Walk Down Misery Street

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Could it be said that Cynthia and the hundreds—the thousands—of women like her are very bad and careless mothers? That they love the little bags of drugs more than they love their own children? That because of these mothers, children wind up in the System, looked after by Child Protective Services? That because of these mothers, children are given up to foster care and adoptive homes?

I know, I know, this is all true. And we can’t forgive them; we can’t feel sorry for them. Let them destroy their own lives—that is their right. But why destroy the lives of their children?

Still, I recall other patients who were like Cynthia. An Italian named Nicole. And Black Sharon. And Jamaican Amelia. They all went to court where they promised, vowed, and sobbed, begging the judges to not take away their parental rights.

Sometimes they were allowed to take the children home at specified times. Their faces would shine with such joy then! Sometimes they brought their children to the clinic to show them off and brag about them.

These women all painted their future with the same rosy hue: they would finish treatment, give up prostitution forever, and the courts would fully reinstate their parental rights. They would take up a real profession and bring their children home. They would buy the best clothes for them and send them to prestigious schools and colleges.

They dreamed the way many drug users dream, painting pictures exclusively with rosy tones, because grays were the dominant shades of their present.

Sadly, not all of them passed through the gates of that imagined paradise; not all of them successfully finished treatment and returned to their children. After yet another relapse, several plunged with despair into even greater depravity and drug addiction than before. I know one woman who, after her maternal rights were removed permanently by court, attempted suicide by letting oven gas seep into her apartment. Thankfully, a neighbor smelled gas and called 911 before it was too late. An ambulance and a fire truck arrived. The woman ended up in the psych ward.

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