Sometimes Denna forgets she's not 11.
But reality quickly reminds her there's a little girl depending on
her being a grownup.
Denna's childhood evaporated in the
haze of drugs and trouble that started, she says, soon after she
discovered her birth mother didn't want her. By 9, she started
running away from home. By 11, drugs consumed her days.
By junior year, when she dropped out of
school, she had run away from five psychiatric hospitals and four
residential facilities. Finally, at the Cunningham Children's Home
in Urbana she says she got straight and graduated from high school
with a college scholarship. "But soon as I left that place, it was
over with." She went right back to drugs.
She also started forging checks,
landing her in the Champaign County Jail. Though her dad talked the
college into letting her keep her scholarship, Denna lasted only
two semesters before falling behind, losing the scholarship and
landing in prison for forgery and violating probation.
A routine pregnancy test her first day
in prison turned out positive. "Oh my God, I cried for days."
Knowing she pushed her family away and
that the baby's father wouldn't want anything to do with a baby,
she weighed the future. Should she put her baby up for
No, she decided. "I was adopted, so I
knew what it felt like to wonder and not know, why did they give me
up for adoption? … I didn't want my baby to go through that."
When The Women's Treatment Center took
her and the baby in, she admits she wasn't the most together
mother-she'd forget the baby when she went outside to smoke and the
baby's constant crying drove her crazy. But the staff never stopped
believing in her, she says.
The 22-year-old's goals are now much
clearer: to raise her baby on her own, to go back to school and get
a job working with children and to start a college fund for her
"I have to constantly remind myself,
I'm not 11 years old anymore. ... I have the responsibility of my
daughter. That's my motivation. Every day that she wakes up and she
smiles, I know I've got to do this for her."
Denna now has a full-time job.
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