I tried to treat her like my mother had with me but then things started to fall apart and I couldn’t take care of myself. My daughter’s father was the flashy guy on the block doing drugs. We were together for 12 years but he didn’t want to change, he wasn’t interested in a career and he didn’t care about me or my daughter.
In 2002 I was laid off of work and then there wasn’t any money. My husband was selling PCP (Angel Dust), which he would keep in the fridge.
I was clinically depressed and on top of that instead of searching for help my husband let me take PCP which magnifies your state of being, so if you’re depressed you just go down. One day I smoked it and 2 people got hurt, one fatally. It was a shock to everyone, the doctors called it a psychotic episode, I never knew what happened.
I woke up hand cuffed to a hospital bed wearing a gown with blood stains on it, I looked around and the only thing I could think of was that I’d had a fight with my husband. I couldn’t remember anything and then at the foot of the bed I saw a copy of the Daily News, the front cover had a picture of me on it, that’s how I found out what happened. I remember going numb seeing that really big picture with the title “Mom high on PCP kills her daughter and almost kills best friend”. I saw the picture of me and my daughter on the front cover and I read about a paragraph.
Nobody was a target at the house that day, it could have been anyone, my mother or the mail man. My best friend in the article said that wasn’t me, she was clinging onto her life but saying the most amazing things about me “I love her, something was wrong” speaking so highly even though I’d almost killed her. Nobody in the neighborhood had a bad word to say about me either, they all knew that I loved my daughter. That person wasn’t me.
I was in a Prison Hospital Psychiatric Ward on suicide watch for the longest time. I didn’t want to live, I couldn’t without my daughter. At first I blamed everyone else but then I took responsibility for the choices I had made and that’s when the healing started to take place. I went to Elmhurst Hospital, I had been stigmatized as the baby killer but nobody mentioned that there.
When I just wanted to give up there were so many hands reaching out. I was loved back to life. I couldn’t even eat and there were officers who would spoon feed me, while I was trying to starve myself to death they would sing to me. I always compare myself to a flower that was completely dead but all that love gave me hope. It was amazing to me, I’d be in bed and feel somebody rub my hand and put a cover on me and I’d think “God why?” Even when I got to Riker’s Island Prison my officer would come and read to me. It was those little things, I don’t want to turn this into a spiritual thing but God was saying I love you and I grabbed onto the hand.
I was incarcerated for 13 years.
I heard about Providence House a couple of months before my release. I remember my first thought walking through the door was “this is a home”. Everyone was so welcoming and I fell in love with the place from the first day.
It was beautiful, I got so close to the Sisters, they’re so attentive. I know I have to leave when I get a better job, though I never want to. I’ll always come back and sit on the porch and help with the garden.
My name is Beverly Jackson, I grew up in Australia, Queens. When I was young I was active but very shy. I was on the gymnastics and track team at High School, I was also a cheer leader.
I was one of nine children and the only one to graduate followed by two years in college.
Life takes a toll on you though and as you get older you tend to do things differently and I fell into the world of drug life which got me incarcerated. I took the rap for another person and I did five years in jail.
In December 2013 during the last year of incarceration I found out that I had breast cancer, I didn’t want to accept it at first but I had to. I was allowed out to the hospitals and I knew that I wanted to live so I had to take all the precautions.
In the process I lost all my hair and my nails but it never got my spirit down, I kept smiling. I went to chemotherapy on my own then I had major surgery done, now I have to go through radiation, I think it’s really bothering me because I haven’t slept in five days and I’ve been very sick. Some days I don’t feel like doing anything, some days it’s hard.
I have to remember that I’ve got God on my side, I know that I can do this. I’ve got just one more step to go and that’s the radiation. I just don’t want to be sick again, I don’t want to feel any pain but I’m going to be fine, I’m a fighter and I can do this, then you can come back and check on me to make sure. I wasn’t scared in prison, I knew I was going to find myself and find God.
I joined the choir and made posters for the church, I was singing and praising God, that was my main priority.
When I came out I looked for a church to sing at, I’ve found one and I’m going to sing for the first time tomorrow, I can’t wait.
I found out about Providence House inside when I was in the work release program, my counselor let me come because it was near the hospitals for all my appointments.
I love the Sisters at Providence House they are like my mentors, they are beautiful. Just by listening to them gave me hope and it gave me the will to live, I can’t get enough of them. They are always there for me with so much energy.
