Ramona: A Story of Perseverance in Kensington

This article was originally published in Al Día on October 18th, 2019, by Fuller Project Correspondent Vanessa Davila. 



Here’s one woman’s story of perseverance:

My name is Ramona Hieye. In the 1960s, I grew up in Kensington, a very different version of the neighborhood you see in the news today. My Kensington had drugs and violence, just like now. My Kensington was no less tragic. But nobody seemed to care about my Kensington at the time. Nobody seemed to care about the stories of women like me.

When I was 13 years old, in 1972, my stepfather kicked me out of the house for the first time. I’d grown up with my mother and sisters, but once this man (who I came to despise) came into the picture, I started down a dark path. He was physically abusive. He never considered me his own. Sometimes, I’d sneak back into the house while he was at work, just to grab a bite to eat.

It took less than a year of feeling angry and alone before I tried my first prescription opiate. I numbed my trauma with drugs, but they also led to shelter. For years, drug houses provided the only reliable roof over my head. The most reliable work, too. I began running the streets of Kensington, selling enough baggies to finance my own habit. My regiment was heroin in the mornings, then crack throughout the day — a bag per hour at the peak of my addiction.

Your body gets used to the drugs and you crave more. In recovery, we call that a monster, and the monster got bigger and bigger. I turned to shoplifting and stealing cars for income. I’d go days without sleeping, then squat overnight in abandoned houses. I didn’t want my mom to see me. I didn’t want to hurt her. I would wake up in tears, sometimes not being able to walk.

Jail saved my life several times. After awhile, it felt like home. I was always in and out — 16 times over the course of my life — so the guards all knew me behind bars. I’d spend months getting clean, sober, and focused on a rebound, although it often didn’t last. At one point, my judge told me, “I am tired of seeing your face.” He then told me to look outside the window of the courtroom and count how many birds there were. When I counted three, he told me that’s how many more times he’d give me. (In the end, I’d need a few more tries.)

My mother never gave up on me, even when I’d nearly done so myself. In 2009, she passed away after I had just got out of prison. It’s one of my biggest regrets, not being with her at the end. I couldn’t picture life without her. She was my support system. And I fell right back into using. But the lasting memory of my mother proved to be a turning point.

Read the full article, as well as the Spanish version, here

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