I was 16 when I got arrested and did time for carrying an eight ball of crack cocaine.
Yes…..,me, Denisse. I was a drug dealer.
The subsequent sections of this post will emphasize my experiences with the training school, the criminal system, the Department of Children Youth and Families, the Irie Transitional Program, and another program that literally changed my entire life, Foster Forward (The YESS program).
My daughter and I were living with an aunt of mine. Together, her and I, we shared a twin size bed. She was only two years old. I lived with my aunt because my mother was in prison, and my father, well, he was living his new life with the woman who eventually became his wife. My aunt offered to help me, and since she was more of a mother figure to me at the time, on top of the fact that my three female cousins also lived there, it made more sense– I guess. I love my cousins. They’re so funny, and vibrant, but I was in a different mind set. I was hungry. I wanted money. I wanted independence. I wanted autonomy.
I was offered a convincing (at the time) drug selling deal. I’d get $800 a week, if I drove around from 11 am, to 3 am, selling drugs for someone. All I cared about was the money. I was always a lovable and happy mother, always driven, and ambitious…I loved school, but at that time, I was irresponsible, illogical, immature, and ignorant. I reacted impulsively, too. I agreed right away. I wanted to get my own place, just for my daughter and I. I said I’d save up, and then I’d finish school and go legal. I dropped out my fucking senior year, just to sell drugs ( I know, I’m an idiot). I’d leave my daughter with a friend that I knew through another friend, while I drove around the streets, risking my freedom, and hers. Just thinking about it makes me feel sick to my stomach. I’ll never forgive myself for that, and I live with that guilt, still today. My poor baby girl. She’d cry every time I left her, and jumped for joy every time that I picked her back up. Damn.. it’s all hitting me right now.
I’m about to get real deep.
I was pulled over by the police, sometime around noon. I was the driver, and my partner (I had a partner), he sat on the passenger side. He has a history of arrests. One more charge, and he was done for a very long time. Anyway, a male cop pulled us over, and my sorry ass began to shake and cry upon his approach towards our vehicle. He asked, “Why are you crying? I haven’t even said anything yet.” He knew wassup. He asked us both to step out of the car, so that he could search it, of course, and at the same time, he waited for a female officer to arrive, so that she can pat me down. The woman got there, and before she even touched me, I said, “It’s right here”. I pulled out like 33 little bags of crack cocaine which were all wrapped together in a ball. She was so mean, but now that I’m a woman, and as a mother, I’m sure the whole situation hit her hard. After realizing that I was only a teenager, a teenage mom at that, and I know she could see the fear in my face, of course she’d be upset, and angry. I’d be upset, too. It would hurt me. She especially got upset at the fact that I took all of the blame. He said he didn’t know, or didn’t speak at all, something like that, but I sure spoke. I told her that he didn’t know, and that it was only mine. She accused me of lying, and asked if he’s pressuring me. I told her no. Meanwhile, she looks in the back seat of the car, and finds my wallet, and pulls out a picture of my daughter and I. I will never forget her words. I forgot her face, and her voice, but I will never forget her words….
“Is this your daughter?”
“I don’t believe you, where is she right now?“
“I’m not telling you”
“You do know that we’re going to find her, and take her away from you right?, unless you tell me right now, that he’s pressuring you, you’re not only going to go to jail, but you’re also going to lose your daughter.”
She then took us both to the police station. They separated us, of course. I was sitting on a hard chair, at a brown, wooden, medium, square sized table, when she slapped a statement paper, and a pencil, right in the center of it.
“I’m going to tell you this again. If you want to go home to your daughter, write on this paper number one, that you are being pressured, that he told you to hold it, and number two, the name of the person he is working for.”
I’m not sure if she was looking out for me, or if she really believed there’s no way that I could be doing that. Either way, I told her no. I didn’t write shit.
“No. I’m not writing anything, and leave my daughter out of this, because she’s somewhere safe.”
She tried a couple of more times, until she finally gave up on me. After spitting in my face, and banging on the table, she then pressed both of her fists against the table, keeping her elbows and arms perfectly straight, she held her head up high, and looked me in the eye, and she said,
“You fucking disgust me. I feel bad for your daughter. She got a looser of a fucking mom, who chooses a man over her own daughter. I hope they take her away and never give her back to you. I hope they beat your scary ass in jail. Stupid little bitch. We’re going to find your daughter, and we’re going to take her from you, I promise. You filthy, piece of shit, of a hoe ass mother.”
