The Dunn family has overcome more adversity than most. Despite drug abuse and incarceration surrounding their family members for years, the family’s three core women continue to lead extraordinary lives regardless of small-town stigmas.
Heather Dunn, 43, and two of her daughters, Meranda Murphy, 27, and Lea Dunn,14,
of Newport, have witnessed their family get torn apart by drug abuse. They have cut contact and separated from their father due to multiple drug possession and trafficking charges. Their third sister, Shay, is incarcerated as a result of drug possession and trafficking crack cocaine charges, leaving her 8-year-old son inHeather’s care. Despite these headline-ready events, the three women say they have learned to cope with the stigma that is associated with their last name.
“You have to work to prove yourself to even be looked at in an equal way,” Heather says. “There was never an option to not rise above it.”
Meranda exemplifies this strategy. As a graduate of Ohio State University, wife and mother of two, she cites her motivation mindset as key.
“I really can’t say that I ever felt like I wouldn’t [rise above the stigma],” Meranda says. “As far as breaking the cycle for me, I have seen first hand what breaking the law entails. I don’t want my kids to feel the way I’ve felt. I don’t want my kids to feelless than or ashamed of their family, so I chose to rise above it.”
Meranda’s influence extends to her younger sister Lea who is in the midst of navigating the drama of high school.
Lea, a freshman, says that she feels embarrassed when other students mention her family’s drug usage and she is quick to disprove their assumptions about her.
“I feel like my last name is what people think gets you in trouble,” she says. “But I don’t think that’s true at all. I think it’s your behavior.”
Lea’s recent successes reflect this philosophy. She is a 4.0 GPA student, a member of the volleyball team, and was elected by her class to be its representative on the homecoming court.However, Heather has faced perceptions of others since high school, when she had two children. From that time on, she devoted all of her time to raising her children.
“The people that know me and are close to me know that my kids are everything tome,” she says. “I put them first and their happiness means more to me than my happiness.”
Today, Heather balances working as a Physical Therapy Assistant and being a full-time mom to Lea and Tyce, Shay’s son who Heather gained full custody of two years ago. Meranda says her mom’s gradual confidence helped forge a path toward personal achievements.
“It took her until a little later in life to realize that she could do it. She could go back to school, she could do it on her own, and she did it,” Meranda says of her mother.
Despite such triumphs, Meranda says she feels disapproval still lurks in other ways.And in these cases, the logic may not be worth fighting for.“For us we feel like the black sheep of the family,” Meranda says. “We get criticized for thinking we’re too good or we think we’re better for wanting differently for our kids, and that is really hard because we do love our family and wish them the best,but it doesn’t mean we have to be a part of that and we’re not the bad ones for wanting a healthy, normal lifestyle.”