49-year old Cynthia Baker loves to work. She cannot remember a time when she didn’t. Wherever she’s lived, she’s worked. She worked as a young, single mother in Michigan. As a married woman in New York. And as a divorced mother of 4 in Maryland. There were some jobs she loved. Those were the ones that paid well, had good benefits, recognized her hard work, and gave her added responsibilities and promotions. Others were less fulfilling but helped Cynthia contribute to the family budget so she was grateful to have them.
Linda Dutton wears a porkpie hat. Like the lid itself and the jazz musicians who made it popular, she is a cool classic; bopping to the beat of her own drum and, at 52, comfortable in her own skin. As she tells her story, she is inclined to long verbal riffs, peppered with bits of slam poetry of her own creation. Listening to her is like listening to an improvisational jazz piece, freeform, and a little hard to pin down. You never know where it’s going to take you but you know it’s going to be someplace good – so if you’re smart, you’ll just sit back and enjoy the ride. Only then do you realize that what at first seemed a bit extemporaneous actually has structure, direction, and a great deal of lyrical passion. Throughout her life – just like the jazz and R&B musicians she loves – Linda has known when to lay back, when to break out, and when to step up and take the lead. And when she does, she nails it.
26-year-old Sarah grew up in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. By her own admission, she preferred the county. It was safer and quieter and had better schools. She began high school at Overlea, a successful public school with a good reputation. But when her parents split up, she moved back to the city with her father. This decision forced her to switch schools. She had her first child, a daughter, when she was 16, which delayed her high school graduation by a year. Eventually, after night school and Saturday classes, Sarah graduated from Southwestern High School (a failing city school, which was ultimately closed). Sarah’s mother didn’t see her daughter graduate. She died of an accidental drug overdose the same week Sarah turned 18.
Twenty-three year old Brittany is, shall we say, outspoken. That is not to say she is pushy or loud or demanding of attention. It’s just that she’s not afraid to speak up. From the first day of orientation – when Counselor Yvonne Moten asked for volunteers to read aloud from the Caroline Center handbook and Brittany volunteered for every turn, to the day before graduation when the women were asked to reflect on their Caroline Center experience and Brittany offered 10 reflections for every one the other CNA’s offered – Brittany made her presence known.
Some people write poetry. Others keep diaries. And then there are those who express themselves… through their tattoos. Cherica, a Caroline Center CNA trainee falls into the latter category. She wears her heart on her sleeve and her history on her arm. Make that arms. Neck. Back. Don’t look away. Every tattoo tells a story.