Cracking addiction: Moving to a new phase, away from friends
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Thursday, May 17, 2012
5/17/12 at 8:41 AM
Read the State of Addiction series and learn more about available drug treatment groups.
Late Friday and Saturday nights are the toughest shifts at Waffle House, when the hordes of party people flood in to sober up, and Dacia Wallace sometimes runs into junkies, pimps and working girls she used to know.
Saturday night a few weeks ago, a whole table full of them showed up, wanting to know: "Dacia, where you been?"
Away from you all, she answered.
"My sobriety has really been tested working here," she said.
As her late Tuesday shift melted into Wednesday morning, hash browns sizzled through the Waffle House's batter-scented air. A tattooed, goateed group of concert fans filled a pair of booths and Wallace poured coffee while her co-worker abandoned the novel she was reading between lulls.
A shadowy figure sauntered near the streetlight of the nearby on-ramp to U.S. 169 and Wallace spotted a familiar face through the glare of the windows behind the diner counter.
"It's like this cat walking down the street; me and him used to be partners in crime," Wallace said.
He's the ghost of addictions past, someone she used to smoke crack and hustle with. He came in once and flashed a crack pipe at her, and she told him to leave her alone - she left that life behind.
Crack stole more than two decades of Wallace's life, landed her in prison and cost her the privilege of raising her own three daughters.
Tom Petty's voice floats from the Waffle House jukebox, playing "Free Falling," a song she said makes her sleepy. She laughed at one of the cook's jokes and then started singing the soaring chorus: "And I'm free ..."
For a long time, Dacia Wallace wasn't free. Crack owned her, and she went to prison several times for crimes related to her junkie lifestyle.
A Tulsa native, she attended Rogers High School but left just short of graduating. She got a GED and completed Job Corps, where she was given the nickname "Big Pretty." Now 41, she still goes by it proudly.
Big Pretty smoked weed and partied in her teen years, but at 19, a family member introduced her to crack. It took her nearly 21 years to get clean.
Her first prison stint was for false impersonation and drug possession. She didn't learn her lesson.
"In prison, you learn how to do your crimes better," she said.
More often than not in those years, Wallace was dodging an arrest warrant. She was surrounded by friends who were high, unreliable and living in motels. She worked (and hustled) just enough to cover rent, cigarettes and food. The rest bought crack.
The following years were a string of convictions for drug possession, larceny and false impersonation. She was given a shot at Tulsa County's Drug Court program in 2005, but failed - so under Oklahoma law, she wasn't eligible for another chance until 2010.
Wallace was facing yet another drug possession charge in January 2011 when she was offered another shot at Drug Court, including rehab. The judge recognized her and asked: "Didn't I send you to prison?"
"It was the first time I ever thought I needed some help," Wallace said. "I was determined not to go back to prison."
Offenders who need drug treatment but don't receive it are 29 percent more likely to be rearrested in the 36 months after they're released from prison, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Wallace is about to complete phase three of her Drug Court sentence, the longest stage of Tulsa County's five-phase program. If participants can make it past the first two phases, they're much more likely to succeed, said Program Director Rose Ewing.
"Typically, by the time someone makes it to phase three, they're turning a corner," Ewing said. "By then, they're working on repairing relationships with family members, they're employed and they're gaining their sense of self and self-respect back again. It's really heartwarming to see people make that change - they start doing it because they want to have a clean and sober life."
Standing in the shadows
Wallace now lives in an east Tulsa Oxford House for recovering addicts. On the way to and from work, she sometimes sees girls walking 11th Street, looking to make a quick buck in the back of a car.
It makes her shudder.
"Oh my God, I used to be that," she said. "I learned to charge for it when I was 25."
In the bad years, Big Pretty went from dating dope dealers so she could get drugs to selling herself.
She also gave birth to three daughters. The fathers of the first two were by boyfriends at the time, and getting pregnant saved her. She stopped using during both of those pregnancies, she said.
But the third was a "trick baby," one she got pregnant with while turning tricks. Wallace was too far gone and couldn't stop using, she said. Her water broke at seven months, and doctors found drugs in her system when she delivered her youngest at the hospital.
Department of Human Services took the baby away and placed all three girls with extended family. Wallace was accused of neglect.
