From drugs and sex to a life of hope
Lora Grindlay
The Province

'We need to realize that a human life is valuable, no matter what state it is in,' says Trisha Baptie, recipient of a 2008 Courage to Come Back Award in the social-adversity category.
CREDIT: Jason Payne, The Province
'We need to realize that a human life is valuable, no matter what state it is in,' says Trisha Baptie, recipient of a 2008 Courage to Come Back Award in the social-adversity category.

Every Monday until May 5, The Province will profile this year's recipients of the Courage to Come Back Awards. It's the 10th year the Coast Mental Health Foundation has honoured those who have inspired others by their ability to overcome great obstacles. The six recipients will be honoured at a gala dinner May 8 at the downtown Hyatt Hotel. Today's profile is of Trisha Baptie, recipient in the social-adversity category.

Trisha Baptie walked away from prostitution in 2001, for her kids.

"I never wanted my daughter to think that that was what she was created to do," said Baptie, 34.

"I started seeing that perhaps my world was not the norm, that perhaps my world wasn't the best for my kids, that I could hope for something bigger."

Before stepping off her Downtown Eastside corner for the last time, Baptie's hopes for her kids were firmly planted on the street.

"My highest aspirations for my son was to become one of the best-known pimps around, because he could command respect, he would have money, and he would be safe," recalled Baptie.

"I always thought that if I hoped bigger for them they would feel like they failed, because they would never achieve it. They have a single mom. All my kids are bi-racial. We live on the poverty line. I know I'm an alcoholic."

Seven years later, her daughter is graduating from high school, her 13-year-old son wants to be a pediatric nurse and another son has started kindergarten.

"They have something that I didn't have. I guess it's hope," she said. "They are totally different from where I was."

Baptie's recovery from drugs, prostitution and violence began with a smile. The Union Gospel Mission outreach worker who handed her a hot chocolate one night in 2000 would change her life.

"She's got this smile. I was just captivated by her," said Baptie.

That night they talked for two hours. "In her smile, in the way she talked to me, she somehow seemed to say, 'What you are is OK. You are important, you are human and I'm happy to be here talking to you.'"

The friendship grew and through it Baptie agreed to leave the street nine months later.

Baptie is open, honest and funny about her life. Her childhood in a "fairly stereotypical, middle-class, alcoholic, beat-the-kids-and-wife household" did nothing to prepare her for life or motherhood.

She was apprehended at 12 because of her violent outbursts. She was angry after seeing her mom repeatedly flee and then return to her abusive husband.

At 12, Baptie began going from foster care to group homes and had no role model for the behaviour she would need to live, work and survive on her own.

She entered rehab at 15, where she met the father of her first child. At 19, she moved in with a cocaine dealer and had a son.

She no longer drinks or does drugs and says her recovery was a process rather than an abrupt stop.

"It's a progression of longer and longer between the screwups. I'm years between screwups," she said.

Baptie's journey became newsworthy last year when she wrote about the Robert Pickton murder trial for as a citizen journalist.

She was writing about the horrific murders of some of the women she used to know, while other media wrote about her.

She is involved in her church, has worked through counselling with her kids, to deal with their troubled past, and has ended up with friends of a "calibre like nothing I had ever known."

"I didn't get this award on my own. I got this because of everyone who sacrificed and put themselves aside to lift me up," she said. "I just want to honour them."

Surprisingly, she has emerged into a new life that is "consumed with work as an abolitionist."

She is a vocal and devoted campaigner against prostitution.

She hopes to see Canada follow Sweden in criminalizing the buying of sex and decriminalizing the women's side of prostitution.

"Let's arrest the johns. Let's do education campaigns much like we do with domestic violence. It's not OK to buy a woman," she said.

"We need to realize that a human life is valuable, no matter what state it is in."

 The Vancouver Province 2008

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Updated: August 21, 2016