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Antoinette "7"

Interview One, 9/13/05

I walked from water up to my neck to get to the Convention Center. Every day they was moving us around, go here, go there, the busses is gonna meet you here, meet you there. They was lying. There was never no busses, they was lying. They was just making us tired. The had us in there to kill us. I saw babies, two month old babies, piled up in the bathroom dead. People was screaming, "The water coming, the water coming." I saw a girl raped and her throat cut. The mens found the man that did that and cut his throat. He had come over from the Superdome where he was raping babies and started doing it there, so the mens hunted him down and they slit his throat. All this time the police locked us in there and pointed guns at us. They made us kneel and then lie face down while they held the guns over us. Kids was screaming and saying, "Mommy, why they doing this to us?" All the news was just watching. I’m on the news, I was screaming at the news, just begging, on my knees. Babies was dying and I couldn't help. Old people was falling down dead. We told the police babies was dying and they said "So what? What the fuck can we do? They're dead." The news got us out. Not the National Guard, not the Mayor, not Blanco, the news people is the only ones who got us out. Channel twenty-six got me out. They got me out in they helicopter. Channel 26. The rest of them was there to kill us. I died there, I died.

Interview Two, 9/13/05

I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. I have – I had – eleven brothers and sisters, and I’m the eleventh child. My mom was a very strong woman, she was a very strong leader. She motivated us in her community. She once ran for our state representative. She didn’t win, but she never stopped going. She’s a retired beautician, she’s a retired RTA bus driver. She has a lot of grandchildren.

I have seven children myself. I seen how hard it was for my mom and I tried to be like my mom – which I could never be. But my children, they had an easy life. When I had my first child at seventeen, I said, “I’m going to work and I’m going to take care of my children.”

It looked like every two years I was having a baby. After my third child, me and they father separated and I met my last four children’s daddy. He provided for me and my three children. Two years later I began to have children for him. I had four children for him.

I always kept me a job. I was a housekeeper in hotels and I was a bartender in many bars in New Orleans, [which was] lots and lots of fun. Well, all the barrooms were fun, and, you know, that’s how I always provided for my children. As they grew up I was putting them in nursery at like ten months old. I always wanted them to learn. I have five boys and two girls. All athletes except one. One has his own business with space walks and waterslides.

My mother bought a house on Jackson Avenue and that’s where she raised us at. After I had my child, I moved out. I’ve been gone ever since because I always wanted to be independent like my mom. And to be a good mother. I volunteered at the schools for over twenty-five years. I was never in the PTA. I never did want to be a chaperone because my children marched in the parade and I always like to have fun on the sideline. I seen the people on the side having more fun than the chaperones. Chaperones can’t smoke in the parade, chaperones can’t drink beer during the parade. I was just walking; every step they make I make, too.

And so, about in 1989, I went to jail. I was incarcerated because my baby girl was about seventeen months old and she, uh, burned herself on the heater trying to get a baby doll. We didn’t bring her to the hospital the same day because it didn’t appear to be bad. But the next day we woke up and her arm was swollen and we brought her to the hospital.

They came arrested me for, uh, I think it was something like child abuse. That’s what it started out to be. At that time I was suicidal because I knew what I had done for my children, all my sister’s children, my neighbor’s children. I had hundreds of people trying to come to court to tell the judge that I never abused my children. And I took care of the neighborhood children.

That really hurt me. I’ve been arrested a lot of times for fighting which you knew I was guilty. But this time I was really innocent, and that hurt my heart.

In 1990 I moved into Magnolia Housing Project. They call it the CJ Pete housing project now. That’s where the rough parts really started at. My children was like… my oldest one I think was eleven or twelve. As my oldest daughter got older, the girls always wanted to fight her because she was very pretty. They all was back there as one big family. We came out of another area in the city and they didn’t want us to be there. But I just had to show them that they could not move me. I had to fight. I fought. I fought. I fought. I fought for them. I fought for them. The girls that wanted to fight us – my daughter was like fifteen – they was seventeen or eighteen. I fought for my daughter and my boys.

