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 fell into the world of drug life which got me incarcerated. I took the wrap for another person and did 5 years in jail. During the last year of incarceration I found out that I had breast cancer. Being that I'm sick some days I don't feel like doing anything, some days it's hard. I'm a very creative person and when all is said and done I want to open up my own art and crafts store with my name on it. I love the sisters at Providence House, just by listening to them gave me hope.
At 7 I was separated from my mom, that's when all my problems began. I had my daughter when I was 20 years old, my whole life was my daughter. I was clinically depressed after loosing my job, there wasn't any money, my husband was selling PCP (Phencyclidine or angel dust). Instead of searching for help he let me take PCP and one day after I smoked it, two people got hurt, one fatally. The doctors called it a psychotic episode, I woke up hand cuffed to a hospital bed, at the foot of the bed was a newspaper with me on the front cover. That's how I learned what happened. I was incarcerated for 13 years. I fell in love with Providence House from the first day I arrived. When I get a better job I'm going to move out but I'll always come back and sit on the porch and help with the garden.
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.
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 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 got to Providence House with my mom, it was full of children and it was exciting to me, I was young and i never realized anything was wrong. My mom hid everything that was going on and I appreciate that now. Kids don't need to know everything
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.
Providence house serves to transition women who are homeless and recently released from incarceration back into society. The organization is not institutional but run by the religious Sisters who founded and still perform many of the essential duties within the houses around New York.
The women at these houses are in an exceptionally volatile moment of their lives, most having just left prison, some having served long sentences, others victims of domestic violence and homelessness. This is a temporary safe haven for the women here, in that short time they are guided to find the means to overcome their fragile state of being acquiring the tools to face the hostile and uncertain future beyond the boundaries of the house.
The stories they told of their pasts were often harrowing and upsetting but their hope for a better future was a common thread.