Check out the article below by Andee Hochman in Oprah Magazine about Interim House.

It's story time at Interim House, and tonight, the subject is sluts. I'm reading Jamaica Kincaid's bitter, lyrical short story, "Girl," in which a mother harangues her daughter with a litany of practical and moral advice. My listeners- six residents of a women's inpatient drug treatment program in a leafy section of northwest Philadelphia- turn the pages of their own copies as I read aloud. Soft "uh-huhs" and "mm-hmms" ripple the room. It sounds, I am thinking, like church.

Andrea Blue-shoes off, feet tucked up- cringes when the mother in the story cautions her daughter against behaving like, "the slut I know you are so bent on becoming."

"That's harsh," she says

But maybe the mother was a slut, and she doesn't want her daughter to be one," Sherry* suggests.

"I think the mother in the story doesn't want other people to think her daughter is a slut," Andrea says. Then she says how hard it is to counsel her own daughter, an eleven-year-old, "now half-grown," who because of Andrea's crack addiction has lived with her father for the last eight years.

For the next 90 minutes, our conversation loops from the story on the page to the stories of our lives: mothering and mentors, superstition, stereotypes, whether parents should teach their girls to "play the game" or subvert the rules. Gently, I steer us back toward the text.

"Look again at the title. It's just called "Girl." How come neither of these characters has a name?"

"I don't need them," says Andrea. "They could be anybody. They could be us."

Once upon a time, sisters, servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary sought God in prayer and contemplation behind these walls of orange brick. They left in 1981, leaving an implacable statue of the Blessed Virgin in the front yard. Since 1985 Interim House has been a different kind of refuge- home to women who once sought heaven in a heroin fix, God in a gulp of crack smoke. Women came to Interim House on their own, on referral from an agency or a relative, or on a judge's orders. The six-month inpatient program is rigorous,  a packed schedule of meetings, groups, classes, and chores designed to help drug-addicted women recover physically, emotionally, and spiritually. On Thursday nights, after the grief groups, the anger management groups, the AA and NA meetings, the individual and small-group therapy sessions, after the community meeting where one resident complains that the other "ladies" have not been flushing the toilets and another gets applause for going 24-hours without a cigarette, the gray-haired woman at the desk- whom everyone calls Mom- rings a bell, and someone hollers upstairs, "The Story Lady's here!"

I am the Story Lady. I work with People and Stories- Gente y Cuentos, a program launched 32 years ago in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, housing project. People and Stories aims to prove wrong the notion that serious literature is only for people with advanced degrees and disposable income. Facilitators like me bring short stories into prisons, senior centers, halfway houses, homeless shelters, libraries, and learning centers. The model is simple: gather a group, read a short story aloud, then pose questions designed to lift the story's skin and reveal its heart. The women at Interim House don't have to come to my class. June* is here, she says, because reading has always been her escape. Dawn Gregor still mourns her collection of vintage children's books- the tiny, boxed Beatrix Potter, the laminated, full-color Little Engine that Could- all lost when a $100-a-day heroin habit chewed up everything she owned. Andrea and Sherry want to write their life stories someday. Latisha* used to recite her poems to a houseful of crack addicts. Nadira Jenkins-El, who quit using drugs the same day Dawn did- May 17, 2001- is smart, soft-spoken, and simply loves to read. I'm here because words are my refuge, the place I go when the days are sad or dull or scary. I'm a true believer; I think stories can save you life. Uh-huh. Mm-hmm. The next eight weeks with either test or prove my faith. 

On a late fall evening at Interim House, we are reading Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe's story "Marriage is a Private Love Affair," about a man who marries a woman from outside his tribe over the objections of his traditionalist father. The father refuses to talk to his son or acknowledge his wife- until, near the end of his life, the daughter-in-law writes the old man to tell him that he has two grandsons. At the story's close, the old man stares out a window at "the lightning and thunder which mark a change of season," wondering if he'll live long enough to meet his grandsons. 

"Why does the tribe matter so much?" I ask Andrea, who is African-American, remembers being taunted with "light, bright, almost white" at school, but at home she was cautioned not to "marry dark." Nadira with skin the shade of rich espresso, was told by her Muslim parents to "stick to your own kind." More talk, and the question of tribe grows complicated, the shadings more delicate: There's a Cherokee in Sherry's black bloodline, a biracial great-grandmother in Nadira's, and Irish branch to Andrea's family tree.

