Portrait of Jeny

My parents were drug addicts. I wasn't sure what drug, though; after all, I was only eight. My Dad was always in and out of jail. My Mom and Dad always argued, over anything. Sad part was that my Dad was abusive to my Mom. That's the part that hurt the most. My older brother and my sister and I used to cry and hope that one day it would all stop. Even though my brother didn't live with us because my Mom was too young to support all of us, he lived with my Grandma right in front of our house, so he was always with us. We all grew close because we were all hurt and knew we had to stick together. Until one day when my Dad had just gotten out of jail, and the cycle of drugs, arguing and abuse went on. My new brother was only a few months old in the year 2000, when my Mom decided that she wanted a better life for us. So late at night we packed and left on a Greyhound bus to Colorado.

Jenifer Martinez didn't know what Colorado was, but she knew that her mother was right when she said they had to get away from California. Jeny's mother, Rosy, asked her to keep it a secret from her little sister, Carmen, who would have told their dad.

Rosy had met Sam Martinez when she was just sixteen. Born in the United States, she'd moved with her father to Mexico after her mother died, when she was just one. Sam's father had sent him to Mexico after he graduated from high school in Los Angeles because he was rolling with a Sureños set, already a seasoned drug dealer. Rosy's father objected, but she ran off with Sam to California, where their son, Sam Jr., was born in 1991. Jeny followed a year later. And then came Carmen, giving Rosy three kids before she'd turned twenty.

With Sam often in jail on burglary and controlled-substance charges, Rosy needed help. Sam's mother and father cared for their grandson while Rosy looked after the girls. But it was when Sam was out of jail that Rosy really needed help — although she didn't accept that yet. "We always partied on Fridays, and sometimes it would last the whole weekend," Rosy remembers. "Since I was sixteen, every weekend it was a party at somebody's house." They'd drink and smoke dope. And then Rosy asked Sam to get her some crack.

"I liked the rush," she says. "It's a funny feeling. You go numb and your brain functions differently, your breathing gets harder, your heartbeat increases, it chokes you up, numbs your mouth, but it only lasts for fifteen minutes. That is the problem with this narcotic: always a fifteen-minute rush and you want more. And when you do it so often you can't function, you need a 'wake-up call' — that's what we used to call it. You take the wake-up call and you want more and more."

But by 2000, when Rosy had a second son, Rudy, she realized she couldn't do it anymore. She called her father, who'd moved to San Francisco, and asked him for some money so that she could escape Sam. While she waited for the money, she packed a suitcase. When Sam found it, Rosy told him it was just laundry. When Sam found the makeup she'd packed in another bag, Jeny quickly came up with a story about playing dress-up with Carmen.

Rosy's father never called back, so Rosy waited for her October welfare check. That, along with her last paycheck, gave her $1,500. Leaving her oldest son with his grandmother, she took the girls and the baby and boarded a bus.

Along I-70 in the mountains, the bus stopped at a Wendy's. There Jeny and Carmen saw snow for the first time in their lives. Rosy had picked Denver because a friend who has family here told her it was a nice place to live, slower-paced than Los Angeles. It was cold and rainy when they arrived, and Rosy checked into a Holiday Inn. The next day, she and the kids went to the Denver Department of Human Services, which gave her a week-long voucher and sent her to the King's Inn on East Colfax. Social Services also told Rosy about the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, which got the family into the Sacred Heart House of Denver, a shelter where they stayed during the month of November. Sacred Heart also helped Rosy find a job, as an administrator with United Airlines' cleaning department at the airport. By the end of December, Rosy had enough money for a used car and an apartment in Aurora. Carmen and Jeny both enrolled at Kenton Elementary, where Jeny finished third grade and found a boyfriend, Luis.

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Luke Turf