In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares,
but he who guards his soul stays far from them.
A dingy county jail, with a stack of paper napkins and a rubber ink pen is where I find myself in 2005. It seems like a dead end in life, yet becomes the beginning of my journey to truly living. Strangely, I sit in this cell and begin journaling what I hear, when I chose to listen.
How did I get there?
Looking back down the degrading trail that led to this dismal destination, sadly, I admit this is the path I chose to follow. In 1989, at a mere eighteen years of age, I drop out of high school, have my first child, and then get married. I determine to raise my daughter the right way; yet, what was the right way? Clueless of the responsibilities, I give birth to, my second child, a son in 1991 and another daughter in 1994. Within a five-year period, I acquire the responsibility of raising three children while struggling with a failing, abusive marriage. My absent husband intrudes into our lives periodically — just long enough to break household items, my nose, and my children’s hearts.
Without acknowledging God in any area of my life, there remains only confusion and desperation. A faded memory of church music is the only knowledge I have of Christianity as a child. In the second grade, my family lived in Memphis, Tennessee on Faxon Street. At that time there was a huge church on the corner that woke the neighborhood up every Sunday singing “He’s an on time God.” As an adult, I become convinced God is watching from Heaven, unconcerned and just simply not fixing my situation fast enough. I search for solutions to life’s issues without the guidance of our Savior or any one else.
As a mother, I know we need a better home than the shack that is literally falling down around us. I sign up for Section 8 Housing, a program where the government bases rent on household income. After waiting over two years, they call. I am relieved, finally providing a descent home for my three children. However, I would soon make the personal, deadly decision that turns our descent home into the porthole of my dangerous lifestyle.
At twenty-four years old, six years of trying to follow the world’s rules and standards gets me nowhere. My minimum wage job barely pays the daycare bill for my children. With no bill money left, I see no way to succeed. The heaviness begins consuming me as I feel I am deemed a failure in my children’s eyes and in society. I seek welfare aids in order to put food on the table and hopefully stop them from turning off our electricity.
Poverty becomes an overwhelming hardship, one I am hopeless to bear alone. My children look at me with expecting eyes, and I return their glare with only despair. At the end of my rope, I can for fight for life or accept death. With no strength of my own to fight, the end of my rope soon turns into a noose.
Satan, being aware I am not listening to the voice of the Savior, tightens the grasp of death and I submit to the bondage of sin. It is no coincidence that Satan preys on victims when they are most vulnerable and where they are most available — as in government housing, where crime, drugs, alcoholism, violence, and prostitution are usually rampant. One of the devil’s mottoes is, “Kick ‘em while they’re down!” I feel him definitely kicking me, as I sink deeper in the quicksand of society’s slum.
Escape from Reality: Cocaine
My husband becomes consumed by the wickedness that surrounds us. Our relationship is destructive; however, the attention he shows me (good or bad) I accept as love. When he returns home after being gone for days, I feel jealousy instead of anger. However, I do not grasp why my husband prefers anything or anyone to the love I offer. He explains that it wasn’t another woman he sought, but cocaine. I consider that to be a lie, because surely no man-made substance could take the place of embracing one’s spouse, playing with the children, or waking up to go to work in order to provide for one’s family. After many failed attempts to lure him home, curiosity gets the best of me. One day I ask, “How can a drug be so powerful?” He says, “Here try it.”
He offers me a small “baggy” containing a white powdery substance, known as cocaine. I want to prove him wrong, yet subconsciously hope it will erase the turmoil of my situation. So, I snort this magical potion. Instantly, the burning in my nostrils is replaced with a numbness of all my senses. This is the beginning of my downhill journey.
As a teenager I had my share of drinking and smoking marijuana, but cocaine is much more dangerous. Despite warnings I hear about harder drugs, they make everything better or so I thought. Mistakenly, I believe I find an immediate cure by medicating my problems, but I only cause them to multiply. My temporary escape from reality never lasts long enough, but instead sends me on the hunt for more. For a while I do drugs, then without warning the drugs do me. It rules my thoughts, becomes my every desire, rips away my self worth, steals my dignity, and ultimately controls me completely.
Cocaine is definitely destroying my ability to nurture my children. At age five, my oldest daughter stops playing with her dolls and begins mothering her brother and sister. She changes diapers, fixes bottles, and hurries them off to bed when she hears the knock on the door with my supply of cocaine.
My blurred, drugged vision keeps my focus off the destruction I am causing my children and myself. After a few experiences with cocaine, it has my full attention, nothing or nobody else matters. My growing addiction warps my judgment to the point that I sell what little furniture we have, pawn the car, shoplift, and search for any means to get more drugs. I delude myself into believing that when the food stamps come, I will go to the grocery store. Instead, I go to the drug dealer, selfishly seeking to fulfill my own hunger. The responsibilities of being a mother take second place to being an irresponsible addict.
Honestly, numbness is a marvelous discovery and an incredible sensation. Doctors numb patients before cutting them open and performing surgery. I later discover each time I seek a numb feeling, I allow evil to open me up and cut a little piece of my heart out. When the numbness is gone, I am sore and have less compassion or concern for those around me.
