“Breaking the Cycle”
I grew up in McPherson and graduated from MHS. My parents weren’t really well-off financially, but we seemed to do ok. After I graduated from high school, I attended Sterling College, double majoring in athletic training and art. I had big dreams. Before the end of my first semester I found out I was pregnant. I got married and transferred to Bethany and changed my major to art. My first child was born and I took the fall semester off, planning to return in the spring. The New Year didn’t start off well. We bought a house and two weeks later my baby daughter had RSV, spending three days in the hospital, causing me to miss my first day of class. On the second day of class, I put my car in the ditch. Then, one month later, our house caught on fire doing $30,000 in damage. Then my husband’s grandfather passed way.
After the house fire, we moved into an apartment. My husband was working nights at a local factory and he started doing meth. I followed along. Being the mother of a baby, I was tired and meth gave me energy as well as caused me to lose all of my baby weight. We moved back into our house after repairs from the fire and our drug dealer lived in our basement.
I had an affair with our drug dealer. My husband found out, his response was to get high. I decided this was getting me nowhere and I quit doing meth – cold turkey. Then my husband quit. We both just walked away. I had no rehab and I have been clean for almost 10 years.
In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I both had affairs. I continued to have self-destructive behaviors- the affairs, the drugs, the fights. I guess I was looking for self-worth. You see, I was molested as a child and at the age of 13, I was raped by a family member-consequently, as a young adult – I slept around. I guess it is true about how history repeats itself because I later learned that my mother and her two sisters were molested as children. I now have four daughters and I can tell you that it will not happen to my children! Again, talk about history repeating itself, my parents were old hippies, they did drugs while I was growing up. Matter of fact, they were busted while I was in the DARE program!
My husband and I split up and I filed for divorce when our daughter was two. My grandma passed away, and while it was really sad, it brought my husband and I back together and we had child #2. I decided to go to counseling to deal with the molestation. My husband had another affair and we split up again. I moved out, but he just followed me. Two days after my husband moved into my new apartment, the woman called and said she was pregnant. Deep down I knew his affair was revenge for my affairs and one night stands… all my repetitive self-destruction behavior. Once his child was born it was undeniably hard for me to accept. I wrestled with all of it.
Just more than a month later and on the same day the DNA test confirmed my husband was the baby’s father, I got a call that my cousin, with whom I was very close, was dying from a drug overdose. We got to the hospital just in time to say goodbye. I was both devastated and angry! I gained a son that wasn’t part of me and lost my cousin all in the same day. I stayed pissed for a really long time after that.
One day, my oldest daughter asked me, “Mommy when are you ever going to be happy?” That simple innocent statement “struck” me. I decided to leave for a few days – actually ten days. During that time, the woman that my husband had the affair with thought my husband would come running to her, but he didn’t. During the time I was gone, I decided that I wasn’t going to be mad at my husband or his son anymore and after that I fell in love with our new son. I returned and began building our family.
Back to the poverty thing, I guess you could call our poverty is situational. Yes, we were married young, but we both had jobs, but we also had the drugs. Drugs destroyed our marriage, they destroyed our finances – we had our house for two years before we lost it in foreclose. Yes, the drugs had a lot to do with our money and marital problems. After we cleaned up I went to work for a convenience store and was promoted to manager. After a lengthy lay off my husband got a job at a grain elevator, he is still there today.
We were both work-aholics. We loved to work and we worked hard.
Our marriage finally turned a corner, we were stable and committed. We decided on another child and our third daughter was born. A short year later we had another daughter. Yes, all total we have 5 children. Money got tight and my student loans went into default. My checks started getting garnished at 55% of my gross wages. The rest was going to daycare. I was exhausted and could see no reward in just working to pay daycare and be away from my children, two of which were in diapers, for 50 to 60 hours a week. After five and half years of working for the same company, which I loved…I quit.
My best friend went through the Getting Ahead Class and was an active Circle Leader. She talked me into taking the class. I thought what the heck; it would get me out of the house. I remember sitting in class one night staring dumbfounded at a piece of paper which shed light on the fact that we were indeed financially poor. Honestly before that AHA moment, I hadn’t thought much about poverty. Now I think a great deal about my family’s path out.
Shortly, after being matched with my Allies, a plan developed for me to restart my education. I got my student loans out of default and enrolled in Hutchinson Community College. I begin in January. I have a goal. I want to be a social worker. Having been through so much in my own life, I know I can use my experiences to help others. My kids will hold me accountable for finishing school this time. I truly want more for all my children. They are my life, my reason, my everything and I definitely don’t want my situational poverty to become generational for them. Because I now have a plan and goals, I know together my husband and I will build strong futures for our children.
A Circle Leader’s Story as told to Chris Wiens
I was born in Windsor, England, a stone’s throw away from the Windsor Castel. Though my mother was Irish Catholic, my father, who lived in the Sound of the Bowbells, identified himself as a true London ‘Cockney’.
At age 19, I left England to work in Europe for two men who made costumes. I lived in Kobenhaven Denmark. I traveled around Europe drawing and designing costumes – measuring the clients, sending their measurements back to my employers in Denmark. Once the costumes were completed, they were shipped back and I fitted them to the clients. I earned really good money with this job.
In 1986, I married my second husband, a soldier, and moved with him to America. I brought my money with me and started a real estate business. In my third year, I had acquired $750,000 in property – all rental property. At this same time, I lived in a trailer, at less cost than any of the properties I rented out.
After my husband got out of the Army, he began to help me with the business. After three years of hard work renovating the properties, I doubled my rent income. Another year later, it was time to expand, so I tried to buy a 12 x 12 plex. It was during that time I learned the mortgages on my properties were three months delinquent. Checking into the matter, I learned my husband not only mishandled my business, but he had taken all my money. I lost everything!