My five boys, well four of them are perfect. One of them, he, you know, he got most of my blood. He’s incarcerated in Polack, Louisiana. But he’s learned a lot and I think he’s going to do better. He was a running-back at McDonough High School. I have one was a quarterback. I had another son, he was a running-back at McDonough. He played in the band. He ran track. My oldest daughter, she was a majorette at all the schools she went to, she was a mascot at two. My baby girl was a mascot at two and she played all sports. She marched on the marching units at Fortier High School.

My baby boy, he’s fifteen years old. And I think that’s why I kind of got, like, weakened, because I ran behind the other six so much. I was always trying to be there for them. They had a daddy that always provided for them financially. He went to a game every now and then and was in a parade every now and then, but. . . he didn’t participate with my children like I did. For my oldest son, out of four years, I missed, I think, one game. My daughters, I was always there for them. I was very proud of my children.

And they’re very proud of me too. They just don’t like when I drink too much, ‘cause I get… well, I just like to be myself. I just like to party, I just like to have fun. A lot of people have the tendency of saying that when people drink they have another side to them. And the only way the other side come out [is] if you make it come out. If I’m provoked, it’s that other side coming out. I’ve been into it numerous times with the New Orleans police. If somebody calls the police, and they have a fight or something, a dispute, they would never want to listen to my side, maybe because I was intoxicated, uh, fifty percent of the time [laughing].

I worked at this club in the Project. It was called Les Tree at one time. They changed the name to Mary’s Night Out. I went through a lot in there, I seen a lot in there. I had to play the strong role in front of my children, because they always looked up to me. A lot of times I was scared, but I never let them know I was scared. It was a nightmare working in Mary’s Night Out, yes it was. You know I even had ... people get killed on my porch. I was standing ... and they got shot. I was passing by and they got shot.

A lot of people know that I’m emotionally disturbed, and they know it don’t take much to upset me. This old lady that was my neighbor for like fourteen years, every time I used to get upset, she used to come and see about me. She used to always tell me, “Pray.” Which I always do.

I do have a church home in New Orleans, Greater St. Mathews Baptist Church. I’ve been a member there since 1969. But the devil do get ahold to me sometimes [laughing]. Yeah sometimes I’ll go for like two or three months, and then I’ll back away for like two or three months. That’s not good at all because as good as God has been to me, I need to serve him every day of the week. I had a heart attack in 2002. It’s just been so much that I’ve been through. You know, despite of all the fighting and stuff, I never was abused by no man. Never ever, because they knew. They knew: keep your hands to yourself.

My main thing is that I try to motivate my children. In 2002, and in 2001, they had this thing called… you could go to school, you know, adults go back to school and make careers. I went back to school to be a bartender and a professional casino dealer. I ran and I ran and I ran. I auditioned at Boomtown Casino and passed the audition. I auditioned at Dallas Casino and passed the audition. But I couldn’t get the job because of my background. They said it wasn’t what I was convicted for, which was for when my baby girl got burnt. They said it’s just a matter that I was arrested so many times for fighting. From what I understand, I could go to another state and get a job, but I can’t get none in the state of Louisiana.

From what I can see, the police could not control the crime in New Orleans. Before the floods and the hurricane. This had to happen. The hurricane had to happen. This was the way the Lord had to clean New Orleans up. Because the police could not stop the violence, the drugs, the murder, the robbing, the rape. The police couldn’t stop it, so that was the way for the Lord to stop it. He wiped out what He wanted to wipe out.

We lost a lot of people in New Orleans and at the Convention Center. I was trying to help as many people as I could... and my daughter, she come to me and she say, “Mama” she said, “You can’t help all these people, stop crying.” Then, you know, we go in the bathroom and see dead babies. There were people trying to call the news people. It took us like two days before we got in touch with the news people. They came and they interviewed. I showed them where all the dead bodies was at. Yes, they took pictures of the dead bodies. I insisted they take pictures.

