Deana Black painted her surroundings to match her feelings: black windows and black walls. Then, at age 31, the walls began moving in. She began hearing voices. She grew scared. Soon, she came to realize what it all meant: Deana was mentally ill.

“Before that, I didn’t know I was sick,” she said.

Even before the voices, life had not been easy for Deana. As a child, she said she was molested by her father. But despite the abuse, her emotional and physical scars did not prevent her from working or having children. Even when she realized she was sick, she had to keep working in order to support her two daughters.

As her mental condition worsened, however, she was forced to leave her job and retreat home.

“I didn’t want to go out,” she said. “I was suicidal.”

In an attempt to change her situation, Deana sought out a doctor. He ultimately misdiagnosed her with depression after she filled out a standard- issue questionnaire. The misdiagnosis, paired with ineffective treatment, led her to drugs. Not long after, she was arrested for a drug-related offense, and her daughters were taken from her and turned over to foster care.

Deana eventually found herself in an unlikely haven: prison.

“You don’t hear a lot of people say they’re thankful for going to jail, but I was,” she said.

After her run-in with the law, the Department of Mental Health correctly diagnosed her as bipolar with post-traumatic stress disorder. After years of feeling lost, Deana’s six-month stint in a medical penitentiary in Fort Worth, Texas gave her time to reconnect with God.

When Deana was released, she re- fused to return to drugs and finally gained back custody of one of her daughters. She also enrolled in a local community college, and she began taking classes to be a medical assistant.

Then one day, while wandering around McPherson Square, Deana met her first Street Sense vendor: Martin Walker. Martin introduced her to making a living through the newspaper and taught her what it took to be a successful vendor.

“Always be polite,” explained Deana. “Make eye contact, and don’t give up when people walk past you.”

With the money she made as a vendor, Deana has now rebuilt her life. Her doctors have even managed to reduce her medication dosage. Her newfound freedom has also enabled her to travel around the country, as she explores her relationship with God and her hopes for the future. At the moment, Deana in- tends to use ceramics as a form of art therapy to aid those with mental health issues. Deana believes she will be able to help others like herself because she knows where they’ve come from and where they’re going.

“I’m stable today,” she said. “I’m happy, but I still need help. I still have a ways to go.”

Issues |Addiction|Health, Mental|Health, Physical|Incarceration

Region |McPherson Square Park|Northwest|Ward 2|Washington DC

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.