No one ever dreams of waking up at 35 years of age of age to the sound of heavy metal doors slamming shut, unidentifiable noxious smells, and looking out a 12×16 window and seeing tall fences topped with barbed razor wire. This however, was my life for three long years.
I grew up in a small town, have wonderful parents and two sisters. I was the middle child and the jokester of the family. I did really well in school, went to college, and worked as a nurse for about five years. I was married, had two small kids, a great job, a new car, and from the outside we looked like the “perfect family.” While we may have looked good on the outside, I felt an emptiness deep inside and sought to feel the void with external things. I over shopped, over ate, and over spent in general. Nothing worked. Nothing filled the void inside until the day I tried cocaine for the first time. It was then that I thought I had finally arrived. I finally felt like I fit in, and the drug made the empty feeling go away.
When they say you can get addicted to drugs by doing them just once, I am living proof that is true. At age 25 I walked away from everything good in my life, and became a shadow of existence in the street life of drugs and crime. I was an active addict for over 10 years, although I had several stints in rehab. 12 rehabs to be exact. The result would be the same every time. I’d get clean, get out and relapse. I caused my family so much pain and despair that they finally had to guard their hearts and completely cut off any ties with me. This just caused me to dive deeper into the abyss of addiction. I did anything and everything to get drugs. I lied, cheated, stole and sold my body to get high. While I thought that drugs were the answer to my emptiness, they were in fact the monster that ripped my soul apart and made the hole inside me deeper than it had ever been. I had gone from 140 pounds to 88 pounds. I didn’t even recognize myself when I looked in the mirror. I hated myself so much and had no idea who I had become.
I was on the run for a state-wide crime spree for robbing houses, cars and whomever I could. I remember hitting my knees out of sheer despair and begging God that if He was real, He needed to show up and show up soon, because I was going to die and I couldn’t live the way I was living anymore. Two days later I was arrested. I was wanted in three different counties, and I knew that I was facing a lot of time in prison. At that point, I didn’t care. While I sat in the back of the police car, a sense of peace came over me that is unexplainable. It was a supernatural feeling being poured into me, something I had never felt before. I was so relieved to be caught and so relieved that I could finally be free…free from the grasp of addiction, even if it meant being confined to prison.
I got a six-year sentence and spent three years at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. It was the hardest day of my life walking through the razor-wired gates, but I made a vow to God that I would walk out of those gates a better woman than the broken girl who was walking in. I did just that. I took every class that I could, including a year- long program called Transformation Ministries. All the classes and time alone let me get to know myself and find out who I truly was. It was the hardest three years of my life, but every day I spent in there was needed, and I truly believe that God disciplines the ones He loves.
Finally, the day came when it was time for me to get out. I made parole and fought to go to a transitional housing program up in Denver. I didn’t want to go back to my home town and be put into the same scene I escaped from. It would have been a setup to fail, living in a homeless shelter that I used to sell drugs at in the same town where everyone knew me for living the drug life.
With the help of Kristi Hornick, I got accepted into a women’s sobriety and transitional home in Aurora. She not only helped me get into the program, but she picked me up at the gate on the day of my release. Without her, I would never have gotten all the things done that parole requires you to do on day one. I had to check in at parole, get an ankle monitor, do a UA (urine analysis), get a mental health evaluation, and be home by 5pm. It would have been impossible to do this on my own. All the offices are far apart; I didn’t have a dollar to my name, and I had no idea how to get around Denver. Without Kristi, I don’t know what I would have done, but thankfully she spent at least 10 hours driving me around Denver, getting through all I needed to get done.
Finally, I was taken to what would be my home for the next 14 months. It was a house with a real bed and a fluffy pillow. I didn’t have to wear shower shoes in the shower, and a basket filled with brand new hygiene items was waiting for me in my room. There were soft towels, great smelling soap, and real razors. Nothing felt better than taking a hot shower and washing the last three years off me, ready to embark on a future of endless possibilities. I was also given a monthly bus pass, access to a free food bank and access to a clothing bank. I couldn’t wait to get out of those prison clothes and into a pair of jeans. The re-entry home gave me a chance and all the tools needed to get a job and get my life started again. I had a job within two weeks at a fast food restaurant. It was hard work, but I was willing to do whatever I had to do to make sure I could pay rent and start saving some money. Without the home, I would have been sent back to the streets where I used to do and sell drugs, commit crimes and prostitute. Like I said, it would have been a setup for failure, but unfortunately, this scenario happens every day to other men and women getting out of prison. So many returning citizens have nowhere to live, no money, food, clothes — no nothing. They go into survival mode because they are thrown into a situation that requires them to. This is precisely why Colorado’s recidivism rate is so high.
No matter if they are prepared or not, men and women get released from prison daily. As a community, we can either be part of a solution to help them succeed or do nothing and continue to watch individuals keep the prison gates swinging open. There is not enough housing for returning citizens. There are not enough programs or people willing to donate time, money and resources to help. The plain fact is, we need more hands-on-deck!
I am living proof that programs like TRI work. Did I have to put in a ton of effort and hard work? Absolutely, but without the hand up I was given when I first got out, I would not be where I am today. I have been out of prison a little over two years. I got off parole a year and a half early because I did everything that I was supposed to do. Today I am married to a wonderful man. I have a career with a great salary, benefits, and an awesome boss. I am finishing up my CAC II and only have two more years until I earn my bachelor’s degree in psychology. I have a new car, a nice home, and I am rebuilding the relationships with my family. I am also blessed to sit on the TRI board of directors and give back what was so freely given to me. I get to see women walk out of the gates of prison and look back on a place they never have to enter again. I love seeing their smiling faces walking into freedom. Does life take work? Yes! It takes a willing person, but it also takes programs like The Reentry Initiative.
I am so thankful for my life today! I am truly blessed!