Involvement with the justice system often starts with barriers thrown up by poverty. Lack of life’s basic necessities  – food and shelter – leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. In turn those lead to seeking a solution at any cost. Substance abuse – which can numb the feelings of despair – is one common avenue and traps people in the cycle of addiction. This can lead to criminal actions, which leads to charges and incarceration, and often reaches a peak with the incarcerated person being totally and completely alone. One of the biggest costs of substance abuse is the way that addiction takes over a person’s life, crowding out everything else – friends and family included.

One thing Catholic Charities offers consistently is a sense of hope and confidence for people as they face life’s challenges. Sometimes, just by believing in them we help move them out of poverty and change the trajectory of their lives. Nancy is one client for whom we did just that.

From a young age, Nancy’s life was marked with substance abuse. Her parents used both street drugs and alcohol, and at age 11, she became a ward of the state. Her own addiction began early in her teen years, and kicked off a series of bouncing between foster homes, treatment center and halfway houses.

At age 20, she became pregnant but was incarcerated at the time that her son, Frankie, was born. Her sentence wasn’t complete for another 18 months, and she didn’t see her son until he was over a year old. Nancy’s mother raised Frankie during that time, and upon release, Nancy moved in with her mother and began caring for her toddler.

She had stopped using while incarcerated, and Frankie became the focus of her life – but old family habits were still prevalent and living with an active drug user (her mother) was untenable. Nancy and Frankie pulled up roots and moved to Missouri. For a while, things seemed to be going along well. She found a job. She got married. Frankie grew like any ordinary toddler.

But then Nancy and her husband began using drugs again. She noted that “I was so much in my addiction that it was affecting Frankie. He didn’t feel safe, and was honest with the school about my selling drugs and his fears.” Nancy was arrested, and Department of Social Services removed Frankie from her home.

Something changed inside Nancy at that moment. It may have been “mother’s instinct” or may have been the gift of pure love between a mother and son, but the look on Frankie’s face as the social workers took him from her home was a turning point. She said to him, “I am going to fight so hard to get you back.”

During her incarceration, Nancy noted “I wrote my son every week, and read Hebrews 11 often. It talks about having faith in something that you cannot see. I held on that verse like none other. I didn’t have my son, because of what I did. I just clung to the faith that somehow, some day, I would get him back.”

When she was released, she came to Catholic Charities. She voiced her drive to get her son back and we worked with her to make her family whole again.  We supplied her with emergency assistance items – food, clothing, rent assistance – and she immersed herself into our employment services offerings. She came to classes and workshops. She worked on her job skills and communication and built a resume. “It was a like a total flip, “ Nancy said, “Having a consistent case worker and someone who knew my situation and goals was key to it. I knew that I could tell them how I really feel and get help in getting over the hurdles I was facing. Catholic Charities helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Nancy’s worked hard and was persistent. Her success at her job at a local bakery turned into a promotion into a supervisory position. Frankie returned from foster care to a home that Nancy had purchased – with a yard, in a stable neighborhood, with friends and a good school and a solid life.

We featured Nancy’s story at our 2017 Celebration of Hope Gala, and celebrated her success and Frankie’s stability.

Nancy’s story does not end there, however.

Her mother became terminally ill and Nancy brought her into their home so she could care for her. Six months later, her mother passed away. This was the first of a series of difficult events:

  • Her long time boyfriend left her right after her mother’s death.
  • Her company shut down and she struggled to find a new job.
  • She was involved in a car accident and suffered a head injury that resulted in a continued struggle with short term memory loss.

“My mother’s death was so much harder to cope with than I thought it would be, “ she said. “Dealing with the grief was so hard, and I kept running up against roadblock after roadblock. I worked 80 hours a week to try to keep my mind occupied, but it wasn’t enough.”

In the face of all these challenges, Nancy relapsed and began using drugs again.  She lost her apartment. She and Frankie became homeless, and Nancy was again incarcerated on drug charges.

Somewhere along the journey from jail to treatment center to recovery house, she recalled the scripture that had given her strength all those years ago, and rekindled her faith in what her heart truly desired….. a stable life as a family with Frankie. Her resolve returned, and she drew on her time with Catholic Charities to pull her out of her addiction once again.

She’s now stable, has a good job, and her own apartment. Frankie is now 19, living on his own, and visits often which allows her to still do “all the mom things”.

“I met so many women in jail and treatment who had lost their children to the system. They are so alone. It’s like their willpower was just drained from them, “ she said. “I was able to get my son back when he was little, and I’m in recovery and doing well now.”

“I wish I could say that life has been all cherries and roses, but I’m still here, and I know it’s because Catholic Charities believed in me, and my case worker supported me. What I learned and what I gained what made it possible for me to come back to sobriety again…… I’m still here.”

Redemption is not a once in a lifetime event, but can happen again and again. Nancy’s story is a good reminder that encounters with Catholic Charities and a person who cares can have a lasting effect, and be the very thing that helps them overcome multiple barriers – over multiple years – to a life of stability.

God does indeed write straight in crooked lines.

By Susan Walker, Executive Director, Outreach and Engagement

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