135 Years, 135 Stories title image

From family dysfunction to law school

KATIE, North Carolina

My story starts in Florida, where I was born to a comfortable middle class lifestyle. My father was a tool and die maker (a machinist), my mother a stay-at-home mom. My parents were hippies and lived in a commune and my father decided at some point that he would move his family to Western NC to start his own commune. My father sold or gave away most of our possessions and my parents, older brother, younger sister, and I made the trek in a pickup truck with a camper. We lived in a tent for 6 months and then my father rented a log cabin with no running water or electricity on 100 acres of pastureland we moved into just as it was getting cold. I spent the next four years there. Then, my father moved us to a nearby town to a house with amenities.

My family was poor and there was a lot of dysfunction. My mother would take off for weeks or months at a time and I as the oldest girl, had to take care of my younger siblings. By the time I was 13, my mother was gone for good and I was raising my 5 younger brothers and sisters and maintaining my father’s house while he worked 60 to 70 hours a week. My father had a long fuse but when he reached the end of it, he could be brutal.

I got pregnant when I was 14 and, during one violent episode, my father slapped me so hard, I could feel the bones in my spine pop. I was afraid for the baby and for me and a guidance counselor and favorite teacher told me about Florence Crittenton in Charlotte. Before I left, I told my father that I would be releasing the baby for adoption to his sister in Florida, and that I would not be coming back.

I came to Florence Crittenton at the end of my 9th grade year. I was 6 months pregnant. Diane Thompson was my caseworker and she heard an earful from me more times than I can count. After giving birth to Stephen and my aunt leaving the hospital with him, I went back to Crittenton to stay in an apartment specifically for women who have released for adoption and who need a temporary place to stay. I stayed there for about 4 to 6 months (Ken can tell you stories about driving me to school; Ken also lent me a dorm fridge when I went off to college) and then went into foster care. The foster dad put a move on me and I left after about a year and moved in with my boyfriend, who was a college student and had his own apartment.

That relationship didn’t last and I spent the next two years of high school staying wherever I could lay my head. For awhile I lived in a boarding house and worked a couple of jobs. I also lived with a variety of friends from school. Living on my own was tough but at the same time, it was the first time in my life that I could also be a kid. I played on the basketball team (intermittently), was Senior Class President and attended prom.

UNC-Charlotte was the only college I applied to and when I was accepted and moved into my dorm room, it was the first time in many years that I felt any sense of security. I double majored in Criminal Justice and Political Science but I was completely undisciplined and screwed around with my grades. I also had three sons while in undergrad. I took a year off after the births of my first two but then powered through after Gavin was born. When I graduated from UNCC, Elijah was 5, Caleb was 3 and Gavin was 10 months old. While at UNCC, I was a recipient of the Kimberly Ann Sipes scholarship and that paid for my books. Ken, Diane, Judith, Marilyn and Lou took me out for a nice dinner to celebrate my accomplishment. I also had my first public speaking experience at Florence Crittenton’s annual fundraiser luncheon while in undergrad.

Diane assisted me in getting my first job after college (through a former board member, Pender McElroy, who is now a mentor to me) and I worked in law firms for the next six years. I should add here that, at 4 years old, I told my father I was going to be a lawyer. Despite the fact that no one in my family had ever been to college and despite the fact that we were very poor, my father never attempted to dissuade me. And so, every step I took from that moment on was with the intent to go to law school and become a practicing attorney (hence the double degree in undergrad and the law firm job after). I learned that I absolutely love litigation and particularly, family law.

When my youngest son was 6, I began law school here in Charlotte. For the past three years, I have worked a full time job (most recently as a contract and lease administrator as I wanted to experience the legal field from a corporate perspective), raised my 3 sons, and attended law school at night. I will be graduating next May and sitting for the bar in July. Outside of knowing I want to do trial work, my future is wide open. When I graduate from law school, Gavin will be 10, Caleb 13, and Elijah 15; almost 10 years to the day that I graduated from UNCC.
Throughout the 20 years I have been in Charlotte, Florence Crittenton (FC) has played an integral role in my life. The support I have received and continue to receive has been on going. FC has become a family to me. And I know that when I graduate next May, I’ll see the usual crowd out there supporting me.

Katie Becker