I had to start over. For a while, I was a taxi driver in Manhattan, Kansas. After that, I made the decision to get into nursing. I got my CNA in 1986 and kept learning. Over time, I received various certifications and trainings: Social Service Designee, Rehabilitation Aide, Activity Director, Home Health Aide, Certified Medical Aide, Alzheimer’s training, and Developmental Disability training. Eventually, I worked as a Medication Aide in a nursing home.
My downfall came when I was injured at work while helping a patient out of the bathtub. Insurance covered only a fraction of my medical costs. After three years in court, the settlement of $8,000 was reduced to $800 by the time legal fees were deducted.
Disabled now myself, I was so lost, depressed and my self-esteem would have to have been dug up! I was taking 6 to 7 Lortabs a day just to function at half-mast. I was unable to work for two years, reducing my income substantially. At one point, I became so depressed; my girlfriend drove to my house, guided me out to my car, and took me home with her. I lived with my friend for a year.
My friend was afraid I’d do something dangerous. She wasn’t far from wrong. The thought had been in my head.
Over time, I learned about the CIRCLES program and decided to come to meetings just to listen and hopefully meet people.
I soon learned some of those in Circles had challenges worse than mine. Others cried as they told their stories. Everyone was hurting. I quickly learned that CIRCLES was a safe place to share feelings. Best of all, CIRCLES taught us how to overcome our poverty, mentally and emotionally.
Learning to accept help, instead of being the one to give it is the hardest of all the lessons I have ever had to learn. I still go to the Food Bank occasionally. I’m glad it’s there for me, but I sometimes feel it is demoralizing because I used to be able to help others. When my self-esteem plummets, I feel so lost … like my soul was being sucked into a crater in the earth.
CIRCLES has helped me get past my isolation. It helped heal my human relationships. My CIRCLES friends lend listening ears and help me make wise choices. We shop, do needlework, and watch television together to keep an eye on each other.
CIRCLES Community of Support group also encourages each other to ‘give back’. I volunteer at a local resource agency; I quilt for relief, sew wheelchair bags, and help at Salvation Army. I volunteered with these activities until my 55th birthday, when I qualified for a government program that provides re-training for people in situations like mine.
With my new skills, I was recommended for a job at a non-profit organization. I was hired, and today the position is restoring my self-esteem.
My life is turning a round once again. Hopefully back into the right direction again. McPherson is now my home. It has opened my eyes to the ability to keep going and trying to keep my mind on the possibilities, not the negative!
Today, I have my four Yorkies and my friend, Margaret, and all my Circles Friends!
A Circle Leader’s Story as told to Jeanne Smith
When I got sick, everything went to hell. I have Graves’ disease. It is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to release too much of the hormone thyroid. I had breast cancer. People understood that. People asked how I was. This they don’t understand.
I wish you could get inside my head, so I could make you understand. I feel like I am possessed. I can be sitting on the couch and everything is normal. Then my heart starts pounding inside my chest. I feel like I have been jumping up and down. My adrenaline is pumping, and my head can’t focus on anything. My mind just keeps going and going and going and going. My thoughts come out of my mouth, but I can’t stop it.
I had my thyroid removed last August. This spring I had to have surgery to correct thyroid eye disease. The muscle swells and pushes the eyes forward and pinches the optic nerve. They had to break the bones in my skull and put my eyes back in my head. People starred at me because of the bruises. I felt so small.
This is an illness that is not cured. They just can’t get my medicine right. I am so frustrated. My moods are all over the place. I am hyper, sad, anxious and sometimes happy, but not often happy. Sometimes I wish I could die, I am overwhelmed and I can’t handle it. I beat cancer, but I would take the cancer back if I could get rid of this.
It is the little things I can’t do. I have to go to the grocery store with someone.
One day, I stopped to pick up some medicine. I also had been shopping for groceries. I paid for the medicine, but I walked out of the store with this heaping pile of groceries. I meant to pay for them. I just forgot. I was sick. I didn’t do it on purpose.
I paid fines, did community service and was on probation. I have an associate’s degree, but because I have that on my record, I can’t get a decent job.
It wasn’t always like this. My life growing up was normal. I was adopted by two parents who wanted me. I had a bicycle. I sang in the choir. I went to Bible school. I had cousins and aunts and uncles, and they accepted me in, but I felt like I wasn’t a part of their tribe. I always wondered why I had the nose I have. Why do I have these ears? I have always wondered who I was. When I was in high school, I felt misplaced. My parents loved me, but I was rebellious. I smoked and drank. I tried speed. I tried LSD, and smoked marijuana on a daily basis. I always had that feeling in the back of my head that someone didn’t want me. I felt misplaced.
When my children were born, my life totally changed. All the partying was over. My children have always come first in my life. Everything I do is for them. I got married when I was 21. I didn’t love him. While I was waiting to walk down the aisle, I knew that I didn’t want to marry him. But I knew my parents had spent so much money on the wedding, I married him anyway. He thought a good Catholic woman’s place is to stay home, clean the house and take care of the kids. He wasn’t really involved.
My husband and I got divorced, and I was doing pretty good. I was working and paying my bills. Then I met Todd. He was the love of my life. He was so carefree. He was so different than my stick-in-the-mud first husband. The day after Todd and I got married, I found out I was pregnant. Todd was never happy living here. He wanted to go somewhere he could make more money. He moved to St. Louis for work, and I decided to follow. My parents were sick and I had to leave my two adult sons. I was sitting in the front yard with all my stuff crying. It killed me. It broke my heart.
Todd was a different person then. He just wanted to party. He was selfish. He said he always wanted to buy a 1964 VW. He spent $1,000 on it. That was our bills money. It was a pile of shit piece of metal. We were three months behind on our house payment, and we were going to face foreclosure. Our son was struggling. Todd bought pot from one of my son’s friends, and something in my heart just slammed shut. I couldn’t take it anymore. We eventually divorced.
