Caring for the Community

Photo: Vadim Daniel

A first-person account by Tammy Miller

He was 16 and I was 11 and I was already starting to mature physically, not mentally. I told him I was 14 and he believed me and he introduced me to hash for the first time. It started off with soft drugs, with weed and it escalated. It is crack that ruined my life. The first time I got high on it, that was it.

Mothers, they know when there’s a change in their child. All of a sudden, I wasn’t friends with my old friends and I had a set of new friends and new people were calling. I always had friends over at the house. The crowd was always there and once I reached 12 or 13, my friends weren’t coming over. I didn’t want my parents to see the people I was friends with. My poor mother, I tell you, I would come home from school and she’d have clippings from Ann Landers, Dear Abby, she bought a book from the Quebec Government You, Your Child and Drugs and she made me read it.

Everything catches up to you and it caught up to me. The drug is your main priority, nothing else matters. When you come down, it’s the worst feeling and nothing else matters except getting more. It’s a vicious cycle and it doesn’t stop.

My older daughter was born with autism. I used throughout her pregnancy. I was hospitalized five months into my pregnancy for a ripped placenta. I had two blood transfusions because of my cocaine use during my pregnancy. My younger daughter, I was pregnant with her and I was doing prostitution. I’m very lucky she was born healthy.

It’s very hard. She was taken away from me at the hospital after I gave birth to her. The social workers were waiting. I was kind of lucky in a way because my ex’s sister was there to take her, but then she sued me for custody. I had no chance. I wasn’t emotionally there, I wasn’t physically there. I wasn’t able to take care of myself. Because if I was taking care of myself, I wouldn’t be doing what I was doing.

I was kind of bullied into Ometz by my family. I wanted to get them off my case, so I agreed. After I was in the hospital after a year-long binge, I got in touch with a worker that I had seen a couple of times before and I was very surprised to see he came to visit me at the hospital. And when I saw that he did come and he spent time with me, I realized I didn’t want to go back into that place. It was terrible, terrible.

It was really bad because I didn’t know why I was keeping on smoking the crack. It had already been 15 years that I wasn’t enjoying it. It was making me very paranoid, I would have chest pains, it was affected my digestion, I was losing weight fast, my skin was turning like a greyish colour. It was eating me up from the inside out.

My worker is amazing. He has amazing patience and you need that when you’re working with me, that’s for sure. He helped me get into JEM Workshop. He has helped me in terms of my family, straightening things out. He helped me get my Medicare card, my birth certificate. He helped me with welfare and Emplois Quebec. He helped me when I first started working at JEM Workshop. I didn’t get paid for a month. Ometz paid for my bus pass for the month. They gave me $50 every week for groceries and not only did they give me money for groceries, he came and helped me do my groceries and carried them to my door.

One of my children, I don’t know where she is. I would love to see her. I kind of feel like I let her down. I just hope wherever she is she is being treated well. I’m just very… I don’t want anyone taken advantage of her, she still needs her mother. And I wasn’t there for her for a long time. I do love her, she is my first-born.

My younger daughter, she is 16 years old and she is in Toronto with my ex’s sister and she is doing very well. She’s good in school, she is working as a junior counselor at a camp and I get to see her once in a while, not often, and I get to speak to her. I don’t know their phone number because she is still a minor. My sister-in-law, she knows I quit but I’ve quit before and I still have a lot to prove to her before I guess she’ll trust me.

I love working at the JEM Workshop. At first I was a little scared, I didn’t know what to expect. And they give you a sense of self-worth. I feel really good. This is the first time I’ve been off welfare in I don’t know how long. It’s not like making money from prostitution. Here you’re really working and to make your money honestly, I can’t explain it. It’s a very good feeling. I don’t have to look over my shoulder anymore. Once I allowed my worker in, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was a pleasant surprise. Ometz won’t give up on me.

Agence Ometz delivers services to low-income families, those individuals seeking employment, families in need, as well as assisting new immigrants to establish themselves in Montreal.

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Federation CJA allocated $4,412,000 (includes poverty relief fund)

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