Robert Schroeder : click for home page
freelance journalist
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Mrs. Clean
One woman's path to freeing herself from the pain of drug addiction.

The Washington Post Magazine
May 19, 2002

On a recent, rainy Sunday morning in a drug-infested neighborhood in Northeast Washington, Angela Barnes scored a hit. She needed a fix. The transaction complete, she stepped away from the dealer -- but balked. Her children were there, after all. No place to light up -- a Newport.

Cigarettes from the corner 7-Eleven are nothing compared with what Angela used to smoke: "Love boat" reefer. Crack. She did heroin, too. Angela, a 40-year-old mother of four, used for 18 years nonstop and, sometimes, dealt. And when she dealt, she used even more. She'd quit jobs to get high. She got thrown in jail. Her weight plummeted to 100 pounds. "I should," she says flatly, "be dead."

Instead she is emphatically alive. Sick and tired of the life, and with an assist from the Rev. Stephen E. Young Sr. of the Holy Christian Missionary Baptist Church for All People, Angela sought out Oasis Clinic in Northeast. There, she receives counseling and a steadily decreasing dose of methadone. She's been clean for 22 months. She weighs a healthy 160 pounds.

How did she do it? Angela likes to say it's been by changing her people, places and things. So indeed she has: pushers for pastors, the street for the church, smack for cigs. Driving back from the convenience store toward Holy Christian, she passes corners on which deals are done. But she doesn't look. She stares straight ahead or chatters with her two young daughters, who are sitting in the back seat. By all appearances, she is a normal mother.

Which is to say, busy. Though she's not working right now, Angela fills her days with therapy, child care and church, where she is an usher. She usually flops into bed by 8 p.m. "I can't remember the last time I was outside when it was dark," she says. Back now at Holy Christian, Angela stands smartly dressed in her usher's black skirt and jacket, and chalk-white gloves. Now she is asking two female congregants to move up closer to the altar; now she is handing a baby's pacifier back to a grateful, harried father. Angela -- who plans to become a drug counselor herself -- is giving back.

In July, Angela will have been clean for two years. A laudable achievement. But she has bigger plans. "I hope," she says, "it'll be 200."

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