I Used to Run with Drug Addicts and Prostitutes…

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    Sylvia T
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    I Used to Run with Drug Addicts and Prostitutes. Now I Share the Gospel with Them.
    My journey from life on the streets to life in Christ.
    SHARON DUTRA|NOVEMBER 22, 2021

    I was born in Los Angeles to a family in turmoil. My father was an alcoholic and a womanizer, and he was married four times by the time I was 17. My mother left when I was about 5 years old, and I never saw her again.

    Throughout my childhood, I was moved from foster home to foster home. I started using drugs when I was 13. I believe that’s when I finally realized that I hated myself. Up until then, I had been able to ignore my feelings of worthlessness and the ongoing sting of rejection and abandonment.

    At 15, I ran away from home, living on the streets until I was arrested. Thus began my life with the law.

    At first, I ended up at Eastlake Juvenile Hall in Central Los Angeles (a facility to which I would return several times). Murderers, thieves, and gang members were lumped together with those who had only run away from home. As a white girl with long, blond hair, I immediately felt out of place.

    Eventually, I was transferred to Florence Crittenton, an open-placement girls’ home in East Los Angeles. Leaving the grounds was against the rules, but there were no bars or walls to prevent it. During that time, I would ride buses across Los Angeles at night, unaware of the potential danger. Pimps, predators, and gangsters abounded in many neighborhoods.

    But I was too restless to stay anywhere for long. After running away from the girls’ home for the third time, I was arrested again and sent back to juvenile hall. At this point I was a ward of the court, since my father and stepmother had divorced, neither wanting to take me in.

    The court placed me in a closed facility in Central Los Angeles called the Convent of the Good Shepherd. The neighborhood was so unsafe we had to move our beds away from the windows on holidays, because gang members had shot through them in the past. The convent walls were 12 feet high. But I even ran away from there, climbing onto the roof of the laundry building and crawling up the ivy to escape.

    With each getaway, my self-hatred escalated, along with contempt for authority figures and mistrust of people in general. I was headed down a path of destruction.

    At age 19, I started working for the California Conservation Corps. One of our responsibilities was to serve meals to firefighters and prisoners as they fought major fires. This is where I met a man I’ll call Bill, who was serving a prison sentence in Yreka, California. We wrote letters back and forth for months, and when he was released, we moved in together. Later, we married and had two children.

    At the time, I was drinking heavily and smoking pot. For years, I had used every drug I could get my hands on. But little did I know that Bill was using cocaine and speed intravenously. And it didn’t take much to get me doing likewise. I would spend the next six and a half years with a needle in my arm, racking up four near-death experiences when I overdosed.

    Needless to say, I lost all interest in working and taking care of my kids, my husband, or my apartment. Over time, my veins were so scarred from injecting myself that I started shooting in my hands and feet. On several occasions, I even had another stoned addict shoot drugs into my neck veins, which risked sudden death. Of course, none of this was remotely fun—I was just trying to deaden my pain.

    Bill and I divorced less than a decade later. We had tried getting sober, but we didn’t know who the other person was without the drugs. After a six-month attempt at sobriety, I abandoned my family and headed straight for the streets so I could continue feeding my addiction. I never imagined that I would end up homeless for two years, looking every bit like the proverbial bag lady. During this period, I hung around a dangerous neighborhood, venturing into the projects at night looking for drugs. I occasionally scoured garbage cans for food, but usually I just sold my body so I could survive and maintain my drug habit.

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