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WE DO RECOVER: Kamloops mother leaves life of crime and drugs behind

Kamloops resident Joni Reed has been sober from a drug addiction of almost a decade.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Joni Reed

Looking at Kamloops mother Joni Reed it’s difficult to fathom how many years she survived living on the streets with a meth addiction.

Life springs in every corner of her home with her children playing on the patio, plants sprouting in pots on the window sills and her friendly cat hopping onto her lap for attention.

iNFOnews.ca first interviewed Reed over two years ago to bring attention to a recovery program that helped save her life.

This week she told more of her harrowing story of growing up on the streets, using meth, committing crimes and doing time, and she shared her perspectives on where the focus needs to be put as more people die every year of toxic drug overdoses.

Reed’s troubled life began as a child growing up in a home in Ottawa with physical, emotional and mental abuse. Her mom was involved with crime and drugs, and wasn’t a part of her life. Her dad and stepmom signed over their parental rights, and Reed became a ward of the Crown.

“It was because of the way I was at the time, my bad behaviours and the stuff they were dealing with, I don’t they could deal with me,” she said.

At the age of 10 Reed was living at group homes alongside much older, troubled teenagers. She started using alcohol and marijuana.

“The group homes could’ve been worse, they definitely weren’t good, they’re not a real home, there’s a rotating staff,” she said. “There were 17-year-olds in there, so yeah, I learned a lot of stuff. It got to the point where I’d just rather be on the streets.”

Reed started running away from the placements when she was 12.

“I was living in downtown Ottawa, sleeping under bridges and down by the canal in the dead of winter, it was really cold,” she said. “I’d get picked up by the police and sent back to the group home and then I’d run away again. When I was 16, they finally just stopped bringing me back.

“I remember the bylaw officers would clear the parks, come down and wake us up early so people going to work wouldn’t see the homeless kids. I’d go have a bird bath in the bathroom at the mall before going to school.”

The last school year Reed completed was grade 7. She was regularly kicked out of school and suspended because of bad behaviour and eventually fell way behind. 

“I was in a group home and got expelled from school and I remember being at a meeting where school representatives were saying they’d pass me to grade 8 because they didn’t want to put up with me for another year.”

Reed spent a brief time doing high school studies in a behavioural intervention room with social workers present, but after getting expelled again, she never went back.

During most of those years, Reed said she was estranged from her dad and stepmom, only seeing them around Christmas time where “everyone would pretend nothing was wrong.”

“They did the best they could with what they had but a lot of things that happened were inexcusable no matter what,” she said. “We suffered abuse at the hands of my stepmom, but I don’t think she did it with malicious intent, she had unresolved trauma herself. I have less hatred toward them now.”

By the age of 15, Reed was smoking crack, committing crimes to pay for it and spending periods of time in juvenile detention for consuming drugs and alcohol in public.

“Being on the streets I hung out with a lot of older people and it wasn’t long until pot and alcohol wasn’t enough,” she said. “I was so unsure of myself, raised by the courts and everyone else’s opinion of me is what I thought I was. When I was using, I was tough, I was powerful.

“I handled myself well, older users couldn’t believe I was keeping up. It was the first time in my life I was good at something.”

Kamloops resident Joni Reed looks much different than she does today in this police photo taken by the Regina Police Department in 2015.
Kamloops resident Joni Reed looks much different than she does today in this police photo taken by the Regina Police Department in 2015.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Joni Reed

Reed said she was also good at being violent and committing crimes.

“I’m not a petite girl and my dad taught us how to defend ourselves,” she said. “I was not a cool girl or a pretty girl, so I became one of the guys and it worked really well for me.”

In 2008 at the age of 22, Reed left Ottawa and moved to Vancouver with a boyfriend who was just out of jail for armed robbery, and the pair ended up living on the Downtown Eastside, an area notorious for drug use. 

“It scared the shit out of me, seeing that place for the first time, I thought this is where people come to die,” she said. “You know I came from Ottawa where if you’re caught smoking a joint in the park, you’ll get arrested.

“We injected drugs beside a dumpster and a cop pulled up just as I got my hit in. I thought we’d go to jail but he gave us a survival street book on where to access services like harm reduction and shelters. I couldn’t believe a place like this existed.”

Motivated by the fear of what she could become and the promise of a fresh start with no former street connections around, Reed was able to stop using meth for the five years that followed. The pair was working and found an apartment. They had a baby and she was enjoying her life and her role as a mother.

Then then relationship fell apart, along with Reed. 

“He was still using and we hated each other,” she said. “We’d go for a week without talking to each other, it wasn’t a good environment for a baby. I went to a safe house and he found me and kicked down the front door of the safe house with a machete.”

Reed fled the province to Calgary. The pair got a court order for shared custody and while her daughter was with her partner, she relapsed with alcohol. A few days later the house she was renting a basement in, burned to the ground. 