I just get upset when I think about how we had to walk through the water, and the dead people. We called in the police. It wasn’t our NOPD police. It was NOPD police but it wasn’t our regular district police. These were special NOPD policemen. We was running from place to place telling them, “Oh, this person dead, that person dead.” They said, “Well we can’t do nothing about no dead bodies. Y’all just don’t worry. Y’all just try to get the fuck out of here.” That’s just how they was talking to us. Yeah, they told us try to get the fuck out of here. So we were asking them, where we had to go. They told us to leave our house, they told us to go to the Superdome. They say, “Y’all go to the bridge. The bus’s going to pick you up on the bridge.” We stayed on the bridge nine hours. Then they came and told us, the special police, they said “Y’all go over to the Convention Center because the Superdome is crowded. They going to have buses waiting on y’all at the Convention Center.” We waited four days for the buses. No buses coming.

Every night, there’s somebody that’ll pass, like the Army, who will tell us, “Oh, the buses will be here in two hours, the buses will be here in six hours.” They needed to order more buses. They telling us the same thing over and over. So that’s when everybody went to getting scared and upset because we was like, “They abandoned us.” They just didn’t care about us. So everybody went to calling the news people until we got them out there. When everybody seen the news people, then everybody was saying, “Oh, oh there go the news people. You wanted the news people, well there they go.” So I ran to them. I was just trying to tell them everything what was going on.

Yes, yes they did listen to me. He asked me my name, he asked me could he put it in the paper and on the T.V. I said, if you want to you can do that. My thing is, our mayor, Ray Nagin, and our governor, Kathleen Blanco, they know it was a Category Five. Fifty percent of New Orleans had already evacuated. Those were people with money. Those were people with cars. Those were people who had people out of town that they could go straight to.

For those people in poverty it was the same as it is with me. I have seven children. I say eight because my sister’s son, he is like mine, and he would not leave until he found out for sure I was alright. He is always there with me and my children regardless the good or bad, he is with us.

To answer those that would ask, well why didn’t they leave? We didn’t have no money. We didn’t have no cars. After they was lying to us for four days telling us the bus was coming, people was getting scared that they wasn’t going to never come and get us. They was telling us another hurricane was coming. They was telling us the place was on fire. They was setting certain places on fire. So people were scared that they wasn’t coming to get us – that’s why they started to steal the cars. The trucks, the vans, the RTA buses. They stole all the rental cars, they stole RTA buses. I even seen a postal truck. The only thing I didn’t see these people trying to find was a fire truck and a police car.

It was just so scary because we thought they just was leaving us there on purpose. But the mayor and the governor, I fault them because anytime it’s a Category Five, you don’t wait until the day after to drop sandbags. A Category Five is terrible. You know you’re supposed to drop those sandbags a day or two ahead of time, Okay? And, okay, the hurricane didn’t affect us, it was the after-effect that affected us. The hurricane was that Monday. The water didn’t start coming up really to our knees and our waists until Wednesday. That’s when they called for emergency evacuation for the whole state.

They knew they still have people in Louisiana. I think it was they job to send the National Guards and the armored people in there to make sure everybody was evacuated They left us out there for five, six, seven days. They didn’t care about us. Because, like I said, they knew they have a lot of poor people like myself don’t have no transportation, don’t have no money. Well I have a car but it got under the water. Don’t have no money to buy gas, don’t have no money to buy food. Living from day to day. Like I said, it was thousands of people out there like that.

My mom and them, they did offer me to go to Atlanta when they left, but I said I could not leave. I had two children here, two children here, three children there, two grandchildren here. I had to make sure all my children was gone. Then they called me at the last minute talking about let’s go. No, I have to find all my children because they keep me strong and they the reason I’m living. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know what I’d even done with myself. I could have been just like a lot of people. I could have been on drugs, but I, you know, I’m strong. The Lord, he knows what we can handle and what we can’t handle. I never tried it, you know it never appealed to me.

My strength was tested the most when every night people would break out and say things to make people run, like a fire, or water. My seven year-old grandbaby who’s been with me since birth, she woke up out of her sleep. I was waking everybody up. And she woke up out of her sleep and she got lost in the Convention Center. She got up and she ran with the crowd. She thought she was running with us. When she realized that none of us was with her… We found her sleeping. We looked for her for an hour and thirty minutes in the Convention Center. We already new that the killer people [were] putting them in the ice box, killing little children and raping little children. The men, the looters, the people that was staying in there.

