Black and White Part 2

He’s been in jail 4 months. Now there’s no income. The cable is the first to go. Then the power. Then the food. This is all my fault…

I’ve made very few friends in the three years I’ve lived here. I break down and ask for their help. They bring over a few things to make sandwiches but I know they’re having struggles of their own. I feed my kids and go without because I’m not sure when we will get food again. Forget asking the neighbors. They hate me anyways. They’ve made that perfectly clear with the rocks thrown at my screen door and the yells of “cracker,” “honky,” and my personal favorite, “white bitch.”

From the dark living room, I hear my kids going through the Sunday newspaper that I took from the broken newspaper box. I hear my son exclaim, “Oooh I want that! And that one! Oh my God that one looks really good!” I walk towards them to see what they’re reading. “You can have that one. I will have these three.” I see little bodies lying on the floor, faces illuminated by a flashlight. His precious, short, little, five-year-old fingers touch the pictures of burgers and fries. “Sunday newspaper ads always seem to have the best deals and coupons on fast food,” I sadly think to myself. I turn my head and begin to cry. I’ve done this to them out of my own selfishness. What kind of mother am I?

I have GOT to fucking do something! I walk through the projects to get to the only payphone. There are young black men everywhere. Standing around as if waiting for a taxi. I hear, “You straight?” “Hey sweetheart, you straight?” Lingo for, “are you looking to score drugs?” NO MOTHERFUCKER I’M NOT STRAIGHT! My rent is due. My power is off and my kids are hungry. You gonna fix THAT? Ignorant. I reach the payphone after weeding through the drug dealers only to have a dozen more at the barbershop asking me the same question. I break down and call mom. She’s my only hope. I beg her to send money. Just a bit for the kids to eat. “I’m broke too, Tonia. There is no way I can send money right now.” I’m every emotion possible. All at the same time. I’m losing it.

There’s another shooting. This time, a prostitute was left in the bushes next to our apartment complex to die, naked and humiliated. There’s a backwoods club down a dirt road about 150 yards from the complex. I stay indoors when the club is open because there’s no way I’m letting anyone know a white “bitch” lives here. One night, shots rang out and four policemen….FOUR policemen show up. There are hundreds of people swarming the streets. I watch from my second story window. The police are outnumbered. What the hell can they do? I feel so safe. *insert sarcasm and hopelessness*

The police are no better than the drug dealers. Example, the neighbor’s son got pulled over with three pounds of marijuana in his trunk. When he went to court the judge told him he was being charged with two pounds. Now you tell me, what the hell happened to it and are you going to argue? I was pulled over on my way to work. I received a ticket for no proof of insurance while driving my cute, little ford focus, didn’t pay for it and didn’t appear in court. I was arrested and taken to jail. On the way there, the officer says, “You smell great. Don’t worry about Hall County Detention. Those officers like pretty girls and are usually pretty lenient.”  Think someone would believe me if I told? Do you believe it? I know I didn’t but that’s the way it went down. The feeling of helplessness and defeat will overtake everything innocent that you believe in.

Tonia

My husband was finally released after 8 months. The power came back on, the fridge was full, and the kids were happy. Life went on but we were never the same. After spending 5 years in the projects, I had had enough. I moved back home to Montana with the kids and left him in Georgia.

Georgia left me hateful and blind and I couldn’t stand how that made me feel. I learned to hate because I was hated.  Eventually, I moved on and learned that things didn’t have to be that way. The world was full of color and flavor and it was up to me to reach out and taste it. When will racism, poverty, hate crimes, and general judgement cease?  It’s up to you, my dear readers. The world is not always……..black and white.

Black and White Part 1

The year is 1999. My then husband moved to Georgia with our two oldest kids to search for work. My youngest stayed with me. He calls from Georgia a few months later and tells me to come down. I pack up and move all that I know trusting that he would provide and take care of us in this new and unfamiliar world.

