Deal of a Lifetime

Drug addicts can get hard cash to be sterilized or go on birth control. Is it ridding the world of unwanted babies -- or just ducking the underlying problems of abusers?

The urge hits, and Yolanda Ross is out her parents' door.

The 33-year-old mother needs to get high. She says she hates this thing inside her that makes her do this, but there's no fighting it tonight. Plus, she's got money, so she won't need to sell her body this time. Just a quick trip to Sunnyside, see her old friends, the pimps and pros and addicts who taught her how to score.

Ross tells of how she'll make her getaway: An old boyfriend she called will be waiting in the driveway in his car, thinking he's just taking Ross to visit her cousin. He doesn't know she'll be going to Sunnyside for drugs.

Ross: "I just couldn't bring another child into this world addicted."
Daniel Kramer
Ross: "I just couldn't bring another child into this world addicted."
Love spreads the word wherever she thinks addicts can be found.
Daniel Kramer
Love spreads the word wherever she thinks addicts can be found.

Tonight, she'll be leaving behind her parents' nice two-story home in a quiet, clean subdivision near Hobby Airport, leaving behind her daughter. Ross says she drank too much when she was pregnant, so the baby was born with all kinds of problems. Fetal alcohol syndrome. The six-year-old child is four mentally.

But Ross can't think about that now. And she can't think about her son, Steven, the boy she put up for adoption two years ago. She says she smoked crack while he was in the womb. Lord knows he's better off now.

She anticipates her evening, when the former boyfriend will drop her off outside her cousin's home. When he pulls away, she'll head down the road to a house where she knows she can score. Ross will knock on the door until a familiar face greets her. She says she'll be led to a back room where three or four others are getting high. She's got her money -- $10 for a rock -- and will wait for her turn.

Then Ross will fire up and find her peace. No one will bother her tonight. No rough johns, no cops. Even her conscience will let up a bit. She knows she's destroying just herself. There's no baby forming inside her, never will be.

Two years ago, Ross saw a billboard for an organization that pays drug addicts $200 to get sterilized. Steven was inside her then. She eventually gave up her baby, but she knew she couldn't give up her addiction. The sign seemed to know this. It said you can stay on the pipe, just don't bring another baby into this world.

Ross got her tubes tied after giving up Steven. A short while later, she got a check in the mail, along with the numbers for some rehab centers.

Four days after the visit to that back room, she'll talk about her plans to get clean. She wants to be a drug abuse counselor and help women like herself. She wants to be a good mother to her little girl.

But when she's in that back room, blazing up her last rock, Ross just wants to get high.

Laura Love has a girl like Ross's daughter, only hers is made of vinyl.

It's made by a company in Wisconsin as a classroom tool for kids who aren't sure whether in-utero alcohol consumption is a good idea.

Love reaches into a wicker baby basket and produces the doll. Born to a mama doll who drank too much, this infant has the flat forehead and overall alien features that indicate fetal alcohol syndrome.

She reaches back into the basket to produce the vinyl child's brother, crafted to look like the archetypal crack baby: underweight, with skinny limbs.

The friendly, heavyset blond grandmother throws a switch above the diaper, and it emits the shrill recorded wails of a real baby born in the throes of cocaine withdrawal. That's not all. The thing shakes. Hard. Love says crack babies shake so violently they can shrug off their skin.

These are the kind of blunt-force tactics that Love's organization, Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity (CRACK, also called Project Prevention), uses to get its point across: Addicted people shouldn't reproduce. Their kids wind up in overcrowded foster homes where the public bears the burden of their outrageous medical bills.

So CRACK employs what representatives like Love call a simple, cost-effective solution: They pay addicts $200 to get sterilized or go on long-term birth control.

Founded in Southern California five years ago by a former IHOP waitress, CRACK has paid more than 800 addicts in 23 cities, including about 20 from Houston.

Love pursued a journalism degree in her native New Mexico but says she dropped out of junior college after her husband was killed in an oil field accident. She wound up supporting her son and herself by cutting hair.

She now directs the Houston chapter, which opened two years ago with funding from local philanthropist Jim Woodhill. He made his fortune in software and is on the short list of CRACK's major nationwide supporters. The list includes radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger and conservative Pittsburgh billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.

Love spreads the word by dropping off pamphlets at methadone clinics, social service agencies, probation offices -- anywhere an addict is likely to be found. She also cruises high-risk neighborhoods, posting flyers illustrated with dollar signs and a slogan that contains perhaps the two most important words in an addict's vocabulary: "Get CASH from CRACK."

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