The May 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Someone's Sister: Homeless in the East Bay

A Young Mother Dreams of a Brighter Future

Legal Rights of Homeless People

Exposing Wal-Mart Empire

HUD Pulls a Disappearing Act

Devastating Cuts to Section 8

Civil Rights Gets on the Bus

UC Students Brutalized by Police

Activism for Economic Justice

Night of Humanity and Courage

Nonviolent Vigil for San Diego's Poorest

The Faithful Fools

Medical Pot in Santa Cruz

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

A Young Mother Dreams of a Brighter Future

by Janny Castillo

After struggling to overcome poverty, addiction and the loss of her children, a young mother dreams of a brighter future.

Brenda Lee Fowler holds her baby son. Photo by Janny Castillo

Brenda Fowler is a resident of McKinley House, a transitional house in Berkeley operated by BOSS. We met in her small apartment, just big enough for her and her 18-month-old baby boy. He happily moved around the apartment during the interview, occasionally crawling up beside his mother. She would give him a kiss and he would go back to playing.

You couldn't tell by watching them that Brenda and her baby have overcome years of homelessness, drug abuse and a five-month separation at birth. You couldn't tell how close she came to giving him up for adoption.

Brenda has been battling drug addiction most of her life. It began at the age of 15, when Brenda's boyfriend was jumped by a group of boys on his way to her house. She felt responsible and was filled with guilt. Her cousin, trying to make her feel better, introduced her to drugs.

On April 21, 2005, Brenda celebrated 21 months of sobriety and her reunion with her children. She is also working to rise up out of years of homelessness.

In hopes of helping other mothers that have been separated from their children due to the effects of homelessness and hopelessness, and the disease of addiction, Brenda tells her story.

In too deep

Brenda begins her story: In early 2000, I was living in a three-bedroom subsidized house in Antioch. I was deep in my addiction then, cooking and selling crank. The money was good and Christopher, my five-year-old son, had pretty much everything he wanted. I was pregnant with my second child, Jordan.

My friend, who was also using, asked me to move in with her so she could help me stop. It didn't work; I continued to use and, on April 28, my baby Jordan was born with drugs in his system. At the hospital, Child Protective Services (CPS) took him away from me.

When I was released, I had to lie to my older son Christopher. I told him his brother was sick and that he had to stay in the hospital. Without my baby, I was heartbroken and miserable.
When I was pregnant with Chris, I had been able to quit using until he turned eight months old. I was very naive about my disease; I told myself that I needed the drug to lose weight, only to get heavily addicted again. I was devastated and full of guilt.

Residential hell

Child Protective Services allowed me to have supervised visits with Jordan once a week for one hour. To get Jordan back, they told me I needed to get on ACCESS, a waiting list for residential programs. I entered into a drug rehab program called "The Rectory" in San Pablo.
I was very scared; the whole drug rehab program was new to me and I had no idea what people were talking about. I was there about 45 days. It was a roller coaster ride of getting up at 6:00 a.m., doing chores and talking about my addiction all day. The light at the end of the tunnel was getting Jordan back right before I was thrown out of the program.

I had been assigned to escort a resident to court. She came back intoxicated and with a bottle of alcohol. I was exited from the program for non-compliance. No one had told me I had to follow folks to the bathroom. I tested clean but I still had to leave. I remember how painful it was to have to put my son in the car that was taking him away from me again. I broke down emotionally.

From there, I went to another residential program called Walden House. Thankfully, one of my friends was there and helped me through it. The program was a little better; it taught me how to use recovery tools to stay clean. After 30 days, Child Protective Services returned Jordan to me. I successfully completed the program on November 25, 2001. That same day I was able to pick up my older son, Christopher.

Nowhere to call home

We moved in with my mother for a while; but her apartment was too small, so we had to go to a shelter in Baypoint. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. I was miserable because I could not take care of my kids the way I was supposed to; providing stable housing was always on my mind.

It was so hard at the shelter; it was like reaching a new kind of bottom. The kid's play area was a litter box for stray cats. Ninety percent of my AFDC check went for rent and other dues. My kids and I lived off of $100 a month. The shelter provided one meal a day and they had to feed 100 women and children. We were subjected to selling candy to make money for the shelter. If we didn't sell, we were written up.

I couldn't take it. The stress of living in this environment was too much, I started to use again and moved into my sister's house. Things went from worse to horrible; I was jumped by a so-called friend and four other girls behind drugs.

I had no choice. We moved back to the shelter; and, after awhile, back again to my mother's. Christopher was emotionally devastated; changing schools and friends constantly was taking a tremendous toll on him.

Rock bottom

In October 2002, I found myself pregnant again, still using and living in a motel in Pittsburg with Christopher. Jordan was living with his father, who had taken custody of him. Motel living was difficult; the rooms were full of other addicts.

I never knew where my son's next meal was going to come from. Welfare paid the rent for only four weeks. I could not see myself bringing another baby into this life. I made plans to give my baby up for adoption. I had a family picked out who could not have kids and could give him everything I could not.

My third son was born on July 1, 2003. He tested positive for drugs and had to stay in the hospital for the first eight days of his life. For the first four days, he could not be held because he was on an IV and in an oxygen hood to help him breathe.

I had not had any prenatal care and his condition was a direct result of my use. I didn't want to see him because I wasn't going to keep him; I was scared of becoming attached and not being able to go through with it.

I called the adoptive parents who told me they could not adopt him because they did not follow up with their attorney. Alone in my room, I sat thinking. At 2:35 p.m., I named my baby Daniel James and that's when I went to see him for the first time. I touched his little hand and caressed his foot. I knew then that I was going to keep him.

Being without my children was unbearable; I had to find a way to bring us all back together. I ended up back in CPS court; they assigned me to yet another 90-day residential program. I had to complete the program if I wanted to have my baby returned to me.

Turning point

On July 21st, I was arrested for being under the influence of methamphetamines. I was booked and fingerprinted and was released under the supervision of a friend. I was so scared and ashamed that I stayed away from my mom and son for four days. I realized I could not live like that any more.

On August 25, 2003, I stepped into the beginning of my new life: I became a resident at the La Casa residential program in Martinez. It was hard being at that program knowing my son was less than eight blocks away, but it also made me stronger. I loved it at La Casa; finally I began to understand what people had been saying about recovery. I don't know if they said it better or if I was finally able to listen and understand.

Things began looking up. La Casa gave me something none of the other programs gave me: They gave me HOPE. I was assigned a great counselor who understood me and helped me to heal. Everyone who worked there was in recovery and I related to them all. They gave me a sense of peace and strength that had been missing in my life.

Baby comes home

On December 5th at 3:05 p.m., Daniel James was returned to me. I waited five months and three days to hold my child in my arms and I vowed then it was for good. I moved to a transitional house in Richmond that was on a dope track; but I did not use.

Through my therapist, I applied for a transitional house with BOSS, which is where I am now. Daniel could not sleep in Richmond and suffered daily with asthma and colds. The first night we stayed in Berkeley he slept all night; and since being here, his health has improved dramatically. Christopher is allowed to spend weekends with me and I am able to visit Jordan often.

On Thursday, April 21, 2005, I celebrated 21 months clean and sober. I have been asked to chair a meeting in a local detox center where I will share my story with beginners. I feel good about myself; but I know I still have a long way to go. The difference is that I am not turning to drugs any more. Instead, I have hope - hope for me and my children.

Brenda's Message

Mother to mother: It took me a long time to realize that using drugs is not a way of life. I share my experience to offer you a sense of hope. I feel your pain, I know your hurt, but in recovery there are always happy endings.

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

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