Sharona Smith shuffles into a small conference room on the south side of the Repairers of the Breach center in early September. As a four-foot-tall black woman who speaks little, Sharona has a shockingly vibrant personality.
She timidly maintains a smile as she grabs a chair, sits down, folds her hands and places them on a table in front of her. She is wearing a black sweatshirt and her hair is pulled back in braids.
Sharona, 34, is an alumni of the shelter. Although she has a place to stay, she still comes to Repairers almost every Saturday to volunteer her time for the organization, which she says is her home.
As the interview begins, she speaks with a quiet, subdued tone. She gives little more than a few, direct words to each of the questions. But once asked about how important the shelter has been to her, she becomes energized.
“This is my family here,” Sharona says, raising her voice. “I will go crazy if this place ever closes down. I don’t know what I will do.”
Sharona first came to Repairers in the summer of 2011, brought to the organization on the advice of her mother. At the time, she was moving from home to home with her infant daughter, Millie. By September of 2011, she was living with her daughter’s father, Littleton Jackson.
On Sept. 25, police found Millie’s body at Jackson’s Kilbourn apartment. The child was brutally beaten, with bite marks on her face and neck, fractured ribs and a bleeding rectum. She was 11 months and 8 days old.
Jackson was taken into custody and charged with first-degree intentional homicide. In March of 2012, Jackson was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without a chance of parole, according to court records.
After Jackson’s conviction, Sharona’s life continued to fall into turmoil.
She stopped going to Repairers, again moving from home to home. Eventually, she found herself in Chicago without a place to stay.
“I was homeless,” Sharona says bluntly, her voice quiet and flat. “I stayed in sheds and in cars.”
Sharona slowly describes the difficult details of her homelessness, looking down at the table in front of her and slowly sweeping across its surface with her hand.
“I used to eat out of the garbage cans—eat pizza out of the garbage cans,” she said. “I would wash up with water and soap in a bucket. I slept in abandoned buildings and open-door garages.”
Sharona returned to Milwaukee on March 17 “for good.” She went back to Repairers, joining the choir and taking part in some of the activities for the organization’s members. Eventually Sharona found a place to stay with the father of her other daughter.
Her other daughter, Shaniah, is now 7 years old and in foster care. Sharona says Shaniah does not know that she ever had a little sister.
Sharona explains that her life now seems to be stabilizing. She moved into her own place and regularly volunteers at Repairers.
Her mental health, however, is still recovering. Sharona explains that she is undergoing therapy and counseling every week at St. Francis Hospital. She says she was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia, which was brought about as a result of her daughter’s death.
Despite the counseling, Sharona explains her emotional state is not improving. She says she has difficulty trusting other people because of the murder of her daughter.
Repairers of the Breach, though, provides a helpful outlet for her.
“It makes me focused,” she says, smiling. “They talk to me and make me laugh. They tell me ‘you’re a good person.’”
Sharona says it was MacCanon Brown who has been the most important person during her recovery.
“Every meeting she went to at Repairers, she called me to come too,” Sharona says. “I had not spoken in a while after my baby’s death. But she told me to come.”
Again Sharona repeats, “This is my family. I wouldn’t dare leave this place.”
“MacCanon can count on me to do anything,” Sharona says. “I’m busy. I got things to do. But I’m never too busy for her.”
On top of taking part in Repairers’ choir, Sharona volunteered to manage the laundry, monitor hall traffic, and speak to Marquette students about her experiences while she was homeless.
“I love helping people. I love these people,” she says. Sharona explains that she will continue to volunteer at the shelter for a long time.
“When I get really tired, then I’ll quit,” she says. “But if I’m not tired, then I will keep going and going and going.” Sharona pauses after each “going” to place emphasis on her dedication.
“Until He’s ready for me to stop—,” she pauses, pointing toward the ceiling. “If He ain’t ready for me to stop, then I’ll keep going.”