Campus: Fullerton - May 21, 2007

Ex-Con Slams Out Past

CSUF Student Turns Life Around, Her Graduation Day Nears

It started with one line. That’s all it took to hook Denise Maupin on cocaine. She was 12 when she took that first hit on Christmas Eve.

“There was this big stabbing,” Maupin said, recalling that unforgettable night more than two decades ago when her mother was snorting cocaine to ease her pain. “The guy who was stabbed was a friend of my mother’s, and she and her boyfriend offered me the coke.”

Maupin had moved in with her mother that year, 1984, leaving her dad in Washington, because she wanted to come to Hollywood and become a “Solid Gold” dancer. But, instead of dancing, she started smoking and drinking and became a drug addict. Along the way, she was abused — emotionally and mentally — and sexually exploited. A boyfriend was shot dead in a gang brawl. A gang member herself, she dropped out of school at 13 and worked two jobs to help score cocaine that she shared with her mother.

“I was my mother’s home girl, not her daughter,” Maupin said, adding that by age 14, she was suicidal. “I was really screwed up, real destructive, and I hated my mother.”

In an effort to exit the party life, she left her mother’s home, was placed in group and foster homes, but her insatiable drug habit lead her to criminal behavior, mostly burglaries and drug possession, that landed her in jail 23 times. An attempted suicide put her in a psychiatric ward for a few days, and she was homeless in Hollywood for a while.

Her last trip to prison, in 1998, got recorded as her second strike. One more offense and she faced a life sentence. That’s when she decided some profound changes were in order.

Today, Maupin, mother of two boys and two girls, is preparing to don a cap and gown and receive her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Cal State Fullerton with a B+ grade point average. She will participate in commencement exercises Saturday, May 19.

“Denise has added value to every class she has taken with me,” said Eileen Walsh, lecturer in sociology. “Her perspective is unusual, her persistence admirable, and her insights are creative and disciplined.”

Taking stock of her accomplishments on a recent day, Maupin said: “I never imagined I’d be here. I really didn’t want to do life in prison so I got into the 12-step Cocaine Anonymous program eight years ago, and I learned that I didn’t have to live the way I was living, and I’ve been sober ever since.”

Living in Long Beach with her 4-year-old son, Maupin volunteers as a speaker at drug rehabilitation centers and events, telling her story of redemption, recovery and resilience.

“Only an ex-criminal, ex-gang member and ex-addict can tell other addicts, gang members and criminals how to get out of that life without getting killed,” Maupin said. “I tell them not everybody from the hood is useless, and if I could change my life around, anybody can.”

The 35-year-old, of African and Italian descent, now recalls a sunny morning when she was 16. She was homeless and washing up on the Los Angeles City College campus, when she spotted a group of students studying under a tree.

“I remember thinking that’s nice, but the thought never crossed my mind that I could ever be a college student,” Maupin said. “Then, last fall, I was sitting under a tree waiting for my study group and tears came to my eyes. I still can’t believe I’m here. This is where I’m at now. I got through a lot of obstacles to get here. I used to think I just had nothing to offer in life, but now I think I’m going to be big someday. I’m going to make a difference and be somebody, and you’re going to remember me when I’m done.”

Maupin has been accepted and will begin studying for her master’s degree in sociology at Cal State Fullerton in the fall. After completion, she plans to go on to law school.

“Denise is a great example of perseverance,” said John Reid, coordinator of the Student Diversity Program. “She has really come a long way, overcoming arduous life barriers that most people accept as failure, but that she’s turned into success.”

Contacts: Mimi Ko Cruz, Public Affairs, 714-278-7586, mkocruz@fullerton.edu


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