Hooked on Crack by Janet Taylor Rolle

What Would It Take To Break My Addiction?

Here I was again, in jail. I was being arrested for the same old thing?prostitution.

I?d been prostituting since 1985, when I got hooked on crack cocaine at the age of 27. At first, my cocaine use was purely social; I tried it at the parties I attended while serving in the Navy, living off-base in Norfolk, Virginia. I loved the euphoria cocaine gave me; it produced such a rush that before long, I started using it by myself to keep the feeling going.

But I quickly learned the downside to a cocaine high: The rush wears off quickly, and in its place come feelings of fear and depression. In order to avoid coming down, I repeatedly tried to capture that initial euphoria by using more and more. Before I knew what hit me, I had a full-fledged drug habit. What started as a recreational pastime became an ugly monster I couldn?t get off my back. To pay for my habit, I turned to prostitution.

I began my career as a prostitute in Daytona Beach, Florida. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy, a friend and I moved to San Diego, California, where I got more heavily involved in crack. I decided a move to Daytona Beach might help me get my act together. But with no job, I soon had to find other means to feed my growing habit. After a few years working the streets, I eventually got arrested. The cops knew I was a street junkie, so it only took a small offer to lure me. Most of the time I was so high, I never saw it coming. Eventually a judge told me I had a choice: Either I could go to prison, or leave Florida. I chose to move to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where I?d grown up. However, my mother and grandmother both had died before I was 10, and what little family I had left wanted nothing to do with me.

After I?d been on the streets awhile in Winston-Salem, I found myself homeless. Sometimes I slept in abandoned houses, empty apartment hallways, even empty cars. I once even sought shelter in the bed of an empty 18-wheeler during the dead of winter, when the wind chill made the temperatures sub-zero.

During my years of addiction, I gave birth to three beautiful babies as an unwed mother?each of my children had a different father. I eventually lost custody of these precious angels and was even sent to prison twice for child neglect. I made my first trip to prison in Raleigh, North Carolina. My cocaine habit had consumed me. The department of social services removed my children from my custody, but I still couldn?t get a grip on my life. Losing my children was the darkest, most dismal time of my entire life. I felt unable to climb out of the stinking black hole into which I?d fallen.

I repeatedly sought comfort in the arms of lovers who abused me physically and emotionally. Smoking crack seemed to be my only way to escape the reality of my pain. I had nowhere to turn and no one to which to turn.

I believed I was doomed to die a crack addict, like so many others did. Barbara, a prostitute I knew, was killed by another crack addict over a cigarette. Pam was raped, tied to a tree, and stabbed repeatedly. She died begging for her life. Wanda got thrown out of a moving vehicle on a local interstate. She was hit repeatedly by oncoming traffic before anyone realized it was a human body they were running over.

I?d been so conditioned to this lifestyle, I told myself that when bad things happened, they were the ?hazards of the trade.? I just accepted them.

THE LAST TIME I was arrested was February 1, 1994. The drugs had deteriorated my body, and I was malnourished and dehydrated. But that night, God sent an angel in the form of an undercover vice agent.

When I arrived at the police station, I was so hungry, I couldn?t be properly booked without a plate of food. Anyone who?s ever been to jail knows jailhouse food is nothing to be desired, but I begged the booking officer to please let me have something to eat. One look into my eyes, and she knew instantly I was in bad shape.

Cocaine withdrawal isn?t the same as heroin withdrawal, instead of muscle spasms or nausea, the addict is plagued by restlessness. Crack addicts need to relearn normal sleeping patterns and eating habits. Yet those first three days in cellblock, I slept straight through, awaking only for meals. Once I regained my strength, I concocted a lie to deny my charges at my hearing. I told everyone I?d been set up. I was afraid I?d be sent back to prison. I?d already been there twice, and heard that if you went a third time, the system branded you a three-time loser. I didn?t want to become institutionalized.

One day, as I was awaiting trial, I was assigned to work in the laundry room. The officer in charge gave everybody one hour to listen to the radio station of her choice. I asked to listen to the station that played gospel music?reminding me of those childhood years I?d spent singing in the church choir before my grandmother had passed away. The first song the station played was a song by the Dallas/Fort Worth Mass Choir entitled ?Another Chance.? The words were, ?I?m sorry, forgive me, clean me, and give me another chance.? The song expressed exactly what I longed for inside, and began to break through my brazen exterior. As I listened to that song, I began to cry. I walked over to the radio and began to talk to God as if he were inside it.

I told God how sorry I was for all the sinful things I?d done, and asked him to forgive me. I asked him to clean me up, to give me another chance. There, in front of that radio in the laundry room of the Forsyth County Jail, I asked Jesus to come into my life, to be my personal Savior and leader of my life. At that moment, I knew I?d been set free. I?d never use cocaine again.

MY COURT DATE was set for March 16, 1994. I didn?t meet my court-appointed attorney until the day of my trial. When I arrived in the holding cell, he asked me how I was going to plead. When I told him ?not guilty,? he turned and left.

But as I waited for them to call my case, I suddenly felt a voice say to me, Jan, trust me. I looked around, but no one was there. Again a voice repeated, Jan, trust me. It dawned on me this was God?s voice, and I began to weep. I told God if I spoke the truth, the judge would send me to prison again and I didn?t want to be a three-time loser. But I knew what I had to do. I banged on the door for the sheriff, and when he appeared, I asked him to locate my attorney because I wanted to change my plea.

I walked into that courtroom filled with fear and shame. I pleaded guilty to the charges and allowed my attorney to finish pleading my case. Suddenly a strange yet wonderful thing happened. The judge proceeded to ask me questions and I threw myself on the mercy of the court, telling him of my long battle with crack cocaine. I told him how desperately I wanted to do what was right, but couldn?t. Then a woman whom I?d known for years, who worked at the courthouse, spoke to the judge on my behalf. God used this woman to soften the judge?s heart. When the trial ended, I was free to go on probation.

WHEN I WAS released from the Forsyth County Jail, I didn?t know where I was going to live or work, or even how I was going to pay my probation fines. The only thing I knew was that I?d never turn to drugs or prostitution again.

Second Corinthians 5:17 says, ?If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!? God gave me another chance, a brand-new life. Right away I got involved in a church, and as I read God?s Word and applied it to my heart, I found the strength I needed to stay clean.

This past January, I married Derrick Rolle, a long-time friend with whom I?ve worked as a secretary. After Derrick committed his life to God last year, I knew our relationship was ready to progress beyond friendship, and Derrick asked for my hand in marriage last November. Although I don?t have custody of my three children, I?m able to be a mom to Derrick?s two children.

I?m now a junior at Winston-Salem State University, I substitute teach for the Forsyth County School District, and I teach a women?s Bible study in the Forsyth County Jail every Monday night. I?m part of a witness team in the same women?s prison I once was sentenced to in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I really knew my life was changed when I began prison ministry, because I?d previously begged the prison officials to let me out. Now I?m begging them to let me back in! I go back not as an inmate, but as living proof that God is real. I?m constantly amazed at what God?s done with my broken life.

For the past five years, I?ve served meals on Christmas Day in my home to a large gathering of the homeless. Believe me, I know what it feels like to be hungry and without shelter. I?ve also had countless opportunities to share my story. I?m often called upon to speak to youth groups and church congregations. I?m so glad God?s able to use for His glory all I?ve been through. What a great privilege it is to attest to the awesome power of God?s amazing grace!

JANET TAYLOR ROLLE, a substitute teacher for the Forsyth County School District, can be reached through the First Presbyterian Church, 300 N. Cherry St. Winston-Salem, NC 27101.