I have a curfew because I’m on parole but I don’t like staying out of the house long anyway, when I go to the store I like to bring the sisters back little treats and I like to create a comradery with the other guests at the house, if I have something to give to help, I will.
My door is always open and I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head. Here I get to shower, I get to eat, I get to lay my head 7 days a week. I am so grateful because I could be somewhere else much worse seeing my situation.
At night I leave my door open until I see Sister Marie go to her room, once I know she’s there I close my door.
I’ve always been a very creative person, I make things with my hands, I’m a cartoonist, I do Birthday cards and I draw on glass, when all is said and done I want to open up my own art and crafts store with my name on it.
My earliest memory is when I was four, my aunt and grandmother came to the shelter where I was living with my mother and two younger siblings, my mom was always running the streets, she was a crack addict. I remember that day they took us away and my mom never came back, so my aunt and grandmother raised us out in the Astoria projects. I had a pretty decent childhood while my grandmother was alive, we didn’t struggle much even though we lived in the projects, but that ended for me when she passed away, I was nearly 14 and that is when I started to run the streets and stuff like that.
When my brother and sister were young and needed things from the store I got into the mentality that I had to provide so I started selling drugs at a young age. I was around 14 when I went away to Juvi*. I had gone to jail for selling heroine to a cop, they had me in the 83rd precinct for so many hours, it wasn’t cozy but you never know what you are capable of until you’re put through it. Things got hard for a young girl just starting to understand things.
I got sentenced to 18 months.
While I was in prison my older cousin, who taught me everything I know about basketball, got himself killed. We were like brother and sister but they wouldn’t allow me to go to the funeral.
When I got out I still sold a lot of drugs and did what I had to do to survive by any means. I did a lot of things in my life but I never went back to jail for a drug charge because I was more aware of my surroundings.
I started finding my life and my sexuality and things like that. My first girlfriend was younger than me, I was 17 and she was 14 so I was like a parent partner. I sold drugs for us to stay in our first apartment, it was like living in a movie and I remember it all like it was yesterday.
In 2013 I wound up getting my first prison bid upstate for arson, that’s where I got a rude awakening. I remember I was up there getting fitted for clothes and I saw a woman whose number on her prison suit was 99 and I thought shit it’s 2013 she’s been here all that time. In the 12 months that I spent on that prison ground I met numerous women who are never coming home, women that are never going to see freedom again. Witnessing that really woke me up.
You are stripped of your freedom everything is about someone telling you what to do, how you do it and when. I have to say that I met a lot of decent women in prison. I did my whole bid with one female who I was actually in a relationship with, we weren’t supposed to be but we were. She was what helped me focus and kept me out of trouble.
I’ve been back in New York for a year now, I have family here and I came because I wanted a baby but unfortunately it didn’t work out, it’s not uncommon for a woman to have a miscarriage the first time.
I went into the shelter on Williams Avenue, it’s not the best place in the world and I got into a situation with a female and wound up getting arrested.
The Bellfront agency and my uncle helped bail me out. Derek an employee from Bellfront came and picked me up in the pouring rain and he brought me to Providence house. I was a little nervous and afraid at first but I remember feeling welcomed. I have a lot of anger issues, I’m not a very sociable person so I don’t always get along with everybody but the people here have been more than patient and supportive of everything I try to do, they have been amazing to me like a family. It sets your soul at a certain pace and gives you a little bit of hope when you are back out there in the world. I talk to Sister Pat a lot, she’s so funny and Sister Mary makes sure I get some coffee, Sherrie the house manager has always fought for me, something I never had before. It was always me out there fighting and struggling, so to have somebody show you they care and want to see you prosper in life, that’s a good feeling.
School is my main focus at the moment, I really want to study to be a vet and I hope my experience empowers other women. There is no going back now, I’ve come too far.
*Juvenile Detention Center
I was born and raised in New York on 103rd Street and 3rd Avenue in Spanish Harlem, it’s known as the projects. I was the oldest sibling and a tomboy, I still am.
My first experience with drugs was when I was about 15 or 16, mom was always working and my dad had left. I was hanging out with friends and I didn’t want to go to school anymore so we had parties at my house and I would make out with other Women, smoke cigarettes and pot, then it escalated. One time I was cleaning my mom’s house and I came across a blue jar with cocaine in it, I didn’t know what it was but I got curious of course and dipped my finger in it. I went crazy abusing that stuff, I couldn’t stop and ended up with a craving. Soon I began stealing for it and selling drugs. Mom was doing it so I thought it was okay at the time, she was having parties every weekend so it was like a normal thing in our house.
