The truly amazing thing about Tonier "Neen" Cain isn't that she got her life together, though that's epically impressive in and of itself. As the oldest of nine brothers and sisters in Annapolis' Clay Street community, from the age of 9 Cain lived as the de facto protector while her alcoholic and abusive mother was absent, passed out, or otherwise occupied. Rapes at the hands of her mother's male friends started, and even after social services placed Cain and her siblings with relatives, Cain herself turned to alcohol and drugs, eventually leading to 83 arrests and 66 convictions--for prostitution, possession, etc.--and a life of addiction, 19 years of homelessness, and a stint in the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women in Jessup. As recently as 2004, Cain was an inmate pregnant with her second child and looking for any way to realign her life.
She did, and today Cain is a team leader for the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care, a program funded by the National Center for Mental Health Services. And as recounted in Healing Neen, the documentary on Cain's life, directed by Laura Cain (no relation) and presented by the Maryland Disability Law Center, Cain hasn't just righted her life--she's dedicated it to helping adult victims of childhood abuse in efforts to heal their lives too. And that's what so stunning about Cain--not only all she's overcome, but that she's chosen to relive it day after day during her testimonial presentations before mental health care service providers and women's prison inmates. Cain's chosen job is publicly confronting her own past to help others envision a better future.
It's a remarkable story, but do note that this succinct, 55-minute documentary doesn't try to oversell the uplift. By telling Cain's story, the documentary advocates for trauma-informed care--identified by the NMHIC as an emerging strategy for mental health and allied human services for "every part of its organization, management, and service delivery system is assessed and potentially modified to include a basic understanding of how trauma impacts the life of an individual seeking services"--and trots out a disarming number of statistics regarding childhood trauma and incident rates for adult problems. The doc talks about the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, a joint venture between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permamente that investigates the relationships between childhood trauma and later health issues and behaviors in life. The ACE Study generates a score from 1-9 according to childhood experiences. Cain reported exposures to all 9 categories.
As such, parts of Healing Neen, though, are difficult to watch: Cain casually talks about living with her relatives--where she first learned to clean herself after using the bathroom, basic hygiene one of many things her mother never taught her kids--discovering crack, living under a bridge, and, as a teenager, being asked by her mother to marry a man so that they would have a place to live. Cain runs through these incidents fearlessly and empathetically, which is more than likely one of the main reasons she's able to get women inmates to open up to her, on camera, and talk about the lives that led them to Jessup.
And just as Cain's unflappable belief in the possibility of getting better might be what makes her so trustworthy to the women she speaks to, Cain's unimpeachable inner strength is what keeps Healing Neen from being too much to bear. You only have to hear about it; she lived it. And by all appearances in the documentary, Tonier Cain has only just begun to live her life.