My stepfather, who was in the military, moved our family to Compton, California in 1962 when I was 6 years old. Compton was a beautiful city. The streets were tree lined and had perfectly manicured lawns. There was an abundance of industrial jobs in the surrounding cities. You could smell the ocean air in the distance. Although racial tensions were brewing, the city was serene and I felt safe. I, the oldest of three kids, was the only girl, and an ultimate tomboy. I ran, climbed trees, and played stick ball in the streets with the boys. My family was quite active in the community. My mother modeled and was part of a traveling bowling league.
In 10th grade, I started blossoming into a beautiful young woman. I enjoyed my high school years. I played volley ball, softball and swam in the summer.
After graduating high school, I attended Compton College and Webster Career College where I studied to be a legal secretary, but my heart’s desire was to be a stewardess. My 20’s were so much fun and carefree. I was a goodgirl and still lived at home. I did some fashions. I even did a runway show at the Coconut Grove. I wasn’t much into drinking and never considered doing drugs.
It was 1983 and I was 29 years old on the day I initially tried the pipe. I was between jobs and had just came home from job hunting when a girlfriend of mine asked me to go on a ride with her. Reluctantly, I went along. When we got to our destination she asked the guy we came to see to buy a dub. I was shocked! I had no idea she did drugs. She had a good job with the school district, dressed nice and had no signs of being a drug user. She suggested, “Just try it. ” I responded with , “I’m good.” She and the guy looked me as if I was an alien. Peer pressure is real, even for 29year old. I took my first hit of the pipe. I felt so silly. The dope didn’t make me high at all. It had had no effect on me. Eventually, I found employment at Jefferson Elementary where and met my future husband. I was ready to leave my parent’s home and venture off on my own. I married my husband within 6 months of meeting him. My young marriage was wrought with immediate instability. We moved countless times throughout the country. He was having difficulties finding work. It seemed he had given up on our new life together.
I wasn’t accustomed to such instability. I asked him to send me back home California. Not soon after I arrived home, I found solace in the arms of an ex-boyfriend. I just needed a familiar person to talk to. Those talks eventually led to the birth of my first daughter. That secret burned in my heart. I couldn’t bear tell anyone that I wasn’t pregnant by my husband. The pressure of a failing marriage and the secret of my new baby led me back to a dark place. The pipe. I took one hit and understood the high. I felt it deep. Pain diminished, shame was gone, and so was I. I was soon going to learn the reason drugs were not good. It’s the robbery of the self. I saw drugs steal from me over and over again; dignity, pride, health, self esteem, my desires, wants, needs, relationships, and hope. By my second child my marriage was over and I was a functioning drug addict. My daughter was born with crack in her system. It was protocol for the county to place my children in foster care and for me to check into a rehab center. I asked my mother to take my kids so that we could all stay together since I still lived at home with my mom. After completing the court ordered drug program, I went back to school and got a certificate as a certified nursing assistant. Crack didn’t care that I was trying to get on my feet and be a responsible parent.