I was doing cocaine for about eight years, when you’ve been sniffing for so long it just hurts your nose and doesn’t do anything to you anymore. Then I turned to smoking crack, I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, that very first hit all I heard was bells and I started dancing and singing. Next instead of buying cocaine, I was buying crack and it was purer than cocaine and much cheaper, just two-dollar bottles, all you needed was a glass stem and some kind of wire stuff. It got crazy for a while, I met people I didn’t know, I’d go to their house, smoke, then on to the next house.
I wasn’t working and I started sleeping in hallways, stairwells and on roof tops. My mother and sister soon cut me out and I was lost for a very long time, I became so thin that I looked like a walking skeleton. One day I got tired of just being tired and that’s when I said “I need help.” A friend introduced me to this guy who gave me a phone and some drugs, all I had to do was deliver. I did that for 8 long years, fortunately I didn’t have a record so the first time I got arrested I didn’t go to jail, but it shook me up.
In 2012 though I was set up and did 10 months in jail. I did get support at Rikers, my mom and sister would visit and I survived by just being quiet staying out of trouble, it wasn’t easy. I only had one friend in prison, this smart girl who was my bunky, she was in for selling drugs too. She was attracted to me even though she’d never been with a woman before and we stayed in contact for a short time after.
While I was incarcerated I learnt about Providence House and it sounded so nice. When I got out I went straight to PH5, the sisters were so nice and the food was good. They welcomed me with open arms and were very attentive, at night we would have dinners and talk, it was the happiest moment. Just them being there by my side listening to me, watching me cry confused and angry, pretty much made me a better person.
I started going to school for carpentry, I knew I didn’t want to go back to that misery and now I have my own place with money in my pocket, before I didn’t have shit and it’s just about choices.
I said Lisa what do you want to do, you wanna continue being homeless and miserable?
Now I feel more, I care more.
I was born in Washington DC, I have a brother I grew up with and a sister from my father’s previous marriage.
I was born with a leg length discrepancy due to a degenerative bone disease which led to four or five surgeries and lots of scars. I became very self-conscious and I started having self-esteem issues making my teenage years a very turbulent time in which I began to clash with my mother, in anger she would lash out at me and become emotionally abusive.
That environment spilled over to my relationships like a dysfunction and I became a victim of domestic violence as a result of some of the things that I thought were normal.
At 15 I had my first violent boyfriend, some of my friends knew about it but my mom wasn’t aware and it set the stage for subsequent relationships, forming a defective pattern. My last experience at 34 was the worst of all, purely horrible.
I’m still trying to sort it out in therapy, which I am in the middle of right now, figuring out how I put myself in those kinds of situations and why I stayed in them.
I first started using drugs at 23, it escalated from being a fun pastime to something self-medicating all compounding on top of one another to the point where I got addicted to shoplifting. This gained me some kind of control and self-gratification enabling me to attain material things to give people, seeking love in all the wrong places.
In my last abusive relationship I would get things for him attempting to please and gain some kind of acceptance. My drug addiction didn’t help my risky behavior which got me incarcerated.
The first time in prison was very scary and I didn’t know what to expect, I was so used to getting slapped on the wrist but suddenly I found myself at Rykers Island. It was a shock but not enough to stop me from shoplifting which got me incarcerated at least 20 times for short periods.
Ryker’s wasn’t quite as bad as all the stories you hear but having my freedom taken away and placed in somebody else’s hands was still horrible. My last and most difficult prison sentence was for seven months during which I missed my son’s birthday and my mother was diagnosed with cancer.
In prison you mind your own business, if don’t get involved with drama it stays away from you so I had no issues in that respect and it was a blessing to stay in one housing unit for the whole period. I’m a loner by nature though I did meet some women at Rykers, a few of whom are here at Providence House today.
I have been trying to work on the healing process in the past 5 years but it isn’t easy on a roller coaster ride. The gentleman I was with got arrested for beating me up really badly, he put a knife to my throat and the neighbors called the cops. That gave me time to get my life back together and I was given the opportunity for therapy, I did so well the first two months there that I was recommended for outpatient treatment which brought me to Providence House.
It’s a perfect environment to be in for peace of mind and stability, they are helping me to get permanent housing while providing encouragement and support.
I’ve been clean for six months and it feels great, it feels different this time. Being in this sober supportive setting with great women who are always willing to help me get on my feet is extraordinary.
