Monday, January 28, 2008

Ex-addict starts new life with job, will to succeed: Sacramento Bee

From sleeping in cars and bathing at Walgreens, Lita Norton turns things around with help from Women's Empowerment.

By Blair Anthony Robertson -

Published 12:00 pm PST Monday, January 28, 2008
Story appeared in METRO section, Page B3
Lita Norton cuts the hair of Julian Reynolds, 3, at A Shear Pleasure in Rancho Cordova. Norton is living a dramatic comeback story.
Lezlie Sterling /

Lita Norton is 44. In some ways, she's a very old 44. In other ways, she's just starting out.

She lives in a one-bedroom apartment and is striving to build up her clientele as a hairstylist.

But her life now is luxurious, compared with the one she used to lead.
With the help of some friends, Norton is living a dramatic comeback story that unfolds day after day at a Rancho Cordova hair salon called A Shear Pleasure. What's emerging is a tale of bouncing back from homelessness and despair.

It all started when she was a rebellious teen. Rebellion led her to the wrong friends. The wrong friends led her to drugs, methamphetamine, in particular.
She says she used meth any way she could – she smoked it, injected it, even drank it in her coffee.

She cringes now when she thinks of that.

Norton recently ran into an old friend from her former life in Citrus Heights. The man seemed startled by her transformation.

"He looked at me and said, 'Lita, is that you? You look so good. What happened?' I told him, 'I left you all behind,' " she said with a smile.

At her worst, the 5-foot-9 Norton weighed 100 pounds, lost her home and was fired from job after job. She took sponge baths at the Walgreens in Citrus Heights because it was open 24 hours. Along the way, she was arrested 21 times and in 1998 had a felony conviction for selling drugs.
By 2003, she was in a homeless shelter, desperate for help. Someone told her about Women's Empowerment on the campus of Loaves & Fishes. The program offers an eight-week job readiness program with an emphasis on classroom instruction.

It was the beginning of Norton's return from the dark side.

"When I got there, I had no self-esteem. I had no integrity. I had no dignity," she said. "I wanted to live a normal life, but my spirit was so broken, I didn't know who I was anymore."

Erie Shockey, a case manager at Women's Empowerment, saw something in Norton.

"She recognized she needed help. Lita was like a sponge in class," Shockey said. "She's extremely dynamic. She had hit rock bottom and just knew inside that she was going to do this."

With the help of a mentor, Norton mapped out a strategy for success. She would begin as a hairstylist, since she has known that line of work since she was 18. Then she would try to go into real estate. Her ultimate goal would be to own her own business – possibly a lingerie boutique for plus-size women.
Beginning in March 2005, Norton lived for two years in transitional housing at Mather Community Campus, run by Volunteers of America. She studied for hours each day and passed her real estate license exam but was denied a license to sell real estate because of her record.

She's not giving up: Norton is hoping to get her record legally expunged and then reapply for the license.

These days, she is a happy and outgoing presence at the salon. From her cutting station, she can see her $615-a-month apartment across the street.
"She's awesome to work with, and she's a go-getter," said Debra Davis, another hairstylist at the salon.

It has been a challenge to build up her clientele. But Norton says her bills are paid. She's confident business will improve.

"Things are going slow, but things are positive. It just takes time," Norton said during a break in business. "I don't want to sit around and wallow in what I've done."

Shockey dropped by for a haircut recently, but Norton refused to take her money.

"She wanted me to give the money back to Women's Empowerment. She wanted so much to be able to give back," Shockey said.

Norton has given dozens of free haircuts at homeless shelters.In recent years, she has worked to repair relationships she spent years destroying. She has made amends with her parents and her 17-year-old daughter, Peggy.

"I used to be the kind of person that when I came into your life, I was like a tornado. I would rip right into your life and rip right out," she said. "I didn't like being that way."

Every once in a while, she'll buy herself something nice to remind her she's heading in the right direction.

She knows she doesn't want any part of the life she knew for two decades – sleeping in the car, sponge baths, humiliating behavior that might have killed her. She also has learned to avoid old friends who might trigger old behaviors.

Asked what she would do if someone offered her drugs today, Norton laughed and replied, "I would say, 'Are you out of your mind?' "

About the writer:
Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099.

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