Crack Addict to Change Agent: Beverly Black's Redemption Story

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Crack Addict to Change Agent: Beverly Black's Redemption Story

By Seth Ferranti 02/03/17

My baby was born addicted to crack cocaine and I wasn't allowed to take him home. I was okay with that and returned to do what I’d been doing, getting high.

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Silhouette of fists breaking chains
On February 24, 2017, I will have 25 years crack-free.

Chronicling a time that most would rather forget, former crack addict and Gumbo for the Soul publisher, Beverly A. Black, has released a powerful and thought-provoking new memoir, A Wretch Like Me: From Crack Addict to Change Agent, that details her time smoking crack in the mid-to-late '80s and early '90s, as well as her remarkable and contentious recovery. On the streets of Palo Alto, California, Beverly engaged in an eight-year love affair with crack that immersed her into a world of addiction and degradation that turned her into a self-proclaimed “crack monster.”

Now 25 years sober, Beverly is ready to tell her story for the first time, a story about the consequences and the price Beverly paid for her downward spiral into addiction. A story about owning her mistakes, telling the truth no matter how devastating, and mending what was broken. Beverly’s story is not one for the faint of heart. It’s a story about finding out who she really was, delving into the depths of her addiction, and crawling back out of the hole she put herself into.

Every “crackhead” you see on the street wasn’t always a “crackhead.” Before descending into the throes of addiction, they were someone’s brother or sister, husband or wife, daughter or mother. Beverly was all of these before she succumbed to life as a “crack monster,” and now she’s willing to share her story in the hopes that it might help someone else. The Fix chatted with her about her new book, life as a “crackhead,” and the tragedies and heartbreaks she endured before hitting rock bottom and deciding to get some help.

When you were growing up, did you ever think that you would become a “crack monster?”

I’m the youngest of four siblings and I grew up in San Francisco for six years and then we moved to East Palo Alto. From the time I could remember, I always had parents, my mother, my stepfather and then my father. My upbringing was pretty normal as far as spending time with family, as far as having friends, going to school—just the normal things that kids would do in life. I went to summer camp. My brother played baseball. As a daddy’s girl I don’t have those insecure issues that some women unfortunately suffer from, from not having their father in their life and seeking that father relationship.

I grew up with positive male and female role models. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother after we moved to San Francisco, riding the bus, walking down Market Street, and seeing the cable cars. Just being in downtown San Francisco—full of diversity, music, arts, entertainment, street life—all bundled into one beautiful city. I spent a lot of times in Golden Gate Park during the hippy era. I used to crochet those crochet vests and sweaters that they were wearing back in the day.

When did drugs come into play in your life and how did it happen?

Drugs didn’t come into play until I would say eighth grade, when someone moved to the neighborhood and they brought weed. I don’t consider weed a drug, but my mother used to say one drug leads to another. It wasn’t about medical marijuana or anything like that back then. It was basically to get high. We started experimenting with marijuana and it wasn’t until late high school when I would experience anything else.

Towards my senior year, January 1977, my brother committed suicide and I fell into depression. From that point, I was not as engaged in high school. I had a conference with my counselor and I asked them if they would grade me according to what I had achieved to that particular point, because I wouldn’t be able to do anything else. The school complied with my wishes and I was still able to walk the stage in June five months later and graduate. That led to the demise of any life of normalcy.

When did crack come into the picture and how long did it take until you were a full-fledged “crack monster?”

In my early 20s, after graduating high school and taking a jab at college, I started working in electronics and I started experimenting with snorting cocaine. It kind of started with peer pressure, friends that I ran around with. In the back of my mind I wasn’t sure about doing cocaine. I knew it could be dangerous. Weed was one thing, but cocaine was something else. One hit from crack is all it takes and if a person continues from there, they’re hooked. I know people that have taken one hit, broke out in a cold sweat and never touched it again. Everyone else that I’ve ever met that experimented with crack cocaine got hooked.

In the beginning we still had a sense of normalcy—working, seeing friends, regular home life—but then the crack started to take its hold and eventually it would jeopardize jobs, cars, homes and lead to me being fired, being kicked out of the home, not being able to be trusted, stealing, and doing whatever it is that I could do to satisfy that addictive high. I followed a friend who used to boost clothes out of the stores. That’s how we made money to buy crack. I was a booster and that’s how I funded my addiction. Before I got heavily into cocaine, I had a son. A very perfect pregnancy and delivery. He was the first born son in my family since my brother committed suicide, and everyone was anticipating my son’s arrival. I was taking my prenatal and Lamaze classes at Stanford. I was happy—or so I thought—but it all started coming apart.

