It wasn't a normal day for me. I typically work alone. But this day I had a producer (referred to as AH below) from one of the local NPR stations riding along with me. We had agreed to collaborate on a story about the opiate epidemic and were searching for someone to talk to. Specifically, we were trying to find someone who had grown up in the suburbs and ended up hooked on heroin. The Bluff was the obvious place to begin the search.
We had only been in the neighborhood for about 10 minutes before I saw a young lady. I can usually tell by the way someone carries themselves if they are walking to get to a destination, or if they are working on getting their next fix. I was pretty sure that she was in the latter category. I pulled up and told her briefly about the project and asked if she'd like to tell us her story.
She agreed, got in the backseat, and told us her name was Latoria. As we talked there were things that sounded familiar to me. During the course of our conversation, she told me that she had been beaten and put out by her ex-boyfriend the day before. She seemed so hurt that I did something I normally don't do; asked if I could take her to a place to get some help. This is when we came to the realization that this wasn't our first time meeting.
So began the second journey to try get Tory some help. She told me that she had stayed clean for 45 days the last time. I hadn't recognized her because the first time we met she was wearing dark glasses and a hat.
As with the previous trip I'd taken with Tory, there were conditions to her agreeing to go for help. The primary condition was that she could get her fix on the way. Tory decided that since there weren't any beds available at the treatment center, we would go to her grandma's apartment in Decatur.
Before arriving at her grandmother's, we stopped so that Tory could do her thing. I pulled behind a grocery store that backed up to her grandmother's apartment building. We spent the next 30 agonizing minutes, watching Tory go after a vein with the focus and concentration of a professional athlete. After many attempts she finally found her mark and all was well. She could breathe again.
We continued on to her grandmother's assisted living facility. We entered the building and found our way to the elevator. As we exited the elevator, it became more and more clear how high she was from the last shot. She leaned heavy on the railing that ran along the hallway between units, while slurring the words to Complicated by Avril Lavigne into the microphone that my temporary partner was carrying. We reached the door. She finished the verse and knocked.
We were greeted by Tory's mom and grandmother. I quickly heard footsteps approaching and "mommy, mommy" coming from one of Tory's two young daughters. For the first time I felt like what we were doing could cause more harm than good. But it was too late to turn back. Tory had informed them that we would all be coming over in an earlier phone call. We entered the small apartment and introduced ourselves. The kids were really excited to see their mom.
Once everything settled down, I was able to spend some time talking to Tory's mom, Juanita. (Edited for clarity)
Mom: When [Tory] was 9 years old we were in California. The first incident [of sexual abuse happened when she] was riding on her skates outside the front of [our] home. She had a new puppy. This particular day she was on her skates and a Mexican guy had stopped and asked for directions. Tory had already been taught not to talk to strangers. He tried to kidnap her. Tory kicked him and ran away [but not before she was abused].
I found him on the street by the way. I chased him down in the car and I stopped traffic and everything. And Tory was like “no, no mommy don’t kill him!” That was her heart, you know? No matter what you do to her she’ll forgive you in a heartbeat. And we came to find out it was the neighbor’s gardener, and he had already been stalking kids in the area and I guess he had been stalking her. So that had happened, it went to court, and that was the first time she had to testify against him. Nothing prepared her for that.
We moved from California to Georgia to start all over. She was about 9 going on 10 and another neighbor’s 17 year old was molesting her. I used to babysit his little sister and I used to do his mother’s hair. I never let my child stay over there, but what he would do is tell her “If you tell anybody I'll kill your mother. What color dress do you want her buried in?” I found out he didn't just do it to her, he did it to other little girls too, her best friends.
Come to find out that this had been going on for some time. This was the first time she was validly raped [intercourse]. We went to court about that. They [were] supposed to let us know when he had gotten out. They never did. She ended up catching him on a bus ride. They never told her that he was released from prison. She was devastated.
After that she started acting out. Her behavior changed. She was introduced to sex in such a violent way. She started acting out even in that way. From there she was hanging out with the wrong crowd, she started smoking weed and doing those types of things.
Then we had another neighbor who [was with a gang called the] Louisiana Boys. [They] had come from Louisiana and moved to Georgia [and] were recruiting girls for sexual exploitation. Well Tory was one of them. She was 12... 12 years old. They kidnapped my daughter. I didn't know where my daughter was for a month [after] she was kidnapped. So they had her out there. They were staying at the Memorial Inn. I ended up having to do more investigative work than the police. And I found my daughter. By the time the police [arrived], they had already cleaned up and moved out of there. I still didn’t know it was my own neighbor. They started threatening Tory. Tory was like “They’re going to kill me if I tell," and that's why she didn’t tell. But by the time I got my daughter back she was high on cocaine and all kinds of narcotics.
AH: I was wondering about how it is now, because we talked a lot about the past...
Mom: I'm her mother, and she says I'm her best friend haha. And um, it’s rough now because it’s like I can’t do anything to help her and every time we think we’re almost there, it’s like she dials right back in. And it’s like, you know, what do you do? Especially when you see your daughter deteriorating and dying right in front of you. And you can’t save her. She has to want to save herself no matter what you do or say. There’s nothing you can do until she has that same will power to want to live. But I’m fighting for her as much as I can to help be that strength that she needs. But it’s also hard to play good guy bad guy, “No you can’t come home. You can't be around your kids when you’re like this."
We left Tory with her mom, grandma and daughters. The plan was that she would stay with her mom temporarily until she could find a bed available at a treatment center. Unfortunately the bed was never found.
Cunning, Baffling, and Powerful
I wish there was a happy ending to this story and I hope that I can share one with you someday. But the fact is, this is the reality for most addicts. Most never find freedom from their addiction for any significant period of time.
I saw Tory back in the Bluff about a week later. I was driving through and saw someone from a distance, cussing out a group of guys at the Chevron. I pulled in to get a closer look and it was her. Here's a short clip of our time together.
Part of these collections: Opiate Addiction