While I’m here my family in DC is supporting me but it’s time to get over the mistakes I’ve made. I’m not getting any younger, my son is growing up and my mother has a life expectancy. I need to find the confidence in myself to feel worthy.
Some of us don’t make it you know, a lot of women in domestic violence situations or accused of crimes don’t get the blessings that I’ve had and aren’t here to tell their story, if the neighbors hadn’t called the police that time I don’t know if I’d be here today so I am extremely grateful to have been given another opportunity to get it together.
I’ve got a key to my own room now and I feel a sense of love when I walk in the door of this house. The sisters are wonderfully positive, warm and they tell me to keep up the good work.
I would like to pursue a career in IT because I have a telecom background and my long-term goal is to live back with my son again, maybe get married but without the abuse, I’m done with that.
At the age of six when my parents split up I went to live with my grandmother. I had to get responsible and look after my brother. I’d witnessed a lot of things between my parents and when I was young an uncle molested me, I was raped, my father drew a shot gun out on my mom. There was a lot of stuff happening but we were told not to speak about it outside of the house so I had to act as if everything was normal.
At middle school I started to get in some trouble. It was around the same time that my favorite uncle Thomas got killed which was very traumatic for me, he was the one who taught me how to fight and protect myself, he was in the army.
In ninth grade I was dating this guy, I didn’t know he was abusive. One day he tried to leave me for dead. I was in hospital for two weeks my face was messed up and I still have some of those scars.
When I moved to New York city it was so exciting but I was young and naïve. For a while I was in Long Island staying with a rich Russian guy. I was real pretty then with long hair and a nice shape, he had this big house and threw crazy pool parties. I was smoking crack and to pay for it I was stealing and selling myself. The older men would give me 100 bucks for XYZ and I degraded myself.
One day I called my grandmother and said I wanted to come home and I went into long-term rehab. I kept falling back into drugs and rehab because of the traumatic experiences I’d had when I was young.
I’ve been imprisoned for contempt to sell drugs, possession of drugs and prostitution. The first time was for one and a half years it was scary, you had to fight to defend yourself but I survived. The second time was for two years, the third was 3 ½ to 5 for assaults in the second degree. It was domestic stuff the person was abusing me verbally, physically and mentally, one day I got tired of it and lashed out. My last one was 2 to 4 years so I was in and out of my children’s lives.
In jail you have to realize that there are people from all walks of life, it’s hard to trust because lots of people are conniving to get over you.
Just before leaving my last bid in December 2016 I wrote to Providence house asking for an opportunity, I had nowhere to go. The first night I saw how nice everything was and fell in love with the big kitchen, I could come down and cook whenever I liked. I’m grateful to Providence house for opening their doors to me, I smoke cigarettes and curse a little too much but they still pray for me.
I get to visit my family and my four boys who are all doing good and I’m going to school too to get my GED.
I turned to drugs to run away from the pain, the disappointment, the things that were inflicted on me that I didn’t want. Today I know that I don’t have to tolerate anything, I’m getting older and I know that I don’t want to be homeless any more, I don’t want to be selling my body, I want better for myself, I deserve it.
The truth is, I don’t really know where I was born. I had a bouncy childhood too, I lived all over the place, Harlem, Georgia, Bermuda, New Jersey and as long as I can remember I had to defend myself so I’ve never been a child really. When I was in third grade my mom worked the nightshift so my older brother was left in charge but often he would go out.
I dozed off one night on the couch and woke up with stinging eyes finding the whole house was full of smoke (at school they had taught us what to do in case of fire after a girl called Maria had died because she’d hidden under the bed when she saw the flames) I went towards my baby brother thinking I’ve got to get him out, I can’t leave him just like Maria. I jumped over the chairs through the kitchen over the fire into my brother’s room then jumped back across holding on to him. Then I went to the other bedroom to wake up my other brother who has cerebral palsy, I was screaming for him to wake up. I remember just going out and closing the door behind me thinking, now what?
We were scooped up by a neighbor and then the fire trucks arrived, I was seven years old.
I never had problems at school it was my escape from home and I actually despised Christmas holidays and breaks. My teenage years were even rougher than my childhood, I was 12 when we moved back to New York and I was on a risky path. At 14 I ran away, I didn’t want to be my mum’s house slave anymore or a built-in babysitter and I was ready to go, so I left. I was gone for eight days without going to school, I stayed with my mom’s best friend which ended up ruining their relationship. At 16 I moved out for good, it was the best and worst thing I ever did. A year later I was living with the father of my daughter but things got bad and I left to go into a domestic violence center.