It was just terrible because I was going all through this looking for my grandbaby and I just got so upset. I had about a hundred people looking for my baby with me. Because a lot of people knew me in New Orleans, and, it’s like “Seven, what’s wrong?” I couldn’t talk, so my children running up and down there hollering, talking about we can’t find Jada. So it’s like a hundred people looking for Jada. It was like attacking every male they seen, because we knew what the males was doing to these little girls when they go to the bathroom.

What happened, they didn’t have no lights in the bathroom. They had electricity because we was always charging our phones, the whole time we was there. So it was electricity. It’s just that they didn’t want to put the lights on. Because they didn’t care. Yeah, they turned the lights off on purpose. There was electricity, everybody was charging their phones up. All day every day, people was charging their phones up. From what I understand, they came that Monday and turned the water off on purpose. They still had water at the Convention Center. But that Monday after, you know, I guess the people at the Convention Center thought we was going to be there for a little time. Like I said, it was a disaster.

That’s when me and my children went to saying that if we don’t find Jada, we’re going to shoot up the whole Convention Center. Everybody got up and went to looking for Jada. My daughter, she gave up. She told a girl, she said, “Well, I’m going to sit down. I’m a leave it in the Lord’s hands. The Lord knows best.” She said as soon as she got back to her little pad where we was sleeping at, the lady came to her and told her, “We have your little girl over here.” She was sleeping by this old lady. I don’t know if she just was looking for us, because we had a big crowd of people with us, and she just laid with the first crowd of people she seen. The old lady was asleep. I don’t know how old she was. But they say the old lady was holding her, had her arms around her, and my baby was asleep too. So, we found her. They was asleep.

That was the scariest time in my life. In my life. Because I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. You know the first thing they say, if something happen, if they got a crime, you don’t run, you just lay down wherever you at, or you stay wherever you at. It would have been my fault because I woke everybody up telling them to run because the place was on fire. No, the place wasn’t on fire. It was some children upstairs playing with the fire extinguisher. That was the scariest time of my life.

When my children children told me they found her… see, I passed out. When they told me they found her. And I just knew they had found her dead – she was alive; she’s in San Antonio with her mama – I just passes out ‘cause I just knew they had found her dead. I wouldn’t a been able to live with myself.

But, other than that, you know, like I said, my children was blessed. I was always there for them. And I’m special to my mom. Because I always was a problem child out of twelve children. I was the eleventh child. I always if they said don’t do it, I done it. I just have to prove a point to people. It’s that if someone tell me I can’t do it…. When I went to the school to be a dealer, I had quit twice. And my children, they was beating my head in, “Now you going to tell us winners don’t quit and quitters can’t win? You done quit twice.” So I thought about it, I drank my little beer that night, I sit on the porch all night. And I said, “Now how can I make my children stay in school and go to school, even though I’m forty-one years old” – that was three years ago – “How can I convince them to keep going to school, to continue to go to college. I’m almost finished with this school, I need three weeks to finish and I done quit for the second time.”

So I went back and I talked to the teachers over there. They was telling me, “You can do it, you can do it, you’re halfway there.” They say, “If you got off the roulette table,” which that’s the hardest game to play in the casino, they say “if you got off the roulette table, you going to walk through this Blackjack.” I had done all the deals and stuff in the Blackjack, I just had to take my finals and stuff and show them what I know. So I got my certificate for that. And, I’m okay. Yeah, I’m okay.

I really didn’t want to move to San Antonio, but my twenty-four year old son and my twenty-six year old daughter, they made themselves smart and they enrolled their children in school. I think my twenty-four year old son is trying to get in somebody’s university. I just can’t keep moving them from school to school like that. But I really wanted to move to Atlanta. I really, really wanted to move to, like, Biloxi but they tell me it’s wiped out. Because they have a lot of casinos there. They say I couldn’t get a gaming license in the state of Louisiana, but I could go to another state and get a gaming license. I’m not going to give up on that dealing. Las Vegas is too big for me, so if I can get somewhere in Lake Charles or one of them little Indian Reservations casinos, I can go there and pursue my career. But if not, I want to be, like, a little shuttle bus driver for the hospitals or the clinics. Helping somebody’s babies.