I am not working now. I have been so sick. I can’t get myself together enough to do it. My biological grandfather, who I met as an adult, has been helping me. He bought me and my son a nice house to live in. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know what I would do, but I just don’t have any money to live. I have had to sell almost everything I own. I had antiques I inherited from my grandmother and mother … my mother’s china, her handkerchief from her wedding, my grandmother’s cabinet. I felt like I sold my soul. I had to just shut it off. These were just objects, and I have to survive.
My son and I struggle. He has psycho effective bipolar disorder. It has been very hard for him. They would put him on medicine and he just couldn’t get out of bed for a week. He is doing better now, and he is going to start college. I do what I can, but we don’t have much. We usually eat once a day, but I don’t feel like cooking. There is only so much frozen stuff and take out you can eat.
Todd is back in my life. He has been in Circles for about a year, and I think it has really changed his life. I am new to this Circles thing. We will see how it goes, but with Todd and my son and my grandfather, I feel I have a tribe, a very small tribe, but a tribe. After all this time, I feel like I fit.
A Circle Leader’s Story as told to Cristina Janney
I lay on the floor of my silent mobile home praying to God that there would be some way out, bargaining with Him that there would be some way that I could get my kids back. I had left an abusive husband and my family a year before, moving several hundred miles from home to get a new start for me and my kids. But now, without a job, living in the McPherson’s hidden ghetto in a rundown trailer, my nightmare had come true.
A night of partying ended in a pullover by the cops as I drove home and an arrest for driving while suspended. Because I was from out of state and had no job, I was considered a flight risk and no one would bond me out. For four days I pleaded with officers to check on my four kids who I had left sleeping at home the night of my arrest. They finally did go by my place about an hour before I was released, and I got the news that while I was checking out with my bail bondsman, my kids were checking in to juvenile intake and headed for foster care. It was the weekend and there was nothing I could do but go home, the bondsman said.
I found my home a wreck – trash everywhere, dried out food on plates sitting around – the kids had even set a fire on the table during the time they were taking care of themselves. I was told that the officers who picked up my kids didn’t believe we had running water or electricity and that the house wasn’t safe.
And so they took them.
My bail bondsman told me to get my act together and get the place cleaned up if I wanted to get my kids back. All I wanted to do was drink. But I refused the urge.
This is where it got me. All this crap I went through in my life had now been transferred to my kids, and I’ve done it to them now. Not my parents, not my husband – me. I might as well have stayed in an abusive relationship – at least they would have had everything they needed. I had left because no one else was going to get my kids and now they were gone.
I grew up living with my grandfather. By the time I was five, I had been molested by my aunt’s husband and several of my uncle’s friends who would stay at his house. I tried to tell my mom, but she wouldn’t listen. I learned that we don’t talk about those kinds of things; you handle trouble like that yourself. You don’t snitch on nobody.
By the time I was nine, I thought things can’t change. I started acting out. I was smoking cigarettes and weed and leaving the house for hours at a time whenever I felt like it. People in grandpa’s house, including my dad and uncle, were using drugs and there was alcohol. Before long I was gang banging and was jumped into a gang by the time I was 10. I was getting in fights at school and skipping school to run around with my friends. My parents didn’t know how to stop me.
I was only 10 when I lost my virginity to an older teen, who raped me at gun point. That same horrible night I narrowly escaped from a pimp who was going to sell me to cover missing drug money that had been stolen by my rapist.
I was 13 when I became pregnant with my first child, 14 when my baby girl was born. Within months I was back in juvenile and my baby’s father was also back in jail. A six-month sentence turned into a three year stretch because of assaults I committed in prison
Within months after getting out of jail, I was pregnant again and married the father of my children, who went back to prison soon after our second daughter was born.
I tried to straighten my life out at that time, still living at my grandfather’s house. I got a job, took care of my kids and met a nice older guy who wined and dined me – and got me pregnant. He was married, I was married, but we moved in together after he was convinced my son was his. He had a good job and eventually we had eight kids in the house, my two, four together and his two from another relationship. He supplemented his earnings by hustling drugs, so we never were on public assistance. I tried to be a good wife and stay-at-home mom, but he became more and more controlling and verbally, then physically abusive. I started drinking more and seriously considered committing suicide, but didn’t want to leave my kids alone. I finally reached a decision. I was done. And I was gone.
He left for a week for his out-of-town job and I packed everything we would need, put the rest in a storage unit, took $3,500 I had managed to set aside and the four youngest kids and I headed for a friend in Kansas who had offered us a place to stay.
I thought I was doing the right thing for my kids, starting over, starting fresh. And then my friend asked me to leave after two weeks – four extra kids were more than she could handle.
When I was a kid, I was stupid. Rebelling, rebelling, rebelling – it was so bad because I had quit caring. All those adults in my life that did nothing to help me. Such a huge family and nothing. When I was 10, I’d be gone for two or three days and they wouldn’t come looking. And now my kids were that age and if I didn’t do something to change, they were going to be in that same place.
Desperate for my kids’ return, I cleaned up the trailer, made a list of all the things I was going to do to improve our lives and pleaded with the county attorney to give me a chance. I got my kids back. But, I still needed support. That support came from an angel named Rebekah, whose son was a friend of my son. The medication I was taking to control my anxiety and urge to drink made me so tired I couldn’t get out of bed. Rebecca heard what was going on and stopped by. She told me she had been through bad times, too, and asked if she could pray with me. She became my friend and my support. She got me out of bed and she fought for me. That’s something no one had ever done for me before. If she hadn’t done that for me, I really don’t know where I’d be. I had lost hope – I really had no hope to begin with. I was born without hope.
