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On a brisk afternoon in early March, I’ve entered the Missouri Hotel, a service of the Kitchen Inc., along Commercial Street in north Springfield, where I proceed to check in for an appointment with a young lady by the name of Jessica Mulkins.
I’m told that she’s homeless, but I know nothing else about where she’s from, where she’s been, and the events that led her to this place. But our conversation would unravel what seemed like a lifetime of suffering, albeit for just a 22-year-old woman.
I’m invited into the office of Mike Langford, a case manager at the facility, who for the last 10 months has been assisting Mulkins.
No more than five and a half feet tall, she has short blonde hair, and many visible tattoos. Her leg folded beneath her as she sits, Mulkins speaks quietly, but is careful with her words and intelligent in her delivery.
About a year ago she was pregnant with her first child. With the father out of the picture, Mulkins tells me she was living with some friends in Joplin.
“I was originally from Springfield, but had to move to Joplin because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. And so they helped me. And after my son was born they decided to give into some drug manufacturing; the week my son was born. And so I had no choice but to leave,” Mulkins said.
Mulkins says she felt in danger, and with the help of her uncle, took advantage of a two hour window in which the homeowners were gone to pack up her things and leave, adding that being caught trying to leave would have certainly resulted in a verbal, and likely physical exchange.
Her son, Isaiah, was just 11 days old when they moved into the Missouri Hotel in late May 2012. They’re safer now, but the adjustment, Mulkins says, hasn’t been easy. The past can be a tough thing to shake for those trying to turn their life around, especially for Mulkins, who suffers from a severe mental illness known as dissociative identity disorder. As a child, she was sexually abused by her father, and her mother committed suicide when she was 8 years old. She then lived with her grandmother, moving out at age 17. Two years later, she would become a heavy drug abuser.
Mulkins worked as a dancer at a local club, where she would meet the father of her child. But she said he left unexpectedly during her pregnancy and never returned. Now living in Joplin, Mulkins says there was nowhere else to go, and couldn’t pass up the assistance, even after learning the house she was staying in was being used by her friends to ship drugs from California.
“And basically the hull of the agreement was that they would pay all of my bills and take care of everything, while I cleaned and took care of their kids. But after a couple of weeks, it became… a little bit closer to slave labor.”
For nearly her entire pregnancy, Mulkins was looking after four kids ranging in age from three months to 10 years, all while trying to make sure the baby she was carrying would stay healthy, which is why she quit drugs.
Initially living in the Missouri Hotel, Mulkins and her son, Isaiah, now reside in the KIND Place, where they enjoy their own private apartment.
She says with her mental illness, routine is imperative, as she details her and her son’s daily activities, which includes working in the kitchen, and then some down time filled with reading or exercise before it’s time to pick up Isaiah from day care. It was when Mulkins described her evening activities with her son that you really get a sense of the joy he brings her.
“Everything revolves around him. He is literally the center of my universe,” she said.
That’s the situation now, months after she and her son first arrived at the hotel, when he was only 11 days old. But the initial anxiety of her move to Springfield, the fact that she was going to be living in a homeless community, and that she had little direction on where her life was going and what to do as a new mother, brought out Mulkins' dissociative identity disorder.
“When I switched back to host personality, which is Jessica, I was actually sitting in my bathroom with a razor blade that I had gotten from here and I had actually carved into my arms,” as Mulkins rolls up her sleeve to display her scars. “This was quite a few months ago but they’re started to fade now but… and I had carved over here as well. And I had no idea I was doing it. And then I switched back out again.”
The back and forth between the two personalities would continue several times that night, and Mulkins was hospitalized the next day. And while the disorder, which she was diagnosed with at age 20, has never brought harm to her son, Mulkins says that this personality is over protective to the extent that she could do harm to others. To combat these episodes, she receives therapy weekly, and is on several medications that also treat a number of other illnesses, including major depression, which Mulkins says was identified when she was 8. And while it can be stressful at times, the people she works and communicates with daily have been a real help in her recovery.
“You get some many people from so many different backgrounds who have made so many difference choices and have seen and experienced so much difference stuff than you have. So you really can gain from other people’s experience, and the way they see things.”
As for the Hotel’s administrators and case managers, Mulkins says the key to receiving the proper assistance is to be open and honest.
“They really don’t judge. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, what you’ve done, all that matters is what you’re doing now and what you’re willing to change. And if you’re willing to change, if you’re willing to do what it takes to make those changes, they will literally stick their necks out there and risk getting their heads chopped off for you. They really will.”
Had she not left Joplin and sought assistance in Springfield, Mulkins believes she would have ended up back on drugs, which could have led her and her son down several even darker paths. But through the Kitchen Inc. and its many services like the Missouri Hotel, Mulkins says she has more structure and support than ever before, including her case manager, Mike, her kitchen supervisor, a doctor and a therapist. Mulkins also has genuine friendship.
“Actual real friends, who aren’t my friends based on the fact that… you know, based on whether or not I have drugs or whether I’m willing to do drugs with them. I’ve got real friends, who don’t care what I did before, or who I was before. They care about who I am right now, and what I’m doing right now. And that’s it.”
As far as the future goes for Jessica Mulkins, she hopes it’s in fashion, and has already been accepted into the Paul Mitchell School of Cosmetology. She seems on course for a brighter future, and knows that that future will provide the life that Isaiah deserves.
“I want to give my son that chance at having more worldly experiences than I did. Being able to see other places and see other cultures first hand. And just being experienced in the fact that the world is so much bigger than sometimes people choose to see it as.”