A Brand New Life
Corinne will never forget the day her infant son was wearing the last diaper they owned, and it was soaked through. She’d thought about tying some of her clothes around him if she couldn’t figure out a way to get more diapers.
Her son, Ozzie, had been born while Corinne was staying at a center for moms and moms-to-be struggling with substance use disorder. “Once I learned I was pregnant, I knew I had to get clean,” Corinne said. She had fought hard, for his sake, to break free from the addiction that had plagued her for the past two decades.
Corinne was now 36, newly clean, and a brand new mom. Her life was moving in a much better direction, but progress often happens in fits and starts. And on this day, a little over a year ago, her need was simple but pressing: diapers for her son.
That’s when she went to The Salvation Army’s Chicago Temple Corps. She’d just started meeting with a caseworker there, a woman named Monica who was helping her get her life on track. Corinne wasn’t quite sure Monica could help her with the diapers, but by that afternoon she’d secured a whole box.
Dysfunction and Deception
Corinne had learned about The Salvation Army through a flyer at the center that helped her get clean. She was particularly intrigued by the description of the Army’s Pathway of Hope program, which helps families work their way out of poverty. Through one-on-one mentoring, they identify barriers to self-sufficiency and connect people in need to vital community resources.
Monica helped Corinne set goals for a better future, while encouraging her to face her past. Part of that past included a world Corinne never dreamed she’d enter: prostitution.
Corinne wound up in prostitution through a perfect storm of dysfunction and deception. She was 15 when her father died. By then her mother, a former Chicago cop who had retired after getting beaten up on the job, was an alcoholic. Corinne and her mom argued often.
After one particularly bitter argument, Corinne left home to move in with her boyfriend. It was a new relationship, but he was an older guy who showered her with the attention she craved. All his questions about her life, her family and her friends were flattering . . . until he used that information to trap her.
“Once he knew all that, he used it to threaten me,” Corinne said. If she didn’t do what he said, he threatened to find her sister and her friends and harm them. In addition to the threats, he got her hooked on drugs. After the drugs came the prostitution. “This is what traffickers do,” Corinne explained. “They get you hooked with no way to support your habit except doing what they say.”
Her boyfriend even offered to help Corinne get clean if she would do what he wanted. But once she was in the world of prostitution, the shame, she said, was overwhelming. “I didn’t want anyone else to know what I’d done,” she said. Her boyfriend fed that shame, stoked it regularly, to keep her compliant.
Thankfully, a year into their relationship, the man who had trapped Corinne went to prison on unrelated charges. She was finally free.
Leaving prostitution was one thing, getting off drugs was another challenge altogether. For the next two decades, Corinne alternately got clean and started using again. She got pregnant four times; her mother raised two of the children and the other two she gave up for adoption. Corinne also got hit by a car and eventually lost a limb due to injuries she sustained. She’s had a prosthetic leg for the past five years, which has made getting and keeping a job difficult. In short, her life was a mess.
This pregnancy was a wake-up call. Not wanting to repeat her past mistakes, Corinne got into a treatment facility and, over the course of a year, dedicated herself to real, lasting change.
Once Corinne was clean, she started working on other goals towards a healthy, happy life for her and her son. The first goal her Army caseworker Monica helped Corinne set was getting a job. She enjoyed a brief stint at Starbucks, but it didn’t last because she kept spilling coffee on patrons since her prosthetic leg has left her a bit wobbly on her feet. Thankfully, soon after she found a good-paying internship with an anti-trafficking organization. She’s also now a student at Harold Washington College, where she’s making straight As.
The second goal Corinne set was finding a new home. Monica put her in touch with resources on affordable housing, but the challenge is finding a property owner who will rent to someone without a rental history. Thankfully, Corinne persevered and she and Ozzie moved into their own apartment in June.
Corinne’s next goal is getting Ozzie into daycare. “I want all this difficult stuff behind me before he’s old enough to remember,” she said. Since the birth of her son, Corinne says the Army has been instrumental in helping her find a better path forward. “Setting goals was really important,” she said. “You have to know what you’re working toward,” she said.
The Blessing of New Life
Grateful for the many ways The Salvation Army has improved her life, Corinne began searching for a way to give back. “There are many things we would have done without – diapers, dinners – if it hadn’t been for the Army,” she said.
Before the recent Easter holiday, she had an idea that would bless the Army and some of her hurting family members. One of Corinne’s cousins lost her 10-year-old daughter to cancer last year and the family has been struggling emotionally ever since. They even stopped celebrating holidays.
Corinne gathered her cousin’s three children and went to the dollar store to buy items for Easter baskets. They set up an assembly line in their living room and made 40 Easter baskets for The Salvation Army to give to others in need. “It was fun and healing,” Corinne said.
It seems altogether appropriate that Corinne would choose to give back at Easter, a holiday that celebrates resurrection and renewal. “Even in the shelter and at my lowest points, God has done amazing things in my life,” Corinne said. “God had everything to do with my recovery.”
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