Just a few short months later we were broke and living In Gainesville Housing Authority AKA, The Projects. There are large apartment complexes made of brick with bars on the windows. Shortly after moving in, I get a taste of reality. I hear my son yelling for someone to get off him. I rush outside and another boy is straddling my son punching him repeatedly. I pull him off and yell, “Where is your momma?!” I large, boisterous, black woman steps out of an adjacent apartment and yells back, “I’M HIS MOMMA!” I turn and walk toward her to speak to her about what just transpired between my son and hers. She tells me, “Don’t come any closer. Keep your white ass and your wet-back over there.” I feel blood rush up from my feet to my face. My hands clench into fists. I go to open my mouth but start to notice a group of people gather to watch me get my ass beat. I grab my “wet-back” and head back into the house. I sat there on my poor over-used, flowered-upholstered couch and cried.


My husband bought me a car! I cute little white ford focus. It’s our first “brand new” car. The payments are a bit high for our income but it’s OURS! One day, I pack up my daughter to take her to get immunizations. As I head to the car, I notice black coloring on the doors. I get closer and read in bold, dark black, spray paint “white bitch.” Who would do this?! I feel SO helpless. Relentlessly, I get in and drive to our appointment. There’s no point in calling the police. I have no proof of who did it. I have no money to fix this. I have no other choice but to return the car and continue making payments. I call the housing department and tell them to move me somewhere else. One week later, another apartment opened up in the back-end of the projects. I jump on it!

January 2nd, Sunday. A day I’ll never forget. Someone knocks on my door. When I open it, a smaller, somewhat chubby girl, was standing there before me. She smiles slightly and says, “I just want to tell you that your husband and I are sleeping together.” I slam open the screen door, pushing her back. I tower over her. “You sure it’s MY husband?!” As soon as she says his name, I want to punch her in the face. Instead, I tell her to get the hell off my porch! I want to go to his work and rip his face off. He best feel lucky I don’t have any money for the transit. I do the next best thing. I grab a pair of scissors, go upstairs, and slice his clothes. One thing I can say about my husband is he likes to dress and look nice. After carving up his preciousness, I light a joint and smoke through an entire pack of cigarettes. I hear the key in the door. I get up and stand near it. As he enters, I smack him along side the head. He didn’t even see it coming. HA! I smack him again. This time he raises his arm up and yells at me. “What the hell are you doing?!” “No sweetheart, what the hell are YOU doing? Who the fuck is (I say her name)?” I’ve never seen a Mexican look so white. “I want you to go upstairs, get your shit and get the hell out of my house!” What can he say? He heads up to grab his cut up clothing, cursing in Spanish when he finds the destruction. He comes down and heads for the door. As he does, I bring my leg up to literally kick him out. He falls forward and immediately turns back towards me. He comes at me full force, punching me straight in the face. I feel blood rolling down into my mouth. We fight back and forth for what seemed like hours but must have been mere minutes. I see police lights. I stop swinging and go into actress mode. I’m the poor, defeated, beaten wife. He was arrested and taken to jail on a felony domestic violence charge. I’d like to thank the academy. At least I know he’ll be in a jail bed and not hers.

To be continued…

Room Without A View Continued…

We line up for chow in pairs of two. I hear one girl ask another, “Want to be my two?” I move to the back of the line since that’s where the lonely “one” goes. In two weeks I’ve made just a few friends. I’m in what they call the “Cottonwood” cottage. There is a “prison shower” which is a large room with multiple shower heads. There’s a living area where there’s a TV, tables, chairs, and puzzles. The walls are nothing but square bricks painted white. The office is a bubble of glass, brick, and one door that always remains locked. Then of course there are our cells. Two more weeks. I can do this.

The sight of that state car never looked more sweet. This time nutcase must have stayed in her nut tree because it was a handsome young man that made the drive back home more enjoyable. You’d think that it’d be amazing to be home after being away for that long. But alas, it’s just like old times with mom driving the control boat and me trying to jump off without a life vest. I run. I run. And I run like hell. I run to alcohol and drugs. I run from the law. I run to every boy who is willing to give me the attention I crave. I run in a stolen car. I start fights with anyone and everyone who tried to take away the control I thought I had on my own life. Truth is, I was totally out of control.