I didn’t say anything in return. I just cried, and cried, realizing that the big whole I was feeling in my chest, was there to stay, it was real. Of course I thought about my daughter. Of course she’s first, but it’s wasn’t that easy, trust me. I had many mixed feelings that, overall caused me to freeze. I was physically stiff, and numb, but my mind was running laps around many thoughts, and fears. For one, I knew if I snitched, I would then be known as a snitch, and I’d probably get my ass beat or killed or be bullied all my life or something. For two, even if I tried to snitch, my heart wouldn’t let me. My partner had just had his first child. She was literally a couple of weeks old. I knew if he went down, he’d go down for a long, long, time. I’m talking maybe ten, twenty years, maybe more. He was already on probation, and also, he was such a good guy, I just couldn’t do that to him. His mother too, was so good to me, and to him, I thought of her too. Honestly, even if he wasn’t good, I don’t think I could find that in me. That’s just how I am. Another part of me wanted to say fuck it all, write the statement, and run home to my daughter, move to Puerto Rico, or California with my family or something. As each of those thoughts ran through my mind, I felt like a big knife was being pushed into the center of my heart. I couldn’t think straight, but I had to. The person I was working for at the time, promised he’d get me a good lawyer, as long as I kept quiet. I took that into consideration, on top of the fact that it was my first charge, and on top of the fact that I was sure my family would care for my daughter. I knew there’d be consequences, but I was sure I’d be out way sooner than the boy I was with. I figured I’d still return to my child, keep homeboy out of prison and with his daughter, earn respect and loyalty, that seemed like the wisest decision for me. There was no way I was going to lie, and put it all on him, when I was equally involved. Nah, you could never find that in me. I won’t be able to live with myself, knowing someone else’s life is ruined, because of me. And I don’t want to hear, “you mean because of him. He knew what he was doing”, nah. His freedom at that very moment, was literally in my hands, and that’s for God to decide, not me. Plus, I’ll hurt myself hurting him, or anyone else. Overall, in the center of my mind, all I could think of was my daughter. I needed to call someone quick, in order to have someone pick her up from the babysitter, and then bring her to my aunts. Shortly after though, I found myself being checked into the juvenile correctional center. They made me strip, and searched every crease, fold and hole on my body, my hair, all that..The training school was a hell of an experience, but I’ll save those details for another blog. For right now, I’ll skip to the part in which I received some visitors. I was so happy. I was sentenced to 6 months to serve, and had never once had a visitor. I thought it was my dad, or aunt, or I don’t know.. anyone normal, but it was my attorney instead. Some sweet, gentle, Asian guy, wearing a shiny fancy badge, was with her. He sat next to her, and I sat across them. We were in the cafeteria, only us, no one else. I thought he was another attorney, or person on my side. I thought he was delivering good news or something.
I will never, ever, ever, ever…… forget this very next moment.
“I met your daughter. She’s such a sweet girl. Very happy, big bright smile, you do a good job with her, I can tell she’s loved“
“Really????!! How is she? Did she ask for me?“
“Yes, non stop actually. She loves her mommy. I told her you were on a temporary vacation”
I was already flooding in tears, of course, and I’am right now, as well..
” I met your aunt, and your cousins,…you have a wonderful family“
“Thank you so much. Are they mad at me ?“
“No.., they love you, but your aunt did say that she couldn’t provide for your daughter, and more specifically, provide her with her own room, and part of the DCYF regulations, she must have her own room, so we had no choice but to take her and place her in a foster home. Before anything, please know that you’ll be able to get her back, but I must be honest and tell you that it will take some time. She needs you to be strong for her, and I promise you that she’s with a good family, and that she’s safe, but I can’t give you any more details.“
I could see his eyes tearing up, and his face muscles fighting to stay in place, as he spoke and looked me in the eyes.
That hit me so hard, it took time to process what he had just told me. Shortly after though, I began to scream.
I screamed, “NO!”, about ten times, along with, “Why did you take her!! My baby!!! NO!!!!!”.. I cried so hard as two correctional officers tried to hold me down, running out of breathe.. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. They carried me to my cell as I continued to cry, yell, kick, and scream, “I want my baby!!!! Why did you take her?? Why??” They repeatedly said sorry to me, both him and my attorney, looking crushed, until they locked me in my cell. The C.O. told me to remember the moment, to cry it out and yell as much as I need to, but as soon as I finish, to think hard about my future because every move from there on would be critical for both my daughter, and I.
