Her unblinking stare never wavering, her voice a tough rasp, JoAnn Stroughter talks freely about when she lost her children: "I was running a dope house."
But her wide, hard eyes harbor neither anger or defiance, rather a fresh, sober clarity. "My mother called the police on me. Had me raided, and my children were taken away. That was my rock bottom."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 7, 1993 Home Edition View Part E Page 3 Column 3 View Desk 1 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction
Sober Living Home--JoAnn Stroughter has never run a crack ring as stated in a picture caption in Tuesday's View section.
From the streets and now as a counselor at Ina's Sober Living Home, Stroughter knows her story is not uncommon. So she tries to lead women through the most difficult twists and turns of a journey that many remember only vaguely--if at all.
She knows the struggle toward sobriety, a small skirmish in a larger battle, is as tricky as shadow boxing.
"A lot of time we have problems over problems," says Stroughter, 30, unconsciously alternating between first and third person. "They've been doing so much with their bodies and their minds--to try to trick for $2 or 50 cents just to get that fix, it does a lot to your self-esteem."
Reclaiming a sense of self, a new emboldened identity, she stresses, is the other, sometimes tougher part of the struggle.
Ina's sits within earshot of the busy cacophony that is the Santa Monica Freeway, just a handful of paces from the constant blur of traffic along Crenshaw Boulevard. Open only since early May, with eight female residents from age 14 to 40, the house is two shy of capacity.
Two of the women breeze in and out--tending to chores, wandering into the afternoon. Around a coffee table full of magazines and heirloom bric-a-brac, the house anchors--Ina Day, her son, Donald, and Stroughter--sit in the large living room, drapes drawn against the sun.
Within this pool of calm, they share stories of the living dead.
Ina Day's introduction to the horrors of drug culture was Donald's pernicious problem, an often well-cloaked yet rapid downward spiral.
With a bachelor's in education from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, Donald Day always made a sterling impression. Problem was, the image soon tarnished. There was a glorious array of new starts and then dispiriting dead-ends. He bounced from one stable, well-paying job to the next--from aircraft industry and insurance company jobs to positions with a law firm, and later, a medical firm.
And there was a merry-go-round of rehab programs.
His descent, Donald admits, began innocently enough--during happy hours at a bar with a few grumbling co-workers seeking to ease the sting of a hard day. There, one beer would turn to six, and one hour somehow protracted into four. A few highballs turned to marijuana, Donald says with a shake of the head, and the all-too-familiar cycle began. His marriage became strained, and he moved in with a friend who was more than flirting with crack.
Donald, 40, is still baffled how quickly his own addiction took hold, how rapidly his life upended: "At my first job, I'd received a lot of award moneys, was always there, worked six days a week and came in Sunday to check on my projects, but suddenly, when I started using the cocaine, I wouldn't call in, I wouldn't show up."
The excuses? As thin as the voice that uttered them.
After a parade of rehab programs that sought to turn the tide in 30 to 60 days, Donald spent 15 months facing his demons at Hillsman Drug and Alcohol Center in Los Angeles and has been sober for about a year.
"I still can't say why I use," he says, acknowledging that he will always be a recovering addict, "but I can see the mistakes that I made. I came out of that (first) center and back into the environment (where) I was using, right back to the same street, you know, where the dealers were right next door waiting on me. I understand that it is a total lifestyle change. I go into those same areas now, but I have totally disassociated myself from those people. Basically it's a wave, a hello and a goodby, because we really don't have anything in common."
And, he now realizes, "we never did."
Ina, 59, confesses she was a little confused, even dubious, when Donald first told her about his dream to open a sober living home and about her role in it.
"I was brought up in a situation where I didn't know anything about drugs," she says. "The women in my family didn't even smoke cigarettes. When I moved out here from Ohio, CPC was the big thing. . . ."
" PCP, " Stroughter corrects with a stiletto tongue before bursting into laughter. "See, she didn't even know that !"
But when her son got involved with drugs, Ina continues without missing a beat, "I just couldn't believe it. Not my child. But the Bible says you should forgive people seven times seven."
The women in her home, she says, "need somebody to talk to . . . 'cause sometimes if you can just sit and talk to somebody for a minute, it will help and just change their whole attitude about things."