Prototypes Saved My Life
Desiree is one of many Prototypes alumni who were once brought down by addiction and turned their lives around. She puts it more bluntly: “Prototypes saved my life.”
As a child, Desiree’s world was marked by instability and neglect. Her parents, both alcoholics and drug users, divorced when she was 7. Growing up with few boundaries and little discipline, she says, “I ran the streets, looking for love in all the wrong places.” The one stabilizing force was her grandmother, whom Desiree regarded as her best friend.
At 14, Desiree became pregnant by a man twice her age and gave birth to her first child, a girl, who was placed in the custody of Desiree’s mother. The following year, her grandmother was hospitalized and passed away mere minutes before the family arrived to say good-bye. Desiree’s stepfather blamed her for their delay in reaching the hospital. Consumed by guilt as well as grief, she turned to drugs for solace. She eventually dropped out of high school, and the next ten years were marked by homelessness and addiction. She gave birth to two more daughters, for whom her mother again assumed custody. To finance her drug habit, she resorted to theft, and she eventually served time in prison.
On Valentine’s Day 2010, while in prison on a drug-related offense, she gave birth to her fourth daughter. Holding her baby for the first time, Desiree vowed to change. For the next four years, Desiree stayed clean and raised her youngest daughter. But with little money and no support system, she drifted back into drugs and turned to crime to pay for food and rent.
In 2013, she was convicted of burglary, and her daughter went to live with Desiree’s eldest daughter, now 19. Facing six years in prison, Desiree became despondent. “I was so afraid of losing my little girl,” she says. “I was ready to do anything to get her back.”
In prison, she took refuge in prayer and resolved to fight to regain custody. With help from Prototypes’ counselors and an understanding judge, Desiree was referred to the Los Angeles County’s Second Chance Women’s Re-entry Court, which works with Prototypes to tackle the root causes of women’s nonviolent crimes — drug addiction, mental illness and trauma.
At Prototypes’ Pomona residential facility, Desiree immersed herself in the agency’s family-focused services. She attended Grief and Loss classes, working through the guilt and pain that had plagued her since her grandmother’s death. In Prototypes’ highly structured environment, she received evidence-based treatment to address her addiction, mental health concerns and past history of trauma while also learning discipline and other life skills that she did not acquire growing up.
On September 18, 2014, ten months after her arrest, Desiree regained custody of her youngest daughter, who joined her at Prototypes. With the cloud of addiction lifted and her daughter happily with her again, Desiree began to believe in herself for the first time. After a year in residential treatment, she transitioned to Prototypes’ outpatient program and found permanent housing nearby.
Today, mother and daughter are practically inseparable. They swim, skate, ride bikes and take long walks together. On weekdays, Desiree volunteers at Prototypes while her daughter attends the Head Start program located on Prototypes’ campus. Desiree is active in her recovery, attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and working a 12-step program. This fall, she will enroll in classes and earn her GED. An attorney is working to reduce her prior convictions to misdemeanors, which will improve her chances of gaining meaningful employment. She is in regular contact with her three older daughters and is now a grandmother of three.
Once so shy she would ditch school to avoid speaking before her classmates, Desiree is now eager to tell her life story at Prototypes events, including the agency’s annual Celebrating Mothers luncheon in May. “The more I share my story,” she says, “the more confident I feel.”