Interview with Yolanda Mills
by Yolanda Mills

 housing-and-homelessness  sexual-violence  substance-abuse

Yolanda Mills: My name is Yolanda Mills.

Carolyn Watson: Tell us a little bit about yourself Yolanda.

Y.M.: Well me as a child, I was raised, I was abandoned when I was a child.

C.W.: What do you mean?

Y.M.: Mom drunk alcohol, you know, my grandmama had a handful of kids of her own. She ain’t have too much time to have me, and if my grandmama didn’t have me I was out wandering the streets. My Mama dropped me off to her friends. I did the crying and whining. I remember being in dark rooms, the people spanking me and telling me that my Mom’ll be back, you know. That, that was real hard for me that was real tough, as a child I didn’t have nobody, no brothers, no sisters I didn’t have nobody to talk to-I was alone, shut out. Nobody liked me because I use to whine all the time, I use to tell everything I hear.

C.W.: Did you go to school in Chicago?

Y.M.: Yeah, I went to school. And every school I went to, I went for a couple days and got threw out.

C.W.: Did you graduate from elementary school?

Y.M.: Yes, I did. Jack London in Des Plaines, Illinois.

Salome Chasnoff: Could you talk a little more about getting thrown out of school—like what were the reasons, and how it felt, like you saying being in a number of schools and getting throw out?

Y.M.: When I went to school I couldn’t deal with the fact that people trying to tell me what to do, you know what I’m saying? Then I was ashamed ‘cuz I didn’t know nothing, you know what I’m saying? I felt bad because I was the less, the slow person in the class, and I always wanted to be with my Mom, and I use to whine all the time. And nobody want that around. Cuss the teacher out, ready to fight, throw stuff, you know what I’m saying.

C.W.: Yolanda, so who were you living with? Your grandmother in Des Plaines?

Y.M.: Well, I was in a foster home, it was called Maryville Academy. It’s for kids, you know, it’s co-ed for boys and girls. I stayed there, and on weekends on Fridays to Sunday, Fridays we go home on passes, and we had to be on our way back in on Sunday so that we could go to school. But it was a nice place. I miss that place.

C.W.: So you went, it was like a dormitory-style living?

Y.M.: No, no we was living like in houses, houses eight people a piece to a house, and there could be a husband and a wife, a head of us, the guardians like that.

C.W.: Cottages?

Y.M.: Like cottages.

C.W.: So you were in the system early, this is like being in the system. How did you get sent there?

Y.M.: How did I get sent there?

C.W.: Yeah.

Y.M.: Well, as I was growing up I started hanging out with the wrong people, you know, selling my body, selling drugs, that’s all. I went to the penitentiary for, was drugs, possession of drugs, deliveries. I started going to the penitentiary in ‘95. I’ve been to the penitentiary five times, this last time I gave up, I’m tired of that, you know what I’m saying?

C.W.: Tell me what happened for you to get sent to Maryville Academy. Why were you there?

Y.M.: It was my foster home, a group home. I didn’t have nobody that wanted to take responsibility or care for me.

C.W.: Where were your mom?

Y.M.: In the streets. She was an alcoholic.

C.W.: She was an alcoholic.

Y.M.:And at that time I was in foster home to foster home.

C.W.: They took you from your mama?

Y.M.: They had me from foster home to foster home.

C.W.: So at what age did they take you from your mama?

Y.M.: I was about 9/10, yeah 9/10 years old.

C.W.: They took you from your mom, and your grandmama couldn’t take you?

Y.M.: No, ‘cuz she couldn’t do nothing, she was old and she had too many kids of her own. They tried to keep me away from my mom, don’t go near the building my mom stayed in with the family. You know, can’t nobody keep you from your mom everybody know that.

C.W.: And that’s crazy.

Y.M.: And every foster home I went to I ran away.

C.W.: So starting at 9 you became a ward of the state.

Y.M.: Ward of the state, family services.

S.C: How old were you when you got to prostitution and drug dealing?

Y.M.: 14, that’s when I got pregnant.

C.W.: So go back to nine.

Y.M.: Well, when I was nine I was a buck-wild child. I was ok, I was a child without parents, you know I’m saying. I went to foster home to foster home, you know. And led up to Maryville.

