By Carol Johnson
March 30, 1970 – That was the day I graced the world with my presence. Little did I know how tumultuous my life would turn out to be. I was born and raised in San Francisco. My father and mother were both immigrants from China and Hong Kong, respectively. They eventually had five children, but, at that time, there were only my two sisters and me. My younger sister and brother were born four and five years after me. While my mom was pregnant with me, she had rubella (German measles). So I was born completely blind in both eyes. Thank God for his first miracle in my life. The doctors operated and were able to give me sight in my left eye. I later learned that some babies born to mothers with rubella died and those who survived had disabilities that were much more severe than mine are.
My parents were very old-fashioned and they placed more value on having sons than having daughters. I definitely sensed that during my childhood. To make matters worse, my father wasn’t at home much and my mother had to bear the burden of raising all five of us, with little or no help from him. All that stress and frustration caused her to take things out on me and the fact that her own childhood had also been traumatic didn’t help. Little things would set her off, such as me swallowing toothpaste instead of spitting it out.
When I was about three years old, I was removed from my parents’ house and placed in foster care. I had to live in an emergency home until Child Protective Services found a more permanent placement for me. After about a year, I was placed with a Filipino family in the Hunter’s Point neighborhood of S.F. I lived there for about five years. I visited my birth family on weekends. I didn’t feel a part of either family though because I was definitely treated like an outsider in the foster home and I only saw my sisters and brother on weekends. I also felt different at school since I was the only student in foster care.
I soon found out that my father was dying of lung cancer and he wanted me back home. He passed away in November 1979 and I was returned to my mother. By then my family was living in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of the city, right near the Alemany housing projects, which was also known as “The Black Hole.” We were one of only two Chinese families living in that neighborhood, which was predominantly Black and Latino. My siblings and I got into several fights with the kids in the neighborhood, who teased us because of our “strange” language.
Unfortunately my mother was still very physically and emotionally abusive. In addition to her abuse, I had to endure the abuse of my two older sisters, who had followed my mother’s example. My sisters were also abusive to my brother. I saw and experienced much more violence in that house than I ever saw on TV or in the streets.
I suffered with the abuse until I decided to run away when I was twelve years old. Since I didn’t really have anywhere else to go, I just wandered the streets until about midnight, when I finally got tired and went home. My mother answered the door and said, with no emotion at all, “If you hadn’t come home, we would have called the police.” That was the end of it and nothing else was ever said about the incident.
I had to put up with my dysfunctional family for a little while longer, until I was about sixteen years old. I went to school that day and I decided not to go back home afterwards. I had a male friend I met at summer camp and he let me stay with him for one night. After that, I went to stay with a woman I met through the S.F. Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization, a wonderful agency providing mentors to troubled youth. Since I was still a ward of the court, I was told that I could not live with someone other than my mother.
So I was placed in a group home for teenage girls, operated by the Charila Homes in S.F. They actually had three homes, dividing the girls by age. I ended up living in all three houses. However, when I was 17 years old, I got pregnant and I had to move to Florence Crittendon, another group home. This one was for pregnant teens and teen moms. On June 12, 1988, I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl, who weighed 8 lbs. and 2 oz.
Once I turned 18, I tried living with my mom and siblings again, but it didn’t work out at all. So I moved out and I have been on my own ever since. I began taking classes at City College of S.F. and I was also volunteering at Juvenile Hall. Although I was doing fairly well in life, at that point, I was hanging around with the wrong crowd.
I had already started drinking, back when I was about 14 years old. I was mainly drinking Old English 800 malt liquor and I guess that was my favorite. In the late 1980’s, I met a guy at this restaurant I used to go to all the time and he introduced me to crack cocaine. I heard some horror stories about people on crack. But this friend was a functional addict. He was able to go to work every day and he said he only smoked on weekends. So, at that point, I just thought the other people I heard about were just stupid for letting crack ruin their lives.
Fortunately, I didn’t get hooked right away. I only did it occasionally. But, after the birth of my second daughter two years later, I began smoking a lot more. I was living in the Tenderloin, with my daughter and her stepfather. Crack was too readily available there. We didn’t even have to leave the sixth floor to get some. Even the apartment manager smoked crack.
My addiction to crack lasted through all of the 1990’s and I also had two more children during that time. My kids ended up living with a family member, while I tried desperately to get help with my addiction. I went through several drug treatment programs (both outpatient and residential), all to no avail. After being evicted from our apartment in the Tenderloin, we lived in several homeless shelters, in between rehab programs.
We finally got a three-bedroom apartment and we came close to having our son returned to us. The only setback was that the apartment was in the North Beach housing projects, which is all we could afford at that time. We only lived there for one year and it turned out to be worse than the five years we lived in the Tenderloin.
We were harassed by the kids in the neighborhood on a daily basis. There were plenty of drug dealers, some of whom had no qualms about breaking into our apartment, regardless of whether it was day or night and regardless of whether we were home or not. Neither the manager nor the police were much help at all. One of the teenagers told us that, at one point, they were thinking of firebombing our apartment. Thank God that never happened. When we first moved in, we had been clean for a little while. But, needless to say, we didn’t stay clean because of the availability of the drug and the constant stress of trying to deal with all the harassment we experienced.
It was an extremely trying time in my life. I lost so much due to my addiction, including custody of my children, several places to live, and numerous material possessions. But it wasn’t until I gave my life to Jesus in 1996, at the Richmond Rescue Mission, that I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I went through the last stage of my addiction and, finally in 1999, I got clean and stayed clean. I have been clean now for 12 years. HALLELUJAH!!! In 2001, I began taking classes in Criminal Justice at Contra Costa College. Then I transferred to S.F. State University in 2004. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice in 2008.
But, because the job market is so competitive, I felt that I needed something else, in addition to my degree. So I decided to try to get into law school. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because I couldn’t get past the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). I was disappointed, but not for long. I soon registered for Paralegal classes at S.F. State University and I received my Paralegal Certificate in June 2011.
Unfortunately my family went through some major struggles during that time. Two of my cousins, Donte Boone and Travante James, and a good friend of mine from C.C. College, Keith Stephens, were all shot and killed in the Bay Area. All of the trauma motivated me to get involved in violence prevention. I am currently active with the Healing Circle for the Soul Support Group in S.F. and the Healing Circles of Hope in Richmond, both fully committed to stopping the violence and encouraging survivors to turn their pain into self-empowerment.
During the hard times, my trust in God was never very far away. I had been baptized back when I lived with my foster family and I was constantly praying for help throughout my addiction. My relationship with God got much stronger once I accepted God’s help instead of trying to succeed on my own. I realized that I definitely could not have turned things around without HIS powerful hand guiding me.
In 2003, I found an excellent church in Berkeley, CA. Covenant Worship Center, under the very strong leadership of Pastor K.R. Woods, who is, by far, the most powerful house of God I have ever been to and I have been to several churches in my time. After my very first visit to CWC, I knew, immediately, that I wanted to become a member. CWC is definitely “A Church on a Mission” and I can easily see myself being a member for life.