Monday, June 11, 2007
Surviving life with crystal meth
She's 18 but she looks 14. With a red sweater, horn-rimmed glasses and a funky ponytail tied above her head, Jessica (not her real name) seems like your typical teen. But there's nothing typical about her. Raised by a woman who used crack and crystal meth, Jessica jumped from home to home, living with family and friends, while her mother spent time in jail, rehab and other facilities to quit her habit. Sometimes Mom would be clean for weeks, then, according to Jessica, "She'd give in to the devils inside her." Most of the time her mother prostituted herself for her hits. It was rough for her, but even rougher for Jessica.
I met Jessica on the last day of a fellowship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee this spring. The weeklong event was designed to introduce journalists to the world of crystal meth. We attended classes, visited rehab programs, talked to professors, users, judges, police officers and doctors who've seen meth's effects on society. We witnessed how the production of meth destroys communities, kills, maims and puts an incredible financial burden on our penal system, medical community and foster care systems. But it was Jessica who opened my eyes the most. Here was this girl sitting across the table from me, talking about drugs, paraphernalia and pimps as if everyone lived this kind of life. Not once was she bitter. Not once did she come off as hating her mother, or the system that forced her to live in foster homes. In fact, here was a child, a young woman actually, who had no anger. Instead she had hope.
That's because for the past few years, Jessica and her mother have been living in a group home called the Renewal House. It's Nashville's first and largest long-term recovery community for women addicts and their children. What makes Renewal House different is that instead of splitting up families, as many rehab facilities do, Renewal House keeps the mother-and-child relationship intact. Research shows that keeping children with their parents, even mothers who are struggling with drugs, helps the child to grow with more confidence especially when that child enters society, moreso than if he or she were put into foster care. Studies also have found that children of drug addicts usually turn to crime or drugs themselves when taken away from their families, reflecting the loss of the nurturing bond that only a mother can give. Experts also note that programs that keep families together see a higher success rate of addicts getting off drugs and staying off drugs. So the mom helps the child and the child helps the mom.
Renewal House looks a lot like an apartment building. Children live with their mothers as the parent progresses through rehab. The kids go to school and live as normal lives as possible, while moms attended meetings, workshops, and therapy sessions. Renewal House's goal is to get the women off drugs and back to work, so they can provide a healthy home for their children. It doesn't always work, but the Renewal House has a success rate of more than 50 percent. Experts say that's impressive. And Renewal House provides a loving home for kids who normally would be shuttled off to live with someone other than a parent.
So Jessica was not angry. Jessica was not scared. In fact she was proud of her mother, who now works with other women in the program. You could see the love in her eyes as she spoke about her mom and her mother's will to break free from a habit that once consumed her. Asked whether she had felt abandoned at times, Jessica said no. "'Cause even though she was a whore and a junkie, my mama loved me. She will always love me. That's why we are where we are. "
Do you think states should fund more programs like this? Tell us about positive rehab facilities in your neighborhood.
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