A second chance, a life transformed
BY JOHN W. FOUNTAIN firstname.lastname@example.org November 14, 2012 6:18PM
“If I can help just one person, then I’ve served my purpose," says Stephanie Powe, who received the Kleo Foundation's Angel Award last month at ceremony where she shared her story of how she transformed her life. | Photo courtesy of Stephanie Powe
Updated: December 19, 2012 11:47AM
One bullet to the head. Another to the neck that severed an artery. One in the shoulder. And yet, Stephanie Powe was unbroken — not a single bone fractured.
A glass eye, a bullet still lodged in her neck and partial paralysis. Yet, she remains unbroken in so many other ways.
This after having survived the hit 20 years ago by her ex-lover, a Chicago gang leader, simply because she had begun dating another man.
While the scars of that night when she was left bloodied and near dead at 24 were barely visible to others, for Stephanie, now 44, they ran deep.
She could no longer look in the mirror — marred deeply by the gunshot to the face, even if more psychologically than physically. Her confidence evaporated — her glass eye a constant reminder of how much she had lost.
“Just to talk about that in a conversation, I would get choked up about it,” she told me recently.
Stephanie sought to piece her life back together. There was the restaurant, the catering business, the dead-end job here and there, the fast-money schemes, the lure to make easy money by means that leave you looking in the rearview mirror for both the good guys and the bad guys.
Success and purpose were elusive.
“Everything I was involved in, nothing worked,” Stephanie recalled.
“I kept asking what my purpose is,” she added, saying she always believed she had survived the shooting for some greater good, even if it wasn’t clear.
It was tiring.
“The journey of constantly reinventing yourself, that’s a hard journey,” Stephanie said. Deep inside, she felt a need to change her ways, her outlook, her approach — a need to shed the street hustle mentality for something richer, deeper, more substantive.
“I just couldn’t get out of my way to do it,” she admits now. “I didn’t want to be judged by anybody . . .”
As the reporter who told Stephanie’s tale of survival back then, I always sensed as much. As the reporter-turned-friend, I kept in touch over the years, routinely beginning our conversations with: “So, Steph, what are you up to now?” and ended them with “You take good care of yourself.”
What Stephanie is up to these days is helping others — sharing her story with women in hopes that her tale and wisdom just might help save lives. She founded Advocates Against Domestic Violence, a Chicago area nonprofit. And earlier this year, Stephanie published her moving memoir, “Unbroken: Diary of a Gangster’s Girl” (available at Amazon.com).
She also has teamed up with the Kleo Community Family Life Center, a South Side nonprofit, where recently she was named director of the domestic violence division. For her outspokenness on domestic violence, last month she received the Kleo Foundation’s Angel Award at a ceremony where she shared her story before several hundred people.
Today Stephanie exudes confidence. And there is a certain sense of purpose in her brown eyes, a peace in the giggle and that infectious smile of a woman who can finally look comfortably in the mirror.
Stephanie’s efforts and new life have not come without criticism or judgment from some of who apparently think her past as a gangster affiliate disqualifies her for service.
Here’s what I know: That none of us is perfect. That if Stephanie is not worthy of a second chance, then none of us is. And that if I never again witness a life transformed, I have at least seen one.
“If I can help just one person,” Stephanie says, “then I’ve served my purpose.”
She is determined, finally healed, and beautifully unbroken.