Over the past few weeks, I've been learning their stories- how Nadira's dad quit a good job to sell incense and oils on the street, how Latisha hid on the playground when her mother was staggering drunk, came outside and yelled her name. How Dawn-raised in a comfortable New Jersey suburb by parents with professional degrees- shot heroin for twelve years. For a while, she said she was able to fake I- dressing in suits, holding onto her job as a computer systems analyst. "But my days were becoming worse and worse- more about the drugs and less about the life." She lived on the street, slept under parked trucks, and willingly did anything for money to feed her veins. A woman who'd graduated from Interim House told her about the place and Dawn literally stumbled through the front door. "I was so wiped out I didn't know what the program was," she said. But she stayed, and she slept, and it was better than waking up with diesel fumes in her mouth. I turn to the last lines of Achebe's story- rain on the roof, the old man uneasy as he eyes the storm.

"You know," says Dawn finally, "I think this story is really about fear of change. And life changes. Id we didn't believe that, if we didn't believe people could change, we wouldn't be here."

On a biting December evening, I brought a pot of tea, a plate of biscotti, and copies of "Making Do" by Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan. In recent weeks we'd read stories by Raymond Craver, Alice Walker, and Sandra Cisneros. For our final meeting of the series, I'd chose a complex story about a woman who lapses into silence and speech. I thought perhaps we'd untangle the story's end, in which the grieving woman begins carving wooden birds to place on the graves of her children. "We make art out of our loss," one character says.

I didn't expect my own voice to buckle as I read of the third baby's death and the mother's paralyzing grief. And I didn't expect Andrea to clutch her tea and choke back tears as she told her own story. Andrea was raised in South Philly and thrived at the City's elite Quaker schools- until she got pregnant at the age of 14 and dropped out. She went back to school and eventually became a registered nurse with a speciality in hemodialysis. But when she found herself, at 27, separated from her husband, pregnant and suffering from debilitating migraines, she started blotting the anguish with beer. Later there were two more babies, her mother's death, cocaine and crack, depression, a suicide attempt- and finally, the indelible March morning in 1997 when she woke from a crack haze in a male friend's house to find her nearly 4-month-old baby, Sigmund Ronald Porter Jr., with a trickle of blood under his nose and no breath in his lungs. A police and medical investigation showed the baby has been fed a cocaine-laced infant formula. Andrea's friend was convicted of third-degree murder; she was convicted of reckless endangerment of a person. Her sentence: a long-term rehabilitation program. She ended up at Interim House.

Through tears, Andrea said she could understand why the mother in "Making Do" stares at the ceiling and tugs at her own flesh. "After my baby was killed, I wanted to die," she said. "My bad choices- my addiction- cost my son his life."

I handed her a paper napkin. "Is there a way you created something out of your son's loss, like the mother with her birds?"

Andrea thought for a minute. "I didn't make anything. But I decided to live. For me to continue to be an addict was to make his life in cain." Mm-hmm. Uh-huh. We sat, cradling the story in our hands.

Three months later, on a brisk Wednesday morning, I went back to Interim House. Dawn and Nadira had graduated from the program and were still good friends; soon they would mark their one-year anniversary of being clean. I heard Latisha was using again. I'd lost track of Sherry, and I once spotted June on the street, frowning and looking rushed.

But Andrea was still there, and she inited me to join her for a ritual; it was the fifth anniversary of her baby's death, and she wanted to release a balloon with his name on it as an emblem of letting go. She hadn't had a swallow of beer or a whiff of crack in eight months, the longest she'd ever been clean. Andrea had painted a T-shirt: "In love and memory of Sigmund Ronald Porter Jr.," with the dates of his brief life, "11/30/96 tp 3/27/97." On the side of a heart-shaped Mylar balloon, she'd written "I love you Siggy" and signed it "Mommy."

We make art out of our loss. In the front yard of Interim House, near the unflinching Blessed Virgin, Andrea stood with half a dozen other women. They clasped hands and said a prayer. Then she thrust her arm upward. The red balloon bearing Siggy's name wavered a little, nearly snagged on a utility wire, then caught a surge of wind and soared. We all watched as it grew smaller and smaller, a red dot with a faint tale, a scribble on a page of sky.