I am a 17-time felon. A life of drugs and crime caused me to be homeless and lose custody of my children. My story is not pretty, but it is real and I hope it provides a glimpse at what is possible when you forgive your past and focus on your future.
My father passed away when I was just six years old leaving my mother to care for six children including myself. She worked two jobs to support us which meant that we spent most of our days at the local community center. We lived in a decent home but being unable to keep it up it began to deteriorate with holes in the floors, a roof that was falling in, and no heat or air conditioning. I can remember my mom placing hot water bottles on all of her children’s feet at night to keep them warm. Although we struggled, our clothes were always clean, our bellies fed, and we were loved without question.
My oldest brother became the father figure of the family. He had a positive impact on me and helped support my mom in her efforts to raise us. He was shot and killed while on duty at work. This traumatized me and became a significant source of depression. I was fifteen when this occurred and stopped going to school as a result. I didn’t want to engage with anyone. Ultimately, I do not feel that I would have fallen into substance abuse had it not been for this event.
After some time, I went back to school and joined the basketball team. I had found my calling, and received all city and all state MVP my senior year which resulted in several scholarship offers. I didn’t have a parent that knew about achieving a college education and felt overwhelmed at the opportunities that were being presented to me. I chose to attend a community college to stay close to home and help my mother. In my second year of college, I became pregnant with my first child. Three years later I entered into a life of addiction.
I used drugs for the first time in my twenties, but by thirty-two I was in jail multiple times and lost custody of my children. My longest stint in jail was 3 years. My mother was of course disapproving of the life I was leading, but still through everything my mother never stopped encouraging me to do better.
When I started using I stopped going to church. I was ashamed of the life I was leading but too immersed in it to quit. While in prison I was fortunate to have some role models that didn’t give up on me. A volunteer named Ms. Dezi kept encouraging me to go to church service. My counselor Ali Marlow, saw that I was scared to change, and told me I didn’t have anybody to answer to but God. This encouragement stuck with me and impacted the changes that I would make in my life.
I was released from prison for the last time on April 27, 1997 with only the clothes on my back. I was driven to a halfway house where the women were selfless and kind. They offered their bus passes when I didn’t have transportation to get to work. Someone dropped off a bag of freshly laundered used clothing in my size. These blessings continued. God was shining a light on me through his people. I started to develop a personal relationship with Him and knew that He loved me just where I was.
After some time in recovery, I started to rebuild my life. I started a cleaning business and was able to eventually buy a home. I received custody of my children again. Life was looking up, but I saw such a great need for support for women trying to re-enter society after a life of substance abuse. I didn’t want to sit idly by so I decided to pour into others as they had poured into me. I offered a room in my home to one woman coming out of prison. I made sure that she was working a recovery program, had food to eat, transportation, and helped her to rebuild her confidence in her ability to overcome the hardships she had been through. I was once told that “when a student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I wanted to be there to help women like me who were ready.
That small program I began in 2003 led me to develop Mending Hearts, a nonprofit organization in Nashville that has now served over 5000 women. We are a long-term treatment facility that offers hope and healing to women in a supportive community environment - regardless of their ability to pay. It was important to me that we address the whole woman and her needs beyond her substance abuse disorder.
The stigma of addiction is trying on the soul. It’s especially difficult for women who are typically seen as caretakers. To address this issue Mending Hearts started National Women Touched by Addiction Day that will take place every July 23rd. This is a movement to provide education, open conversations, and build resilience to understand this disease and its impact on not just the woman that has faced addiction first hand, but also those that have felt its effects through others.
We all go through the challenging times and can look back at what a mess we’ve made. God has taken my mess and turned it into a message. I don’t just have faith in myself now I have faith in others. I will continue to right my wrongs and lift up my community and the women in it. Through His grace I have been forgiven and that extension of love will always be at the forefront of my personal mission.