All of what follows is true. There have been some slight changes in dialogue in order to promote continuity. Most of the names have been altered as well as certain place and situational references in order to ensure privacy. Bunny is a real person. Bakersfield is the city in California where this takes place. ACES are an unfortunate reality of this community and considered severe enough to make it one of the highest areas of concern in the U.S.
Highway 99 stretches from the south, near Los Angles, to northern Sacramento. It moves through the cities of Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto and California's capital. Possibly one of the state's busiest arteries, traffic throbs along the roadway at a dangerous pace. It has been rated one of the deadliest thoroughfares in the country. An article from the Sacramento Bee, published in 2016 states: "The 400-mile highway that runs through the centers of Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto and other valley cities recorded 62 fatal accidents per 100 miles over a recent five-year span."
Tucked along the exits near most of the cities along this stretch of road, are dozens of hotels that promise weary travelers a place to relax and recover. Many of these were once palatial establishments which served commuters traveling what was once known as the Golden State Highway. In the 1950's, many of these had fine restaurants with entertainment. Often performers like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra enchanted patrons in debonair ballrooms. The hotels were places of luxury and often locals would take time out in the evenings to enjoy a good meal at their restaurants and bask in the atmosphere.
Some views of a grander time
Freeways, Motels, Billboards and Empty Lots
When it was designed in the 1950's, Highway 99 replaced much of Golden State Boulevard. According to Wikipedia, "U.S. Route 99 (US 99) was a main north–south United States Numbered Highway on the West Coast of the United States until 1964, running from Calexico, California, on the US–Mexico border to Blaine, Washington, on the U.S.-Canada border." Eventually, I-5 took over parts of this major route, but parts of it still remain in California carrying an average of 95,000 cars a day per mile.
Since then, many parts of the Golden State Highway still remain. Restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores. Billboards and empty lots. What was once an avenue that welcomed you to the community, lit with neon, has dimmed into a shadowy figure. While there still are some hotels along the route, open to commuters, many of these establishments are a specter of their once greatness. Unrented rooms, serve as long term housing solutions for transient populations and displaced families. Narcotics dealers, escorts, and parolees have sought solace in these buildings, tucked away from most of the local population.
Many of these once spectacular inns have decayed into squalid, boxes; victimized by vandals.
For One (Brief) Night Only
She sits on the bed in a pair of shorts and a shirt that reads Bunny. "They call me Bunny because of the way I crunch my nose," she says, and pulls back her lips into an amusing sneer, that seems almost childlike.
I look around the hotel room: at the full clothes basket, tucked under the sink; at the glass pipe on the dresser walled in by scraps of paper and empty food cartons, at the bed set at an angle, so it can fit into this too small room. She has agreed to speak with me and share her story. For that I am grateful among other things.
I am thankful for the comfortable apartment I have and for the meals I ate this day. I see a glass of orange juice in front of the vanity mirror at the back of the room and a half bottle of Stolichnaya Vodka next to it. A syringe sits in a plastic cup next to the telephone on top of the bureau against the wall. A few coins, a book of matches, a nail clipper.
Her first arrest was for cashing counterfeit bills. A position in the lay-away department gave her access to customers. Some of them were her friends with the home made currency.
"They would bring in a hundred to pay thirty dollars," she explains. "I would give them the change. They would split it with me."
Eventually the Secret Service caught on and they sent her to Chowchilla Prison for Women outside of Fresno.
"Why didn't you do Federal?" I asked.
"They only worry about it if it is a large amount. We were small time. They didn't care really. Only if its like tens of thousands or more."
She stands up and walks around the room, as she tells her story. Her friend, Chloe who she has known since second grade, is sitting on the bed. Chloe laughs sometimes, but is mostly quiet. "We're not used to this. It's different," she says about our talk. "People don't usually come to us like this."
"I was down for like three years," she says. "I had a TABE score of 7.2 when I went in and I got my GED and had a TABE of 12.6 when I left," she explains. TABE stands for Test of Adult Basic Education and it is one of the ways the prison system measures the education levels of inmates.