“I lost everything, I didn’t even have shoes on my feet,” she said. “I ended up in a hotel, the Red Cross paid for it. I couldn’t bring my baby back to a hotel room with nothing so I told my partner to hold onto her, and then I relapsed on drugs.”

This time the drug addiction wasn’t about power and control, it was about numbing emotional pain. Reed said she felt like a failure as a mother and didn’t want to feel anything.

“I worked so hard to get sober, took college courses, had a job and within two weeks I was right back to where I was,” she said. “I just accepted the fact this is going to be my life, I’m just going to be an addict.”

She found a boyfriend who was also struggling with addiction and the two decided to go to his reserve in Saskatchewan to get sobered up. They were able to get off the drugs, but not the alcohol.

“It was drinking and extreme violence, like being hogtied in the crawlspace and being thrown out of a truck driving down the road on the reserve. It got to the point the RCMP came and picked me up and bought me a bus ticket back to Calgary.”

She got off the bus in Regina, unwilling to leave her partner behind. When he went to jail for domestic abuse crimes, Reed connected with a street gang in Regina.  

“It was just a bunch of young dudes selling drugs and partying with sex workers,” she said. “I took control of the working females, that’s how I made money, it was so messed up, the ego you get. I made a pretty big name for myself out there, especially being a white female from out of province.”

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Everything came crashing down in 2015 when Reed was selling meth and her street boss was kidnapped, shot and dismembered.

“I was there for that, it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever lived through. A week later I was arrested on a different charge, an evading charge because I got in a police chase. They caught me at Walmart.”

While in jail, Reed was repeatedly taken to an interrogation room being asked questions about her missing street boss.

“They said someone identified me as being at the crime scene. I stood out being tall with red hair and the only white female.

“I refused to talk to them (police) and not because I’m so gangster, because I was terrified. It’s not a secret what happens to people who cooperate with police.”

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Reed found out someone in the gang was giving details to the police, while another was accusing her of being the one who was talking.

Fear, and the idea of getting her life and her daughter back, prompted Reed to accept an offer of witness protection, however she isn’t sharing anymore details about it with iNFOnews.ca.

Reed was sent to a recovery centre in Abbotsford but was kicked out after two weeks for behavioural issues. While she was in jail she had discovered she was pregnant with her second child. 

“I had a bad attitude, I was pregnant, coming out of the streets, coming off of drugs.”

She was sent to a recovery house in Surrey where she was also kicked out and ended up in a women’s cabin at a recovery centre in Logan Lake where she completed the program. After that, she was placed in an apartment in Kamloops.

Joni Reed is a mother of four seen here in a big rented house in Kamloops.
Joni Reed is a mother of four seen here in a big rented house in Kamloops.

That is when the life Reed has now, began.

“I was pregnant, alone in an apartment and going stir crazy,” she said. “I called a family support service called The Tree and they were closing for the day, but I forced myself in and poured my heart out.”

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Reed spent the next few years surrounded by a supportive network of sober people at Family Tree and Narcotics Anonymous.

She learned how to be sober, how to be a parent and how to communicate better with others.

“Slowly I started noticing who I was, I wasn’t a tough person, I’m a softy, I bake muffins, I’m not that person anymore,” she said. “It was cool when people would say I’m kind and welcoming and hearing my story it was hard to put the two together. I was like, 'I’ve done something right, becoming the person I never thought I was able to be.'"

Reed’s biggest job is being a parent. She is raising three children while her eldest is living with her dad.

“I know when I lay my head down at night, I’ve done everything I can to create a life for my kids they don’t have to recover from. Substance use is something they’ll never experience in the home, nor domestic violence. I never want my kids to have to sit at a table and talk about this stuff.”

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When asked what she thinks can be done to improve the toxic drug crisis, Reed said she has a foot on each side of the fence.

“I’m a firm believer of harm reduction and safe supply and even if I don’t understand all of the logistics of it, I understand we can keep addicts alive long enough to maybe find recovery or at least just not die behind a dumpster,” she said. “Addicts aren’t street urchins that should be spit upon and forgotten about.”

As a mother of small children, Reed finds the crisis and social disorder in the streets frustrating. She recently had an addict dig through her shed and leave tinfoil and a bag of fentanyl on her kids’ trampoline.

“I can’t take my kids for a walk without seeing something, I can’t let them use park bathrooms by themselves in case there’s someone using in there,” she said. “They’re doing what they need to survive but it’s also my kid’s environment.”

READ MORE: WE DO RECOVER: Drug addicted Kamloops mom gets her life back

In order to improve the dire crisis, Reed said more focus has to be on recovery.

“In a perfect world, for every option of harm reduction or safe supply we’d have twice as many options for recovery. There isn’t enough money going into recovery, treatment and mental health, but because of how toxic the drugs are, the amount of people dying, harm reduction is prioritized.

“People wanting to enter recovery need a place to go where they don’t have to stress about meeting basic needs, where they're safe and can focus on getting better." 

Reed works as a primary support worker with youth involved in the youth justice program, using her lived experience to connect with them.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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