MC student overcame effects of poverty, at-risk youth and prison; helps others do the sameApril 04, 2024

The image to use for this article. Listing image managed through RSS tab. Audrey Licon (headshot)

When Audrey Licon was 2 years old, her parents divorced, and for the next 10 years, she was raised by her alcoholic father who was a musician, playing at bars in various Texas cities, mainly Odessa.  Because there was no one else at home to care for the children, the father took Licon and her older brother to work with him. Licon learned to drive at a young age because many times the children would have to drive home from the bars since their father was too inebriated to get behind the wheel of a car.

“We should have been asleep at those hours,” she said. “Despite being out until past midnight, we would get up the next day and get ourselves to school. 

“It was hard during those years. We often had no food and no transportation. We didn’t have a washing machine, so I remember washing our clothes in the bathtub.

“Child Protective Services came to see us at school constantly. I guess one of the teachers or the principal reported us. However, we were too afraid to tell them anything. My father told us not to talk to them.” 

When Licon was in grade school in Odessa, she suffered a hairline fracture on her spine due to an accident on the school bus. Her father didn’t take her to the hospital right away, so she lay on their living room floor for two weeks in extreme pain until the neighbors finally contacted her mother, who lived in Big Spring. Licon was subsequently taken to the hospital and underwent emergency surgery to remove a cyst that formed on her spine. 

When Licon was 12, she moved in with her mother. Then, for a time as a young teen, she was in the foster care program and lived at Methodist Children’s Home in Waco.

Life continued to be a struggle. She eventually moved back to Big Spring and dropped out of high school. In 1997, she received a high school equivalent diploma (GED®). She enrolled in Howard College, but only took classes for two months.

“I was young and naïve; I didn’t think I needed to attend college,” Licon explained. “So, I moved to Austin and started working for Dell Computers in the warehouse. I did fairly well and worked my way up to returns manager.”

In 2001, she moved to Houston and started working as a bartender, mainly in strip clubs. One night, a customer followed her home and sexually assaulted her. The two got into an altercation, and Licon managed to grab the gun he was carrying and shot him. She was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, put in Harris County Jail and eventually sent to prison in Dayton, TX, for three years.

“That messed up my life,” she explained. “I was released and put on probation, but once you have a criminal record, it’s hard to find employment and get your life back. I pretty much gave up on myself and earned a living by selling illegal drugs. I was arrested again and sent back to prison.

“While I was in prison the second time, I decided it was useless feeling sorry for myself. I needed to do something productive. By then, I was in my early 40s. I had messed up my life, but I could still find ways to help people. So, I started taking care of the younger women. Many of them were addicts and had lost their children. They needed someone to listen to them—to know that someone cared. I prevented people from bullying them and gave them my extra stamps so they could stay in contact with their families. I guess I took on the role of ‘dorm mother.’

“I learned that most of them had spent their childhood and youth much like I had. They lived in poverty and dropped out of school. That’s when I realized that the only key to getting rid of incarceration is through education. I made up my mind that when I finally got out of prison, I would go back to college and work toward a degree where I could help at-risk children and youth so they wouldn’t end up in prison. In fact, one reason I never had children of my own is because I didn’t want them to go through what I did.”

Licon was released from prison in 2021 and moved back to Big Spring. In fall 2022, she enrolled at Midland College and is working toward an Associate of Applied Science degree in Substance Abuse Counseling coupled with a certificate in Business. She receives financial assistance for tuition and fees through the Frances Brown Scholarship, one of many donor-directed scholarships that Midland College has available for qualifying students.

“Audrey is an amazing student!” Stephanie Shelton, MC professor of Substance Abuse Counseling, said. “She drives from Big Spring, attends classes consistently and has amazing input for class discussions.  Audrey’s background was very trying and difficult, but she found ways to cope and improve herself. Her writing skills and knowledge base have improved drastically while taking the courses at MC. She is very compassionate about helping others and completing her education. She has received a well-deserved scholarship. I look for her to do great things in this field.”   

This summer and fall, Licon will complete the 300 practicum hours required for substance abuse counselors through various organizations, including Midland County Drug Court, PermiaCare, and The Springboard Center. In December, she will graduate and said that she plans to eventually pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work with the ultimate goal of joining a non-profit organization that helps at-risk youth or starting one herself.

“Getting a degree in Substance Abuse Counseling is so important to me,” she said. “I saw the effects that alcohol had on my father and everyone around him. It’s like a spider web with the addict being in the center of the web and everyone else getting caught in that same web.”

Currently, Licon works full-time at Devour restaurant in downtown Big Spring across from the historic Hotel Settles. She started working at another restaurant in Big Spring when she was first released from prison in 2021, and the owners took notice of her strong work ethic and customer service skills. When they opened Devour about two years ago, they asked Licon to help them create the drink menu at the new restaurant.

She said she has very little spare time between going to classes, doing homework and working at Devour, but when she does, she just enjoys relaxing and watching movies. She also relishes family time with her mother and niece.

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