"It was easy for me. I was friends with guards. No inmates would mess with me because I was bad. I had done foster care before and this was so easy."
"When I was born, I was addicted to heroin and meth. I know I come across as a bitch," she says as she jumps up. "But I have to in order to protect myself. If you come on strong then people know not to mess with you. I'm an Okie and you know about junkyard dogs. They take a pit bull and cut off its ears and tail and it becomes mean. That's me."
"It's a defense mechanism," I reply. Many people who are traumatized become bitter and jaded. Psychologists will tell you that in order to ward off anxiety, people will numb themselves to their true feelings. Some examples of these tactics include denial, acting out, repression and compartmentalization. The mind is a fragile organ and people who have been abused find ways to cope with their hurt. This is often visible in soldiers who have experienced war and suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"It started when I was seven and I thought it was normal. I thought everyone did this," she explains. "I would go to school and there would be sores on my mouth. He blew himself up making meth." As she talks about her abuse, she starts to sob slightly. "I hadn't really talked about this before with anyone," and makes crying noises.
Bunny talks about her stepfather and his involvement with the drug culture. He was wounded in a meth lab accident, survived and met Bunny's mother. He walked around with leg braces and Bunny mimics his gait, pacing around the room while telling the story. "He would touch himself," she explains,"while my mom was at work. Then he started touching me."
She told the story by leaving a letter. Her mother packed up the kids and they left. "All the while, he kept staring at me real hard. My real dad was white, and my mother is Mexican."
Out of the Frying Pan
About her stepfather she says, "I wanted to call CPS on him". According to a publication by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape "Research has consistently linked childhood sexual violence with a victim’s entrance into prostitution. Women are more likely to work in prostitution if they were sexually victimized as children". Bunny's tale is probably typical of many young people in the Central Valley.
"All my family is white trash and I'm the prettiest of them all. My grandfather was messing with his daughters, all of them. The stepdad that my mama met was cooking meth. He was killed in a shootout with the police in Shafter."
It was around this time, when Bunny started to move into foster care.Throughout most of her life, she has been surrounded by institutional settings. "At 19, I spent 30 months in prison and six months at fire camp. I know how to put out fires," she quips.
Eventually Bunny's mother met a good man. "He's a Christian and a graduate of Cal Poly." She speaks highly of him, and one wonders if his influence was earlier in her life, if this would have made a difference.
Through a Glass Darkly
Bunny talks about her relationships with men. "I'm the abusive one in relationships sometimes. I need to be in control." This is another fact about childhood trauma. It is carried into adulthood. Regardless of gender, most abusers have been victims themselves. It's a form of learned behavior that is part of the cycle of violence.
Kern county has one of the highest levels of Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACES as they are referred to. According to an article in The Bakersfield Californian, this fact is contributing to a shorter life-expectancy for people who live in the area. "People who live in Oildale, Kern River Valley and Taft — three impoverished, majority-white communities — have the highest premature death rates across Kern County". Comparatively, research indicates that the poverty and stress is "on par with life expectancies in less-developed countries like Iraq, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan".
ACES are a factor that is used to calculate tendencies towards criminal behavior and recidivism rates for parolees. Individuals like Bunny often come in contact with the criminal justice system and remain in that state. It's a vicious cycle.
This certainly doesn't justify her aggression toward her partners of course. But understanding the cycle of violence is probably a necessity in an area with one of California's highest poverty rates. Drugs, crime, and various forms of abuse are rampant in Kern County and effective intervention is one of the keys to curtailing these social ills.
See "An Invisible Crisis..." article
- 'An invisible crisis': Toxic stress is helping to shorten life spans in many Kern County communities
People who live in Oildale, Kern River Valley and Taft — three impoverished, majority-white communities — have the highest premature death rates across Kern County, dying four to 17 years
when a child endures excessive trauma, the body loses its ability to regulate stress response, and it remains in a constant “fight or flight” mode that it’s unable to turn off.
