I have walked in those shoes

How Mary King found hope behind prison bars.

I was born in Raleigh in 1964. At six pounds and seven ounces, I was just a tiny little thing. I spent time in the hospital due to having been born underweight, so I wasn’t able to go home. Not only that, I was born in a prison. However, there was someone, a woman, who took me to her home determined to raise me as her own.

Her home was in a very small town where everybody knew everybody, and everybody was some kin to everybody. Yes, it was that kind of little town. You couldn’t do anything because your business was known and talked about. It didn’t matter whether you did good or bad, someone had something to say about it.

I grew up in the church and was raised in a home where my mother did the best she could in raising me. However, my birth mother committed petty crimes in order to go to prison just to get away from my dad. I don’t think that she really got over what happened to her when she was young. I knew a lot of men and had to call some of these men “Dad” because that’s what she told me to do—“Dad” was whomever her boyfriend was at that time. It was years before I found out the real truth behind my story. I was molested by every man that my mother went out with. I saw a lot and have been exposed to a lot. When my real mother was finally released from prison, she moved to a town called Durham, NC, where she spent the rest of her adult life until she passed away in 1989. I was given liquor to drink by her at the age of 13, and I was also introduced to reefer (better known as weed back in the day). I became addicted at a very young age. I was then out of control. No one told me what to do anymore.

It was at this time that I started to commit petty crimes myself, following in the footsteps of my mother. I went from smoking cigarettes, to doing cocaine, to smoking crack. I was in it real deep; there was no way out, and it hid the pain I was feeling. I couldn’t get enough of the high that I was on. I was ready for anything at this point in my life because nobody cared and neither did I. I began to steal from stores, then from people themselves. I was stealing cars and wrecking them, not caring about anyone but myself. I started to go to different towns committing crimes and this time more serious crimes—breaking and entering, larceny, and snatching old ladies’ pocketbooks. I even started to sell my body for crack. I overdid whatever it was that I was doing at the time.

I went from city to city, a troubled child. I wanted to be a part of my real mom’s life, but I found out that she really didn’t want me. She had told me time and time again after she fed me liquor that she hated me and wished that I was never born. She told me that she wished that she would have broken my neck as I was coming out of her—that’s not something to tell a child you are supposed to love and protect. I took to others for the love that I craved from my real mother. Yet, no matter what, I still loved her and wanted to be a part of her life no matter what it would cost me. I didn’t care if she never loved me just as long as I could be with her. She could do whatever she wanted and treat me anyway that she wanted. I would run away to Mount Olive, to Durham, just to be with her. I would skip school, steal money from the lady that raised me to go to Durham. I would hitchhike rides with strangers, and do whatever I had to do to get there. I didn’t and could not understand why my birth mother didn’t want or love me. This was, after all, my mother. I didn’t understand at the time just how a mother could sit and watch a daughter go through what I went through and not help in some kind of way—or at least call the cops if, in fact, she was scared. I would never allow my daughter to be in this kind of a situation and not do something about it.

I took a nosedive further and further into the streets, and I stopped going to school. I started staying out all night without any regard for my mother (the lady that raised me and tried to give me a good life). I felt that I was grown up enough to live on my own. Late at night, I would stand on the street just to see who I could stop so that I could find my next fix of whatever drug I was doing at the time.

I think that not having the love of the woman who gave birth to me and the fact that she didn’t want me because of the hate that she felt was incomprehensible to me as a kid. As a result, I did whatever I thought would please her to gain her love and respect. But it never happened.

I met a man at the age of sixteen and told him that I was much older. I fell in love, or so I thought, and started to see him each and every day. Mind you, he was twelve years older than I was. We would go out and have fun (so I thought). We would drink and smoke weed, go to all of the liquor houses. He would even buy from the liquor store and we would get hotel rooms. I would meet him at the car wash, which was just in front of my house. My behavior was so bad at this point that I didn’t care that I hurt his baby momma. I knew that he had thirteen kids, but I didn’t give a darn. I called one lady’s house and asked her where my man was. She said, “Who is this?” I said, “Don’t worry about who it is. You just tell him that he’s got ten minutes to get to my house. I’ve been waiting on him, and he’s late, so get to where he’s supposed to be.” And so he did. He thought it was funny that I was calling his baby momma about where my man was. He said, “You missed your man, didn’t you?” I felt that as long as I was with him, I was okay.

I didn’t slow down much when I found out that I was with child. I’ve always wanted to have a child; in fact, I told all my friends one time that I was pregnant when I wasn’t. I did quit for a while until I got bored then I took off to drinking and smoking pot. I felt that this wouldn’t hurt the baby. I was headed downward and couldn’t find my way back to where I was supposed to be.

I know that it was wrong of me to take another woman’s man. I wouldn’t want anyone to do that to me; however, that very same thing did happen to me when we got married. I found my husband and my cousin in bed together. I, in turn, put all of his clothes out onto the porch, and waited for him to come and get them. My husband cheated on me with my cousin, so I cheated on him with his uncle. He didn’t like that, but he knew just how I felt. I just didn’t give a care about what I did and with whom. I knew that our marriage was over. It was then that I knew that things would never be the same with us. I began to do things that I knew would place me in jail because that was the only way I was going to get away from him. He was the kind of husband who would beat on me and call me all kinds of names, even in front of our daughter. When she had to stop her father from killing me, I realized then that I had to do what was best for me. To have some kind of protection, I would date guys that weren’t scared of him—guys that would fight him back and protect me. I had to do some time for a probation violation, but that was an out for me also. I can tell you that I wish that things had turned out different for me, but they didn’t.