I have not experienced a pain so strong, or even close to the pain I felt when my daughter was taking by the state. I was already broken, but that shattered me into pieces. I cried all day and night for two weeks straight. I would fall asleep singing Leann Rhimes-How Do I Live?, every night, as my lips trembled at the same time, as my body rocked back and forth, in the corner of my hard ass little bed, eyes so puffy, pain so intense, my tears wouldn’t even come out, I stared at the wall, but I couldn’t see. I was lost in another dimension. Hair all dry, and crazy, like a legit maniac in a psychiatric center. Like I said, I couldn’t see around me, but I could see in me, in my mind. All I could see was my daughters little face and little fingers pulling my eyelids opened at seven in the morning saying, “Mommmmy, I want che che mommy“, with her cute little pout, and how she’d kiss me on my nose and forehead while holding her bottle with her left hand at the same time. All I could do was reminiscence about her. Flashes of the DCYF’s agent’s words would jump in and out, as well. I’ve been traumatized every since. I remember praying, and telling God,– wait– BEGGING God, to please give me a chance. I was even scared thinking to myself, “What if God doesn’t even exist? What if I’m truly all alone?”. Just the thought instilled so much fear, until I said to myself, “of course he does.” It was my only spiritual hope. I was clearly in spiritual distress. I hated myself, I despised myself for what I did to my daughter, and I hated my family for not lying and saying that they could make a room just for her. I hated them..I hated me, I hated my life, I hated feeling like I had something obstructing my air way, not letting me breathe, but not killing me at the same time, like I was being tortured. I swallowed about a thousand times, in efforts to take away that feeling. I wanted to die, but I loved my daughter sooo much, I knew no one could love her more than me, and I knew she wouldn’t love someone more than she could love me.. I knew that if the world thought I was a piece of shit, she didn’t. I couldn’t leave her. I pledged to GOD that I would be strong, that I will get my GED and finish my CNA at the same time, that I’d go to college, that I’d work hard, that I’d love hard, that I’d make smarter choices, that I’d get new friends, start a new life…., I begged him for another chance at life, and to believe in me.
Skipping over some more, my court date arrived. This was about 4 months into my sentence. I remember walking into the court room, as the heavy, hard as fuck, silver and cold handcuffs rubbed against my wrists, and seeing no one I knew but my broken heart’ed father, sitting at the bench. Damn, how that hurt… I could see the sorrow, the pain, and the depression in his eyes. I instantly cried, and mumbled, “I’m sorry Papi”. My poor father,– not only did his little girl, his first daughter, get taken advantaged of, at the age of 14, and in result, end up pregnant, not only did he witness me suffer from my mothers absence, not only did he witness me suffer, as I was a lonely female with no guidance, not only did he feel helpless because of all of that, but he also, had to deal with years of harassment from those who would ridicule and speak so harshly of me, right in front of him, and even worse, he lost me to a prison system, and lost his granddaughter to a foster home. I knew he had no faith, and no hope in me one day becoming somebody, but he still loved me.I knew he had no hope in me, no hope that I’d be more than he could ever imagine. I was determined to prove it to him, and make him proud as well. Anyway, my attorney had come up with a plan. She told me to be quiet, and did all the talking, of course. She presented the judge with many positive statements, all written up by the C.O.’s, the social worker, and the woman that took over my daughter’s DCYF case, and then asked if I could be released to DCYF immediately, so that I can take advantage of transitional housing programs that would help me get on my feet, and promote a healthy and successful reestablishment between my daughter and I. She told her that she was confident in me, that I am willing to do whatever it takes, that I’m super ambitious about creating a better life for my daughter and I, and that she sees a lot of potential in me. Next thing you know, I hear her bang her wooden hammer, and within minutes, I felt those scary ass handcuffs being taken off of me. I was so surprised. It caught me off guard, but I was ecstatic. The deal was, seeing that I had just turned 17 years old, I was technically eligible to be under DCYF care, and since my daughter was already under their care, and since I had no other place to go, I was the perfect candidate for a transitional/group home program. I thought they were going to place me in like, some real deal group home, where there’s a whole bunch of kids, waiting to get adopted or something, but no. They placed me in some program named IRIE, which consisted of me living in a two bedroom apartment, for 9 months, with one other girl, and 24 hour staff that would show us how to cook, bond with us, take us to school, or out for an activity, have us do our chores, etc. At the same time, I’d receive one single visit a week with my little girl, along with our DCYF agent, as she observed our relationship, our bonding, she wrote reports, made observations and recommendations about us. She loved me, the agent. She believed in me, and supported a reunion with my daughter. She could tell how close, and how much we loved each other. We cried so much every time we seen each other, and even harder every time she had to go. The agent had to literally pull her off me every single time. So, so, hard..