I took up with a drug dealer and got pregnant with my third child. I remember cradling my stomach saying, “Baby please be strong, because mommy isn’t.” She, too, was born with crack in her system. My mother had remarried and moved to Louisiana with her new husband. Because my daughter’s father was in jail, he had jurisdiction over her leaving the state of California. Thus I couldn’t send my three daughters to be with my mom while I attended another state ordered rehab. I know you are thinking how could I have three kids by different men? Lies, shame, drugs, and most of all an inability to forgive myself framed my life. How I felt about myself is what kept me from being released from this hell I was in. The only option I had for my children was for them to be placed with my cousin who lived in LA. The program I entered was in downtown LA. I hadn’t been in the program long before I had an altercation with another patient . We were both discharged from the facility and program. I wasn’t raised like this. I left the facility and just walked until I couldn’t anymore. I couldn’t tell my family I got kicked out of the
Walking the downtown streets was like watching the worst block party I’d ever seen. People shooting dice, drinking, dancing, arguing, fighting, doing dope in the open with no apparent shame was mesmerizing. If this was hell, all of its inhabitants didn’t mind being there. I finally got to a stoop and a woman from across the street was yelling at me. I couldn’t understand why she was so angry. Then a man who was talking to her came over to talk to me. I found out I was on the ho stroll and I had invaded her turf. I had no intention of calling my family. I just wanted not to feel what was going around me. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months. I found out my two children were sent to live with my mom in Louisiana. My third daughter had to remain in California with my cousin because her father, although he was in jail, would not allow her to leave due to his parental rights. I had to learn to listen to the streets and learn its lessons. My life depended on it. My drug usage continued. To support my habit, I, initially, began selling drugs. The place of total degradation and desperation came when I started selling myself. The lessons on the streets were harsh. My first arrest was for suspicion of prostitution. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to get into a person’s vehicle who called me over. I learned to not carry identification if you had a warrant. These mean streets tested me to see if I really was about this new wretched life. I had been beaten and left for dead on a side walk. I had also been choked out in my motel room. I lost a lot of friends on those streets.
In the early years I wouldn’t get in the food lines. I was still hanging on to the little pride I had left. That, too, left. People would come, pray, and hand out prepared food and toiletries. I didn’t have a relationship with God. On occasion I would throw up a prayer, but this God people prayed about and to didn’t seem to be answering any of my prayers.
When my kids came to visit my brother in Southgate, my cousin would bring my kids to skid row to find me. I hated them seeing me like this. They reminded me of my life I left behind. Living that life, you don’t remember the days of the week , or even the years. I had a become an entrenched member of the largest homeless population in the United States. Skid row was my home for 17 years. My body began to tire. Although I was an addict, I wasn’t thirsty for crack. I did crack to numb me, not to destroy me. One day I got on my knees and prayed for God to deliver me. My prayer was that if God delivered me from this hell, I would totally surrender my life and never come back. My deliverance
came in version of a stroke. Because of the stroke, I had to be hospitalized. The process helped wean me off drugs. It was deeper than the drugs. I was tired of that life and wanted to go home. I called my daughter and asked if there was a home for me to come to. She didn’t hesitate and sent me a bus ticket.
When I first got to Louisiana all eyes were on me. My people had no idea what expect, nor did I. The first thing I wanted to do was reconcile with my daughters. I wanted to confront their anger. To my shock they hadn’t harbored hate. They just wanted their mom back. The lies I told myself all those years were being crushed. I was the person allowing my guilt and shame to destroy me.
I started attending Bossier Praise Temple and gave my life to Christ. I learned Christ died for me even while I was still yet in sin. There is no condemnation in Christ, He has no favorites. His greatest commandment was for me to love others and myself. I left my shame on the street of skid row. I also left good, struggling people who were just like me on the streets.
The pastor of my church, Beryl Cowthran, knew I was writing about my conversion from my past life. Pastor Cowthran told me I had to go back to Skid Row in order for my conversion to be complete. Upon arriving on the streets of skid row, I encountered the familiar smells and the people I had left behind. I fell to my knees and cried. It was a cry of redemption, a cry of appreciation and love of Christ that kept
me although I was lost. Strewn around me was the true despair I left and the wretchedness I had once dwelled in. If only back then I had just submitted to God and asked for forgiveness my life would have made a different turn. But, my Jesus was right on time. I left behind the shame that riddled me from the beginning, the same shame that kept me in the dark, the shame that robbed me of truth and
separated me from the love of God.
I hope my story inspires you to forgive yourselves and others, and to not allow shame to steal your life. Squash the smallest slice of pride that separates you from the love of God. Although I live thousands of miles away from the streets of Los Angeles, I still support missions of Los Angeles through my books and personal contributions. My books are available for purchase on E-Books and Amazon.
I have two books that have full accounts of my story. My story has also been converted to a play. Part of the proceeds go to support LA women’s shelters.
If you would like to support this ministry, please send all contributions to my PayPal account, DELORESLAYTON@GMAIL.COM.