Real Stories

Michelle Escandon

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I remember it all like it was the other day, the moment I found her double life, my mother’s bag of meth. I must have been 12 years old when I found it in her drawer, I thought nothing much of it at that time. I didn’t realize that meth, and alcohol would forever be a part of my life regardless of what paths I would decide to take.  It was what my mother battled that has made me into the woman I have become.

I was born and raised in East Los Angeles. To many outsiders it’s a community where the majority fails and the few succeed. It’s where being on welfare is nothing to be ashamed of, it can be something to get praise from. You’re “beating the system,” it’s a free ride. But I was raised differently. I am a fourth generation American and my family believes in the American dream. I was raised with pride, and despite the neighborhood I came from, I knew that there is better out there . Regardless of where I went to school, I was reminded every day that I can be that doctor or I can be that police officer. My mother and my grandparents had unconditional support and love for my sisters and I growing up.  Like many in my community, my father was out of the picture. Thankfully I had my grandpa and uncles to be that dominant male figure.

In my junior high years, you could say I was a little mischievous. But I still focused on my schooling and participated in sports. This was the time my mother began her journey. Every day it became worse and worse. She would be gone for days at a time and would be up for days at a time. My grandparents stepped in as my father was aware of my mother’s behavior and reported her to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).  Investigations started, but never followed through. Days, nights, months, years passed and her addiction began to describe her. She was vodka, she was meth. Her life was her addictions and the men that came in and out. Suicide played games with my mother and overdosing was a monthly routine. Dying was on her agenda. I felt her pain and yes, it did get the best of me.

God saw the pain in my and my family’s heart. Finally a social worker who went through with our case came into our living hell. But, another barrier; our family was too ashamed or maybe too proud, so my sister and I were told to speak nothing of what was going on behind closed doors to anyone unless we wanted to be taken away. So weeks went by and we denied everything. We said it was all okay, when The Lord knew it wasn’t. I found it in me to tell the truth.  My mother lost custody of my younger sister and me. It was just one year shy of my 18th birthday.  Meanwhile, my mother was in rehab, going to her AA meetings and doing everything that what was needed to gain custody back.

The year passed and I turned 18, my mother was progressing, and so was I… for the most part. I was still a little unstable with my anger issues.  You could say that my mother traumatized me. To see someone who you admire lose it all in the blink of an eye is devastating. I was still able to excel in school and the judge who handled our DCFS case was proud of me. She said that statistically speaking, I was expected to stay in the system and not advance to college. I was accepted to Arizona State University straight out of high school where I would major in Criminal Justice and Criminology.

I used the resources provided by DCFS to help pay for school, however going out of state was a real hardship. Being ward of the state I was able to use my single income to determine my financial status. But FAFSA only covered so much.  I was worried about how I would make ends meet and how would I continue to pay for school. I was short with funds and had no family assistance. My faith has always been present, but I’ve had my doubts. How can someone as young as I was have so many struggles? Why me? I guess He heard me, because they found me. The Children’s Action Network contacted me and blessed me. They told me that they would love to meet me for coffee when I was in town and help me with school. They were able to assist me throughout college. It was something surreal. There are people out there who really did want to see me succeed. I wasn’t alone, all my faith and hard work connected me to the angels at Children’s Action Network.

May of 2013, four years later I received my Bachelors of Science from ASU. Many doubted my ability to accomplish what I did. I have been nothing but a statistic most of my life until last May. I am now a Case Manager for men on parole and working on obtaining my Masters in Social Work.  None of this would have been possible without those individuals who I met during my moments of hardship. I will forever pay it forward. Life is too short to not strive, because the other side is always greener.