The Art of Tribulation and Redemption: A Multimedia Project Documents Stories of Women in Recovery

Terona Hopkins (photo courtesy Marshall Clarke)

Terona Hopkins looks like someone you want to have coffee with.

With an infectious smile and deep, brown eyes that radiate both warmth and mischief, hers is the face of a confidant, someone with whom you could share your secrets.

It is not the sort of face you tend to associate with addiction, homelessness, and incarceration.

“I was broke down, homeless” Hopkins recounts in 30 Women, 30 Stories: Journeys of Recovery and Transformation, a book of stories and photographs published by the nonprofit housing and recovery program Marian House, which marks its third decade of operations this year. The book was formally released at a reception at the Cork Gallery on June 21, 2012.

“I started running the streets and got caught up in the drug game,” continues Ms. Hopkins in the book. “My life was in turmoil until I got two years in prison. It was then that I started hearing about the Marian House from word-of-mouth.”

30 Women, 30 Stories captures Ms. Hopkins’ tale and those of 29 other Baltimore women who, like her, found healing from addiction, trauma, and homelessness within the walls of the Waverly-based nonprofit organization that seeks to provide, in the words of its mission statement, “a safe, loving environment that challenges women to respect and love themselves, confront emotional and socio-economic issues, and transition to stable and independent lives.”

In her foreword to 30 Women, Marian House executive director Katie Allston describes how inspired she is by the women profiled in the book and the roughly 1,300 other women who have been helped by Marian House. “I hope you find that this book and the stories it contains capture the beauty, depth, and warmth of these women,” she writes.

Attendees at the ’30 Women, 30 Stories’ book release

A multimedia experience

Nearly 100 people braved the sweltering humidity of an early Baltimore summer to pack the gallery for the book’s release. Funders, artists, elected officials, and Marian House staff mingled with the women whose tales of transformed lives are chronicled in 30 Women.

The event offered an impressively rich and well-integrated multimedia experience. Photographs of each woman profiled in the book adorned the walls, paired with quotes and QR codes leading to the Marian House website, where attendees could listen to recordings of the women telling their stories in their own voices. Guests also had the option of taking a cell phone tour of the exhibit.

On one wall of the gallery hung a quilt created by four Marian House residents and a local textile artist. On another, a resident-created painting inspired by the book project shared space with portraits of the women taken by local photographer Marshall Clarke. A DVD and forthcoming touring exhibition of Clarke’s photographs are aimed at introducing Marian House to a wider audience — including policymakers, advocates, and funders — and highlighting the issues of addiction, mental illness, trauma, homelessness, and incarceration explored in the book.

Despite technical problems with the audio component of the exhibit, the different media elements combined to create an immersive experience for attendees.

A Springboard for Conversation

The project was directed by artist and former Art on Purpose director Peter Bruun, who has previously spearheaded projects in partnerships with the Park School, Evergreen House, the Contemporary, and the Creative Alliance. He worked with Marian House staff, clients, and alumnae to tell the women’s stories using a wide range of media and disciplines.

Bruun explains that the collaborative, multi-dimensional nature of the project is designed to engage a diverse following.

“The notion is different contexts and different audiences are more or less accessible depending on what works for them,” he says. “Some will flip through a book, some will go to a web page, some will go to an exhibition. The goal is to use each platform as a gateway to another — though the audio was a bust at the event, it helped people be mindful of the stories existing on the website.”

Portraits of the women in ’30 Women, 30 Stories’ by Marshall Clarke

Bruun hopes that the stories collected in the book act as a “springboard for conversations in neighborhoods about the value of having treatment services.”

Allston echoes this theme, explaining that one of the goals of the project is to change the way the community at large views women who are facing monumental challenges like homelessness and addiction.

“Marian House is about transformation,” she told the Cork Gallery audience. “We can tell people statistics…but when they sit down with one of the women, that’s when they feel what Marian House is all about.”

Clarke, who spent roughly an hour photographing each of the subjects of 30 Women, agrees. “I think when we hear the word ‘addict,’ or know someone has been to jail, an image comes to mind about who these people are or what they look like,” he reflects. “But my hope is that these images will counter that stereotype and portray the 30 women and the many women they represent as people we can connect with, relate to, and who have a incredible power inside.”