Visions and Interpretations
Bunny sits on the bed and shares some more stories. Suddenly she stops and says "Oh I just thought of something about changing and how to do it. I had something come to me like when you are in the desert and the Indians do it..."
"An epiphany," chimes Chloe. "You had an epiphany which means an awakening. You realized something. You had a vision."
According to psychological theorists, there are five stages of change: Pre-Contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance (and Relapse).
Pre-Contemplation: is the stage where nothing is changing. The person is comfortable where they are at. For example, the alcoholic who insists on more than three drinks a day and does't see a problem with it.
Contemplation: The stage where the person is thinking about making a change in their behavior. "Maybe I should stop doing this. Maybe I should curb my drinking.:
Preparation: The person is motivated and making plans. "I understand that I have to change my behavior and will eat better, drink less and exercise."
Action: Where the change is happening. The behavior ceases or is replaced by a healthy alternative. "I go for walks in the evenings or spend time with my family instead of going out..."
Maintenance: The actor manages to maintain their level of refraining.
(Relapse: Falling down. The person goes back to the same behaviors.)
The Stages of Change
As she relates her story about her epiphany and wanting to change, I am uncertain what she might be speaking about: stopping the substance use; ending her lifestyle; finding a way to deal with the anger and angst.
"I was kicked out of school every year since second grade until I got to high school," she says. "I got pregnant and have five kids. I've worked at McDonalds and danced at DejaVu. I have good relatives in my family. There are some good people."
Her eyes are faraway and I wonder about the influence of trauma on her life and the many others I see in the community. The homeless living under the 58 freeway overpass, the zoned out young men and women who hold signs on the medians.
"Ephesians 9:26 says like a dog returns to its vomit," she explains and I'm a little impressed by her ability to quote scripture, but not really. Many involved in the abuse of substances relate to religion and rely upon spiritual affirmations.
I take this reference to mean that letting go of ones demons is a difficult task and that even after change, there is always the chance that one will slip.
Darwin's Laws and Loss Of
"Right now, I just try to survive. Day by day. I only need about a hundred dollars to get by. Most of it goes to the hotel which is about sixty bucks. I spend thirty on booze and drugs and the rest on food."
Listening to this part of her story, I realize how expensive motels are. At the rate of $60 a day, this would be almost two thousand a month. That's a mortgage with nothing to show for it. It's easy to understand how some people end up in the cycle of poverty. Most of what you manage to earn or come across will be spent on a room - or just trying to get through a day.
Abraham Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs in 1943 with the most basic ones (food, shelter) at the bottom and the highest ones (self-actualization) at the top. According to Maslow, until the lower needs are met, one cannot achieve the higher level pursuits. This means that for someone to obtain an education or even be comfortable with a career, they need a place to protect them from the elements and the guarantee of food.
Until the base needs are cared for, one cannot realize or pursue a higher purpose. To help the homeless find work then, one would have to offer them shelter and food, and then the individual can focus on learning and even a career.
Survival of the Fittest
"I see about three to five guys a week. One of my first ones hurt me. I woke up, tied up and burns and cuts on me," she remembers of one of her early customers. "I don't think I could ever get a guy unless he's in a recovery program" she says, considering the possibility of a partner.
She explains that she enjoys meth, weed, alcohol and sex (dicks and tricks as she puts it). When she says enjoys, I know that she means experiences; these are her addictions.
The number of homeless in the streets of Bakersfield is obvious to anyone who has been about the area. Much smaller than Los Angeles, the numbers of homeless encampments may not be as large, but there are many. According to a recent survey, The Bakersfield Californian states "Out of the total homeless population counted, 370 were unsheltered, a significant 46 percent jump over the previous count."
Kern County also has one of the highest concentration of prisons. There are five major state prisons in Kern: Kern Valley, North Kern, Wasco, California City and California Correctional Institution. There are many other community housing areas too; private prisons that house inmates preparing for release.