My past includes drugs. I had just gotten out of prison on April 14, 1995. I got off the bus in Goldsboro, North Carolina, when I should have gone home to my mother and daughter in Durham. But instead, I went to the liquor house and started to party, and that was all that it took for me to get further out of control. I met this guy, and we started to party. Here I go again. I didn’t learn the first time with my husband anyway. I stayed with this guy for months at his sister’s house. Then we got our own place in a trailer court that was full of drugs. It was then that I was introduced to the drug crack cocaine, and I didn’t report to my parole officer or anyone else, so that was the end for me. I would stay out on the streets and not go home for days on end—not think about my daughter or anyone else for that matter. I had no regrets for anyone, only what I wanted to do, what I wanted in the end. My thinking was that I might as well finish what I’d started by messing up my life, and, believe me, I did. But at what cost?

I now know that it’s not okay to just throw your life away, but I had messed up so much of my life that I thought one day, “What is the point of living? Let me do a service by putting myself out of my misery, and maybe everyone would be happy.” So I tried to commit suicide. To do that, I took a lot of pills, and it still didn’t take me anywhere. All it did was make me sick. I took whatever pills I could find no matter what they were. I really needed help. I was a very sick person back then. My mind had been altered by the poison of other people and their problems. I allowed these things to not only sicken me but to define who I was as a person. I would wake up drinking and go to bed drinking, getting sicker and sicker by the day.

I finally made the gravest mistake of all which has cost me more than I wanted to lose and made me stay longer than I wanted to stay. Now I’m sitting in prison with 29 to 37 years of my life gone, and a daughter whom I won’t be able to see for a very long time. I have lost so much time in living for me and my addiction that I forgot the most important person in my life and the fact that she would suffer. She didn’t deserve this. She didn’t ask to be born into this kind of life, and I regret this each and every day of my life. I sit here in this prison thinking about how I have not only messed up my life but the life of my daughter as well. This is my biggest mistake and my only regret. Now I feel that I have caused my daughter to suffer like I have suffered in relationships and have caused her to think that it’s OK to allow someone to treat her any kind of way because she has seen her mother go through the same thing. I will now let her know that it’s not OK to allow someone to disrespect her and treat her any kind of way. Daughter, you are worth so much more than that, and you deserve better.

The love of a family called Changed Choices is what finally changed my life. I tried to get into the program many years ago and couldn’t so I took that as a sign it wasn’t time, so I just left it alone for a while. Instead, I obtained my GED in 2012 along with other certificates that I will be able to use upon my release. In 2013, I applied to Changed Choices once more, and, this time, I was sent an application. I followed everything that was required of me; I even sent everything that I had as far as certificates were concerned, but I had a feeling that it was my time to get into this wonderful program. As they say, time is of the essence, there’s a time for every purpose under the sun.

I have now been a Changed Choices member for six years, and it has been a life changer for me. I have completed the Adapt program, and let me tell you first-hand, it made me really think about myself and about my life. I would have never thought that I would one day write my own life story. Now that’s something to be proud of. If someone would’ve told me years ago that I would be this far in my life, I would’ve disagreed.

I feel that I have accomplished a lot through the help of my Changed Choices family. I must, however, give all of the praise and honor to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, because without Him, none of this would have taken place. So all praise goes to Him. Thank you, Lord. I also have the love of my brother and sister in-law who came back into my life to stay in 2015. This was the first time that I had seen them in over fifteen years. God is good. He will restore “everything that the locust has eaten.” I have forgiven my mother for her actions. I’ve had to realize that something had to have happened in her life as well, but it still doesn’t make what she did right. I will forever try to tell younger kids how to stay in school and not to disrespect their parents because, at the end of the day, they are still their parents. You cannot choose who your parents are going to be. God gave you your parents. I now understand that “hurt people hurt people.” I also understand that it doesn’t give the parents the right to treat their kids any kind of way.

I want to become a peer support specialist because I have walked in those shoes and understand what happens to people who have had a hard life due to bad choices. I hope that I will one day be able to tell my story to younger kids. I would like to speak at the schools about drugs, alcohol, and the affect that it has on our brains. I would like to tell them how crime doesn’t pay and where their lives can end up, and the fact that you don’t always come out the way that you think you will turn out.

I will forever give God the glory for what he does in my life, because without Him, I’m nothing, nor can I do anything. I’m an overcomer from the drugs and the drinking—all of the things that had held me captive to the enemy. Not only have I gotten a second chance at life, I have a chance to help others like myself. I will continue to celebrate life clean and sober. If there’s one thing that I know, it’s that one is too many, and a thousand is never enough. I can’t afford to lose myself by thinking that I have beat this disease because it’s easy to relapse. I must not forget that it comes in all kinds of ways and through many people. I must be mindful at all times. I must and have let go of old people places and things.

I also give thanks to Speak Up for allowing me to tell a little bit of my story and for allowing me to help others who need encouragement through their times of trouble. This is for all of you who think that life is not worth it, that you are not worth it, or that you can’t do it. You’re wrong—you can do it. Help is out there. Please allow yourself to get the help that you need because your life is worth saving. Get help, celebrate life, and help others do the same.

Will it be easy? No.

Will you want to quit? Yes.

Will you want to pull your hair out? Yes.

But that’s when you must call your sponsor or someone who has worked with you so that you won’t relapse. Celebrate your new life!

I hope that my story will inspire you to follow your dreams.

To learn more about and to support Changed Choices, the organization so instrumental in Mary’s story of hope, visit changedchoices.org.