You had several kids while addicted to crack? What happened and how did you deal with all of that?

By the second baby I was heavily addicted to crack and smoking it during my pregnancy. I gave birth in the ambulance to that child. He was underweight and addicted to crack cocaine. I started going through a vicious cycle of getting clean, relapsing, getting clean, relapsing. My family stepped in to help out, taking my kids from my custody and taking care of them between the family—putting them with friends that had a foster care home where they could still be close to my family who remained very hands-on through their entire upbringing, until they were returned to me years later when I got cleaned up.

After having the first and second child, there was an eight-year gap; and in that eight-year gap, that’s when I really hit my bottom. I was running the streets in Oakland, in and out of county jails, doing anywhere from two weeks to six months. Getting a reprieve from the crack cocaine to find some semblance of normalcy during that period of time, but then I moved back to Palo Alto where my children were, which was their safe, normal environment, but it was also the environment of my addiction and drug use. Reluctantly I moved back and the cycle began all over again. I wasn’t able to maintain my sobriety and I sunk back into the abyss of addiction.

When did you hit rock bottom and say enough is enough, I want my life back?

I got pregnant again and I’m running the streets. I just can’t take it anymore and I quit, but I’m still in the environment. I held on for about two weeks and people were commending me, but under pressure one day during that two-week period I finally broke and hit the crack pipe again, and that sent me into labor. I go into my friend’s bedroom where my then-husband was, and I’m telling him I’m about to have this baby. He goes into overdrive, leaps out of the room. I’m heading towards the bed to lie down. Now, I’ve got to start peeling off my pants. He comes back with a boiling pot of water and a towel. I could see the smoke rising from the water. Everything out of the movies. I tell him to call an ambulance but a fire truck comes.

I show up at Stanford Hospital for the second time with a baby in my arms. The fire station calls the media. The doctor asks whether or not we’ll allow the media to come in because the firemen were so excited because normally it’s a tragedy showing up; they were excited that a baby had been born and they wanted to express their excitement media-wise. I consented to allow the media to show up and I was soon embarrassed by the line of questioning. They were asking why my baby was addicted to crack.

The next morning when I go see my baby, there’s a note saying that I had to be escorted to see him. I could not see him by myself. A few hours after that, they called me to a roundtable meeting with the doctors and the police. A lady officer told me that she was there to arrest me for attempted manslaughter, because my baby was born addicted to crack cocaine. I wasn’t allowed to take my baby home. I was okay with that and returned to do what I’d been doing, getting high. Two months later I was arrested for petty theft and the police put the handcuffs on me.

You lost your baby, you were in jail, but you were off drugs for the first time in forever. Is this when your recovery started?

I went to jail. I stayed in jail for two months. I went to work furlough from jail, having enrolled into Masters Institute for graphic arts. I went to school. Meanwhile, my husband was in the free world arranging for Social Services to bring the baby to me in jail. Social Services contacted me and they were bringing the baby to come visit me. I left work furlough and I went to a recovery home, Solidarity Christian Recovery Center. I was in jail for like four months. Two of those months were in work furlough, two in a women’s detention facility, and then I went into a Christian recovery home where I continued going to school, continued seeing the baby, and started on my real road to recovery. I never looked back.

I had my kids returned to me, that baby was 18 months old when I got him back. I was told that my two oldest kids would be adopted out and that I would never get them back. The devil is a liar. I was told that my 18-month-old baby would be adopted out. The devil is a liar. Like I said, I got him back when he was 18 months old. I got my two oldest kids back after being separated from them for six to seven years, but with visits and reunification efforts in between. These are three children that I lost in the system and I thank God that I got them back. On February 24, 2017, I will have 25 years crack-free. I feel quite blessed and fortunate to have gone from this kid that was born in San Francisco that always wanted to be a writer, that grew up in East Palo Alto and fell victim to crack, only to rise out of the ashes like a phoenix and to now be a blood washed Christian turned change agent.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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