Red, white, and blue stands for freedom so why is it that I’m locked up again? The judge gazes at me over her glasses. “Eighteen months in Mountain View School for Girls to run consecutively. Defendant is to maintain counseling and drug and alcohol treatment. And Tonia? I really hope you’re able to turn your life around. If you choose not to, you’ll be 18 soon and I will have no other choice but to send you to adult prison. Have a nice day.” SMACK goes the gavel.

I return to see old faces. Name calling and glares have been replaced with hugs and welcome backs. Perhaps last time the girls were trying to scare me straight on my 45? It was however, their home and I was just a visitor at the time.  What they don’t know is that I was lured back. Lured by a feeling of love, acceptance, and of being wanted. Some of these girls had been beaten, abused, raped, molested, and left to the world to survive on their own. They were only teenagers.

I was allowed to work in the cafeteria. It got me out of my cell and I moved up into one of the top cottages for good behavior. I learned how to cook and serve at least a hundred girls and staff. It was nice to have responsibility. The girls really became some of my closest friends. I had affairs with a few but after realizing relationships with girls cause way too many dramatic issues, I was done. After 18 months, I was released into a group home. Then a foster home. I was bounced around between five foster and group homes for what seemed like eternity.  I was able to complete drug and alcohol counseling and maintain a job that paid off all of my restitution to the state and the victims of my crimes. I was ready for 18 in two months and I sure as hell wasn’t going to see that judge as an adult.

“Tonia, you are now released from state custody. You are no longer a ward of the state under the juvenile statute.” The judge again peers over her glasses. Doesn’t she have some that fit?! “I hope you take this as an opportunity to grow and learn. I wish you the best. I don’t ever want to see you in my courtroom again.” The SMACK of the gavel no longer holds fear. It now holds freedom.

Room Without A View

My probation officer looks at me then looks down at the table and sighs. I sit with a smile on my face waiting for him to announce that he is taking me back to jail. “Tonia, you know the drill.” “I sure do! Let’s go!” I get up and start walking before he even gets up from the table. I don’t bother saying goodbye to mom since she dramatically stormed up the stairs shedding what I call fake tears.

He doesn’t even bother cuffing me this time since my eagerness stands at the state car waiting to be let in. He jumps in and turns to me, “Tonia, why? Why would you rather be in jail than at home?” I look at him and slightly smile, “Do you even know what I go through here? I’m 16 and she controls everything I do. Every decision, every choice, every thought, every feeling. You are not taking me to jail. You are letting me out.”

Arriving, I feel the excitement. We get into booking and I peek to see whose curious faces I may recognize peering back at me through the small opening in the heavy steel doors. My probation officer leaves me with a “goodbye” and a “take care.” Relieved, I look at the intake officer and ask how she’s doing since the last time I saw her. She just smiles. I grab my bedding and personal hygiene products and head to my cell. I feel home. You see, jail provides me with stability. A sort of structure that home doesn’t. Home is so unpredictable. At least I know what to expect here. Breakfast at 8 am then some recreational time, then back in for socializing and lunch. Dinner at 4 pm. If you’re lucky, you may have some leftover snacks. Everyday.

I wake to the sound of a short, chubby woman yelling. “Tonia! Pack up. You’re moving.” She has me swap out my jump suit and plastic sandals for my street clothes. Leading me through the steel doors I see my ex-boyfriend’s mother. What is she doing here? God, I hope she doesn’t talk to me. This woman despised me because I was the bad girl dating her perfect son. By the way, your perfection introduced me to acid, dumbass. The door opens and she stands with a proud smile. “Hey, Tonia. How are you? I’m here to escort you to Mountain View Girls School in Helena. Load up.” Thank you State of Montana for hiring this nutcase. The nearly 2 hour drive there is spent in silence.

We approach the gates of MVS. My eyes are introduced to cute little brick cottages. This isn’t going to be so bad!

Gates

 

cottage 2

I unload the car and head into the office. Nutcase pats me on the back and happily exclaims, “Forty-five days, Tonia. Enjoy!” Dozens of girls glare at me from a large room to my left. I read “bitch” roll off the lips of one of them. Cute cottages, gone. Fear, enters. To be continued…