When I first got to Providence house I was pissed, I sat on the steps with my baby daughter in the snow because for legal reasons they couldn’t take me in but finally they did.
I’m the kind of person who never gets angry on the outside but inside I could be planning your demise. I’m on guard with every single thing but I don’t want to be this way, I just want to be able to let people in, love and be loved.
Having a daughter has changed me, I’ve been on the crappy end of parenting so I want to make sure she never feels like I did. I want to have a healthy relationship and make sure she never goes through anything I went through with my mum.
Over the years there have been so many things that have been aimed at me sending me rock bottom but I’ve always managed to overcome, things that other people would have committed suicide over.
Now with my husband we are able to co-parent for the good of my daughter. She was born with five cysts on her brain, she’s had surgery four times and suffers from diabetes along with several neurological issues but my daughter is here, she’s strong.
Homeless doesn’t mean dirty, homeless doesn’t mean cracked out. In my instance homeless means domestic violence finally had enough. This is where I am to get on my feet, I’m not ashamed of my situation because all of this is temporary.
At school I was good at writing and that’s what I still do today. I write everything I do, it’s the only way to vent. I have loads of note books full of notes from my life which I use in my songs. I’m not a singer I rap! So when I need some lyrics I go through my notes but I don’t write about my past or problems, I want to give off good vibes in my songs.
I was immediately welcomed and embraced here as a woman going through trials in life. They do their best to make sure you don’t feel down on yourself because of your circumstances. It’s a family-based environment and it feels like home.
I was born in Nigeria. When my mum and dad separated, he left the house so I went and stayed with him and my step mom in Edu, they stopped sending me to school when I was 10 years old to save money.
It was very tough growing up without my mother. My stepmom was not friendly at all, she would tell me to do all the house chores and I did them because I didn’t want her to flog me.
When I was a teenager I used to run away from home because of the maltreatment. I would go to my friend’s house but every time they would bring me back and flog me.
My real mom was in London trying to make money to send us but the money never came. All my sisters were scattered around other families so the love wasn’t there and growing up was Hell.
I started to get sick and for this reason people at school started avoiding me, I was getting asthma and often they would have to rush me to the hospital at night.
I used to see my step mom travel to America with her children but she always left me behind at the airport even though I spent my life looking after my stepsisters.
When I got pregnant with Emma the doctors told me that I risked dying with the pregnancy, my grandmother wanted me to be circumcised again to have the child even though I was already circumcised as a baby, luckily my mom stood up for me and took me away, she told me that in America there were good doctors. I was 27 when she bought me a ticket and told me that my auntie was waiting for me in Texas. Soon after I arrived I called a friend in New York asking for help and she said come. Emma was one month when we arrived but soon this person drove me out of the house.
A lady at the church told me to go to the shelter but I was scared they would send me back to Nigeria but I decided to go. The first shelter I went to was terrible it wasn’t like here, it was hell.
I prayed every day to be independent and have a house of my own. At Providence House I feel like I’m starting a new life, a good life with my daughter and I’d love to go back to school and learn to read to become a nurse.
I’ve got this far and every time I look at my daughter I think that I don’t want her to have the kind of life I’ve had. She gives me strength!
I was born in the Bronx, NY but I was adopted at an early age into a family with three older sisters. From my biological mother there were seven of us and the mom that raised me took me to meet all of my family so even though we were separated I knew where I came from.
Later my biological mother tried to get me back but she lost the case in court and I was able to stay with a good family who raised me with love.
Years later when my sisters moved out I was left alone to look after my mother who was half paralyzed and then I got pregnant. I went through a rough patch doing all the wrong things, I didn’t have that stabilization at home to keep me doing good, I was running the streets mostly.
At 17 I moved out and got my first apartment but there was a fire and it burnt down. My next house was always full of people coming in and out all day lying around playing cards, drinking and smoking. I didn’t think it was wrong at the time but it is one thing I would change from my past, children should grow up in homes with a healthy and peaceful environment.
The hardest thing for me in life was losing my child, I’ve grown to live with it but it’s not easy you just learn how to cope with the pain. With her passing I became an alcoholic, I was hurting myself and everyone who loved me. I drank heavily for 10 years losing everything along the way. I used to sleep in a tent in the park and sometimes I’d wake up in the morning so hung over and wonder what I’d done the day before, that was scary.
One day I found out that I was pregnant and I never touched another drop, something that I thought I could never do. My sister helped me for a while but I was forced to go into a homeless shelter.
