Jessica gave the following speech at the 2006 Phoenix House Fashion Award dinner.
“My name is Jessica. I’m 18 and a graduate of the Phoenix Academy. I never would have gotten to the Academy if my mother wasn’t ready to kick me out of the house. She was fed up with me and my drugs, how I’d stay out ’til three or four in the morning, and all the fights we had — real, physical fights.
It all came together one night. I went to my boyfriend’s house. We started getting high smoking blunts (those are cigars filled with weed). He tried to get me to leave, move down south with him. He wanted us to live together. I thought — wait a minute. I’m only 16. If I go and live with him, how was he going to support me? What if he left me? He wanted me to be the mother of his kids, but how was I going to raise them? I had no education. I was way too young.
So, I went back home scared and in tears. I sat my mother down at the kitchen table and told her I needed help. She knew about the marijuana and drinking, how angry I was and confused. But she didn’t know how truly desperate I felt. I had heard about Phoenix House and asked my mother to send me there. That was in the summer of 2003.
The drugs started in 1999 when I was 12 when my father left my mother. Before then, I’d been a happy child — daddy’s little girl. I did well in school and loved dancing. I felt abandoned by my father and my mother blamed the separation on me and my older brother. I was hurt and scared. So, when I tried marijuana, the feeling was so great. For a little while, I felt happy again. But the feeling didn’t last. When the marijuana began to wear off, I would get depressed. So, right from the start, I was using a lot — 9 or 10 blunts a day. My mother could see I was changing. She would look into my face and see that something was wrong. But I was able to hide my addiction for two years.
When my mother started working, I started cutting school and bringing friends home for parties. It took a long time for my mother to catch on. When she finally did, she confronted me. I admitted it. But I didn’t quit, not even when the parties were no longer fun. Bad things happened but I kept using. Finally my mother gave up and got a PINS petition. PINS means Person in Need of Supervision. That was me. The family court assigned me to a probation officer who sent me to an outpatient program.
I didn’t take the program seriously. I’d come in high and joke around. So, I was discharged and sent for psychotherapy — but I was kicked out there too. My behavior hadn’t changed and I stopped going to school. That’s when the fights with my mother turned physical. I felt so angry. I took a lot of the frustration out on my brother. I’d beat up on him. I knew my life was a mess. I thought about suicide a lot. I guess I thought it would make people realize that something was wrong. That’s when I broke down and told my mother how desperate I was and I went to Phoenix House.
It was nothing like I expected. I thought I was going off to summer camp with horseback riding and a swimming pool. Instead it was like a boarding school — only there were more rules. Everyone was telling me what to do. I was told when to get up, when to make my bed, when to go to sleep, where I could sit, where I could stand, where I could go. For once in my life, I missed being home.
After two-and-a-half months, I relapsed. I snuck out of the building, went out to the basketball courts and smoked a blunt. I didn’t get caught and I didn’t do it again. But, after five months I thought I was ready to leave. I couldn’t take it any more. That’s when a counselor pulled me aside. We talked for hours, argued some, and cried together. She made me remember why I was there and helped me understand that leaving wouldn’t make things any better, it only make more problems for me. That’s when I finally got it. I really had to change, and not just for myself but for the people around me too. But mostly for my future — if I really hoped to have any.
Phoenix House has helped me to get in touch with who I am as a person and helped me decide what I want to strive for in life. They taught me how to live life and made me believe that I should not be afraid of success. Because of family groups my mother and I are now closer than ever. Last June, I graduated from the program. I earned my high school diploma from the Academy, graduated there and was class valedictorian.
I am back in the real world now. I work in a little boutique on Long Island and was just promoted to junior assistant manager and I’m attending Queensborough community college. I have a goal in life and it’s to work with young disabled children. Because of Phoenix House I know I can achieve that goal.
I’m grateful to everyone at Phoenix House my friends, my counselors and the people who support Phoenix House. But most of all to my mom.”