When Nancy was in high school she had dreams just like most other young girls. She was going somewhere. Her hopes included attending college, getting married, starting a family, having a home and much more.
Then somehow she got into the party scene with her friends at school. She began drinking heavily and using drugs. She heard that Los Angeles was the party capital and it wasn’t long until Nancy, still in her teens, was bouncing between Hollywood, Venice Beach, Santa Monica and jail; just like so many kids are still doing today.
Nancy’s dreams soon turned into nightmares. She had three children from various relationships. Each time she had a child she would pass the child off to her mother up north. That was basically the extent of her contact with her family. She had never been in their lives. Soon after we met she told me that she had eight grandchildren that she had never seen. Then with a very determined look on her face she said, “I can’t believe that I have not been in their lives. I want to be in their lives now.”
There is nothing more endearing than to be around someone who is excited about getting back in the game of life. There is exuberance in their tone. They’re inspirational. The innate desire to make it right has been ignited. These are the kind of people that are the easiest to help because they are willing to do all the work. The level of difficulty, number of bridges to cross and/or fences to mend simply don’t matter. Nancy was making a comeback!
More than two decades of complete separation had taken its toll on Nancy’s family and they were having a very hard time accepting her desire to somehow integrate into their lives. She simply had not been there and they were worried what could happen when she suddenly came back. Her situation was going to be even more difficult because there was also a distance barrier; she was over 1,000 miles from her children and grandchildren.
Nancy’s previous lifestyle of pushing and using drugs, combined with petty crimes, had added up to time in state prison. Her legal problems had brought her desire to go home to a grinding halt. She still had a few months to go before she was off parole and could travel out of California. She feared that each day that went by was going to be one day too late.
Life in prison had gotten her attention. Her desire to make it right had started while incarcerated. She had somehow made contact with one of her children in Washington. It was through the correspondence back and forth that she had learned what she had missed out on all those years.
I like to look at a person’s track record to support what they say they are going to do in the future. I knew Nancy was serious because after she was released from prison she had not been in any trouble. She was still drug and alcohol free after more than two years on the outside and she hadn’t missed reporting to her P.O. (parole officer), not one time.
Nancy’s resume was a disaster. She had a felony record and never had a steady job. She had no luck at all finding permanent work here. So she created all these little odd jobs around town ranging from sweeping parking lots to recycling. She was canning the day I met her on the street. You would not have known that she was homeless from the way she looked.
Nancy didn’t realize it, but the time to go before she was discharged from parole was actually going to work in her favor. She was learning to walk before she could run. Because she was not allowed to travel out of state, we set a transition plan in motion that included her talking to all of her children and even some of her grandchildren. It lit a fire inside of her. The more she interacted with her family the more she wanted to be with them.
Initially it wasn’t easy. Nancy’s family was skeptical and unsure. But time started softening their hearts. Her consistent communication was speaking volumes to them. She was a changed individual. The person she was for all those years didn’t exist anymore, and it showed.
Finally the day came. She was off parole and could go home. She couldn’t believe how much reparation had happened from long distance. By that time, one of her now married children with two children of her own amazingly had offered her a permanent place to stay.
For several months after Nancy left Santa Monica we would talk at least once a week. She was always full of stories about her children and grandchildren. A big portion of her dreams had come true. She had gone back to school to become a drug and alcohol counselor, she was assisting her family and as she described it with excitement in her voice.
“It is even better than I ever imagined,” she said.
Nancy had gone the distance.
Ron Hooks is the founder and executive director of West Coast Care, a nonprofit. WCC is part of the Santa Monica Police Department’s Joint Homeless Outreach Program. Since October 2006, more than 1,000 homeless have been compassionately helped to transition off of the streets of Santa Monica by reconnecting them with their families, placing them into housing and/or treatment programs. Learn more at westcoastcare.org.