The director of Access Art, Clarke clearly developed a rapport with the 30 women he photographed, as evidenced by Terona Hopkins’ fond greeting. “Where’s Marshall,” she asked, looking around the gallery excitedly. “Oh there he is! Come over here!” she shouted with a grin.

Photographing Hopkins was both a delight and a challenge, Clarke recalls. “Terona was very fun to photograph because she was extremely funny and lighthearted, but also difficult in that she wanted to pose a lot and ‘act’ for the camera.” He adds that his goal with the portraits was “to show the best of these women and show a natural moment where their personality was on display.”

The Power of Women’s Stories

For all the visual, audio, and online elements that comprised the exhibit, the focus of the June 21 event was the Marian House graduates and their personal journeys. Two of the women profiled in the book, Carol Smith and Linette Parrine-Waters, took the microphone to share their stories, which were emblematic of the struggles and triumphs experienced by all of Marian House’s residents and graduates.

Quilt made by Marian House residents

Marian House residents worked with artist Faustine Davis to produce this quilt.

A spare, tattooed woman in her early forties, Smith recounted how a judge had laughed at her when she had begged him to refer her for substance abuse treatment. “He said I was too old,” she recalled grimly. At Marian House, Smith found people who disagreed with the judge’s assessment.

“They saw something in me worth saving,” she reflected, adding, “I had no idea the amount of work I had ahead of me in order to completely transform myself…the farthest distance I would travel in my life was the 14 inches between my head and my heart.”

Her fellow alumni cheered Smith when she announced that she had just completed the fourth year of a five-year electricians’ union apprenticeship. “I had the highest GPA in my class,” she noted with a grin.

Parrine-Waters, who sojourned at Marian House in 1998-1999, spoke passionately about her own trajectory.

“I was called ‘Darth Vader’ and ‘the creature from the Black Lagoon’ as a child,” she said, her voice shaking. “When I looked in the mirror, all I could see was that monster…when I first used drugs, it was because someone asked me. I thought, ‘they must really like me, to share their drugs with me!’”

Now 14 years clean and sober, Parrine-Waters has built a career in the public sector, where she works with young people who are caught in the same cycle of addiction and depression that ensnared her. “My dream is to show these youth that, no matter what your condition is, that’s not how you have to live the rest of your life,” she proclaimed to applause.

“I think of our women each like a puzzle,”  Allston told the audience quietly. “They started in this world as a whole and complete picture but their being and sense of self have been shattered into pieces long before we meet them – and they may even have lost pieces of themselves along the way.” Marian House, she continued, “is simply the platform upon which those pieces come back together and holes are filled.”

In the rear of the gallery, Terona Hopkins held court, introducing her daughter to fellow attendees and shaking hands with

Terona Hopkins by Marshall Clarke

Another photo of Terona Hopkins by Marshall Clarke

Baltimore City Councilwoman and longtime Marian House supporter Mary Pat Clarke. The two women shared fond recollections of former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke.

Hopkins told Councilwoman Clarke that in 1986, she and her daughter were homeless, with all their worldly belongings stuffed into a shopping bag. Desperate, cold and hungry, they walked into the mayor’s office (“Back in the day, City Hall was open like that,” laughs Hopkins) and lay across his desk, determined not to leave until they had received assistance.

When he returned to his office, the startled mayor did not have the pair escorted from the building. Instead, Schmoke introduced Hopkins to Ernestine Uncles, the city’s social services liaison. “And in 24 hours, I was in my first public house,” concludes Hopkins.

Though she continued to encounter roadblocks to success, Hopkins is in a much better place than she was the night she decided to camp out in City Hall. She has been working since 2003, a dramatic change she credits to the lessons she learned at Marian House.

“I learned independence, I learned how to take care of myself, and I learned to be on time,” she says in 30 Women, 30 Stories. “With me staying connected to the Marian House there is growth for me, and I love them.”

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‘30 Women, 30 Stories’ is funded by grants from from the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, the TKF Foundation, and the David and Barbara B. Hirschhorn Foundation.