When I got transferred to Providence House I was crying hysterically, I was so scared and emotional but the Sisters consoled me. They’ve taught me to be patient and not to get depressed for things that are out of my control, they are so soft-spoken and they don’t have a mean bone in them. Being here has made me appreciate life.
Now I clean wealthy people’s homes, they love me and my boss said he may promote me to be a trainer. I want to go back to school so I can have my own company one day, that’s my goal. I don’t know what I’ll call it but it will be something inviting that shows love and trust.
I’m from Kingston, Jamaica and I’ve been in the States for eight and a half years. I was in a marching band until age 18, my mom was a member of a drum core and I was the signature leader. I always wanted to come to America and the first time I visited was with the marching band.
When I immigrated here I was very sad because I had to leave my one-year-old child in Jamaica but I came to make a better life for myself, my kids and my family.
At the beginning I was staying in Boston but then I came to New York working in a nursing home and also in a hair dresser’s. I was sending my money to Jamaica to take care of my child, my mother, grandfather and my stepfather who was always there for me.
When I stopped working I lost my apartment and had to move into a shelter. That was very hard but life in the shelter is better than out in the streets for sure. The first shelter was in long Island City then I got transferred to Providence House.
The two hardest times for me were when my brother passed away and then my grandmother. I couldn’t go back to Jamaica to attend the funerals because I’m not a resident yet, for the same reason I can’t return to see my son who is 10 years old now, we communicate every day and he gets to see his brother here over the computer.
I’ve been at Providence House for six months, the staff are really great and I get along with the other women too, I like to socialize and try to make the best of it here.
My focus is to get an apartment and make myself a better person for both my kids and myself. I am in school now and I see myself becoming a nurse or a CAN (Certified Nursing Assistant).
I want to stay in America but I have to remember where I come from, I can’t throw a stone behind me.
I stopped feeling like a child early on but you sit with your past and you deal with it for the good, bad and the ugly. There’s a lot of sadness from my past but I’m resilient. My mother was in and out of our lives and then she finally just left, she was into her own needs, people marry too young sometimes and that’s what happens.
I was a shy girl and I got into abusive relationships, I’m a firm believer that an abuser picks his victim he doesn’t want a strong woman but someone he can rule over. The person I was back then was broken and shattered and I allowed someone to make me feel really bad about myself.
I was 42 when I went to prison, I survived for 27 years inside but I’m not bitter about it and I’m very accepting of things because I’m a survivor not a victim. I did time with so many women, I saw them grow mentally and physically becoming the women they were. I loved seeing the comradery between the women, it’s an interesting dynamic that comes in to play with some doing 70 to life with no parole and I thought well if they can do it so can I. They accept the responsibility and build a life for themselves inside, it’s what the public doesn’t see, they see a crime and sensationalism but there are other human components that go along with a woman’s suffering.
Inside I worked for sister Elaine who started Providence house, she was a bright light in there. I finished my GED in Bedford Dunn. I found a way to survive in the community, it’s dysfunctional but even families are dysfunctional. I graduated in ’94 with my BA degree then I decided to get my masters, I learnt how to apply for a grant and got my MA in 2001 but they don’t prepare you for life outside.
Getting out of prison was a wonderful thing, you live for it. I used to be so excited to see women leave, win appeals and clemencies, I knew that one day I would be walking through those gates and I did. While I was walking out, the four ladies who I had done a lot of time with sat there and it was a heartbreaking moment to leave them behind, other women were screaming and when I walked out the front door the officer hugged me. It was like in the movies, one moment you’re behind bars and the next you are out in another dimension, jumping into a car and driving away. I was very excited, humbled and grateful.
My first stop was at Costco and then the Apple Store, I called sister Elaine and the next thing I knew I was driving down to Providence house by the beach in Coney Island.
I still carry my victim with me and I take it very seriously, I’ll be 71 soon and like me I know that everyone has something in their past. You have to look at it, deal with it and move ahead, you have permission to move ahead.
My earliest memory is going to the pool when I was a kid and I loved playing baseball. Growing up in our house was mostly very dull, everything was just days in and out, I used to clean, pick up my siblings from school and nothing exciting ever broke the routine. Look, life happens.
I came to New York when I was 21 and I had my daughter but life in New York changed nothing for me, it was just like living in Savanah Georgia.
We were having problems in the family, you know it’s hard living with somebody... so me and my daughter had to find somewhere else to go. When we came in to Providence House they really helped me. I love this place, they should have more of them for people that are having it rough in life.
