Seniesa didn't see him for months. Then, when she was about 3, she began asking for her father.
Seniesa saw a bare floor, a mattress in a corner of the living room, covered with a few blankets. She met pushers, junkies and street gangsters. Some had enemies, and they were turning her old home into a death trap. Once, when she was not there, an addict was killed on the front steps.
Joe tried to protect her. When she came to visit, he told his housemates to put away their drugs and guns. He gave them a few bucks, told them to leave, go buy some pizza. Nobody, he said, was to let anything happen to his little girl.
But he couldn't bring himself to change, even for her.
One day, when Seniesa was not around, he asked himself: Why on earth go on? He couldn't find an answer.
He slumped into a chair, determined to stop the pain.
He put a chalky chunk of heroin into a spoon with a dab of water and heated it with a match until it bubbled. He plunged a needle into the crook of his arm, pushed on the syringe and let the concoction smooth through his body.
He would forever feel the shame. As the heroin enveloped him in its warmth, he saw an image of his little girl, in a floppy white hat with a rose on top, just like the one she wore in his favorite photograph. He felt heartbreak. But he wasn't done. He stumbled into the bathroom and shot up again, knowing well that a second dose might be enough to kill him.
Two junkie roommates found him. They filled the bathtub with water and ice. They dumped him into it, pulled him out, slapped him, propped him up and walked him in circles on the living room floor.
He slept, then woke, sore, spent and thankful to be alive. He had to leave, flee, straighten out. He needed his family back. Needed his little angel.
For months, he lived like a stray dog, with anyone who would take him in. He slept on couches, in cars. He holed up in a studio apartment on a run-down street near the clanking East L.A. train yards.
His brother, Seniesa's Uncle Rick, took him to church. Even before the sermons, Joe was in the bathroom, snorting coke.
Finally, one night, he sat on his bed in his dim room, all alone. He knew that if he did not stop drugging, he would lose his kids, lose his life, lose Seniesa forever.
He opened his black leather-bound Bible to John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son "
God did this for me, sacrificed his child, Joe told himself, in wonderment. For me, a crook and an addict. Even with all the unspeakable pain I've caused. Even I can be forgiven.
He felt hair rising on his arms and on the back of his neck. He stood up from the bed, feet planted firmly in the gray carpet. He clutched the Bible to his chest with both hands.
Please, Jesus, help me,
he prayed. I know you are there, just show me. He fell to his knees, tears rolling from his eyes. His words and what was happening became etched in his mind. I just want my family back. I just want forgiveness for the things I have done. I just want to prove that I am a good man.