Clarke Square, People

“I’m still believing in God’s grace and mercy”

Michelle Legener stops to ask for a buck near a bus stop at the corner of 22nd and Greenfield. Legener, who grew up near 29th and National, just left the nearby Victory Outreach Christian Recovery Home, a rehabilitation center that takes in drug addicts, about an hour before.

“[There are] a lot of good people in this city,” she says, but adds, “a lot of bad stuff happens.”

Previously, Legener had been in the program for a year before leaving. She found and worked two different jobs for about four months before doing drugs again. So, she went back.

Legener says she had a “good childhood” but, as she starts to talk, begins to cry. “I just told my momma this, that it was really good.”

“[My mom] did the best she could,” says Legener. “She don’t understand why her kids … turned out the way we did, on drugs and drinkin’ and [messin’] up.”

Her mother worked two jobs but always made time for Legener and her brother, taking time to play with her kids and help them with homework. But Legener’s upbringing wasn’t without hardship — her father, who did “a lot of drugs and alcohol” and sold drugs, went to prison when she was 5 years old.

“I remember the day he left,” she says. “I can remember [every] detail the day he left when he said goodbye to me.”

Legener’s father had divorced her mother but, one day, he called the house. “He was gonna kill my mom, he was comin’ to kill her,” she says. “And, on the way there, he stopped with his buddy to pick up drug money from somebody … they weren’t [at home] but their 19-year-old son was there and, somehow, between my dad and that other dude, that 19-year-old kid died.”

Another man, who her mother is still with to this day, came into their lives but it was never the same for Legener. “I had a lot of rejection [issues], like my dad didn’t want me.”

“When I was a kid, I was always a dork, I was a nerd, I did good in school and I was always the outcast … and I wasn’t accepted anywhere. So, as I came into my teen years, I started to rebel and run away,” she says.

“The people that used drugs accepted me as long I smoked pot with ‘em and drank and that’s where it all started.”

Eventually, the lifestyle caught up with her. Legener attended four high schools — Pulaski, South Division, Bay View and Kilmer, an alternative school — and was kicked out of every one for drinking and fighting.

“Eighteen years old is the first time I smoked crack,” she says. “At 20 years old, I started selling crack out here. Twenty years ago. The streets were different, then — they weren’t as hard as they are now. So, I started selling it and using it a lot and eventually I couldn’t sell it no more because I used too much … so, I started prostituting for money. And, that’s what I’m doing now.”

In 2007 or 2006, Legener says, she got locked up for a year — one of many times — and ended up in the Benedict Center’s Sisters Program. She was there for a year.

“[I was] out here prostituting or [committing] retail theft,” Legener says. “Nothing major, just that kind of stuff that was related to drugs and alcohol, to just surviving out here.”

“It’s been a struggle,” she says.

Support these stories, become a member of milwaukeestories.org

Legener has worked for a waterproofing company, as a personal care worker, renting homes for a management company and at restaurants here and there over the last 20 years. “My bosses will tell you I’m the best employee in world … and all of a sudden I use and I’m out of there.”

Legener got her GED while at the Benedict Center and even attended MATC for a semester before dropping out. “It was easy,” she says about the equivalency test. “I was upset ‘cause it was so easy.”

But Legener has always been “back and forth,” inconsistent. “Once you screw everything up and you’re getting high, I mean, I have only certain choices to get money.”

“And, I know better,” says Legener. “But I gave up again.”

 

Did you find value in Michelle’s story? If so, please subscribe to our newsletter; we publish the story of a different Milwaukeean every week.

Milwaukee Stories is a nonprofit organization that works to bring you the real stories of regular people all across our city. This work is solely supported by individual contributions from people like you. Please consider becoming a sustaining member, or make a one-time donation, today.

Patron | $3 monthly (or $50 one-time) donation
Member | $7 monthly (or $100 one-time) donation
Partner | $25 monthly (or $500+ one-time) donation