I’m from Brooklyn New York. I’m an only child but I had a lot of cousins so it didn’t feel that way growing up. In grandma’s house on summer vacations we’d be 15 in the living room sleeping, especially on the weekends and we loved it.
Being an only child, my mom always kept me under her wing so even today I still feel like a kid, she’s always been very supportive.
My parents had been together since their teens so I think they just outgrew each other and my mom ended up leaving my dad. I was nine years old when I moved out with my mom into a shelter but I never realized anything was wrong, she was good at hiding everything that was going on and I appreciate that now. Kids don’t need to know everything, we should take care of business and let children be children, that’s what makes her such a cool parent. She still hides things from me because she doesn’t want to worry me.
When we arrived at Providence House it was full of children and it was exciting to me, I never had a problem, it felt like home. Eventually we got permanent housing at Providence House in Park Slope. They loved my mother’s spirit and offered her an opportunity to be a permanent resident but later they sold the house and we relocated to the D’Addario residence in Bedstuy. I loved it from the beginning, for the first time I had my own space with my son, it was a great start. I have my own room which is something I have always wanted.
In the future I just want to be the best parent I can be. It’s all about my son, it’s his turn.
My earliest memory was hiding my milk bottle in between the middle section of the couch when they were trying to wean me off it. I was four the last time I saw my older sister and I had to start doing everything by myself and raise my two younger brothers like I was their mom even though I’m only four years older than them. In my head I was always an adult, it never occurred to me that I was a kid.
I was in foster care from the age of 7 until 21, when I aged out I lived with my brothers and biological mother again but she was a schizophrenic with all types of delusions and was in a constant battle. She wanted to win my love but hated me at the same time because I looked like her but I represented everything she wasn’t. She succeeded in kicking us out of the apartment so I went back to my foster mum.
When I was graduating a friend asked me to take a pregnancy test with her, she was scared and I said ok but then hers was negative and mine was positive, when my foster mother found out I was pregnant she didn’t want me back in the house, she had high expectations for me so I had disappointed her and she considered that a failure, in her eyes I had let her down. She told me on a Friday that I had to be out on Monday but I had nowhere to go, the father of my child just disappeared but luckily on the Tuesday my best friend picked me up and I moved in with her for a while.
Later I moved in with other friends but ended up being a full-time babysitter for them, cooking, cleaning like a live-in nanny. When my friend’s boyfriend got out of prison though he wanted me out of the house and boom I was homeless, it was December, I had nowhere to go so I went to social services in the state of New York. For the first two weeks I had a place to sleep but I had to be out in the cold for the rest of the day with my baby daughter, I had no money just a duffle bag of clothes and groceries for my child to eat, she knew nothing except that we were on the bus a lot. At this point I didn’t know what to do, I just gave up and as a last resort I went to ask for help to the people who handled my case in foster care where some heads of the department finally considered my case and within an hour they sent me to Providence House. It was Christmas Eve and on Christmas day my daughter got to open presents.
Providence house is a much better environment than any of the numerous places I’ve been to, it’s actually a house and not an institution, there are no cells and no bars. I’m about to graduate from school again and I’ve found a job.
I was raised by my grandparents in a quiet country setting of Pennsylvania. My grandfather used old sayings like “that red thing in your mouth will get you in trouble, so watch how you speak to people”.
I had my first child at 21 when I was in my prime, I should have been partying but she was a blessing and it made me responsible. 14 years later I had my first son who was born on the same day as my daughter, I remember my water broke just after we’d celebrated her birthday and she ended up taking me to the urgent care.
I got pregnant with my son just a couple of months after meeting his dad and that was the problem, we didn’t have time to learn about each other and I soon found myself in a domestic violence relationship.
He is a Muslim and I converted over to the Muslim faith so I was covered up, before then I was a Baptist, my grandfather was a deacon at the church. I was very depressed just feeling down and sad about myself and I didn’t want anything from life so covering up was not even a problem for me because I felt so ashamed of myself. I did that for four years.
My husband would continuously put me down, he was very possessive and controlling saying “this is my stuff and what I buy is mine”. My breaking point was when he wanted me to sleep on the floor and not in the bed, he continued saying “everything is mine, get a job, I pay for everything”. I was tired of that and one day I started praying to the lord, not to Allah. I prayed every day and he brought me here to Brooklyn with nothing but a bag, a stroller and the two kids.
I finally uncovered and I’m finding myself now, regaining who I am and taking my life back. The strangest thing for me here was riding the subway, I’d only ever travelled in a car out in the mountains.