C.W.: Did you have any problems in the foster homes?

Y.M.: I was fine in the foster home, in the group homes I had problems with one of the people houses, and playing the part of their child, yeah I had a problem with that, because the father was always trying to poke me ‘cuz I was well built when I was a young girl.

C.W.: So they was trying to mess with you?

Y.M.: Yeah mess with me, I would run away, but I would never tell the parent, I’d never tell the lady.

C.W.: Did they get you?

Y.M.: No, I used to run and leave everything behind.

C.W.: So those homes that they put you in are not safe?

Y.M.:No they ain’t safe, no they’re not.

C.W.: Tell me about it.

Y.M.: Half the time I didn’t trust the people.

C.W.: Tell me about it.

Y.M.: Well, the father used to try to molest me, touch me, try to con me, talk to me, ask me questions, or maybe the brother, or the son, or grandson or somebody, it’s just not safe—not for a girl. For a girl to go in a foster child it should be a lady herself. An old lady, no men around. No, not to be taken no responsibility like that. No.

C.W.: ‘Cuz you were built?

Y.M.: Yeah ‘cuz I was built, big boned, big butt, everything.

C.W.: And the men would be by that.

Y.M.: Yep, yeah totally.

C.W.: So you run away, and you started being a prostitute. You come back to the city of Chicago, hanging on the west side, tell me about that.

Y.M.: I was hanging on the west side around Madison street. I can say that, right. I started hanging out with girls and guys, and I wanted to be like them. They had money, you know what I’m saying? At least they cared for me more then my family did, they gave me attention, they help me, gave me things. It didn’t take much to get what you wanted to me, ‘cuz I was real sexual active when I was on the streets, you know what I’m saying? I loved the men, yes I did, and I did whatever it take to have some money. Then I could help my family, then I graduating and went to selling drugs, smoke weed, toot cocaine, smoke cocaine, tooted heroine, drunk beer, drunk wine, did the whole nine, shot heroine.

C.W.: Where’d you live? Abandoned buildings?

Y.M.: Yeah, I use to stay in abandon buildings, go to abandon buildings and just fix them up. I use to go to abandon buildings and just go fix them up like they was my house. Charge people when they come in.

C.W.: To smoke?

Y.M.: To smoke, to do whatever they want to do. Turn a date, I charged them. That was my house. In the hallways, find a nice hallway with a lock on it, come on in hit me to take care of your business. You got such and such time. That was me, wherever I went I made it my home. I use to get high and have blackouts and wakeup and don’t know how I got places. You know, I use to have fun when I got high, though. But I’m glad it’s over with today.

S.C: So how old were you when you would charge people to use your home?

Y.M.: How old was I? I was about 16, I had it a high roller then, shit, can’t nobody tell me nothing. That’s when I started to going to jail.

C.W.:Did you go to high school?

Y.M.: Never, I ain’t seen the inside of a high school, I just graduated 8th grade and that was it, I was on my own.

C.W.: So, you graduated to the streets.

Y.M.: Sidewalk High.

C.W.: Your mother died when?

Y.M.: She died in 1983.

C.W.: How old were you?

Y.M.: I was 14 going on 15, I had just had my son.

C.W.: So you got a baby?

Y.M.: Yeah, I have a son he’s 20 I had him in ‘82 June 29.

C.W.: So what happened to him?

Y.M.: Well, he’s deceased now. He got killed 1999 September the 20th. He got shot multiple times—gang related. My only child.

C.W.: So who kept him?

Y.M.: His father’s mother, and his father also in the house, but he was incarcerated too at the time, September 20 it’d be three years he would of been gone. That’s another thing I’m trying to deal with today is my son’s death. I don’t really open much up, you know, and I’m stressing a lot.

C.W.: So, the first time you went to prison how old were you? Let me ask you this, did you go into the juvenile?

Y.M.: I skipped all that.

C.W.: You got out, so you was on the streets? Somebody had you on the streets?

Y.M.: Like what?

C.W.: You were with somebody?

Y.M.: I was by myself, I was alone, don’t nobody had me. I wasn’t hoeing nobody, I was getting money on my own to support my habit. You know what I’m saying? Didn’t nobody had me out there, it was me.

C.W.: If it was a holiday where would you go?

