“Crystal” (not her real name) was the typical rebellious kid in her teens and convinced she knew it all and was invincible. She struggled with authority and was in and out of trouble throughout her high school years.
Originally, inappropriately diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, her doctor thought although there is no treatment for this likely immune system attacking her bowels, the symptoms should be managed. Common to her condition were anxiety, stomach pain, fatigue and weight loss. That’s when she discovered the occasional marijuana joint seemed to mellow her pain. Initially it was an excuse to get high to bury the pain in her gut that caused her to double over every day, all day.
A male friend in Brantford introduced her to cocaine and chasing the high became her focus. Cocaine was more effective than weed and also such a glorious high, if even for just a few minutes per hit. Smoking crack became her crutch of choice most often.
Crystal, having left home, had a toddler by this time, a daughter she loved but it became evident she was incapable of bringing her up safely. The baby’s father and his family funded taking custody and Crystal began to spin out of control. Each fix needed a follow up. Each next hit screamed for another one and another and another. She lied and cheated and stole to get the money. Her family and her daughter’s grandparents were callously victimized and discarded. Her habit was costing her $300 a day when she met a man from Hamilton who seemed to want to protect her. It was a girlfriend in town that introduced her to him, a foreboding of what was to come. He showered her with gifts, dazzled her out on the town and at spas, took her on vacations, bought her new clothes and treated her like a queen. And supplied her with the endless stream of drugs she craved.
The next three years were a blur. Completely estranged from family and friends, virtually imprisoned in hotel rooms around town and under the complete control of this man, she succumbed to the first stage of prostitution. She helped him sell drugs to pay for his generosity. Then came the ultimate bond she dreamed of. He wanted her to become his ‘partner’ and solicit several other young women to work under her to add to the pimp’s profits. In her drug addled mind, this was her way of paying back his trust and support. These new Brantford girls and Crystal added sex trade to their show of loyalty as his next business expansion. He would rent three or four rooms at local Brantford hotels and in those days take the calls from the back-page ads of the Expositor and cycle clients through the rooms clearing another couple of thousand dollars nightly. Ironically, there are online ‘Backpage’ sites doing exactly the same thing. They each could service from 4-8 clients a night and of course the pimp was nearby, did the arrangements and kept the cash. He was making between a quarter and half million dollars monthly off the avails of these women. Should the girls get busted for possession fraud or theft, he would skate from conviction.
Her pimp was eventually apprehended by the police and convicted by the courts, and she took this window to escape.
The drug dependency deepened for Crystal. She was emaciated, uncaring about her appearance and ignorant of the world around her.
By no means was this an easy direction mind you. There had been three imprisonments into the Vanier Centre in Milton for fraud, theft and possession of drugs serving 3 to 6 months. Other attempts at survival included six detox centres over southern Ontario, each lasting from a few days to a month, but returning right back to the street. Victim Services Brant found her temporary accommodation but the lure of the street would draw her back. Brantford Police Services tried to find services for her and two officers personally mentored her but her reaction was belligerent and profane. Inevitably this started to impact her need to survive. She lived for the fix.
It was when her 83-pound skeletal frame was feeling the excruciating pain one day from the sharp needles of water in the shower that she realized she was in her death spiral. Her own initiative and use of sketchy support systems around her came out of someplace deep inside that had been somehow forgotten. She wanted to be respected by her daughter long since moved out of the province.
Crystal’s parents, on the other hand, were also shells of their former selves and equally scarred. When interviewed for this story, their voices choking in their throats, their hearts pounding and tears from behind a dark pair of sunglasses, they relived what had happened years ago as if it were yesterday. The wounds are just as fresh today and no communication has offered hope for reconciliation. They wish it could “all go away…awful memories…heartache…not normal” Crystal’s Mom, is still haunted by “being dragged into a culture I wish I didn’t know.” She laments that even with her employee assistance program the entire family needs rehab and “it was so difficult to find help when you need it.” Both pray that the estranged granddaughter “will realize the love they have to offer and reach out to them.” To her daughter, “She’s my child and I love her unconditionally”. Both Mom and Dad give each other strength now but the burden is heavy. They have significant advice to other families: “watch for subtle changes in appearance in your child” like a lack of personal care or dress; “pay attention to changes in communication, increased profanity or disrespect, or simply retreating into silence”; “lack of eye contact”; “dramatic changes in routine”; changes in habits and new friends. They don’t recommend either tough love or enabling but rather intervention sooner and professionally.
These are not made-for-tv anecdotes, these are real people, your neighbours in Brant. If we are to end these local nightmares, we must acknowledge the reality and become more vigilant. We can make a difference if the curtains are ripped back from the secret tragedies we are comfortably ignorant of and yet happening right in front of us…today.