Rebecca introduced me to Circles, which I’ve been attending for two years. I have a job, I do volunteer work and I’m taking steps toward getting an LPN – my long time dream. I now own my own place in a better part of town and no one can kick me out. I’m in AA; I never knew about that before. I have the hugest support group – something that I never had, even with my grandfather and my parents. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they would chase me down and I know they loved me, but support is a whole ‘nuther thing.
I miss my family sometimes, but when I think about it, I didn’t really have them. I was standing alone in a lot of ways. I could have probably died down there and no one would have noticed until I didn’t pick up the kids. Here, if I don’t make it someplace I get a phone call to make sure I’m OK. Becoming involved in Circles brought me out, teaching me so many things I didn’t know and that now I’m teaching my kids. Everything happens for a reason. I don’t think I would change how my life has turned out.
A Circles Leader’s Story as told to Cindy Baldwin
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
No matter what anyone says, I always did the best that I could. I’m not perfect but then again, who is? I done what I think is right and I am grateful for the people and organizations of McPherson. Here is a long tale that is not so old, though I may be. I still believe what I had to do I did for my own actions and no one else could tell me otherwise. For one whole year, I spent time living on the streets of McPherson. This is the story of gratitude, not shame.
Oh I use to have it all…money, houses, and more…then I got old and retired from the working world. To be honest, I thought it would be a lot of fun, till the money ran dry and the IRS came a knocking on my door. The bills piled high and the money I received from my social security didn’t stay long in my hands. I felt like I was on a long and winding tunnel and I could not get out, so I sold all of my stuff and struck out on my own.
A 70 year old man living on the streets, the best way to take it is one day at a time for one whole year. I slept in my truck sometimes, on cold nights, in the Post Office. Other times I used stores for restrooms and such. Then when I really needed help, I turned to the church and found that God could take care of me when I couldn’t. Things began to get better, slowly at first. I would have gone hungry, at times, if not for the church. The church helped with paying for motel rooms for me. When they couldn’t, the Senior Center then helped out.
I found that it is very helpful to have someone help you, even if it is a little embarrassing to ask for the help. Now I would not have made it if not for the help and resources in and around town. I kept to myself most of the time. However, I found that complete strangers were more willing to help me than my own family would. People would ask me, “Can I give you a ride?” or “Are you ok?” On many occasions I went to the hospital and they have always helped me, have taken care of me and have saved my life.
I’ve had people tell me that “there is no reason for you to be doing this.” However, I know that I have these bills on my shoulders and if I don’t pay them…well, I just don’t feel right then. I am obligated to pay off my debt and I am doing so one payment at a time.
I have great respect for my wife, God bless her soul. She is a wonderful woman, even though we are no longer together. She supported me a lot when I was out on the streets. She would let me park my truck at her house and have a safe place to sleep…in my truck, of course, but parked in her driveway. My poor wife now has cancer for the third time and I feel terrible that I cannot help her in her time of need. But I am very grateful for the emotional support she gave me during the time that I was without a roof.
Now don’t get me wrong, I could have gotten me an apartment. I had the money to do so, but I just didn’t want one at the time. I never told my family that I was living on the streets. They once told me, “We will pay all of the expenses to put you in an assisted living home.” However, that is not what I wanted. So whenever they called me I always told them I was “Great”. Ya know, it would have been a lot easier to have let someone else run my life for me, but I would not be as strong as I am now if I did. I faced my problems. I didn’t run away. I know God will help me with what I cannot do for myself. I know I’m not perfect, but I am still learning new things each and every day. I do the best that I can with what I have, but I do know I make a lot of mistakes. But then, I just apologize to God and start over again. I am so grateful for the people and organizations of McPherson. I want to give back, starting with little things. I do know this, when I have a need, I pray and God sends me people.
One day, I hope that I can do more than just say “Thank you!” Things may not always go according to my plan, but in God’s plan I know that I am doing GREAT! Now when I get into a difficult moment, things tend to work themselves out. I had a lot of help to survive on the streets.
Living on the streets was tough and I haven’t fully recovered, but I’m still doing my best to keep going. I have a son that lives a long way from here, lives with his mother. He keeps asking “When are you coming to see me?” I will one day, once I’m done with what I feel obligated to do now.
I will say this about McPherson, though. There is a lot of help, a lot of resources out there for anyone to use, not just senior citizens. I have to thank the people of McPherson for being so kind and willing to help and yet ask for nothing in return. Now that I think about it…I find that it costs a lot more to live on the streets than it does to live in an apartment.
A Man Living in Poverty’s Story as told to Rhea Lyle
“Learning to Trust”
My mom left my dad when I was two. I was little but still recall the violence. She was a nurse and worked hard to provide for my older brother and me. She remarried when I was ten. There are four of us total. I spent many weekends with my dad and his live-in. The first time he punched me I was 6.
I took my first drink at age seven which is when I also began my career in the resource room at school. I acted out, both verbally and violently and consistently fought with my teachers and mother. My dad used me as a punching bag on a regular basis and shared with me repeatedly how stupid I was and that I would never amount to anything. There are some good memories with my dad, but the abuse overpowers them.
One day when I was thirteen, my dad started in on me- I’d had enough and retaliated. He called the police. That day I got a broken nose and a trip to Juvy. I spent the next two years there. My mom came to see me often. My dad did not come. I was glad.
When I was fifteen I got out and immediately started running the streets- getting high or drunk whenever I could. After many attempts to get me to follow the rules, my mom made me leave the house. She said it wasn’t safe for my younger siblings. I started couch surfing. For a while I found shelter at a disabled man’s home. I would walk his dog, clean and run errands in exchange for the couch, a shower and food.
Somehow I stayed in school. There was this teacher, Caroline Cloat. She said I couldn’t quit. She wouldn’t let me. She always told me she cared about me, my future, my life and no matter what she wouldn’t give up on me. I don’t know why I stayed. I guess because of her. I was still homeless and learning what it meant to sleep outside and be hungry and often dirty, but I was in school. On graduation day my senior year, my mom picked me up, we went, I graduated and then I left. She wanted to have a party for me afterwards. I told her don’t bother.
