October 1999
By Marilyn Johnson

The Damms 1987
Photographed in Los Angeles by Mary Ellen Mark

When Mary Ellen Mark photographed Dean and Linda Damm and Linda's children, Crissy and Jesse (above), for LIFE in 1987, they were surviving on spare change and occasional welfare checks. Some nights they slept in a beat‑up '71 Buick Skylark--Dean and Jesse in the front seat, Crissy over the hump on the back floor, Linda on a backseat chewed to the springs by their pit bull, Runtley. “This picture was reminiscent to me of the Dust Bowl and that era when people had nothing," Mark says, "and here we were in the '80s and people still had nothing." Mark went back in 1995 and found the family larger by two daughters and six dogs, and in even worse shape: The $9,000 from concerned readers was gone, the donated furniture sold for drugs. Four years ago, Linda left Dean, who says he now runs a sober‑living house for women and has taken court‑mandated parenting and domestic-violence classes. After several years in foster care, Crissy, 18 (who started college this fall), Jesse, 16, and Ashley, 11, now live in what Linda calls “a great big old house" with a pool, which they share with her boyfriend, Albert Parish, a construction worker she met at an A.A. meeting. (Summer, 9, remains in foster care.) Linda is on disability after a hysterectomy, but at 39 and drug‑free for three years, she seems finally to have made a home. "I didn't think I'd ever get out of that hell," she says.

Crissy, Jesse, Albert and Linda 1999
Photographed in Lancaster, California, by Mary Ellen Mark