[You have so much love, and so much energy.]

Yes I do, yes I do. In New Orleans, my children, all of us would be sitting on the porch, and they’ll say, “Oh Mama, go to the store and get me a cold drink and a bag of potato chips.” My neighbor, she’ll get very angry. She said, “They’re your children, you let them send you to the store?” I said “I don’t have nothing better to do.” Now, if they had to go to Winn-Dixie, they’ll get in the car and go. I’ll walk to Winn-Dixie.

Like I said, I’ve been following my children around because they just, you know, so beautiful. They’re right there for me. Right now, I really don’t want to get in no trouble because they know what I done for them. I know if somebody hurt me accidentally, or hurt me intentionally, I know they’re not going to rest until… they might go around just hurting people for nothing if something happened to me. So I really do want to change, you know, drama-wise. I don’t want that in my life no more.

The most fun I had as far as my job, that’s mixing drinks. Mixing drinks. Yeah, I make people happy, and a lot of people back in Louisiana they knew me from nineteen years old working in the barroom. I’m forty-four now. And that’s my thing, mixing drinks. I’m an expert. If you come in there, we used to have dollar nights at these clubs. After a while I convinced them to raise the price to a dollar fifty. I convinced them to do a lot of things. I even convinced them to buy the building at Mary’s Night Out.

At one time Mary was my, she was… that’s why a lot of things happened to me. Because I was putting this lady and her business before church. When I fell out and when we did lose friendship, it was over for good. Because my daughter wind up having a baby for her son. Her son had been with this lady for like eighteen, nineteen, twenty years. She really loved all my children too, the lady that owned the club, she really loved my children too. When she see that the relationship was serious with my daughter and her son, she didn’t like that. That’s what we really fell out about. Because she put my daughter at the barroom. Then she was saying bad things about my daughter and I wasn’t going to allow that. Because my sisters, my mom and them, they all know, when it come to my children, don’t even go there. Because I’m not having it.

Like I said, you’re all grown now and I just hope I don’t get in trouble with nobody, because I know what’s on their minds. So I’m going to be good. The Lord’s placed everybody where he wanted them to be at for a reason. He’s giving all us the opportunity to start all over again. Now you know, a lot of people, they go back to what they was doing in New Orleans. They go back to New Orleans and try to do the same thing they was doing. They don’t want to change. But far as myself, I think the Lord has given me nine chances. I don’t have no more. I don’t have no more chances with God. It’s time for me to give my life to God, even though I like being a bartender and I like drinking my beer. I drink Hennessey on special occasions like my birthday – yeah, Hennessey on the rocks. Now if somebody in my immediate family die, I might drink anything, gin, Jack, vodka. I might drink anything because I love my family. I’m so close to my nieces and nephews, if something happened to them I’d feel it.

After my mama started losing her children with the Crohn’s disease, heart attacks, strokes. I lost two of my favorite sisters. One died with kidney failure ‘cause she drank herself crazy, and she grieved herself over her son with sickle-cell disease. My other sister who was always there holding my hand for me no matter right or wrong, she died with Crohn’s disease. I have one brother, he went into a coma. I have two brothers went into a coma, and they died. My baby brother, he had a terminal illness, and he passed away. So, it’s like, you know, she only have seven children. She buried some grandchildren, she buried all five of her husbands. I think she was married to all of them, and they all deceased. She’s a minister. She’s in Atlanta with my brothers and sisters. It was two weeks before the hurricane before I’ve seen my mom. She’s a Baptist minister. I have two sisters in the ministry.

I had went back to church about a month before this happened and the head deacon of our church, he was telling me, “Well, you know it’s time for you to come on get on the steward board” – yeah, that’s the mother’s board. They had a function at the church for the children and he came to my table. He was patting me on the shoulders. “Time for you to get on the mother board.” And I turned around and I looked at him and I said, “When you get on the mother board, you got to be right with God, you got to be all the way right,” I said. “And I ain’t going to never be right ‘cause I’m always looking for somebody else. And I like drink.” [laughing].

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