Mitzi Scott, 47, is a recovering addict who’s been clean for 12 years. Now a counselor with Emages, a nonprofit treatment and intervention facility on the south side, she first got help through TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), an advocacy group for prisoners and others with substance abuse problems.—Kate Schmidt
When I was ten years old I was already smoking marijuana and cigarettes. Age 15, I was introduced to syrup, which was codeine, and I was snorting brown dope—we called it Mexican Mud. Then freebasing cocaine. Junior year [at Lindblom Math & Science Academy] I got pregnant. I went to school for one semester my senior year before I dropped out. When I got pregnant, I didn't use anything. I stopped smoking everything and had my son. And then shortly after I went back to drinking and freebasing. Eighteen years old, first time I shot heroin. And I went from there—mixing powder cocaine and white heroin, shooting it.
Things got really rough, and I decided I didn't want to have my son around to endure it. When he was probably 11 years old, it had gotten so bad that my mother took him to his grandmother's, and she had him all the way through his graduation.
I ended up living on the streets of Chicago, homeless, for about four years. My first hustle was the stickup. People don't realize that turning tricks is the last resort for women—I ain't gonna stand there waving cars down! You always looking for something else to do before it gets to that. Then after a while they don't even want you anyway.
Some of the best times was going to jail. It's difficult being a female on the streets of Chicago trying to figure out where you can sleep at, wake up with someone on top of you.
During my addiction, me and my son always had a very close relationship. When it came time for him to graduate he sent me a letter in jail, and he let me know that he was going into the Air Force. And it kind of hit me: I had burnt every bridge I had. My mother was just like, "I can't do it no more. You wanna kill yourself, I can't stop you. You go on, but I ain't got to watch it. So don't even come around anymore." Which was one of the best things she could have did for me. You can call it a bottom, or you can call it a blessing.
When my son finally let me know that he was going into the Air Force, I was like, "OK, I'm gonna do something different." And I ended up getting help at Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities. When I got out of TASC, I went through some trials and tribulations, but A Safe Haven [recovery program that also provides housing and assistance] worked with me. Later on, I worked for TASC. I was really loving working as a counselor, doing the groups.
In 2004 I went back to school at Kennedy-King College. And that's where I met Professor Larry Ross, who became my mentor. When I got diagnosed with [cervical] cancer, Professor Ross was a very intricate part of that. I had to go on medical leave from work. I told him, "I can't not go to school." So Professor Ross allowed [my two best friends] to bring me their notes, and I would come to class and take the tests. And I passed that course with a B.
My son stayed in the Air Force about three years. When he returned to the States, he moved back in with me. He was a very important part of my recovery. Before he told me he was coming back, he called me and told me I was going to be a grandmother. He and his girlfriend pretty much lived with me until my grandson was born.
When my grandson was born I had already been diagnosed with cancer. So my oldest grandson was really important to me. I spent a lot of time with him. I was doing my chemo and radiation. I've got eight years cancer-free.
I resigned from TASC in October 2006 and came over here to Emages, and I've been here ever since. I got certified in 2006, and I graduated with my associate's degree from Kennedy-King in May of 2008.
I believe that my past is my best asset. Like one of my mentors says, "The people where I come from won't believe where I'm at, and the people where I'm at won't believe where I come from." I understand that some people are worried when they hear that, hey, you're an ex-heroin user and criminal. But if I keep doing what I'm supposed to do, then I'll become proof that people can change.