Y.M.: Where would I go?! I wouldn’t go nowhere. I stayed where I’m put, I just hustled right there. I ain’t going nowhere, the holiday ain’t no special day to me. It’s just another day.

C.W.: What special day is for you?

Y.M.: NO day, you know what I’m saying, the day I get my money.

C.W.: How you get your money?

Y.M.: Pan handling, you know what I’m saying, turning dates, slanging.

C.W.: What’s pan handling?

Y.M.: Pan handling is when you asking for change.

C.W.: Right. How much you make on that?

Y.M.: Wine fare, beer fare, and when I get that I used to chill out, after I get that it seemed like it’d come to me after that. Somebody come up with something.

C.W.: A lick, what is that, explain that?

Y.M.: When you hit the thang, you know what, you ran across something, you lucky, or you took something and you came out with a…

C.W.: So you hanging out at a gas station and run a cross road, like somebody pull up and they want to know which way to go to the United Center, you know, something, give me a story.

Y.M.: Well, to be honest my licks weren’t like I stole anything from nobody, you know what I’m saying, it’s because I got lucky and found something. I had went to a lounge before on south on 60 something, I’d been called and I been to that lounge and I had a little chump change and I ordered myself a beer, and I looked down and I found 200 something dollars. I broke up out of there and left my beer and everything and I went someplace so that I can get my fix on. It was over that was a good lick there that was a stain. I know they was mad.

C.W.: Somebody dropped it?

Y.M.:Yeah, it was folded all neat and everything, it’s got to be mine.

C.W.: So the first time you went to the penitentiary, how old were you?

Y.M.: How old was I? That was Division 3 over I think I was about 17/18, something like that.

C.W.: That was county jail.

Y.M.: Yeah, county jail, but penitentiary I started going in ‘95 .

C.W.: So that was the first time you went to the penitentiary in ‘95? You stayed out there?

Y.M.: No, I didn’t stay out there. I was there from ‘95 to ‘96 I went in ‘97, ‘98 skipped ‘99 and went back 2000, went back 2001, and got out 2002.

C.W.: So after you learned about prison you went every year.

Y.M.: It was home, it was cool then back in them days, the penitentiary was cool. They fed you well, it was nice, it was nice. I never had it, I never had a place I could call home. It was home, right, three meals a day, get your weight and everything back. You had a job, it was cool.

C.W.: Had friends?

Y.M.: Yeah, well I wouldn’t call them friends. I had some associates, well I was around people more like me you know what I’m saying.

C.W.: Evidently you not spending much time in this jail?

Y.M.: No, six more days, six more days three times, and three of it twice.

C.W.: So, you had the same judge every time.

Y.M.: No I didn’t I had different judges.

C.W.: So nobody stopped to say this lady need some help?

Y.M.: Right, all I needed was some help, and my pride, too scare to ask for help. It wasn’t nothing - was soliciting twice and arrest for drugs possession attempted deliver, that’s all. But little little amounts 4 and 5 bags. Instead of incarcerating me, I really think they should have sent me to treatment. They never offered me task, I really didn’t know nothing about task, I say that. And then if you do ask for task you have to wait so many months I wasn’t ready to just sit there when they offer me a year. I be gone, my six more days be done, right back out there. Then went I get out of jail I don’t have no place to go to but back out there in the streets. My family didn’t want to bother with me.

C.W.: What family?

Y.M.: My mom’s sisters and brothers.

C.W.: Well, tell me about them.

Y.M.: Well, they alright, they ok. They don’t like the things I was doing, they know I’m a better person then what I be showing them. They stole from them. They hate to see me coming. I get locked up and I have one auntie that will help me. I hear from her every two months. I was out there by myself, not today though. I don’t have a family really if you ask me. I’ve been here in Grace House for five months but now I don’t bother nobody. I don’t go to my family, I talk to them every three months, one auntie.

S.C.: Something that you were talking about the penitentiary being home… do you ever miss it?

