Facing Poverty in McPherson, Kansas

At 52-years-old, I recently graduated from the Circle Leader Training and became a Circle Leader. After graduating, I applied for and received a grant from the WOMAN Fund through the McPherson County Community Foundation to start my own cleaning company. I currently have nine clients and hope to secure more clients in the future.

To begin my story,

Addicted to prescription drugs at the bidding of my mother, who gave me pills and started me on a path of drug addiction at the age of nine, I was physically and sexually abused by my uncles and an aunt, beginning at the age of five. My mother paid little attention to the abuse, which included being hit with wire hangers, burned with cigarettes, and sexual abuse.

My father was an alcoholic, my mother was co-dependent. We were upper-class, prim and proper, very fake and fancy and totally dysfunctional behind closed doors.

 Mybrothers and I all developed drug addictions and abusive or co-dependent tendencies. This was the only “normal” I had ever known—blood stains on the living room carpet from beatings, drug deals, strangers coming into my home and attempting to molest me , adults in my life beating me and telling me this would help to build my character and to make me strong. I attempted suicide more than once and as a teen I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.

I married at sixteen and entered another abusive relationship. After the birth of our first child, something happened to me as I rocked our infant son to sleep and he died in my arms of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). When my son died, I moved from the point of belief in my mother’s words to my certainty. “You were the mistake of my life,” my mother had told me over and over, and this time, I knew this to be true about myself. It was a low-point amidst many other low-points in my life.

After that, I gave birth to eight more children. I remember staying home most of the time because most days my face and body was covered with bruises. Both my husband and I used drugs, spending up to $3,500 a week to support our drug addictions. The night my husband stripped me and beat me, forcing my children to watch, I knew I had to defend myself. After getting arrested for shooting my husband during the attack, I ended the relationship.

The story could have ended there, the shot gun pointed at my husband, my children cowering and crying on the couch. It could have ended at the most painful point for me—when I cradled my dead baby in my arms. The story could have continued to cycle and circle back to more events of devastating agony. But it didn’t.

There is something else to this story. People have told me there is something about my eyes. Besides their brilliant glow, light blue like the most serene of Kansas skies, I’m told my eyes change color like a chameleon’s flesh. They will change as my feelings do.

After moving to Kansas, I was arrested for an altercation while working part-time at a local hotel and because of my previous record, I knew I would likely get sent to prison, this time for a very long time. That was my “last straw” moment. That was the moment when not only my eyes, but my heart changed.

I used to have God in my life before my baby died, but after that I was so angry at God I stopped talking to him, stopped having Him in my life.On that “last-straw” night, I prayed to God for strength to overcome the drug addiction which continued to wreck my life. God took my drug addiction away. I have been clean for 2 1/2 years. Getting clean meant I could finally join the Circles program (a person must be clean for six months prior to acceptance into the Circles program). I also became active in the First United Methodist Church.

 I have nothing but positives to say when it comes to the impact of Rebekah Lewis, Doris Coppock, Brenda Sales and other leaders and volunteers who make the Circles program a reality in this community:  It is wonderful for anybody to go there who is stuck in a rut, who doesn’t know how to budget, who truly wants to get out of poverty. Circles is a wonderful opportunity to get your life together, to meet new people, get involved in a community, and get started in a new direction.

 You may ask why Circles is so successful. It is heart-opening. There is more communication, more caring. Everyone is on the same level—no judging. Everyone tries to help each other.

 It is very important to me that throughout my tumultuous life, I always maintained contact with my children. One son, at the age of 25, was the victim of a fatal gunshot wound in Arkansas. This is still an unsolved crime. A daughter was sold through private adoption against my wishes by my mother and aunt. This daughter, since becoming an adult, has made contact with me and renewed our relationship. It means so much to me that I now have good relationships with all of my children and I am so proud of my fourteen grandchildren. This is important because I put them through a lot. I am very proud of where I am.

A Circle Leader’s Story as told to Kerri Snell

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