I continue to neglect my children, denying them the right to be cared for by a loving mother. Dreams of raising them properly are shattered by my own sinful actions; no longer can I blame others. To avoid facing my guilt, I make excuses to leave the kids with family members, never returning at the time I promised. My failure to provide a safe, dependable home becomes obvious to everyone and quickly causes me to lose custody of my children.
Looking back at what others must have clearly seen, I am thankful my children were rescued at an early stage of my addiction. Their devoted great-grandmother gave them a Godly, loving, and nurturing home. Meanwhile anger, depression, and guilt push me further away from them and deeper into the devil's grasp. I become a sickly, full-blown junkie, prostitute, thief, and liar. I was simply Satan’s slave.
Soon, powdered cocaine no longer feeds my increasing appetite. Regardless of the amount I snort, the potion loses its magical potency. Seeking different ways to fulfill my craving, I am introduced to a new "high” — smoking crack cocaine. The high is completely paralyzing, but lasts only a few minutes forcing me to search constantly for more. I never give up the hunt voluntarily. I do not eat or sleep for days until my body collapses. Drug dealers, pushing their deadly products, find me leaning against a tree, lying under a bridge or on a stranger’s floor, and wake me up with a “hit of crack.” By doing this they know it will increase their drug sales, because one hit will begin my mission for more. Addicts’ motto: One is too many, a thousand is never enough.
Addiction: Slave to the Needle
In the latter stages of my addiction, I find an even more powerful way to escape reality, injecting cocaine straight into my bloodstream. However, my body cannot handle this extreme climax. On the brink of an overdose, I begin having seizures repeatedly. Instead of reducing the amount of cocaine, I choose to counteract the high with any available downer narcotic, causing my body to experience intense highs and lows all at once. Despite the fatal consequences, I am a slave to the needle. I feel the presence of death surrounding me, and, have no doubt this is how I will die.
Ashamed of my revolting, rebellious, drug-addicted lifestyle, I have minimal contact with my children, family members, and friends. After years of manipulating, abusing, and taking advantage of their love, they stop being accomplices to my destructive behavior. Tough love doesn’t mean they stop loving me, it just means they stop enabling me. I can no longer get the benefits of living on the streets in selfish sin; then, drop by for a hot shower, clean clothes, and an opportunity to steal from my parent’s wallets. Nonetheless, they continue to lift my name in prayer.
My criminal lifestyle leads to numerous arrests for misdemeanors. Going before the judge is a joke, since the punishment is usually nothing more than a slap on the wrist. However, during these short jailhouse pit stops, I sense my family’s grief and know their prayers are causing this unfamiliar tugging at my heart. Unfortunately, this tugging results in the typical “jailhouse religion”— a religion that never lasts longer than a jail sentence.
Throughout my incarcerations, I "dry out" long enough to evaluate my lifestyle. Daily, I pray and read God’s Word, making it my survival handbook. Once a week, I hear the chaplain preach a sermon. She always closes by offering an invitation and shouting, “Salvation is a free gift from your Savior.”
That's when I stop listening. After living on the streets for years, I had a programmed mentality that nothing is free. I had walked down the church aisle before, and nothing changed. Why should I humble myself again? Upon release, I know I will seek a quick fix from drugs, not from the Savior. My bondage requires no lifestyle changes. It is the easy way out.
The chaplain preaches about heavenly knowledge that does not coincide with my worldly experiences. To me, taking the first step of faith and believing God's word is like jumping out of an airplane with no parachute. Would this Savior reach down and save a wretch like me? As I would soon find out, I would have to go against the grain and just accept what I could not see or understand.
After much failure, discontentment, and denial I quit rationalizing. By studying the Bible, I begin to discover the truth. An individual cannot get to Heaven by works alone; Jesus Christ did take all my sins to the cross; He did die for me. Everything God offers is free! The only requirement is a sincere, heartfelt commitment that produces trust through faith. Fed up with trying to solve problems in my life for which I have no answers, I want His free gift.
However, I am merely willing to allow this Mighty God to ‘fix me’ so I could have a more productive life. My so-called decision is all about self. Can you imagine a slick sinner trying to manipulate God’s power for my own benefits? I don’t comprehend that my empty decision had not produced any change in my heart. I estimate that I have received fire-insurance, a free ticket to Heaven. After all, didn’t my Creator owe me that much after giving me such a life of hell on earth? How hard could this Christian life be?
After the Chaplin says the supernatural prayer over me, I am supposedly cured. No longer the twisted sinner, which I know still lurks inside. What a misconception. I follow the rules. I say a daily prayer I wrote down out of a book. I read a chapter of the Bible a day. I even memorize the verses I liked. If this salvation doesn’t work it will not be my fault.
Once released from jail, I quickly began reliving my repulsive sin; I painfully learn I must go beyond acceptance and into repentance. My roadblock to God was built by my own behavior. At that point in my journey, I realize I never have surrendered. Frankly, I did not choose to leave the church pew and walk to the altar, and truly mean: I leave my past and walk toward the feet of Jesus to lay it all down. By simply not submitting, I cheat myself of God’s strength, blessings, and mercy.
My evil ways harden my heart. I am certain surrender would be an act of weakness. In street-life, weakness is never rewarded. By avoiding a commitment with the Savior, I arrive at the county jail yet another time. By that point, I had spent ten years running further away from God, and closer to the pit of hell as I travel down my own destructive path.