In addition, the Central Valley of California is sometimes referred to as the Methamphetamine Capital of the United States. Kern County takes the lead. Meth and heroin are serious concerns in this part of the state and most criminal activity is related to those problematic substances.
A Pretty Woman
Bunny shares stories about some of the interesting people she has met. "One guy owned a business and helped me out a lot. He was a good friend. When he died, his partner asked me to show up to his hotel."
Bunny was under the impression he was going to take her out to a formal dinner. She wore a dress and high heels and some nice jewelry. When she walked up to his room, she knocked on the door.
"Um," said the man. "Na-ah. This can't do," and shook his head.
"What do you mean?", asked Bunny.
"This is not going to work."
"I don't understand."
"You have anything else to wear?"
"Yeah. I have some dirty sweats and sneakers but they're in the car."
"Go get them. Put them on," he ordered and she walked back downstairs, and out to the car.
When she came back to the room, he was turned around with his back to her and bent over. His hands were in front of him and his arms were moving.
"What are you doing?" she asked, looking at him.
"I want you to kick me!", he said.
"Kick me! Now!"
Bunny kicked him.
"No. That's not hard enough!"
This time, she lifts her foot in the air and brings it downward.
"Yah....owww...ah" said the man and collapsed to the floor in pain.
The Night Moves
Bunny pauses for a minute and lifts her hand to her face and flutters her eyes. It's a coquettish pose and quite becoming.
As I look at her, I can still see some of the child inside her; the part that didn't get a chance to develop.
I can feel a quiet anger in her tone as she speaks; a teeming volatility underneath that is a bit frightening. A dark and sinister aura about her, permeates the room like a smooth ghost.
Her numerous tattoos are alluring and elegant, even though they look like they were acquired in a correctional facility. Many cover her entire body - most of them exposed.
She stands up.
"I knew he was done then. He was spent. And then he tossed me three hundred dollars and said, 'GET THE F OUT!' ". She looks up and laughs slightly, a small tear dampens her cheek.
I stand and thank her for her time and step out into the cool night.
As I walk through the parking lot, I hear a couple of other hotel guests opening or closing their doors, a shopping cart rolling with bottles rattling, a joyful scream from a child.
Streetlights have turned on, and the cafe across the way is lit in neon.
I listen to the traffic from the nearby Highway 99. It almost sounds like a cool zephyr through the autumn trees.
The ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) test
The Stages Illustrated
An article on Golden State Boulevard, Fresno
- Golden State Blvd. Fresno, 2016
Also known as Motel Drive, Golden State Served as the major highway between southern California and Sacramento. Now in preparation for the High Speed Rail, much of the area is being razed. These are some images of the old Highway 99
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Fin
Fin (author) from Barstow on November 01, 2019:
Yes it is hoped that the resiliency of the human spirit is enough to rise above trauma, turmoil and tragedy. She has a good heart and seems quite wise. A victim of circumstance.
Suzie from Carson City on November 01, 2019:
FW....This is much too sad for me to realize. It's a world I have never even come close to knowing or understanding....something I KNOW exists, but continue to believe is a fantasy. I am like an ostrich, not wanting to see any of this horrific way of life...so I bury my head.
Yet even admitting all of this, I would want to help individuals like Bunny. I want to believe that she has risen somewhat above the trenches she's been dragged through and must live in, day to day. It seemed clear in your story that Bunny (& perhaps her friend, Chloe) have the chance & an inner desire to become so much more and leave their current, life of waste behind...before it takes them forever under. There has to be hope for these people. This story is a rude awakening.
Fin (author) from Barstow on March 31, 2019:
Thank you for the words M. I know there are stories like Bunny's all over the world. Much trauma and frustration from unfortunate childhood experiences. Substance abuse has many sinister influences
Michell Anderson on March 31, 2019:
Truely impressed bun. Words cannot describe the life we have lived but wow. God bless you sister. Break the chains of this vicious cycle of pain!
