Cynthia is an only child and had a modest upbringing in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. Cynthia was raised by her mom and grandmother, and was very close with both; especially her mom. Growing up as her grandmother’s favorite grandchild, Cynthia enjoyed the love and attention she received and, as she said, “I felt like I was growing up like a suburban kid.” Though a modest neighborhood, Cynthia never wanted for or worried about anything. She felt “rich.”
Then Cynthia’s world changed quickly. When Cynthia was 20, her mom suddenly got sick and passed away. It was a devastating and impactful loss for Cynthia, “when I lost my mother, I lost my mind! I lost myself and my life started going up and down.” Shortly after losing her mom, Cynthia’s grandmother developed Alzheimer’s disease. The support system Cynthia knew all her life was gone.
As part of Cynthia’s ups and downs she started selling marijuana in small quantities to pay her bills, her car note and support her children. Cynthia’s first offence and prison sentence was at the age of 25. Cynthia received a 2-year sentence for possession and sale of marijuana. When Cynthia arrived at the penitentiary guards and prisoners laughed in disbelief, ‘you got 2 years for that!?’ Cynthia had less than a half an ounce of pot and got 2 years in the penitentiary for it; a felony charge. As Cynthia said, “It did something to me, it affected me. Once you go, it becomes a part of you. I wasn’t the top guy, I wasn’t the middle guy-I was the underdog.”
“I went to the penitentiary, I thought it would help. No, society thinks it will help. But it doesn’t because there isn’t programs, there isn’t something to say, this is what I need or this is where I’m at or this is how I’m feeling.” There are opportunities for school, classes and work but there was not anything to address Cynthia’s emotional and mental health needs. As Cynthia said, “when you go in for the first time you build a wall. You start creating things, personalities, character, emotions, feelings to whatever is going on is how you gotta go. You have to become a chameleon.” This only added to Cynthia’s sense of feeling lost and being lost she was dealing with.
With the stigma of a felony on her record and unaddressed mental health issues, Cynthia struggled. The only way to make money was for her to return to selling drugs. This time is was selling and using harder drugs with much greater consequences. Her life spiraled. She ended up back in prison a few more times. Cynthia remembered the words of her grandmother, “…never give up! The only time you give up is when you’re dead!” She didn’t.
Cynthia had finally realized the loss of her mother and grandmother were even more devastating then she realized. She never knew what it was like to not have her life support system, her “Asthma pump as I call it. I couldn’t breathe!” Cynthia exclaimed.
Cynthia had been looking for her “Asthma pump” since her mom died. Following her grandmother’s words of never giving up, Cynthia tried many things to find that life support, including professional boxing. Showing the fighting spirit and spunk within her, Cynthia had a record of 36-0 as a pro boxer. The pain always came back, the pain that was not yet addressed. Using drugs was not the cause of Cynthia’s pain, it certainly put her in many bad situations, it is simple a symptom of her pain. “When I lost my mother, I lost my mind.”
Finally, fate stepped in. Cynthia was picked up again and this time the judge decided Saint Leonard’s Grace House was the answer for Cynthia. Cynthia had never heard of Grace House, didn’t even know Saint Leonard’s existed. As she said, “I didn’t come here to get clean, I came here because I knew it was the right thing of me. Build my own safe structure, put the discipline back in my life and have a purpose. And here I am!” Since coming to Grace House and addressing her mental health needs, Cynthia knew sobriety would follow, and it has.
Today Cynthia works, has money saved and has a car, the first car she has had in 20 years. Cynthia shares, “I love the way I live now more than the high.” When ask what Grace House has done for Cynthia, “it’s my Asthma pump. When you feel like you can’t breathe anymore, you feel like you’re running out of time, your chest starts tightening up and every second in valuable. So I took every second here as that moment that I was losing my breath and I turned it over into something that I overcame my Asthma. Now I don’t have those chest pains, now I don’t have to worry about running out of breath. Now I don’t have to worry about the Asthma pump. I’m keeping me alive because I’ve seen the grass is greener on the other side, you just have to check it out.”