Candise is the oldest of seven, raised by a single mom, with her father in and out of prison. The family grew up mostly in the Colonia area of Oxnard. Candise said, “Both of my parents were drug addicts, and both were in the (Colonia) gang.
“I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. I went to what I knew best—gangs and drugs. I ended up in jail when I was 18 (for drug possession).” Candise was a full-blown drug addict until she got pregnant with her son at 22. “I was sober through my whole pregnancy and his first year of life,” she said. “But my baby’s dad went to prison and I felt like my life was torn apart. So I went to drugs, which was my comfort zone. It made everything go away.” For five years she avoided trouble, despite using and selling drugs. But then her house was raided and her son was taken from her. “I didn’t know what to do with myself,” she said. “I was literally lost. That’s when I knew I needed help.”
Candise tried the Lighthouse program because it was faith based. “I heard people saying ‘God helped me, God changed my life,’ so I thought, ‘OK, let’s give this God a chance.’ But when I came, even though it was a choice, there was a sense of force. I didn’t think I needed a program, but I was willing to do whatever they wanted me to do to get my son back.
“Even though my intentions weren’t right, God’s word does not go void. I learned a lot. After I graduated (in 2017), I left without looking back. I had money saved, a car, my own place, a job. I was going to church and bible study. My son was going to soccer. But I was feeling myself getting bored. I was lonely.”
Candise called an ex-boyfriend who was still in his addiction. “I thought I was strong enough to be around it,” she said. “I went to see him and I didn’t use. Then I went again, and again, and eventually—boom—I relapsed. I remembered the verse, ‘When you think you’re standing, strong be careful not to fall’ in 1 Corinthians. (But) I stayed in a heavy relapse.”
Before Candise lost everything again, she decided to check in to a detox. While there, she learned she was pregnant. After she left, she went to stay with her mother, who died suddenly five days later. “She was my everything. She accepted me no matter how I was. She always encouraged me. She’d tell me that everyone makes mistakes, to just pick myself back up.
“I stood in a relapse my whole pregnancy. I was in denial, even though I was getting bigger and bigger. I never mourned my mom, because I was numb. Because I knew the Lord, it was worse. I felt so guilty. I knew it wasn’t right.”
Candise’s daughter was born addicted. “She was withdrawing and they had to take her to the NICU. It was then that I finally saw how bad I had messed my life up,” Candise said in tears. “I had this innocent little soul, suffering because of me. I didn’t know if she was going to make it. I was just praying and praying and praying, ‘God, I need you. Even if you can’t help me, help her. She doesn’t deserve this.’”
Candise’s daughter is nearly one now, and is perfectly healthy. Candise is at the Lighthouse, and her daughter’s dad entered the Ventura County Rescue Mission’s men’s program. Her son and daughter have been placed with her at the Lighthouse and the family spends time together most weekends. “This time being here has opened my eyes to see that it’s not about me, but about my children,” Candise said. “I’ve been so self-absorbed. I’m actually learning to put myself to the side and do for my children.
“Finding God has allowed me to know that you don’t have to be in survival mode all the time. You can stand still and have joy. You can be in a peaceful place and know that in due time, everything will come together just the way that it’s supposed to.”
Candise is on track to graduate soon and move to the transitional living program. She wants to get married and raise her children. “I was sort of robbed of my childhood,” she said. “I want my kids to have the life I was never given.”