Franceen (not her real name) is a former crack addict and has been clean for three years. She has been living in Toronto for seven years and been convicted of four drug trafficking charges.
I’m Donna. I’ve been living in Toronto for the past three years. I have no criminal record.
Franceen has been having a tough time being a visible minority pedestrian. She does not like the police and says they can do what they want.
“I’ll be standing at the bus stop and they’ll do a U-Turn.” Franceen goes on to say that she was once run over by a cop.
I don’t find the police particularly friendly as I walk the streets, but I have not noticed them do a U-Turn as I stand at bus stops.
Last year I had a job to do. After a few months of being out of work, I got a job appearing as a “real person” in a television commercial for the Provincial government. I was living at my Mom’s place in the 905 and had to travel to Humber Valley Hospital for the commercial shoot.
This is where family comes in handy. I phoned my Dad. Being a man who delivers newspapers for the fourth largest paper in North America everyday, 364 days of the year – he gets Christmas off – he came to my rescue. Driving up in his mini-van, he drove through traffic like a skilled carrier on delivery. He delivered me to my job.
Franceen has many problems getting around Toronto.
“I will not run [when the police stop her] because they’ll shoot you faster as a black person. Just because they arrested you, it’s like they own you.”
Franceen used to live on the streets when she was on crack. She’s currently on probation and is not allowed downtown. She says the crackheads don’t come near her any way.
Franceen was known for “keeping six” – keeping the look out for the police when she was on the streets. When she said she wouldn’t do that anymore to her former friends, they deserted her.
Despite that, she saved a friend’s life. Someone conked out from crack and Franceen talked her out of it. After that experience, Franceen realized that she had to get out of the lifestyle.
Franceen says that when she was on the street the police would hassle her, but now that she’s clean, they still do.
I had just finished shooting the commercial and had never been to that part of town. As the snow fell and the storm calmed down, I saw the bus approaching my stop and ran like a school child to get it. I didn’t even know when another one would come. There’s a fear I have too of being in areas of the city I don’t know – but in general, my experiences with the police have been positive.
When Franceen lived in Parkdale, she didn’t know anything about the drug scene. Her boyfriend kept her inside 24-7. Her son lives in Regent Park, the 51 area police division (the same division that beat her up one time).
“[Regent] has its goods,” says Franceen. “Sometimes I pop down there every once and awhile but everything is the same.”
Franceen is originally from Nova Scotia. She has lived in Montreal as well as Toronto.
“Toronto can never be nothing like Montreal. When I lived in Montreal I knew nothing of this stuff. I was a housewife until I came down here.”
As I got off the bus the white driver said to me that I need to know where I’m going and he would go with me. I wasn’t sure what he meant by this. Was it as simple as a bus drive? I was hoping for more. If I wasn’t afraid of looking like an idiot I would have fought the crowd to stay on the bus and simply follow him where he was going – just to talk.
I’m lucky my Dad got me to my destination that day – to my job. As we take our BMW through life (short for Bus, Metro and Walk someone once told me) finding the right help to move through life is as varied as routes to take to reach anywhere.
“My Mom always said you’re friends will tell you who you are,” says Franceen.
I do remember moments of being younger and walking to school in Greektown with WASPy kids calling me a “spook.” But the kind of intimidation Franceen faces on a daily basis when she is making the effort to clean up her life opened my eyes to the reality of how bad some black women have it in this city.
“Gotta have spirit – then you’ll always be a survivor,” says Franceen.