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The family lived in a green two-bedroom apartment in a rough, working-class neighborhood at NW Seventh Avenue and Sixth Street, near the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The girls shared one bedroom, mom slept solo in the other, and the boys crashed on weathered couches in the living room.
They couldn't afford to go out much, so Saturday nights were spent playing jacks. On Sundays, they would walk a few blocks to Mount Calvary Baptist Church, a white building with a faded cross, black security bars at the entrance, and missing letters on the welcome sign.
When times got tough, they prayed. "If we didn't have the money to pay an electric bill, we'd praise God," Monroe says. "And he would provide it."
Home with siblings one day as a 10-year-old, Monroe climbed up to the stove and began "boilin' some water for a hot dog." As it steamed, she slipped, knocked it over, and scalded her forearm. It sizzled and scarred, but Mom wasn't home to comfort her.
At age 16, she dropped out of Coconut Creek High and went to live with her aunt in the ranching town of Guthrie, Oklahoma. There she joined the Job Corps and studied to become a nurse. Monroe describes her adolescent self as a Rev. Adam Clayton Powell in the making. "I had a great deal of compassion," she says. "To me, the hospital was like church."
Two years later, in 1976, she was visiting her family in Pompano Beach when she passed her beefy, good-natured father's red and white one-story house. He was in the driver's seat of his green pickup truck, leaning against the window. She figured he was taking a catnap. "Something told me to turn around," she says. So she swung the car back toward her dad's place, pulled over, and playfully grabbed his ear, expecting him to jump. But he was cold. He didn't move.
His mouth was twisted and his eyes rolled back. She screamed. When she learned he had died from a stroke, she moved home. "I was scared that if I left again, my mama would be next."
In her 20s, she dated a tall neighborhood mechanic whose name she doesn't like to mention and had her only son, Todd, who would later become Terry's father. She says she was "called to ministry in 1991" and joined the South Florida-based International Men and Women's Christian Fellowship, a nonprofit that offers seminars on Christianity and advocates prayer in school. Then she became a freelance evangelical preacher and youth pastor.
But trouble was brewing. At 8 p.m. June 10, 1992, City of Miami narcotics cops "were conducting surveillance" at NW 13th Avenue and 67th Street, according to a police report. They spotted Monroe, dressed in gray, exit a silver Datsun and approach a man with gold plaid pants. He waited outside a dilapidated hotel and then gave her "six plastic bags" of cocaine, all with small blue dots printed on the back. She stuffed them into her bra. Officers called for backup, noting she "was big" and "could be a male."
According to court documents, when authorities confronted her, she told them: "Yeah, I bought the stuff" and was then arrested for possession of cocaine. The case was dropped in exchange for her participation in a Miami-Dade drug rehab program. "She has a positive attitude and acts as a role model," one counselor wrote.
Monroe contends it was a friend who purchased the cocaine and that she never had a drug problem. "It was a social thing," she says. The close call seemed to draw her closer to the church. But more serious charges were still ahead.
On Terry's first day of life, he nearly died. Doctors rushed the premature two-pound 13-ounce baby to the intensive care unit at Broward General Hospital, where they hooked him up to a breathing machine and pushed tubes into his raisin-size nose. His twin brother, Todd Jr., also ungodly tiny, was put through the same regimen.
"If the monitor stops beeping," men in lab coats told the twins' teenage mother, Nicole Little, "he won't make it."
She broke down. "I used to cry just looking at Terry," Little says. "He could fit in the palm of my hand." Little was then a slender 18-year-old club kid with Naomi Campbell cheekbones.
After a series of tense blood transfusions and three months of tearful episodes, Terry and Todd Jr. came home to Monroe's place. The only clothes Terry fit into were blue and white striped Cabbage Patch doll pajamas. "Some people say twins is double trouble," Monroe likes to say. "But the Lord gave us a double blessin.'"
The boys' father, Todd Durham, says he had admired Little, who is two years older, from afar at Blanche Ely High. "She was one of the popular, pretty girls," he says. "She didn't know I had a big crush." Todd was a quiet but cocksure kid who spent time tinkering with computers and "was into partying." The pair met at a car wash in Pompano Beach.
After the twins were born, they moved in with Monroe and "lived like a married couple" for a short period, Durham says, though they never officially wed.