Courtesy of Melinda Chamberlain

Mrs. Chamberlain and her father at a young age

…to have your dad be in the drug cartel

In 1980, my dad moved to the United States from Colombia. He, his six siblings, and his mother thought there were more opportunities in the US, and decided to make the life-changing move.

My dad did not speak English or have any real education, so he was only able to find random jobs, such as working in restaurants. 

My mother was working as a waitress at a restaurant in the Marriott Hotel in Schaumburg in the early 1980s, right after my dad had immigrated. My dad became a busboy, and apparently he and my mom had some sort of connection. 

My parents began dating and were together for 1-2 years before my mom got pregnant with me. They decided to get married at the courthouse before I was born.

I was born in November of 1985, and during this time my dad was in the thick of being involved in the Colombian drug cartel. Aside from making a lot of money, my dad also liked to do cocaine himself. My mom says that she was in the delivery room with me alone when I was born because my dad was doing lines of cocaine in the waiting room at the hospital.

My dad would take a flight to New York every few weeks, get the cocaine, and fly it back to Illinois by putting cocaine in his luggage or carrying it on his body.

This lasted for a few years until my dad met a man (I have never known his name) who became a good friend of his. They started partying, doing drugs, and selling drugs together. My mom said she always had a bad feeling about him and didn’t trust him, but my dad didn’t want to listen to her words of caution.

In the end, my dad’s new friend was actually an undercover DEA agent. He had purposely befriended my dad so that he could eventually take my dad down for being a drug dealer. 

On the day my dad got arrested, he had just dealt the largest amount of cocaine he had ever sold at one time. It was the agent’s idea for my dad to sell that much cocaine at once, to get my dad into more trouble. 

Once the deal had gone through, the agent pulled out a gun on my dad to arrest him. My dad fought back and wrestled with the agent, pulling the agent’s gun away and pointing it at him. 

My dad was arrested, and my mom did not hear from him for 2 days until he was allowed to call her from Cook County Jail. 

Those memories of feeling abandoned and scared have stayed with me until this day and I am 34 years old.

— Melinda Chamberlain

My dad was sentenced to 7 years in prison but got out in 5 due to good behavior. He not only was found guilty for dealing large amounts of cocaine but was also charged for attacking an officer. 

Devastated, my mom sank into a deep depression and drank a lot. I remember her sitting in the dark at our dining room table, drinking vodka, and just crying and crying.

I was only 4 or 5, but I remember feeling extremely sad because I didn’t understand why my mom was always upset and why she couldn’t take care of me. 

When my dad was released, I was 7 years old. The only memories I had of him at that point were from visiting him in jail. 

After prison, my dad became an alcoholic and started taking drugs again. He even admitted to bringing me on drug deals with him.

My parents were always fighting, and I even saw them in a fistfight once. I was so incredibly scared that it made me sick to my stomach.

While my mom was at work, my dad was supposed to take care of me, feed me, and get me ready for school. Sometimes, when I was in Kindergarten, he would be passed out on the couch and I would not be able to wake him up. I wanted to go to school, so I would call one of my aunts at work to come and pick me up. 

When I was 7, my aunt and uncle became my legal guardians. This decision was made right after my parents started the divorce process and I was with my dad when he had an overdose. I remember being so excited to get away from both my mom and my dad because I just wanted to be normal like all the other kids my age.

Those memories of feeling abandoned and scared have stayed with me until this day and I am 34 years old. Those memories have shaped who I am as an adult, an educator, and who I am as a mother to my own two sons.

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