"My LFOs could ignite at any second. . . . I was telling my 16-year old, 'I just want you to know where I’m going, what I’m doing [the LFO interview], and that I’m taking a risk. It could be his birthday, it could be Easter, it might not be but I could be arrested after this. He was like, 'You really need to wear your superhero shirt then.."
Renee is a homeless Native American mother of six. Her first was born when she was 15 years old. Renee also is a housing justice advocate. "I feel if I am not willing to take a risk and if all of us aren’t willing to take some risks, everything stays the same. So to make changes, people have to be brave."
Renee's only felony conviction was in fact a cry for help. She had struggled with mental illness most of her life, attempting suicide three times. By her second abusive marriage, Renee had promised her children that she would never again attempt suicide -- or kill her violent husband. So instead she walked into a bank with her two small dogs and a note, which the bank teller refused to accept. The note basically said, 'My husband’s a dirtbag. Winter is coming. I’ve been sexually assaulted. I’m a wreck in my head. And I need a home for the winter. I don’t want any money.' She had no weapon. She calls her actions a "living suicide." She was convicted of attempted second-degree robbery. She's not sure how much she owes in LFOs but it is about $4,000. She has never made a payment.
Renee wanted to be a lawyer when she was 18 years old. She still wants to be a lawyer.
In Renee's Own Words . . .
On Mean Boys . . .
"I was second grade and he was third grade and he was the mean boy. The one that makes you cry and your mom tells you that means he likes you. After she had passed away, I was thinking 'Curses, Mom. I just married the little boy who used to pull my hair, trip me, or tease me and it was relentless. It was everyday.' Well, our relationship [marriage] never changed from that. Never. I thought I was in a good place in life, when I got involved with him, but the second I did, I gave all of my power away.
I meet young girls that have been sexually assaulted. I don’t know, they can somehow see my story. I’m a total stranger. They spark up a conversation and then I’m able to say, 'You know what? They might have taken our body, they might have taken our mind for a little bit, but they didn’t take us. We’re still here. And so I got stronger. And now advocacy."
On Legal Advocacy . . .
"I took my mom’s lesson. That was the best advice anyone could give me. That I was chosen for a battle. I have some kind of strength. And so with that, it just helps me sharing my story, and giving it back. I feel if I am not willing to take a risk and if all of us aren’t willing to take some risks, everything stays the same. So to make changes people have to be brave.
I’m a native American woman and I can freely vote. Think of the women who risked their lives for that. They got out there. They got counted. They told their story. And they fought for something. I just think we all have to be that brave.
A big thing this legislative session, stories are gonna trump data. You can have all the graphs . . . But I think for politicians, for just human beings, it’s easy to remove yourself. Until someone’s story kinda sticks to you, it’s not your problem. It’s not your problem. Even myself. I'm down here with some invisible people. Their stories still stick to me. So even if I get tired and don’t feel like standing up and advocating today, I think my gosh, I gotta do it for them. Sometimes I’m even drawn out here because of stories. I play mine out in my head but i think to human beings, until you get something that sticks on you, it’s not your problem. You don’t need to do anything about it.
I’m from some very wise people. My mom was like, "Your life is richer, everyone that you talk to, everyone that you meet. Whether it is horrific, their part in your life, it’s gonna change you." And so that’s why stories gotta get out there."