Fin (author) from Barstow on March 09, 2019:
thank you for your kind words.
Issa on March 09, 2019:
A very beautiful person.
Loved dearly an im lucky to know a side of her not many know.
She bares a heart of gold an love so geuine an true that comes from a well guardes heart..
Shes a one of a kind and an unstoppable woman.
I will always love her
Fin (author) from Barstow on November 23, 2018:
Yes there are many people like her all throughout the country. Some have been marginalized by substance abuse and the system. While we all have choices, sometimes circumstances are great contributions as well.
thanks for the nice comment.
FlourishAnyway from USA on November 23, 2018:
There are people like Bunny in down and out places across this country, small towns and big cities alike. Your depiction of her story is as real as it gets. It’s hard to have hope when a person has so much working against them but I encourage Bunny to keep reaching for a better tomorrow.
Fin (author) from Barstow on November 16, 2018:
i'm sure she will appreciate this
KellyRose on November 16, 2018:
Bunny Rabbit nothing but love and respect girly!! I dont have much but if you need something n i have it to give know that i got chew!!
Elijah A Alexander Jr from Washington DC on November 13, 2018:
To Bunny, we thank you for allowing him to publish your story, may you find the strength to look within to "your higher power" for the cure if that is your desire. May "peace" be your companion no matter what you do.
Fin (author) from Barstow on November 12, 2018:
Thank you Bunny for the kind words and the interview. I am glad you approve. I hope that some people who read this can learn about some of the problems here in the Bakersfield area which is why I posted a link to the Bakersfield Californian article. And the ACES test too. There are too many problems here affecting many people and your story is one of many.
I am looking for some more things to share that are related to the subcultures described above. There is too much trauma, poverty, violence and difficulty here affecting an entire generation.
I want to thank Bunny for taking the time to speak with me and be open about her details.
Bunny on November 12, 2018:
I liked that However I have two requests one I'm not from Taft I'm from SHAFTER
also my mother's second husband which is my awesome step father of 15 years is not a drug addict or dealer he's a Christan man and graduate of calpoly
The drug dealer molester burn victim was murdered by shafter pd 2000
Anywho u did a great job mister journalist!!
Elijah A Alexander Jr from Washington DC on November 12, 2018:
Yes, Finn, That is the most important steps, to bring it to others awareness, even to their own, such as I pointed out that, so many don't even know falls into that category. Again, thanks for revealing it.
Fin (author) from Barstow on November 12, 2018:
Thank you Elijah for the comments.
Addictions are terrible afflictions I agree and in this area there are many opportunities for those who are vulnerable to explore them.
There area here is dominated by poverty and negative influence and there is a lack of understanding and empathy.
And then again, there are people who work to make a difference, but their efforts are often ignored.
It's an odd conundrum, definitely, but hopefully getting information out there will help enlighten many of those who are unaware.
Elijah A Alexander Jr from Washington DC on November 12, 2018:
Aaaa so, Finn, you are someone seeking to make a difference in a particular culture of society, probably the worst of them all? It is my belief, based the "10 virgins" parable, that 90 percent of all humans are in some form of addition but the additions of the greater mass is not as obvious as drugs and impoverishment additions.
In my years as a wondering nomad I've met many in many different levels of cultures condoned by the rich for maintaining their status that is of itself one such addition. There are a few I've been able to assist in breaking the cycle instantly and all I did was to encourage them to "look to THEIR higher power" who were instantly changed with some not being completely realized until overnight. A few have reduced their dependencies by just my associating with them but a still depending so I often help them with their basics.
Little do many religious people know they are mired in an addition to it. In my years I've talked to so many who say if I don't go to church the - varying number - times per week they are out of sorts until they get back into their rhythm. There are "work-a-holics" who when not working are almost incoherent, preachers who addicted to needing to express god and the list goes on and on into every walk of life including politics.
Thank you for opening my mind to that understanding of what being human and woman entails. Very well done, my brother.