I’ve always wanted to provide for myself and at last I got hired, it’s a job in the city which I start on Monday. I’m also looking into going back to school, I think I’d like to train to be an ultrasound technician and someday relocate to be near my daughter.
I’m a true New Yorker, born and raised in the Bronx by the Yankees stadium. My mom had six children, three boys and three girls, she raised us by herself because my father was never around. I grew up in a great neighborhood where everybody looked after each other, within a five-block radius we knew everyone.
In tenth grade I dropped out of high school, I wasn’t a good reader and I didn’t really know math that much, I wanted to be a registered nurse but I realized that wasn’t going to happen.
When I was 17 I went to culinary school, that was my best life experience which got me work at a restaurant as a line cook, that’s where I met my ex-husband in 1997. Two years later I got pregnant with my first son.
When I found out that my mum died I just couldn’t cope, it took a big chunk from my heart, we were really close. At that time my husband told me to quit my job, we would get married and move back down to Virginia with the promise that he would take care of me, I had no idea what his real plans were, he basically threw me to the dogs.
People shouldn’t allow anyone to mentally or physically abused them, it is hard for any woman to have to go through that and to pick themselves back up.
I ended up in a shelter and stayed there for 2 ½ years, I was alone and I had to fend for myself, you had to be back at a certain time or someone would take your bed, someone was already stealing my clothes, they probably needed them more than I did. I started smoking to ease my pain.
At one point I punched one of the house staff in the face for holding on to my medication, that’s when they transferred me to another shelter. I didn’t want to be there, I mean who wants to be in line for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
I suffer from seizures, especially if I get upset and sometimes I bite my tongue in my sleep so I go in and out of hospital. My husband used that against me and that’s the reason my son lives with him. He is 18 now, we used to be close but recently he only calls when he needs something, I used to cry over it.
In 2014 I got my first home which is here at Providence House. We have Christmas parties, Thanksgiving dinners, we go on outings to the movies, bowling and if I need anything I go to the case manager, coffee time is a good time to talk.
Physical and mental abuse are both serious issues but I can say that when you are mentally abused you can literally go crazy and instead of being here talking to you today I could have been in hospital. Thankfully I’m living the life that I really want.
At the heart of Bedstuy, Brooklyn, in the late 1970s, four nuns decided to offer up a safe, comforting refuge for mothers who had recently been released from prison to reunite with their children. This became the back-bone of Providence House, an organization of women helping other women and it was this aspect along with the dichotomy that captivated our curiosity. Today, Providence House has locations in several parts of Brooklyn and Queens. The religious sisters and the donors have rapidly increased along with the women that reside permanently or temporarily in the buildings.
For this project we immersed ourselves into the community meeting with 24 women who we photographed and interviewed. All had winding and despairing stories many came from a past of crime or incarceration, victims of homelessness, domestic violence and most often raised without the privilege of a carefree childhood, forced into premature adulthood within an unstable or dangerous environment.
It was a profound but captivating experience from the very start in which we understood the need to tread lightly. We were an alien presence knocking at the door of a protected environment with cameras and questions, we were ourselves apparently intact, unlike the residents who were still in pieces, trying to reconstruct their lives from the ashes.
Spending time with these women we were able to gain their trust and through their dreams of redemption we were led through incredible tales of painful resistance, stories that made it impossible for us to remain emotionally uninvolved, we’d walk away with a sense of bitterness.
From the interviews emerged a common thread, the most part never had a childhood and were burdened with unreasonable responsibility and despite their tender ages believed and accepted their condition as the only possible choice.
Often these young women were raised in harmful environments with drug addicts, violent or simply absent parents in underprivileged housing developments and forgotten neighborhoods.
Each fell victim to a social system that was unable to protect them often consequently falling into the hands of violent men without scruples who left them with just as deep internal scars as those collected externally.
Even though each woman touched the bottom of despair, haunted by swarms of inner demons, few showed signs of resentment, anger or any need to seek out responsible parties. These are women that resisted the blows and continue to shine nonetheless, seeking a glimpse of happiness, aspiring to freedom and independence, ready for the arduous task of taking responsibility for themselves and their children.
The journey they begin at Providence House helps to stabilize and make peace with themselves, forgiving the absence of opportunity and forgiving themselves for the inability to make different life choices, for not having opposed, rebelled and for hating their own lives.
This guidance delivers some justice and the opportunity to restore dignity which was once denied.
REsisters stands for Resistance and Sisterhood.