Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Way Back

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- Isabel paid a high price for her drug use: homelessness.
Isabel paid a high price for her drug use: homelessness.

She said, "I  was using marijuana and crack cocaine for about 20 years, and it took me down.  I had no control.  It took me to the streets where I kept losing jobs (and) apartments."

Isabel said to " survive," she  turned to prostitution, not only to provide basic needs, but also to feed her addictions.

With no place to go and not knowing what to do,  Isabel kept putting herself in danger.

She said, "I felt like there was no way out.  I basically kept wandering the streets, not  eating for days and days at a time. "
That lifestyle of sadness and desperation continued until two years ago, when Isabel suffered a terrible attack.

 One day while returning from the store after buying something to eat, a  van pulled up beside her, with two young men who looked like they were about 19 or 20.  years old.  They asked Isabel if she knew where they could get some crack and she answered "Yes."

They opened the door and Isabel got in.  However, they never wanted any crack.  They trapped her in the back of their van, and one of the young men driving around while the other one kept raping her.  Then they would switch off. This unspeakable nightmare continued for 11 hours.

When her attackers finally released Isabel, it was a little after 5 am.  She was thrown out of the van, with no clothes, in the street.  However, she was able to get the van's license plate number. 
Isabel said she ran to a house where she saw some people outside, but had no idea where she was.
She said, "I started screaming and asked them for help, and told them I had been raped by two boys. "
The couple called 911,  and got a robe for Isabel. They stayed with her until the police and ambulance arrived.  Isabel said she doesn't remember what hospital they took her too, but she does recall they were nice and helped clean her up.

A hospital case manager  helped Isabel get in touch with her mother, with whom she stayed for about six months.
Isabel said she was clean during that time, but was still fighting her demons of addiction.  She left her mom's house after a conflict occurred between her and her mother's fiancé. She was back on the streets.
Isabel later learned that the  license plate number of the van was stolen. It actually belonged to a Cadillac. Sadly, her attackers were never caught.

Isabel recalled putting herself in danger on numerous occasions-sometimes daily-just to feed her unquenchable and cruel addiction. 

The negative consequences  spanned multiple years, and  included jail time for prostitution and possession of crack cocaine; the latter netting her a nine- month stint.

Every time one of these situations occurred, Isabel said she would spend time thinking about how she could not continue to live like that.  However, the crack addiction would eventually take hold once again, and she would find herself bartering jewelry, possessions in general, and even selling her body just to get that next hit.
Isabel would often sleep in the parks.  She recalled sleeping at one in particular for over six months during an Albuquerque winter.  She remembered it being cold,  snowing and rainy, but not much else, as she was still in a drug induced haze.

In March 2011, Isabel had moved into an  apartment with a roommate.  Due to their mutual addictions, they were evicted. That roommate was also physically abusing her.  Unfprtunately she was also Isabel's payee, taking money from her to support the addictions.

After being evicted, Isabel decided she had enough. While downtown, she heard some people talking about Joy Junction.  Isabel was interested and ended up getting on one of our vans for a ride to the shelter.
She remembered feeling scared as the van pulled on to our property.

Isabel said, "I felt ashamed I lost my apartment; ashamed about my addictions, ashamed about being a prostitute- ashamed about many thing.  I hoped that it was a place where I could rest my head and get some good food to eat-maybe  keep myself clean.  I hoped it was a place I could get help.  I hoped I could talk to someone about the problems I had and my addictions.  I wanted to change my life because I couldn't live on the streets anymore.  I couldn't handle the crack and the marijuana. I was tired of it all."

Just a few minutes later, Isabel was directed to the office and signed in for a bed. 

Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City."

Additional details on "Homeless in the City" are available at Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds

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