By Nona Tepper
The last time Maui Jones saw his mother he had a gun to his head.
Jones, then-18 and living in River Forest, came downstairs to ask his mom for a ride to his first acting gig. When he reached the basement, he saw his mom, Marian Hatcher, hopped up on drugs. His stepdad put a gun to his head and told him: "Don't you come back to this house. If you ever come back, I'll kill you."
Shortly after that, Hatcher disappeared.
Today, Marian Hatcher says she's lived a life that most people make documentaries about (in fact, she's featured on Oprah's documentary series Prostitution: Leaving the Life). Former President Barack Obama awarded her the 2016 Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteer Service. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) recently mentioned Hatcher in a speech for Black History Month. In the Congressional Record, Durbin brags: "Marian Hatcher is a sort of modern-day Moses. Like Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, she knows the pain and despair that comes from being bought and sold like a commodity."
Hatcher disappeared nearly 17 years ago, abandoning her children, husband and corporate job to prostitute herself on the streets in order to buy crack cocaine.
As a child, Hatcher was sexually abused. She repressed the memory and graduated from Proviso East High School, went on to study finance at Loyola University, and later became a corporate accountant with 25 people working under her. But she was attracted to smart men with criminal tendencies. She married a member of the Vice Lords gang who beat her, and she used crack to ease the pain.
"When she disappeared, and when things went bad, they didn't just go bad for her, it went bad for all of us," said her son Maui Jones, 37, of Forest Park.
Jones grew up bouncing between suburbs, attending Emerson Elementary School in Maywood then attending Oak Park and River Forest High School. An Oak Park family, the Hennings, let Jones and his siblings stay with them during Jones' high school years, bound by a connection through his grandmother's church. Eventually Hatcher's drug use got her kicked out of the Hennings' basement, and Jones' siblings moved back in with their grandpa George in Maywood. Jones was allowed to stay with the Hennings so he could continue attending OPRF.
"I was a pretty quiet kid growing up, passive, afraid of the world," Jones said. "It was in that house in Oak Park that I learned to find my voice, to be outgoing, come out of my shell."
Until junior year of high school, Jones said he had no friends. But after a year with the Hennings, Jones was suddenly popular. He performed for his new friends, stopped attending school, started drinking and smoking weed, and wondered: "Does anything matter?"
His chaotic home life, combined with racial under-representation in school, caused his grades to fall. Eventually, behavioral issues led the Hennings to ask Jones to leave their home, too. He moved in with his mom in River Forest and had almost finished his senior year at OPRF when Hatcher's husband put that gun to his head.
As Jones departed, he turned to his mom and said, "I can't see you anymore."
Jones inherited a love of theater from his mother but he abandoned his dreams of studying film in college and joined his siblings in Maywood, dropping out of OPRF and getting a full-time job to help support his family. He earned his GED and worked a series of dead-end jobs, struggling with depression.
"What must have been wrong with me that she doesn't want to be here?" he wondered after his mother's disappearance.
After Jones left, Hatcher abandoned the suburban home to live in rundown buildings and alleys. She was trafficked, and her pimp gave her extra crack on Mother's Day because she cried so much for the children she left behind.
In 2004, Hatcher was arrested for violating probation related to a drug charge and sentenced to 120 days in the Cook County Jail's Women's Justice Services, which offered her mental health treatment and substance abuse recovery. When she entered the program, Hatcher didn't think she was addicted. After graduating and reflecting on her childhood trauma, she felt renewed determination to stay clean and reconnect with her kids.
"I had to heal in terms of the trauma I experienced, and the loss of material possessions, trust of family," Hatcher said. "I was elevated and empowered under the current sheriff [Tom Dart], and obviously he is in my heart forever. He gave me a second chance not only to be employable, but to be all I could be."
For six months, Hatcher returned to the jail every day to volunteer with incarcerated women until the Sheriff's Department eventually hired her. When Jones saw her commit to her Narcotics Anonymous group, support other abused women, and keep her promises, he reached out to her, looking for advice.
One night, after an exhausting 13-hour workday, he felt burned out and complained to her that he hated the long hours, but finding a normal, 9 to 5 gig would be nearly impossible for him since he lacked a high school diploma.
"Nearly impossible is different than impossible," Hatcher replied.
Jones found a job as an interpretation coordinator, and followed his mother's lead in getting more involved in Forest Park — spearheading the sanctuary city drive last year — and launching his own Oak Park-based nonprofit Echo Theater, dedicated to social justice causes. Their production of Blues for Mister Charlie will debut on May 12.
"I struggled through adulthood for a long time, but seeing her come back and then redefine her life, and not just live it but thrive in it, that inspired my second chapter," Jones said.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart also noticed Hatcher's transformation. After a series of promotions, Dart named her senior project manager for the Office of Public Policy as well as the human trafficking coordinator. Hatcher now shares her story nationally as a way to raise awareness about the plight of human trafficking, supports victims, and helps craft national legislation. Jones and Hatcher will be together for a talk, "Second Chapters: An Evening with Rev. Dr. Marian Hatcher and Maui Jones" at Live Café, 161 S. Oak Park Ave, in April.
"I've seen who she was, I've seen her at her lowest, I've seen her pick up her pieces and put it back together and change her action in quiet ways, like helping me out if I was in a bind," Jones said. "So while I never got the movie mother-son moment, I realized I didn't need that. She works her ass off every day to show how she's changed. While I'm sometimes overflowing with words, she's overflowing with action. You hold onto that."
This story has been updated to reflect that Marian Hatcher went missing about 17 years ago and that their talk is in April.