Next came heavier drugs. One night I got in a fight with my step dad and the cops were called. I got in a fight with them too. I was arrested on two counts of battery. This began my criminal career. Around the same time my dad was arrested in a knife fight. He went to prison for four years.
I couldn’t handle probation so I left town with a traveling magazine sales crew. I lasted a month and then hitchhiked to Concordia. Not long after I was arrested again for possession. I ended up in Salina and eventually was picked up on a probation violation and did a year in jail. The whole time I was there I never thought about changing. I only thought about getting out and running the streets. I had nobody and nobody cared.
Once out, I began using and stealing. I met a girl. She got pregnant. I loved her. I tried to straighten up. I got a job and a place at a friend’s for us to stay. I desperately wanted it to work. I desperately wanted a family. All my money went to supporting us. I was not paying fines or going to probation meetings. One night my girlfriend and I had a bad fight. The next day she took some pills and lost our baby. I was devastated. To this day, that was the absolute most painful day of my entire life.
Because I had failed to meet obligations with the courts, I was picked up and at age 23 I went to prison. When I got out, more of the same happened. I spent the next year sleeping outside or at the Salina Mission. My life was going nowhere. I met another girl. I came to McPherson. During a stay in jail here, I heard about the Omega program. I also got a job in a local restaurant. The boss treated me good. There was another lady there. She kept talking about Circles. She kept hunting me down to talk to me about changing my life and getting clean, and God and a future. I went to the Omega house. I stayed clean for six months and joined Circles. I began saving money. I bought a computer. I got Allies-Gerry and Jay.
For the first time since I was a kid, I was clean, had a steady job, a church and was a part of something. I had men in my life I could look up to. I had relationships and goals. The first and only time I ever drove a car Gerry was there. Jay took me to his farm and taught me about milo and begun to teach me to weld. I looked up to both of them in different ways. Honestly, Gerry, is the first and only man, I had ever felt loved by. Jay spent time with me and showed me stuff “men” know. I needed them both. Yet, I was terrified I would let them down. So I did.
I relapsed on chemicals and the girlfriend. Next thing I knew, I was broke, homeless and screwed up again. I stopped going to Circles and seeing my allies. After my girlfriend sold all my stuff and then physically assaulted me, I went to find the lady from Circles. We talked. She told me I had to take time off until I was six months clean again. She suggested I go back to the Omega program. I saw the house leader of my house. He talked to me about grace and forgiveness and coming back. Not long after, I did.
Today, I have been clean for nine months. I am back in Circles and I am about to be hired permanently at a local factory. I work hard every day and walk to work at 4:30 every morning. I have goals. After I am hired permanently, I will have insurance and with a little bit of time I will be out of poverty.
Today, I have Circles, my Pastor, my house leader and soon I will have Allies again. I also have dreams. I want to learn to drive and get a license. I want to get a car. I want to be a welder and have a trade. And someday I want to open a martial arts studio and get kids like me off the street and into something positive. I want to give back. I guess telling my story is a start to that.
God has always loved me. I know He kept me alive because He has plans for my life. He is always with me. Now I have people too and I am learning to trust. I am a long ways from where I want to go. Most days I am still scared- yet I am learning not to run. I have Circles and the Omega program, it is a start.
I saw my mom a few months ago. She hugged me tight and told me she is proud of me. That felt good.
A Circle Leaders’ Story as told to Rebecca Lewis
Why the heck did God let all these horrible things happen to me? I’ve always been told God watches over his children with care and tenderness. If that’s true, then tell me why. Why was I molested by my cousin at age four? Why was I raped and beaten at age five? Why the heck was I molested again at age six and yet again at age fourteen? If God was truly the loving, caring omnipotent one, why would he allow his child to be violated over and over again in such a horrific way? No parent would ever allow something evil to happen to their child. Your parent should be there for you. If God “The Father” really cared about me, my story would never exist.
I was raised by my alcoholic mother in a drug infested Florida neighborhood. It was the perfect setting to support her meth addiction. When we moved there from McPherson, Kansas, I was told we were pursuing a brand new start. Mom had been raised by her alcoholic mother, and her brother had died from alcohol abuse. We were all victims of bad choices that led to generational poverty. My mom said I could move back to Kansas after one year if I didn’t like living in Florida. She lied to me. We lived with her abusive boyfriend. Alcohol and drugs helped my mom cope with the beatings. I moved in with a friend so I wouldn’t have to witness the domestic violence. It was there where I met my boyfriend who lived in the same apartment complex. And it wasn’t long before I began dealing with my own problems.
At age 14 I was hit by a car. The damage to my back was permanent and would limit my ability to work for the rest of my life. When I was 15, I gave birth to my first child. He died. My son’s death spun me into a world of devastation and, by age 16, I was an alcoholic. Another son was born, followed by a daughter. We lived in a small apartment, and I was instructed by my boyfriend to stay home. I wasn’t allowed to leave the apartment. I wasn’t allowed to have friends over. Just like mom, alcohol and drugs became my coping mechanisms. By age 22, I had had my fifth child. I found myself trapped in a world of poverty due to life circumstances and how I chose to respond.
Everyone tells me I have a powerful story. What’s so powerful about it? For me, it’s just a story. I became a mom at age 15. Still a child myself, I had to grow up immediately and rely on motherly instincts in order to survive. I thought those instincts would be easier to grasp with the help of alcohol, meth and nicotine. I had no idea where those choices would take me. The years were not good. I continued to depend on alcohol and drugs. Three of my four children were taken away from me. Depression and suicidal thoughts controlled every waking moment. I could only work lower paying jobs due to my back problems and lack of education. My youngest child was in and out of mental hospitals because she was cutting herself. I was in an abusive relationship. At some point during this nightmare I ended up back in McPherson. My life had become a heavy burden. Why was I being punished? The answer never came.
