In 1998 I was pregnant with my daughter when I was arrested for possession of crack cocaine. I was given a conditional release to go to a drug treatment program but for a long time I could not get it right. First I ran away from that program. Then, when I was let out on bail to give birth, I purchased some crack while I was bringing her home from the hospital and started using again.
When she was 6 months old, she went into foster care. Honestly, I felt relieved because I knew I wasn’t doing right with Ebony.
When I look back today, I think, “Oh my God. I can’t believe that was me.” It’s horrible how much I lied and connived. I was just so heavy into my addiction. I was in care as a child and, when I was 12, got involved in drugs with my mother. It was all I knew.
Praying for Strength
Soon after my daughter was removed, I got locked up. I got out in October and was back in jail in January. By then, I wanted to stop using but did not know how. I prayed, “God, I’m too stupid to get clean on my own.” I knew I needed to be locked up in order to strengthen my mind.
I went upstate to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and by the time I got there I was more alert because I had been in jail for months and my system was clear. I said to myself, “I’m going to start communicating with the agency.” I could relate to my daughter’s struggle and, once I stopped using, I was committed to getting her out of foster care.
My daughter had been in care a year and a half at that point. I asked for reports and pictures of my daughter, but I never got visits. She was 3 years old when I saw her again.
While I was locked up, the agency filed to terminate my parental rights, and when I came home it was in progress. I told the caseworker, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. This is not abandonment! I wrote you letters!”
The worker said, “Wanda, if you see the process as stretching between A and Z, you’re at M right now. You can still turn this around.”
I said, “No, you still have a chance to turn this around. What do you need me to do?”
I didn’t have a struggle with the agency after that. I was compliant and had workers that worked with me. I graduated from drug treatment, took parenting classes, found my own apartment and found preventive services. My grandmother was my backbone through it all. She supported me when I didn’t believe in myself.
When I began visiting, my daughter couldn’t stand my living guts. She was afraid, and she was really not nice. She wouldn’t talk to me, she’d scream when I got near her. She’d sit under the desk for the whole visit, or keep running out in the hall to see her foster mother. I would keep reading, “And the bear said…” and if she looked at me I’d say, “Hello, Ebony.” Of course I went home and cried.
We got closer when we had weekend visits. I could do little things like wipe her face and do her hair and put on her shoes. When I could sleep with her next to me I felt really connected with her. I’m very emotional, and when her little hand would touch my leg, it would send chills through my body.
A Mother and Advocate
Today my daughter is 10 and she is an amazing little girl. Her former foster mother is still part of our lives. Her foster mom and I don’t always agree—she thinks I’m too strict, and I think she lets my daughter stay up too late eating anything. I’m big on boundaries because I didn’t get any when I was a child.
My daughter spends the summer with her foster mother because I’m getting my college degree in psychology and working as a parent advocate at the Brooklyn Family Defense Project, which represents parents in court and supports parents by assigning a lawyer, social worker and parent advocate to each case.
As a parent advocate, I say, “You can sit on this side of the desk if you do what you need to do. Once you recognize the part you play, it’s going to be easy. We’re going to walk right through this and get your child home.”