Skipping some more, while living in IRIE, I did both, my CNA, and my GED at the same time. I was on my shit man, for real.I wasn’t playing no games. A lot of other girls in the program, never got their children back, due to whatever reason, but not me. I was getting my daughter back. She’s my daughter. God gave her to me. I conceived and carried her in my body. She’s literally mine, and only over my dead body, would they be able to keep her from me. So yeah, skipping some more, the greater moment’s, the real blessings, began to arrive. First, take note of the fact that I was technically a minor at the time of my arrest, therefore, I have no felony, or any charge at all on my adult criminal record (that’s a major blessing for sure) and also, I was put on parole until 21 years old, so from 17-21 years old, I was supposed to be on parole, and— I had both, my criminal case opened, and also, a DCYF case that was opened against me as well, in which I was charged with neglect. And so, a new court day arrived, in which they discussed my progress, in addition to reviewing all of the recommendations that were written about me, and let me tell you, during that court date, was the first time that I had ever truly felt important, worthy, or believed in. I don’t know word for word what each one of those letters said, but I do remember the judges words, along with her big bright eyes that probably lit off of the potential she seen in me. I will never forget her words, her face, her sincerity, and that day overall…Never!
This is what she said,
“Young lady, you have consistently walked into this court room with your head held high, quiet, but very attentive, you have excellent manners, you are always dressed so nice and professional, your hair is always neat, you maintain eye contact with me every time that I speak to you, I have yet to receive a single bad report about you, in fact, your reports are outstanding, and honestly quite rare compared to what I usually see with others in your same shoes, you’re dedicated to being the best mother you can be to your daughter, everyone loves and see’s something special in you, and I’m so proud of you and you’re growth within this long but still relatively short amount of time. Small kids, excuse me, young adults like you, is why I love my job even more. I may put criminals away, but what makes me happy, is witnessing success stories like yours. You have gone through so much, and yet, you continue to strive, even a year later, having to live without your daughter, having eyes on you 24 hours of the day, psychology traumatized,.. and here you are, standing in front of me, on Sept. 24, 2011, a couple hours away from both, your GED graduation, and your CNA graduation, and I’m proud to also grant you back custody, and physical placement with your daughter, today as well.”
On September 24, 2011, not only did the judge highlight me the way she did, but she also closed my criminal case, my DCYF case, took me off of parole and probation, she ruled for my daughter to be immediately dropped off to me at the DCYF building, and she placed us in a different transitional program, one that’s specifically for single, low-income mothers, and their child, and she allowed my father to drive me to the DCYF building. I cried, and thanked her so much, she smiled and said your welcome as many times as I said thank you. Her last words were, “I believe in you, so I expect to never see you here again. Congratulations on your graduation, and God bless you”.
Man, it felt so unreal in there. Like a damn movie or something.. They clapped for me and everything. I was convinced that it was God answering my prayers, and that the my judge must have been an angel sent from him, as well. Major blessing, for sure. Above everything else, she blessed me with the opportunity to not only be the best mother to my child, but also, with being able bring my daughter with me to my CNA graduation. I still have a picture from that day.
The blessings did not stop there, In fact, asides from getting my daughter back, the most life changing one, literally life changing, is the one in which I got accepted into the YESS program. The YESS program is a transitional independent living assisting program, ran through Foster Forward, specifically for youth aging out of foster or DCYF care, and since I was under DCYF’s care, both my daughter and I as youths, once I hit 18 years old, I became eligible and accepted into their program.
Again, life changing!
Without Jess, and Cyndi, and Cristina, and Lisa (the executive director), and every single other wonderful and beautiful human being of a staff that works there (I remember there faces), without them and the YESS program, I swear, I would not be where I am today. Not this far, at least. They’re the family that I never knew I could have, that I never knew even existed, the family, and support, and guidance, and inspiration, and love that I never had, but always prayed for, that’s who they are to me.
The way the YESS program works (they might have made changes, not sure) is very simple. You find an apartment, it can be anywhere in the state, and as long as you don’t get into any legal trouble, check in with them periodically, work or go to school, or submit proof of job applications,.. they will give you $600 a month, to put towards your rent. At 18 years old they give you $600, at 19 years old they give you 400$ , at 20 years old they give you 200$, and at 21, you age out aka graduate from the program, and hopefully you can stay on your feet and not end up back in the streets!! Oh and you are responsible for the remainder of the balance. I thought to myself, “this is easy!”.