But, then one day, I met Rebecca Lewis who, for two long years, tried to convince me I needed to help myself. I needed to get sober. I needed to end my abusive relationship. I needed to get rid of my many friends who were alcoholics and drug addicts. It was time for me to make good choices and rise above and beyond a life of poverty. Rebecca encouraged me to find relationships elsewhere – relationships that would replace the drugs and alcohol that I used so often to manage my meaningless existence. I moved back home with my mother, who had also moved back to McPherson and had been drug and alcohol free for 20 years. Strange to think the woman who had led me through one bad experience to the next was now my safe haven. Living at home was crucial to my emotional well-being as I fought off powerful cravings related to the only life I had ever known. But over time, I began to understand the journey. My journey was about building character.
I joined the Circles group thinking these people didn’t know what the heck I was going through. They had no idea what it’s like to be molested and raped over and over again. They didn’t know the pain of losing a child when one is just a child herself. They didn’t know what it’s like to puke your guts out because you consumed too many drinks. They had no idea what it was like to have no money to pay the monthly rent. They had never spun into depression when their children refused to acknowledge their existence. They didn’t know what it was like to come down off the ultimate high. They didn’t know the constant battle of waking up when you didn’t want to face another day. All the trauma I’ve experienced is more than one person should ever have to handle.
Somehow I was able to share my story. And through the Circles process I learned I must be honest about my past. Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Be true to your work, your word and your friends.” I live by that. I exposed my weaknesses and scars, and now my addictions can’t control me anymore. I have focus and direction. I’m learning the value of escaping generational poverty. I have a full-time job. I purchased a car. This year I moved into my own house. Soon I will consolidate my student loans, striving to be debt free. I will file my own taxes. And then I will take a vacation with my 16-year-old daughter. Circles brought me from being a “nobody” to being a “somebody.”
When I think about what I’ve gone through, I know I have a level of wisdom that is beneficial. I want to help those who are ready to help themselves. It doesn’t matter how hard your life was or is, tomorrow will always bring a new start. I’m a survivor. I’m a survivor of domestic violence. I’m a survivor of rape. I’m a survivor of alcohol and drug abuse. I never thought I could say that. I’m a survivor of poverty!
A Circle Leader’s Story as told to Anne Kirchner
“What I Know About Me”
Back when I was a year and a half, my older brother and a couple of his friends decided to give me liquor. I guzzled it down – faster than milk. But my brother’s friend asked, “what if she gets addicted to it. What will your mom say?” My brother answered that our mom was out doing her own drug dealing. Besides, my brother thought I was mom’s favorite and that really pissed him off.
When I was ten, my mom and I were in a store and she was having me try on shoes before school started. I remember mama saying, “put these shoes on and do it quietly.” I told mama that they felt funny. Mama said “no, they’re perfect – just your size. Now don’t take those off. We are going to walk out of this store when I say it’s time. That clerk won’t notice a thing if you don’t call attention to yourself.” I kept trying to tell mama they still felt funny and that I didn’t need new shoes for school. I told mama “I love all my new Goodwill clothes. I really do.” I had heard mama crying and complaining a few days before about not being able to buy me things for school. I told mama, “I am fine, mama. Fourth grade will be great – with or without these shoes.” Mama had a lot of pride and told me that “nobody’s gonna say that I ain’t providing for you. Nobody! And I’m gonna make sure you get new shoes. Now let’s start walking toward the front door and to our bus. Go, girl, go!” Looking back at this now, I have to laugh…it was so funny. Two left shoes. That is what she made me shoplift that day. Two left shoes.
When I was eleven, I walked in on mama looking in the empty cupboards and talking to herself. There was nothing in the cupboards…nothing! We still had six more days until the welfare check came. But then, the welfare check was never enough anyway. It was $400 and $300 of it went for rent. Mama said, “how am I supposed to keep us living around here on $400 a month?” Looking in the fridge, there was nothing there, either. I asked mama, “can we go to the grocery store tonight? Can we?” Mama sighed and told me to grab the ketchup and she grabbed the spaghetti noodles and said “we are going to have the best supper ever tonight! This will be yummy.”
And I remember it was good! Mama called it her ‘Mexican Spaghetti’, just noodles, ketchup and some of her favorite spices. It actually was pretty good. Mom was pretty talented at stretching a dollar. She taught me how to survive. She taught me how to budget and pay bills although I struggle with that today. I don’t blame her for selling drugs to get us by. She loved me a lot and that was the only way she knew to get us by.
When I was 30, my brother had me prostituting myself in order to make money. Yep, I sold my body. One good thing came out of my prostitution days – my son Tom. My wonderful middle son, James, came from a bad match-up too. That was the date-rape night back in 1998. And my oldest? Carl? Well, his biological dad was and still is a total jerk. I don’t have a thing now to do with any of the three dads, but I am so glad that I gave birth to each of my three sons – Carl, James and Tom.
I am 35 years old and two and a half years ago, I called someone I heard might be able to help me. I was poor and I was so tired of being poor. But when I called Rebecca, I was asked if I was clean. Nope – I was still using. Rebecca was so kind and gentle, but she told me I would have to have six months clean time before I could start Circles. I hung up the phone and looked at Jane. “We have to quit using heroin and meth. Quit using! Quit using? How am I ever going to manage that?”
I kept asking Jane “How am I going to get clean? How?” I knew this Circles program sounded good and I was so tired of being dirt poor. Me and my mom, from way back, we were always trying to keep our head above water. You know, not be evicted – that was our main goal – and to have enough to eat. My mom was so good at making sure, in her own way, that I had what I needed. But now, “how am I going to get clean?”
Jane kept telling me I COULD GET CLEAN! You could do it for your boys. Her daughter helped her, and she said she would help me. She said, “Let’s get off this heroin first.”
