Samaratin Inns' new "Clark Inn"
Colleen Cosgriff

Rochele Johnson pulls up a picture on her phone. It is of herself sixteen months ago, when she entered a detox program.

“Who is this?” she asks her young granddaughter, Kayla.

Kayla shrugs.

“She can’t even recognize me.”

Johnson began using hard drugs at the age of 25. Now 54, she has been sober for 16 months.

“I’ve been in six treatment programs, and I always relapsed in transitional housing. It was treatment, transitional, relapse,” Johnson said in an interview with Street Sense.

“It’s supposed to be treatment, relapse, SRO,” she continued, referring to a single room occupancy dwelling.

“I always relapsed. This is my first time in SRO. I’m excited about being here. I’m happy. I’m going to stay. I’m done,” Johnson said.

What’s different about this past year, Rochelle said, is that she “wanted help this time.”

Johnson has three children, ages 33, 23, and 19. Over the years, her relationships with them became strained because of her substance abuse. She would do “anything and everything” to get drugs, including take money from her family members.

Her family forgave her. Today she enjoys going bowling with them on weekends, but her past is still present in the back of her mind.

“I have a wonderful relationship with my family now,” Johnson said. “They forgive me, but it’s hard for me to forgive me.”

Many mothers who struggle with substance abuse often face the difficult decision of what to do with their children when they seek treatment. Children are frequently placed in the foster care system or sent to live with relatives. When Johnson was abusing or in treatment, her children stayed with their grandmother.

Some mothers who need treatment fear they will damage their relationship with their children if they leave. They might instead choose to forgo treatment. The substance abuse goes untreated and home life for the children usually becomes unstable.

“Addicted mothers, along with their dependent children, are one of the greatest underserved populations in the District of Columbia; there are nearly a thousand homeless families, of which half are headed by addicted mothers, and there are thousands more who are at risk of being homeless as a result of substance abuse,” according to Samaritan Inns – one of the treatment programs Johnson has worked with.

If a parent is a substance abuser, there’s a high chance the child will become an abuser, too. Some children of substance abusers also grapple with abandonment issues, if their parents become absent from their lives.

Judy Ashburn, Director of Treatment Programs at Samaritan Inns, believes their new program, Clark Inn, will help parents heal strained relationships with their children. A ribbon cutting for the facility took place on June 16. It is expected to be fully functional within the next month.

“To break this generational curse, the earlier we get the mothers, the better,” Ashburn said in an interview with Street Sense. “By the time they get into their 40s and 50s it’s hard to break that cycle. By treating both mother and child, we help treat the relationship with the child.”

The Clark Inn program is centered on creating a secure relationship between parents and children. The mothers will receive parenting education to build a “circle of security” with their children as soon as they enter treatment.

“The child needs to be able to go out and explore and then come back and be comforted by the mother.” Ashburn said. “She needs to read the child’s cues and missed cues, to pay attention to the cues and bring comfort to that, as a mother.”

Supportive fathers and family members can attend family therapy in the evenings at the Carriage House, which is a building across the patio from Clark Inn.

Johnson is optimistic about Clark Inn. She says a lot of the women she has met during her times in treatment have lost their children to the foster care system.

“There’s a lot of young mothers out there on drugs. They have a chance [at the Clark Inn], they can be with their children to try and do the right thing to raise their children. They have a chance to pull themselves together, to grow up with their children,” Johnson said.

From personal experience, Johnson knows that for the treatment to work, the mothers must want the help. She relapsed so many times because she wasn’t ready to get sober, and she didn’t want to stop using.

“I was using for over 25 years,” Johnson said, tearing up. “I am proud of myself. I really am. Never thought I’d make it. I tried so many times. You just have to be strong. One day at a time. Just say ‘no.’”

Her granddaughter Kayla holds her hand as they walk into the courtyard together.