‘Bigamist hubby stole my money and left me with kids – so I started drug empire’
I grew up as one of six children in a devout Catholic family in the USA.
I did everything I was supposed to: I went to church, and studied hard.
After college I climbed the corporate ladder as a business analyst and landed a management job at a data communications company in Georgia – the first woman in that role.
But sexism was rife and male colleagues made my life a misery – except Gary.
He had my back and we became friends.
But when he wanted to start dating I hesitated.
He’d told me he was divorced with a young daughter, and I didn’t want him if he was on the rebound.
After he reassured me, I eventually gave in. ‘Christine, I’m ready to move on… with you.’
We married in 1991 and our family was complete when our daughter Megan and sons Walter and Alex were born.
I was totally in love.
Little did I know a nightmare was secretly unravelling.
Fast-forward to 2005.
We’d just returned to our Kentucky home after 10 wonderful years in Amsterdam where I’d been working for a US telecoms company.
Gary had seemed happy being a house husband, and I’d manged to save a million dollars in my business account.
I was proud of my success and I thought he was too.
But just before Christmas when I was talking about investing some of my earnings, he just stared at me.
‘There is no money,’ he said coldly.
‘If you want it you’ll have to beg for it.’
I struggled to breathe as I realised he’d spent all my money and our marriage had been a lie.
All he’d wanted was to control me.
Looking back, I think he was so full of self-loathing that he couldn’t stand the fact I’d loved and trusted him.
Sobbing, I rang my mother and told her what he’d done.
‘Christine, you just have to make this work with Gary,’ she said sharply.
Hysterical, I cried, ‘He’s left me penniless, how do you make that work?’ I’d been betrayed by my husband and now my family were siding with him.
I felt humiliated, stupid and abandoned by those who I thought loved me.
I filed for divorce and the court ordered Gary to leave our home while I fought for custody of the kids.
Only then did I discover the depth of his deceit.
In the garage, under a tarpaulin, I found my business filing cabinet, which had ‘disappeared’.
I trembled with anger at the discovery he’d put my business in his name and siphoned my money into accounts in different countries.
But then my lawyer dropped another bombshell: Gary was still married to his first wife.
His betrayal was so horrifying I didn’t know how I’d recover.
But my priority now was the children.
I wanted to get away from him, so I fled to California with the kids and stayed with my brother Joe.
Gary stopped paying child support and gave up his fight for custody.
When the divorce came through in 2007 it was the beginning of more hell.
The economy was collapsing and I couldn’t get a job.
I relied on welfare and would do people’s taxes in return for live chickens I had to kill for food.
That’s when I suggested to Joe – a single dad – that we start our own cannabis business.
In California you’re allowed to grow 12 plants for personal use, and there was nothing to stop me selling it commercially, although it was technically illegal.
I had rules: it was going to be non-profit, purely for medical purposes, there’d be no black market dealing, and we’d pay our taxes.
I persuaded local doctors to suggest sick patients who might benefit from medical cannabis.
But the town where we live is very poor, so I ended up providing a lot of it for free to those who couldn’t afford it.
How could I not?
Just as I was beginning to get back a little self-respect, I was betrayed again – by Joe.
I walked in on him selling cannabis to drug dealers and lost my temper.
He was furious and threw me out on the street that night, shouting, ‘My house, my rules!’
Homeless and penniless, I slept on friends’ sofas or in my truck.
Megan and Walter were still at Joe’s.
He’d changed the locks and tried to stop me from talking to them.
Alex was with me and we had to snatch time with his brother and sister, meeting secretly in the park.
I sold everything I owned online just to survive… and even thought about suicide.
As I hit rock bottom my mother suddenly decided to help and give me money
to rent a place of our own.
My own hell had opened my eyes to a whole underclass of people barely existing, so I’d got involved in activism, joining the Occupy movement against social inequality.
I went on marches dressed as a nun – a sort of dare from my kids – and called myself Sister Occupy.
But then strangers started telling me how much they related to my story and
said I should start my own new age religion.
I literally had nothing to lose, so I thought, ‘Why not?’
It felt good getting rid of Christine and becoming Sister Kate.
I donned the nun’s habit for real and founded the Sisters Of The Valley.
My dream was to empower women like myself, who’d had a rough path in life, to run their own business – producing medicinal cannabis oil to help the sick.
Although we look like nuns we don’t follow any religion, we are a sisterhood purely in the spiritual sense.
Ours is a simple life.
We have our own rituals – like harvesting the crop according to moon cycles – and special vows, including ‘privatising our sexuality’; it’s not celibacy, it just means we don’t talk about sex and relationships.
We produced our first batch of Sisters Of The Valley Cannabis Oil (CBH) and salve in 2014 and we sell all over the world from our online shop.
The business is worth $5 million now, but that’s not the most important thing to us – our goal is world domination, and we’ve recently started franchises in Australia, Brazil and the UK.
The sisters all get paid a salary, and like me, most of them have been wounded by their families and don’t have contact with them, although I do now talk to my mum, who’s nearly 90.
For us, the sisterhood is our real family.
My kids kept me going and they’ve turned out to be great human beings.
Megan, now 24, and Walter, 27, have their own careers and visit me every month.
Alex, 26, works in the business, where he met his partner, Sister Evie, and they’ve just made me grandma to twins!
A couple of years ago I clawed back a fraction of the money Gary stole from me – I’m still fighting him for the rest – and bought the Sisters Of The Valley farm.
We’ve nicknamed it The Garden of Weeden!
When I think how I’ve managed to survive and start this new crazy life, I’m really proud.
As for Christine, she’s long gone.
She was the woman everyone cr*pped on.
No one messes with Sister Kate.
– Breaking Habits (a film about Sister Kate and the Sisters of the Valley) is out now on Digital platforms.
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