A few weeks after quitting drugs, I felt terrible! I was freezing. Everything in my body was shaking. I kept saying “I don’t think I can do this.” I REALLY wanted to go back on the drugs!
Jane would hold my hair back and wiping my face as I was vomiting. She kept encouraging me, telling me “No you don’t. You CAN get free of the drugs and I will help.” Neither one of us wanted to go back to that kind of life again. I was so tired of being a slave to meth and heroin. I was so tired of not being able to pay our bills. She kept saying “You can do this; you can be free of this!”
Then two years ago, Jane and I were both finally free of the drugs. AND we had been free for six months. So I made the call back to Rebecca Lewis and told her Jane and I were ready to join the Circles Program. Rebecca asked if we were clean now and I proudly told her “Yes, we are! Yes, we are clean. No more heroin and no more crack meth.” Jane and I enrolled in the next Getting Ahead Class.
Now, we have been in Circles for two years and here is what I know about myself:
- I can make things happen. I am a problem-solver. I got that from my mom.
- My past is a mold for what I want to be. If it wasn’t for all the bad stuff, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have forgiven myself and others. I have that forgiveness today because of my loving partner, Jane.
- Circles changed my mindset. The people at Circles made me trustworthy and made me employable. They also showed me that I can be more trusting of others. I am getting myself and my family out of poverty. I now have hope. Someday I want to be a drug and alcohol counselor and someday I will.
Thank you, Circles.
A Circle Leader‘s Story as told to Bev Nye
“No Negative Energy”
When I was 16, I walked to school every day with my sister and our route took us by a particular club. I began to see a man there, leaning against the wall when we walked by. I told my sister, “He look good. I’m going to get him.” And that’s how I met Dwain.
When I tell people we been together 33 years, they say, “I wish I could find a man like you. You been together so long.” But they don’t want what we went through. I went from being very involved in the Holiness Church — singing in the choir, playing the drums, and all kinds of things — to becoming an addict who sometimes got beat bloody by her man, this same man I’m still with today. My three children ended up in the foster care system a couple of times until I got cleaned up enough to get them back. Dwain’s the one that got the drugs back then, so I was afraid to leave him.
Growing up, my dad was a hustler selling drugs. My mom did housekeeping at different hotels. My mom took care of us; she never let us want for anything. Dad died in 1973 and my mom died in 1987. My mom died in her sleep when she breathed in her vomit after she’d been drinking. I took over raising my three-month old baby brother then. He’s 27 now and calls me Mom along with my kids.
Dwain was in and out of prison all the time our kids were growing up. I mostly supported my kids on welfare except for a time when I worked at a candy factory. When Dwain got out after my mom died, he was clean. Once he quit drugs, he quit beating me. Now he’s the sweetest man in the world.
I got scared of smoking crack when I ended up in the hospital with heart problems. I got kids and grandkids. I decided I wanted to live. We moved to Kansas where our daughter was living because it was the only way we were going to stay clean. The drugs were hard on my body. Now I got problems with my lungs and my heart, I got COPD. Right now I also got a tumor on my leg, a slipped disk, and a spot of my liver from my drinking and drugging.
Dwain supports us now, cooking and washing dishes at the long-term care home. The clients there love him. He’s got an old bicycle he rides to work.
They took away our food stamps because they said Dwain makes too much. I don’t understand that. Each month we pay the rent with one check and we pay the utilities with his other check and get by on what’s left over, which ain’t much. We has to go to the Food Bank and the church for food. The disability people are considering my filing for the third time. But they say because I don’t have a regular doctor whose seen me for a while, I don’t qualify. I can’t afford no regular doctor, only trips to the ER.
It’s getting better. We got food and water but I still got to put more in. Dwain don’t let me worry about it. He won’t miss work and he doesn’t want me worrying about it. Sometimes I braid hair for little kids and some adults and make a little that I put in every now and then. If it wasn’t for that man, I don’t know where I’d be right now.
I have so many ideas, but its going to take school for me to do that. I want to open up a soul food restaurant because people really like my cooking. I want to open up a homeless shelter
My blessings come through helping others. I kept seeing a man in the park across the street and figured out he was homeless. I asked him if he was okay and he said he was fine. It started getting cold and I called the church about him. I told him about how the church helps and sent him to talk to them. At Thanksgiving, I take whatever is in my refrigerator and the turkey from the food bank, cook it up, and call the neighbors over. If I can help others, I help them. I know how hard it is.
I don’t want no negative energy around me. Even when I’m doing bad, I’m positive. God didn’t bring me this far for nothing. I know He’s got something in store for me. I just got to sit still and let Him do it. He will knock you down to let you know who He is. I tell people no matter what you’ve been through or what you’re going through, you don’t need drugs and alcohol to get you through it. Lift up your head toward heaven and that’s where your help is going to come from.
My kids tell us they’re proud of us. My daughter is married and goes to church. She doesn’t live in poverty. My son is incarcerated for five years. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and he loves the Lord. That’s happened since he’s been in jail. He told me, “I never been locked up this long. I got to get out and stay focused and keep my mind on God.”
I hate talking about my past but it is what it is. I never try to forget it because it strengthens me. It helps me realize I’m better than that. Regardless of what I’ve been through and what I’m going through, I’m so happy because of where He brought me from. I don’t mind telling nobody what I’ve been through because He brought me through it. The storm is over now. I can see a little sunshine in my life.
A Woman Living In Poverty’s Story as told to Kate Martin-Johnson
“To Begin Again”
This story of how I ended up living in poverty in McPherson, Kansas. This is also the story of how I found Circles at my lowest point, when I was living in a friend’s apartment, facing the possibility of life in a wheelchair, and considering suicide.
