ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer
Slavery has many faces and has re-invented itself over and over again.
ST. PETERSBURG — While I was talking to Wendy Bell at the Juneteenth celebration in Campbell Park, I soon realized that the person sitting in front of me for all practical purposes should have been dead some years ago.
In between songs with her youngest child who is 13, Bell shed a little light on her fiery past.
“It’s really great to be here and share in this wonderful coming together of the community,” said Bell with a smile as she continued.
“It’s so good to be here with you and especially my daughter. I was separated from her for seven years because I got strung out on drugs, left my family and never went back home.”
Immediately after the singing duo performed, Bell shared her story with me.
“I was married in my senior year of high school and started having children,” said Bell. “My father was threatening to blow him away with his shot gun! Small town, country people!”
Within a year, she was divorced.
“I was confused and I didn’t really know what I wanted,” she said.
Soon thereafter, she married again.
“I thought I married the right man for me. He worked hard, took care of his family.”
However, Bell found out that the love of her life had unresolved anger issues. His brute force almost cost her her life.
“What’s to stop me from killing you right now,” said Bell, remembering words that crushed her heart. “I really loved him!”
All too often this is the pathetic situation. The abused loves the abuser regardless of the emotional and physical toll being leveled on everyone involved. Of course, there’s always an out but not necessarily the right one.
“My sister introduced me to drugs, some really hard drugs,” said Bell. Her downhill journey into the fiery valley of drug abuse began.
“She [her youngest child] was not even in kindergarten yet. She was four when I walked out to get high and never came back home. I lived on the streets for like six years. I started stealing, robbing…there wasn’t anything that I wasn’t involved in. And I’d check in with my parents every six months to let them know I was still alive.”
The drugs and the streets had taken over Bell’s life.
“I was so bound up that I didn’t know how to get out of it. I thought I was gonna die in it. I was prostituting for a pimp to support my habit,” she said as she paused for a moment to recall her lowest point in life.
“The lowest of the lowest was when my oldest daughter ended up on the streets with me. I was doing the really hard drugs, using needles, smoking crack while she was smoking weed and drinking liquor. And I was supporting all this stuff by making the money [on the streets]. One night we got into a fight and beat each other up pretty badly. I got a month in jail for that.”
The fiery jaws of death were closing in on Bell’s life.
“I could feel death on my heels, on the back of my neck breathing so real!”
Then, the winds of change blew.
“When I got out, I realized I didn’t want to live and die like that. I kept having visions over and over of the way I was going to die and the location.”
Bell turned her life over to the best life changer that anyone could find no matter what the condition or illness.
“Now I lead the worship in my church; we do a prison ministry and we do stuff with Northside Baptist any kind of calls [to serve], we just float around,” said Bell who seemed relieved to talk about her new direction in life. She has been steadily on this path of service for the last five years.
“I went on a mission trip last year to Mississippi and then over to North Carolina and I stayed at a women’s rehab up there. My sister and her husband live there, and I shared my story with a couple of churches.”
Bell ended her interview by pointing out that the illness of drug addiction can happen to anyone in any community; poor, middle or upper class.
“When I went into some of the churches there, they acted like I wasn’t there, but in the end many of them were crying and talked to me after the service because they could relate to my situation.”
Bell was truly blessed. She has re-established closer relationships with her two younger daughters and influenced her son to turn his life around. One of her daughters kept a journal to capture a year of reflection on the mother’s situation and the impact from a child’s point-of-view. The journal will be the focus of another article.