“It felt like I was stuck there,” Rachel says of Cañon City, Colorado, where she spent most of her life before coming to Anacortes. Between Colorado Springs and Pueblo, the small town is near the ADX Florence “supermax” prison that houses the most dangerous inmates in the country. Rachel says that both the prisoners and guards engage in extreme behavior regularly, and that “dark stuff leaks out into the entire community.”
On Her Own
Her earliest years were spent in a relaxed beach town in California, giving Rachel a sense that life could be peaceful and bright. Her mom’s relationships with men weren’t the best, however, and when Rachel was a teen her mom’s partner was a prison guard in Cañon City. The couple decided to move to Louisiana, and not feeling safe with the man, Rachel refused to go. They left her behind.
Rachel was 16 years old, alone, and dreaming of moving away. She lived in an apartment and didn’t go to school – many of her friends were African American and she was a target of white thugs. She mainly stayed indoors and tried to keep safe.
Starting a Family
After a time, Rachel met a guy she felt good about and moved in with him and his family. She was relatively content for nearly 10 years, giving birth to twin sons at age 19. Along the way her partner got laid off from his oil field job and struggled to provide. He turned to drinking and staying out late at night. For Rachel and the boys, it seemed like “we were living ‘around’ him,” she says.
Rachel realized she and her sons’ father were on different paths and they split up amicably. She was accepted into a housing program in Cañon City where she could work and share custody of her sons. She later fell for a guy she thought was a gentleman, but when she became pregnant, he left.
Trying a New Town
Rachel gave birth to a baby girl alone. She continued to be the best mom she could to all her children, so when her daughter’s father reappeared three years down the road, Rachel tried to include him in their lives.
The couple had another child together, a boy. Soon thereafter, Rachel made the mistake of suggesting her partner help her care for the baby a bit more often, and he became violent. He choked Rachel in view of the kids and ended up in jail. Needless to say, the relationship ended.
Rachel happily moved to Colorado Springs, leaving Cañon City. But then the twins’ father had a mental health setback and Rachel needed to have all her children with her full time. Since the older boys were established in a school near their dad’s home, it was back to Cañon City for Rachel. She did not want to disrupt the twins’ lives any further. The housing program helped her get started again, and the family lived in a nice Victorian for a while.
West at Last
Rachel wanted to co-parent her daughter and young son with their father in a positive way, but he wasn’t having it. He took every opportunity to exercise power and control over her, and she felt that when she neared the point of self-sufficiency, he would find ways to knock her down. Rachel decided she had enough of harmful relationships and unhealthy lifestyles and felt the strong urge to heal. And of Cañon City, she was certain, “this isn’t where I’m supposed to be.” There was nothing good there for her.
Rachel got in touch with a supportive step sister she inherited from one of her mom’s marriages, a woman who lives on Whidbey Island. With her encouragement, Rachel planned to move west. Fortunately, there was no issue in bringing her daughter, since Rachel’s was the only name on the birth certificate. Rachel bought a truck, tucked her last $400 in her pocket, and drove them both away from Cañon City.
She admits it was difficult to leave her boys – especially her youngest son whose “parenting plan” lists Colorado as home. She explains it this way: “You know when you’re on a plane and they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first?” Rachel felt the right direction was to take her daughter, establish a new life, then turn her attention to the rest of the kids. “I had to calm the storm going on around me.”
The twins are doing fine with their father and his new wife. They’ll graduate high school soon and Rachel hopes they will join her in Washington. They’re interested in careers they should be able to pursue locally. Rachel’s next step is to petition the court to get full custody of her youngest son, who remains with his dad. “I know he will be with us,” she says, and has a bedroom ready for him.
“We’re Happy Here”
Rachel wants people who may be struggling to know there is light at the end of the tunnel. “Almost every good story starts with hardship,” she believes, recalling how it took her a while to find her own compass. After a short stay in AFC’s Emergency Shelter, Rachel now has two good jobs, a nice apartment, and plans for the future.
Rachel and her daughter are very close, and they enjoy living in Anacortes. The youngster likes school and has many friends. On an outing to a park recently she said, “Mom, we’re happy here, huh!”