Eventually, the girls ended up in foster care. Years later, they were adopted together to a stable family outside of Lawton. They had the kind of life that Wallace knows she couldn't have provided, as much as she now wishes she would have.
"I've thought about it a lot," she said. "Losing them wasn't enough for me to quit, so if I would have had them...."
Her voice trailed off.
In the end, having her youngest baby likely saved her - even if it meant her girls grew up without her, she said.
During Wallace's last incarceration, she started to track down what happened to them. Her nephew found the oldest of Wallace's three daughters on Facebook. Her sister called her at work to tell her, she started bawling.
Would they even remember her? Would she even want them to?
Home with broken hearts
For many years, Dejanelle Gettens wondered about her birth mother but wanted nothing to do with her.
"I was really angry and really upset and I didn't want to talk to her," she said.
Dacia Wallace's oldest daughter is 20 now, living in Weatherford and studying radiology. She's engaged to be married this summer. Her fiance, Kenny, works at a furniture store.
When her birth mother lost custody, Gettens was just 5 years old. She has very few memories of her mother and her younger sisters don't remember anything, she said.
Over time, her anger gave way to curiosity. Maybe her mother had really changed this time. After all, she had completed rehab, was going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, working hard and staying out of trouble.
Gettens decided to give Wallace a chance. She calls her Mom (though she also still calls her adopted mother that, too). They talk on the phone and chat on Facebook.
They've only seen each other once since Dacia was released from prison.
When Gettens posted a picture of them together on Facebook a few months ago, her friends went wild: She looks just like you!
Gettens' adoptive parents didn't tell her or her sisters much about their birth mom, if anything.
"They told us to wait until we got older and they would talk to us about it - but they never did," she said.
Gettens said she is trying to navigate having a relationship with her birth mom without hurting her adoptive parents' feelings.
Though the girls didn't grow up with her, Big Pretty wants nothing more than to get to know them.
She keeps pictures of them on her dresser, near the TV and bed she worked long hours to buy for her room at the Oxford House. The courts recently gave her back her driver's license, and she hopes to maybe drive to see Gettens this summer.
She will likely have to wait to see her younger daughters until they turn 18 and can decide if they want to have a relationship with her, too.
Before she got sober, Wallace said she wasn't really living - just existing. Sobriety has given her confidence and pride for being able to succeed at things, she said.
She smiles a lot these days, even in text messages (all of which she signs off "Big Pretty.")
This week, Gettens called and told her some big news: She's expecting her first child, in December.
"How cool is that?" Wallace said. "I'm going to be a grandma."
Drug Court facts
There are 45 drug courts operating in 72 out of 77 Oklahoma counties. All of Tulsa County's therapeutic courts - Drug Court, DUI court, Special Needs and Veterans Treatment - averaged about 638 participants each month for the past nine months of fiscal year 2012, said Program Director Rose Ewing.
Drug Court phases by length:
Phase 1: 4 weeks minimum
Phase 2: 8 weeks minimum
Phase 3: 20 weeks minimum
Phase 4: 16 weeks minimum
Phase 5: 6 months
Each phase can vary by an individual's progress, Ewing said.
The phases combined equate to 12 months minimum for substance abuse and/mental health treatment. Research shows better outcomes for Drug Court participants who remain in active treatment for a minimum of 12 months, Ewing said.
The "Special Needs" Drug Court docket (co-occurring mental health and substance abuse) has a completion rate of 73 percent as of November 2011, according to statistics compiled by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Of participants on the Special Needs docket, 93 percent had one or more prior felonies.
By completion of the program, 84 percent had a high school diploma or GED; and 97 percent were employed by graduation, Ewing said.
Original Print Headline: Moving to a new phase
Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477
Dacia Wallace gets ready for work in her room at an Oxford House in Tulsa on Tuesday. A recovering crack addict, Dacia is working, involved in Narcotics Anonymous and trying to repair the relationship with her three daughters. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
Dacia Wallace watches television in her room at an Oxford House residence in Tulsa on March 19. A recovering crack addict, Dacia is working, involved in Narcotics Anonymous and trying to repair the relationship with her three daughters. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
Narcotics Anonymous key chains hang near the doorway of Dacia's room at an Oxford House residence in Tulsa on Tuesday. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World