Term Paper: Rosa Lee of All the Individuals Examined

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Rosa Lee

Of all the individuals examined in Leon Dash's Rosa Lee: a Mother and Her Family in Urban America, Patty is perhaps the most difficult case in terms of treatment and recovery from her drug problem. More than any other single factor, Patty's environment, both in her adulthood and in her childhood, has contributed to her drug dependency. The bond between Rosa Lee and her daughter is so strong that it has resulted in them choosing similar life paths. Dash repeated relays the idea that Patty's single most important goal throughout her childhood was to be like her mother. Rosa states, "She was just doing what she had seen me do and wanted to imitate me. She's been like that her whole life," (Dash 181). Patty's childhood was far from what most people would consider healthy, psychologically, yet rather than acting out in other potentially more aggressive ways, Patty chose to emulate her mother and stay as close to her as possible. Unfortunately, emulating Rosa Lee clearly led to other troubles -- including drug abuse. From this point-of-view, it should be understood that the most essential tactic in treating an individual like Patty would be the complete removal from her current social environment.

In many cases, and certainly in Patty's case, the dynamics of family life contribute most significantly to the subject's addictive behavior: "Even though its values are largely shaped by the surrounding subculture, the family plays an integral role in shaping the attitudes of its members toward drug abuse," (Schlaadt 12). Typically, family settings within which drug abuse is common or accepted facilitate the spread of that practice to other family members. This was clearly the case in Patty's introduction to heroin. Patty was first exposed to the drug by watching her brother and his girlfriend while hiding in his closet: "After Ronnie pushed the liquid into his vein, she watcher her brother's worried frown change into a look of pleasure.... Ronnie refused to inject her that day. But, Patty told me, 'I knew then, "Well, I'm gonna try that one day,"" (Dash 186). One of the major problems with being introduced to such a serious drug at a young age is that the pain and suffering associated with growing-up in a drug abusing household does not simply end with childhood: "If these children survive, it follows them, particularly if they are girls, into their own adulthood. For example, many of these girls will, themselves, resort to substance abuse in adulthood," (Pagliaro 94). Depression is another major result of such a childhood. This effect can manifest itself in further drug use, or even in attempted suicide.

Studies have indicated that children raised by mothers who are substance abusers are adversely affected cognitively, as well as physically and emotionally: "Starting from infancy, Cregler and Mark (1986) noted that, maternal substance use can adversely impact the care-giving environment, which, in turn, can have long-term negative effects on childhood cognitive development. In addition, the conflict and stress in a dysfunctional substance abusing family, coupled with a lack of child supervision, further adversely impact childhood academic performance," (Pagliaro 93-4). Undoubtedly, this was the case with Patty as she grew up in Rosa Lee's home. Rosa was a prostitute and brought her business back home to where she shared a bed with her three-year-old daughter -- Patty. Patty learned about sex by watching her mother, and learned most of her other behaviors in the same manner as well: "I'm just like her. Anything my mother did, I did it. The way she walks, I can walk. The way she talks, I can talk. I just wanted to be like my mother all my life," (Dash 179).

Still early in her childhood, Patty was having significant trouble at school; she dropped out after fourth grade, and had still never learned how to read. Essentially, Patty grew-up in an environment in which drug abuse, illiteracy, and prostitution were the norm. Although witnessing these events is quite likely to have caused Patty significant psychological damage, her particular mechanism for coping with the troubles of her childhood was through identifying with her mother. So although she was, in all likelihood, damaged cognitively by being introduced to sex and drugs at such an early age, it is also likely that the most influential feature of her life was the desire to be like her mother. In other words, the particular coping mechanism she employed to survive also tended to amplify the impact of the negative influences surrounding her life. So, in Patty's case, it was not simply that she was forced to endure a difficult childhood and, as a result, had her cognitive development stalled; her desire to be like her mother caused her to not place any value upon schooling and, instead, she placed a higher value upon the type of "survival" that her mother's life epitomized.

One of the key effects of being raised in a household where prostitution and substance abuse are prevalent is that the young children often find that they are forced into more adult roles earlier than they otherwise may have been. Essentially, with the adult role models abusing drugs and often behaving in an irresponsible or immature manner, the child is sometimes forced to act as the pseudo-mature caregiver for the adult. In Patty's case, this first occurred when her mother asked her to have sex for money when she was just eleven years old. Patty's response to the request indicates the extent to which this phenomenon was taking place in Rosa Lee's household. When asked if she would go through with it, Patty said, "Yeah, I want to help you," (Dash 182). Importantly, it was not that Patty wanted the money herself, or that she necessarily wanted to become a prostitute; instead, Patty wanted to assume a more responsible role within the household and, with her mother as her role model, the way to accomplish this was by selling herself for sex.

Of all the criminally deviant behaviors few are as widespread, occur as routinely, or possess as long a history as prostitution. Yet it has often been noted that prostitution fails to fit the typical mold of what it is to be a crime: "A fundamental characteristic of behavior that is determined to be criminal is that its performance creates a victim, an entity that suffers harm or the deprivation of something to which the entity has a legal right," (Brown 625). Accordingly, it is not altogether clear precisely who the victim is in instances of prostitution. The obvious answer would be that the prostitute is the victim; however, this is not straightforwardly true in any situation where legal adults make decisions concerning sexual activity. Essentially, if the prostitute is a victim, it is easier to argue that the structure of society is the perpetrator than the john. This is because the social status of the prostitute may be something that he or she possesses little or no power over, while the nature of the transaction with the john may be mutually agreed upon. Yet because of the legal status of prostitution, the act itself becomes a feature of social deviance: those who engage in it are forced to decide whether or not to willingly break the law, and accordingly, whether or not they will break a common moral maxim.

Nevertheless, in cases like Patty's, where she was forced into a more adult role well before becoming a legal adult, prostitution becomes most detrimental because it becomes a feature of the child's life during their development. Accordingly, the child comes to identify prostitution as a fundamental aspect of life, and their individual interpretation of what sex, drug abuse, and adulthood are becomes increasingly skewed as physical maturity eventually arrives.

Prostitution itself was not the direct cause of Patty's later substance abuse, but it certainly was a proximate cause. The act became, for her and her mother, a symptom of their general economic depravity, and by sharing this burden, they became closer to one another. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that Patty became her mother's favorite child; this bond extended to everything Patty perceived to be adult -- including heroin: "Patty learned about drugs the same way she learned about sex. By watching," (Dash 185). Rosa expresses the regret that if she had not sold and done drugs, then her children never would have either; she also feels that if she had never turned to prostitution, her children never would have either. Nevertheless, she points out that, for her, she felt that she really had no choice; as a result, she was incapable of preventing Patty from making the same choices and taking the same path with her life.

Essentially, even those who take the hardest stance against prostitution upon the grounds of legal rights, are forced to fall back on the notion that it is more of a symptom indicating deeply seeded social woes than a legitimate crime: "Some regard it as the worst and most… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Rosa Lee of All the Individuals Examined.  (2007, January 5).  Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/rosa-lee-individuals-examined/7246657

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