April 1, 2007 in City

Daughter’s birth gives woman a second chance at her own life

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Brian Plonka photo

Standing outside Isabella House in Spokane on March 9, Alisha Germany holds her 5-month-old daughter, Jerica. Germany, 24, is a Child Protective Services client who has overcome a years-long drug habit, hoping to create a better future for her baby.
(Full-size photo)

Pregnancy didn’t change Alisha Germany. Even as her belly swelled, the 24-year-old Spokane Valley woman continued the erratic life she’d lived since age 15: Sleeping on couches or in cars, hooking up with older men, stealing and selling drugs just to get by.

As late as eight months into her pregnancy, she was still using methamphetamine.

“I had nothing to change for,” Germany said.

Then, on Oct. 13, Jerica Lynn was born. When Germany held her 7-pound, 13-ounce daughter for the first time, everything seemed different.

“She was beautiful,” Germany said. “It’s indescribable.”

Suddenly, she said, behavior that previously seemed acceptable now clearly qualified as child abuse.

But state Child Protective Services workers weren’t impressed with Germany’s conversion. When Jerica was four days old, they placed the blue-eyed girl in foster care, making her one of 7,900 Washington children removed from dangerous or neglectful parents during the last fiscal year.

“It was because I was an unfit mother. They called me a ‘transient,’ ” Germany recalled. “Right then I knew I was going to do anything I could to get her back.”

Against the odds, she did.

Nearly six months after her daughter’s birth, Germany is drug-free for the first time in a decade. She’s working on a high school equivalency diploma and looking for her first legitimate job. Next month, she hopes to graduate from Isabella House, a state-paid Spokane residential treatment program run by the nonprofit New Horizon Care Centers Inc.

Germany learned about the program, which houses 45 mothers and children at a renovated mansion on Third Street, on the day Jerica was removed.

“The CPS worker said to give Isabella House a call,” she said. “I got in an hour later.”

The program has a six-month limit. Now, along with another young mother, Germany is looking for an apartment that’s nowhere near the neighborhood of her past. “I think a lot of it was the people I was hanging out with,” Germany said. “I don’t talk to any of those people anymore.”

Born and raised in Spokane, Germany said she and her four brothers and sisters had a good childhood. Her parents divorced when she was 2, but Germany said her mother worked hard, often cleaning motel rooms, to provide for the children.

She doesn’t know why she started smoking crack at age 15 or 16, then dropped out of Rosalia High School and moved in with a 26-year-old man.

“My mom was worried about me,” she said. “She didn’t know I was into drugs. She was always wondering, ‘When are you going to get your life together?’ ”

Germany wondered, too.

As much as she wanted to, she said she had no reason to make positive choices. Until Jerica arrived.

“If I wouldn’t have had her, I don’t think I’d be clean right now,” Germany said.

Now, thanks to the counseling sessions, drug treatment and parenting classes offered by Isabella House, Germany has learned to recognize and avoid potentially abusive behavior.

That’s true for nearly 90 percent of the young women who move through the program, said Dawni Miller, an administrative assistant with Isabella House.

“There’s always the cycle of abuse and neglect to break out of,” she said. “Some of them, thank God, get it while they’re here.”

Education and awareness are key, Miller added. Very few parents intend to abuse their children, but many had poor role models themselves.

“But a lot of times they’ll say, ‘I didn’t know how my child felt when I was screaming at them,’ ” Miller noted.

The lessons she has learned have made her a better parent already, said Germany, who expects to raise her daughter alone. She has no illusions that it will be easy, but it certainly will be better than a life of drug use and despair.

“I just want to raise her the right way. I don’t want to screw up her life,” Germany said. “I don’t want that lifestyle I was in. I don’t want that with her at all.”

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