I was born and raised in Southern California, the third of four siblings in an upper middle class family. Financially, we were upper middle class. Otherwise, we were not. My older siblings have a different father than my younger brother and me. My father was shot and killed in a police raid when I was 2 years old, so I can only assume that he was doing some kind of drugs. I don’t remember him; I have only seen photos.
My mother, from what I can remember, was verbally and physically abusive — and usually drunk or high. During elementary school we had a live-in nanny, because Mother was mostly gone from early morning until late at night. I had to watch out for my younger brother, because he was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. I got him ready for school and protected him from cruel kids.
On my 14th birthday, out of the blue, my grandfather — my dad’s father — came to the house, told my brother and I to leave everything, get into his truck, and go. That was the first best day of my life.
My grandfather put me to work with him. I carried his tools, watched, and learned. I attended night school, and at age 18, I got a journeyman’s license in sheet metal work. After my grandfather passed away, I earned my CDL and went to work for trucking company in McPherson, where my brother was also working.
Driving was easy money but very boring, because I didn’t like being alone. I was planning to move back to California, but I met a woman and, to my surprise, fell in love and got married.
We bought a trailer, and for the first time in my life, I worried about money. My wife had been raised in different economic conditions than I was. I couldn’t understand why she would settle for poverty, and she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t settle for poverty. At the time, I had no knowledge of the “hidden rules of class.” I was itching to go somewhere where the wages were better, so in 2000 we moved to the St. Louis area. The first year we were there, we were able to afford a nice house and new cars. I felt like I could finally relax.
My wife, on the other hand, had never wanted to move, so we separated and she returned to McPherson with our son. I missed him and eventually moved back to McPherson, too. My plan was to see my son graduate from high school and then be on my way back to a normal life.
In the meantime, degenerative disk disease in my lower spine forced me to give up manual labor, the only type of work I had ever known. March 3, 2012, was my last day of work. I couldn’t even finish out the day. I had saved $3,000, which I knew wouldn’t last very long. Thankfully I had a good friend who let me stay in her apartment for free. She was on disability, so she was always broke, too. I applied for disability and was refused three times. I fell into a depression. I felt totally useless, just taking up space. I tried two times to overdose, because I didn’t see a future.
One day my friend told me about a class she had learned about on Facebook, something about getting out of poverty. If I finished the class, I would get $200. I thought “$200 — I’m in!”
The first half of the class was like “bla, bla, bla” to me, but when they started talking about the “hidden rules of class,” I started paying attention. When they talked about marriage problems, I felt like they were talking about my marriage. That was my “a-ha” moment. I thought that if I had known the hidden rules earlier, my marriage might have lasted. Anyway, I started learning how to set and meet goals. My attitude changed. Rebecca Lewis was the first person in my 48 years who actually cared about me. I don’t mean just me. It’s just that she cared and didn’t have to. That was the first time I felt that emotion.
Since completing the Getting Ahead Class and becoming a Circle Leader, I really am on top of the world. Circles has changed my life for the better. Instead of just saying “One day I am going back to school to better my life,” I am actually doing it. I just finished my first semester toward my associate’s degree in business through Hutchinson Community College. Circles is pretty much all about education. You get an education, you get a better job, and you get out of poverty.
I no longer want to move back to California. I want to stay and get involved in Circles as much as I can, so that someday I might help someone in their struggle to improve their life.
I recently had surgery to remove the bone spur that was pressing on my sciatic nerve. While I will never be able to return to manual labor, I am no longer bed-ridden. I have applied for a part-time job in a local hardware store, and my ex-wife and I are in couples counseling. We have become good friends again!
If it weren’t for Rebecca, Brenda, Chad, my Allies, and everyone in Circles, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. For that, I am very thankful.
A Circle Leader’s Story as told to Janette Hess
A Poem by Kristie Huhn
We are like butterflies, caught in the hands of life. We beat our wings trying to escape the prison we are in. We continue to beat and beat our wings until they are crushed. We are wounded. The hands open up and we fall, defeated, to the ground. Lying helpless in the dirt, we look up and watch as we are ignored. Stepped over and almost stepped on time and time again.
Then someone stops … actually stops and takes the time to look at us. They reach down and ever so gently, pick us up, holding us in the cup of their hands. We struggle trying to fight, remembering the past hurts we went through. We are powerless. We can’t fight any more. We are broken!
They put us in a safe secure place. We are scared. Day after day, they nurture us with soft words of encouragement. As each day passes, we cry less, hurt less. We grow stronger, gaining strength. Strength we never thought we had.
Then one day we start to feel our wings move, just a little at first. We become afraid and we withdraw. Yet the words of encouragement keep coming. Slowly we start to believe them, start to believe in ourselves, so we start to move our wings again.
The stronger our wings get, the more they move. When one day our wings are finally healed, but still we stay. Our wings are healed but our soul is not. Still the words of encouragement come. Then all of a, sudden we wake up. We realize we are free. We have found freedom, freedom to fly, fly wherever we want to go, do whatever we want to do. The freedom to be who we want to be. But most important, the freedom to succeed at being the person we were always meant to be, but never had the courage or the wisdom to know how to be that person while we were trapped in the hands of life.
Without Circles all the butterflies have a good chance at dying.
You will read some of our stories in this book. Stories of how we have overcome odds and now we are on our way to success. Without help, a lot of us will never get that chance to write our new ending. The butterflies in this poem are those of us living in poverty and those healing the butterflies are Circles. You may ask, ‘what can I do? I am just one person’. One person is all it takes to make a difference in someone’s life. We always need volunteers. One way of volunteering is to be an Ally. Allies are intentional friends nothing more nothing less. They are just everyday people. They are an ear to bend when things are not going right; a shoulder to cry one when all hope is lost; open arms to give hugs when comfort is needed; a warm heart to let us know someone cares and a big smile and some words of encouragement as we continue on our journey to a better life, to self-reliance. And you know what…. we always have time for our friends!