They never had to ask me about my job status, or worry about me at all. They could see the ambition glow right out of me. I was working as a Certified Nursing Assistant at a nursing home, and I also attended college at the same time. I moved into my very first two bedroom apartment for $800 a month, my baby had her own room, of course, and I got around using my dad’s vehicle. He had two of them, so he’d let me use one until income tax came around, that’s when I purchased my own. I’d check in with Foster Forward once a month, and I stuck with them until the end, until I aged out at 21 years old. At 19 years old, I had another baby girl, my baby girl Sophia that was sent from above to keep her sister company :), and I got a unionized job, as a CNA still, at the Level 1 Trauma Hospital that I am currently working at today. I’ve been there for 7 years. By then, I was already bringing home $1000 a week. I remember showing my pay stubs to Cyndi, and the way her jaw would drop upon seeing how much money I was making a week. She couldn’t believe it. She was so proud of me. Every year I did better and better. My income got higher and higher, I went from living in the hood, to living in a gated community, I didn’t receive any welfare benefits, I financed my own new car, I was further into school, little by little I’d buy more and more furniture, and overall, things just got better and better. They continued to bless me in so many ways, too. They gave me random grants for laptops and for shopping sprees, credit score workshops, free costumes and events on Halloween, many gifts and winter clothes on Christmas,.. they even granted me with two years of private school for both of my children. Like…what haven’t they done for me? I successfully finished their program at 21, and today I’m 27, and I’m still standing strong. I have a beautiful apartment, in which I live alone with both my daughters, they still attend the same private school, I got accepted in a baccalaureate nursing programl, I have a year and change left to graduate, I’m two courses away from fulfilling a minor in behavioral neuroscience, I currently have a Cum Laude status GPA, I’m going to purchase my first home as soon as I become a nurse, my father is proud of me, and shows me off to everyone, bragging about me being a nursing student. My mom and children, too.
I mention all of this because damn… I had nothing. I felt like nothing. To think back at where I was 10 years ago, compared to where I am today, it’s no secret that I have come a very long way. I went through a hell of a tough and serious time, and yet, look where it has landed me. All because of FOSTER FORWARD. Everything that I went through, landed me to them. I met them crawling, they helped me walk, and now I’m running… The YESS program helped me transition into the bad ass independent woman that I am today. I always think to myself, without them, where would I be? How could I have made it? I had nowhere to stay, no one to help me, no one that believed in me. No one wanted me and my daughter in their house, they’d talk like we were a burden, like they’d have to provide for us forever, since they were convinced I’d be a nobody, especially after coming out of jail, but lucky for them, I’m no bum. I’ve always dreamed big, not like the average. I just needed to find my way. I needed a push. I needed some help, some attention, some care and encouragement, some up lifting, someone to believe in me, someone to guide me…. , and they did that. I mean…,wow. Who would have ever even imagined that I’d be raised by a program, literally. According to the dictionary, raise means to uplift or move up to a higher position. They literally did that. My greatest growth spurt occurred within the last 10 years, initiated by them. Like parents, they paid a majority of my rent, took care of us and gifted us on holidays. They even helped me find my first CNA job. Through them, I learned how to live on my own, how to be an adult, how to be head of household, how to be a bread winner, the value of hard work, and dedication, how to be responsible, how to be independent, how to believe in myself. My whole mindset is developed the way that it is, my intelligence, and my focus too, all because of I was put on a different path that helped me develop into this woman that I am today. They put me in an apartment, I had to work, so I did, and that led me to new friends, a new enviornment, new inspirations, and examples, and therefore, way more dreams.
And I just want to tell them thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, and thank you forever. I may go MIA, or fall into depressions, or get lost with nursing school or work, but I hope they know that ungrateful, and forgetful, I am not. I am beyond grateful for each and every one of you, for your entire purpose, for your commitment to us, and I will never, ever, forget who helped me get to the top. I will never forget where I came from. Love you all, and I can’t wait for you guys to witness me crossing that stage. Hope to make you guys proud.
If you guys are still with me, thanks so much for reading, for supporting, and for listening. Your feedback, your follows, your subscriptions, your messages, your support. your time..they each mean so much to me. I’ve been hiding all of my life, trying to hide my scars and my past, due to so much cruelty and misjudgment, but not anymore. I see now that this world is full of amazing people, and that the bad can never outshine the good.
PS. I will be publishing a book of poems, and a memoir in the future, so I hope you guys look forward to it. It’s an absolute dream of mine, and I’d be honored if you guys added my books to your book collection 🙂