Y.M.: Do I ever miss it? Today that I’m in recovery a little bit I think about the people that I got close too. But when I was out there using I use to have dreams I use to walk around or have dreams about jail. Well, they getting up right now, they’re popping the doors, they have to come out, they going to breakfast, you know what I’m saying. They’re popping the doors now it’s 9 o’clock to take their showers. I think about it all the time when I was out in the street. I use to pray that I got locked up. Yes, I did. I use to pray all the time about jail, I was tired- I was really tired. When I got in there I got comfortable. I wasn’t ready to go nowhere. I got my three meals a day, you know what I’m saying, I get my mail, all that, all that was some good stuff for me. I guess you call it institutionalized.

C.W.: Well, you don’t know no better.

Y.M.: Right.

C.W.: You ever been on a vacation?

Y.M.: Vacation, I’m taking one now. I’m on one now, and I’m not returning.

C.W.: You got a new life.

Y.M.: Yeah, and I’m on a journey.

C.W.: What are you learning now?

Y.M.: It feels good to be sober today - you know what I’m saying, all that, all that stuff I was doing that wasn’t no good for me. I enjoy this life here sober and clean working my program - an honest program.

C.W.: You a pretty girl, did you know you were pretty?

Y.M.: I was. I still don’t think I’m pretty, I have very, very low self-esteem.

C.W.: I was just looking at you and seeing how pretty you are, how old are you?

Y.M.: I’m 34, I have real real low self-esteem.

C.W.: So, I got my child, I got a son born ‘69 I guess you born…?

Y.M.: ‘67.

C.W.: Two years older than my son.

Y.M.: I’ll be 35 October 31st.

C.W.: So, in 1995 the first time you went to prison how old were you?

Y.M.: How old was I…

C.W.: You were probably 28.

Y.M.: Maybe about 27, but before prison I was going back and forth in County back and forth from County until I graduated and I went on to the joint.

C.W.: So, county jail was kinda like a rest place for you.

Y.M.: Yeah, right - Division 3.

C.W.: Did you ever get E.D.?

Y.M.: I ain’t get none of that.

C.W.: ‘cuz you had no where to go.

Y.M.: Right, they offered me E.D. all the time, all the time, I got E.D. but I didn’t get no house so I had to turn it down. Then I had to wait until the day they gave me I-bond. I always got I-bonds.

C.W.: They let you… ‘cuz you’re really not a criminal.

Y.M.: I’m not, I was just using drugs I wasn’t really doing nothing to nobody. I wasn’t harming nobody. I went out there I didn’t know how to pick pocket and do all that. I did what I had to do to get what I wanted.

C.W.: To survive.

Y.M.: Yeah, I’m not no bad person. I’m not. I’m quiet I usually don’t talk, every now and then I talk.

C.W.: So, you never had a chance basically. So, tell me about your life now, what are your plans for the future?

Y.M.: For right now my short term goal is to get my G.E.D.. I’m fitting to go to high school the 16th of September. My long term goals, accept the fact that my son is gone.

C.W.: Did you ever spend any time with him?

Y.M.: Every now and then.

C.W.: Tell me about him.

Y.M.:(crying) I miss him.

C.W.: So he didn’t have a chance neither did he?

Y.M.: No.

C.W.: What was his name?

Y.M.: Michael.

C.W.: Tell me about Michael.

Y.M.: He was a good boy, he went bad, he was just like me. He didn’t have no mother and father, his father’s in jail - he had got seven years. And I was in and out of jail doing my drugs. Every now and then I would got a hold of some money and go over there and give it to him and I remember I would promise all the time, “I’m gonna do this or do that” and I never did it. One day I went to jail I was in Dwight and he wrote me a letter and told me, “Well mom, I felt bad when I see my buddies with their mother and father and I don’t have mines.” You did the crime you gotta do your the time. That hurt me, that was my buddy, we were more like buddies, brothers and sisters instead of mother and son. You wouldn’t think he was my son until he said, “Hey Ma, hey Ma,” but he knew who I was though. We had a relationship.

C.W.: So he didn’t make it?

Y.M.: No, he got killed when he was 17.

S.C.: What were the circumstances?

Y.M.: He got shot multiple times. They said it was gang-related, I was sitting there watching it on the news I didn’t know it was my baby. They said it was a quarrel over a girl. He was inside a party, and some girls went in the party got him out the party. When he came out the boy started shooting at him, and he was running, and the boy shot him in the butt, and then he shot him in the back. When he shot him in the back my son fell, when my son fell the boy stood up over him and shot him in the face. I miss my son. I got to be strong… We all gonna go one day. I just hate the fact that he died like that. Shot, he ain’t nothing but a baby. My baby wasn’t bad he was not no bad boy. He had a mouth on him like his mamma, but he wasn’t bad, he wouldn’t hurt nobody. But then again I wouldn’t know that I wasn’t around him all the time… but he wasn’t bad.

C.W.: So, how did you find out about Grace House?

Y.M.: In the penitentiary I can’t think of the lady’s name she showed me a pamphlet about the Grace House, and I sent the application to the Grace House, and everything they said in the pamphlet I needed it. To work on myself, to find out who I am.

C.W.: This is after you’ve been to the penitentiary how many times?

Y.M.:Five. This last bid, yeah.

C.W.: So, this lady was she a counselor?

Y.M.: Yeah she was.

C.W.: Where were you?

Y.M.: In Dwight.

S.C.: Can you talk a little bit about life in prison? Like generally speaking and also your particular life in prison?

Y.M.: Well, like I said in prison a lot of ladies say prison it’s bad, all prisons is bad. Jail is bad to be locked up behind doors and get a number put on you, and eat when they tell you to eat, and get up when they tell you. But for me didn’t nothing bother me.. I was not a bad person I didn’t get tickets. I didn’t go to seg.(segregation) I stayed to myself and mind my business , did what had to be done. It wasn’t that bad for me. I wasn’t getting sick and all that stuff that I had to drop referrals to go see a doctor. Everything was cool with me, ‘cuz every time I went to prison I didn’t have too much time in there ... So I was cool with it.

S.C.: Can you talk about some of the relationships…?

Y.M.: I really don’t believe in relationships, like friends and all that. I’m not with that. I have a big old problem with trusting people. I don’t trust too many people. I don’t really talk to people. If I do it’s a script to tell them something I just want them to know, but I don’t have relationships with nobody. Now, today I do with the women in the house, I love with my sisters here in Grace House. I love them.

S.C.: That is such a huge change for you to be trusting people, opening up yourself..

C.W.: You been here five months, you’ll be here for a while, and you’ll start your life.

Y.M.: This program is good. It really is. I’m fitting to move in October, they’re moving me to the SRO and they said they picked me out the whole thing. Me being eligible for it for, not having no income, they got programs right there in the building. That’s fine. This place opens up October, the first week or the second week of October that sounds good. That be my birthday gift then. That’ll be fine. I use to have a problem with structure, but it’s okay. You’re never to old for somebody to tell you what to do, and I like it. When the ladies come in, I don’t try to tell them girl this and girl that, it’s cool. If you want some help, you’re in the right place. This is not just the Grace House, this is the House of Grace. I done change a lot ‘cuz I’m doing good. I go to school everyday and I be reading my book Prayer of Jabez. It hits the topic that I’m on, I’m scared of failing and everything, for some reason I go a page and there it is telling me ‘You have to learn your math if you don’t know it you better work on it. If you don’t work on it you ain’t going to know nothing.’ I’m doing good, I’m really proud of myself, I pat myself on the back. I’d been to school for five months I don’t care if I gotta go sixteen months. I’m sticking with it because this is what I want. If I want to do something for myself outside this house they gonna want a diploma or a G.E.D. I’m gonna work for mine. I love the Grace House, and I ain’t waiting to see that penitentiary, no more and if I do go I’m going to go visiting the place, talking to people. They ain’t fitting to get no more time out of me. I did my time.

S.C.: If you look ahead to your 40th birthday what do you see yourself doing?

Y.M.: Inviting people over to my house. Saying I did it. I’m learning how to let go and love God, no matter what I’m going through. I thank him for another day.

S.C.: Can you tell me about your life of prostitution?

Y.M.: It’s dangerous, it’s real dangerous you don’t know who you messing with, you get a disease, it’s dangerous to be out there like that. With a pimp or without a pimp. Just a woman being out there it’s not good. They could see you one minute you could be dead the next minute. You see I wasn’t no whore who stood in the corner, I’d get them wherever.

C.W.: What’s the most you got paid?

Y.M.: Twenty dollars I didn’t get no more no less. Yes I did, yes I did, was ten dollars, but it’s dangerous. And I’m better then that, I’m way better than that.

S.C.: You’re saying that now at your age, but… what about then when you were doing it?

Y.M.: I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, I was using, I didn’t care, I wanted my fix.

S.C.: Did you have any particular experiences that you can describe?

Y.M.: Yeah, I got raped before, my butt took it a couple times, I had knives to my throat, and guns to my head.

C.W.: You’ve been sodomized?

Y.M.: Molested. What do you mean? the butt..yeah. twice.

C.W.: From a trick?

Y.M.: From a trick, a lot of this stuff happened to me as I was coming up, there’s a lot of stuff I ain’t said, I just blacked out, I forgot. I don’t remember. I forgot about it.

C.W.: Did your family ever molest you?

Y.M.: I rather not say, but then again they ain’t molest me they tried. I wake up and saw their hardness, watching me, yeah. Three cousins and an uncle, they tried but they didn’t succeed.

S.C.:How old were you?

Y.M.: I don’t know how old I was then, I was around twelve I told you I was built when I were young my mom used to keep me with her when she drunk her alcohol, it just be her the only woman with all kind of men. And she be drunk and asleep and men be playing in my panties-feeling on me. Beating my mamma up. I saw my mama get hung from a third floor window. A TV got thrown at her and her feet went through a TV. Her jaw got broke I went through a lot….

C.W.: How did your mother die?

Y.M.: Alcohol, she died when she was 32.

C.W.: Cirrhosis

Y.M.: Cirrhosis, right, all her organs got cut out. She was 32 she died in 83’, I had my son in 82’ she was born in 51’ she was 32 yrs old, I miss her too. No matter what she did though she was good to me, she never whoop me, she left me with strangers. My daddy he use to ask me for sex all the time, my real father.

C.W.: He still living?

Y.M.: No, he dead.

C.W.: He asked you for it?

Y.M.: Yeah, he use to ask me all the time, could he make love to me. And I would ask him how if he said I looked like my mamma.

C.W.: He said you looked like your mamma?

Y.M.: Yeah. When my mamma when she were young. I ain’t never told nobody that neither.

C.W.: He tried to get you then?

Y.M.: Yeah, I ain’t never told nobody.

S.C.: And how old were you then?

Y.M.: 12/13/14 see I was going from foster home to foster home even my daddy’s mother was trying to be my guardian and I couldn’t stay with her. My daddy was staying with her too upstairs, in his little abandoned house. The building was raggedy I use to run from him all the time I couldn’t stay with her.

C.W.: What happened to your arm, that cut?

Y.M.: Breaking up a fight I got cut, then I got a cut in my face five girls and a guy jumped me right here.

C.W.: Tell me about it.

Y.M.:I was drinking some Cisco one day and got drunk, I felt like Super Woman, the girls push me, one girl walked behind me and pushed me and I turned around and I started hitting the first one and after that it was over with and this guy broke it up. I went and payphone called my auntie and told her I just got into a fight with these people. I said come out here and get me because I might be in jail or dead. When I hung up that phone I went to that girl’s house she wasn’t there when I came downstairs her and her boyfriend were pulling up. I went up to her and started hitting her, he hit me and knocked me down he gave her a scrape razor and she cut me up first. I see the girl now at places.

C.W.: Where do you see her?

Y.M.: When I go places, when I take the bus, she think I’m going to do something to her, she’s scared, I won’t touch her.

S.C.: Do you have anything you want to say that we didn’t ask you?

Y.M.: Stay clean, don’t use..

C.W.: We know that using is the end product of other stuff that’s happening, we got to talk about our lives, we have to face our demons, is that what you doing?

Y.M.: Everyday is not like it’s peaches and cremes. I have my days that are… go get your fix. don’t nobody know. Just like the other day when I was out I was surrounded my beers, and used to love my beer, and then I started getting thirsty, everyday is not no peaches and creme. It’s a fight and I rather be playing, and I don’t want to be sick again. Soon as I pick up I think I’m gonna die. I don’t want to go to that place. I want to live a healthy life. Sober. I don’t want to wake up in the morning in pain, my nose, or my butt running, it ain’t cool. Don’t pick up. Keep God Ahead in your life and stay prayerful. And you’ll be alright and remove yourself from places you don’t need. That’s what I’m doing today.