Prison came as a relief to Kathy Davis, a homeless alcoholic and drug addict. "I didn't know how to get out of what I was doing," she explains. "I saw it as my way into a normal life."
Normalcy had never been Kathy's lot. As a child she lived with her violent, alcoholic father, three siblings, and unstable mother in an old, dark house.
"I don't ever remember anyone even opening the curtains to let the sunshine in," she remembers. "All the windows were nailed shut. Maybe [our father] thought we would escape."
Fearful for their lives, Kathy's mother fled with her children somewhere no one could find them. But suffering from mental illness, she left seven-year-old Kathy and her nine-year-old brother in charge for weeks at time. "We were like the mom and dad," remembers Kathy.
When Kathy's mom went to jail for prostitution and armed robbery, the children moved in with their grandmother. But when Kathy was 13, they went back to their father and their new step-mother, where the drunken abuse continued. "We went to school with black eyes," remembers Kathy. "Nobody did anything." To cope with her pain, she began to break into her father's liquor cabinet.
'No Hope for Me'
At 16, Kathy, angry and addicted, was sent to an adult rehab center. But instead of getting the help she needed, she graduated to drug use and became pregnant.
"They released me because they said there was no hope for me."
Kathy bounced from foster care to a maternity home, where at 17 she gave her daughter up for adoption. At 18 she went to jail for drug use and received three years' probation, but her substance abuse continued.
"I didn't want to stop then," she says. "I used to think I did it because I liked to get high. Now I think it’s because I wanted to die."
In 1993, Kathy had a son named Zachery. His birth kept her clean, but only for a couple of years. When Zachery was eight, she left him with his biological father in Texas so that she could move in with a man in Colorado Springs. She kept contact with Zachery for a while, but soon his father concealed his whereabouts, just as Kathy's mother had concealed hers years before.
Her drug use intensified as she tried to drown her despair.
When the man she lived with stabbed her, Kathy called police. Her attacker went to jail, but she had no income and became homeless. "I lived in a tent by the creek," she remembers.
Kathy eventually got off the streets by cleaning motels rooms, and later by helping her close friend, Mark, an apartment maintenance worker.
But in 2006 Kathy again ran into trouble with the law. She landed in jail in Colorado Springs.
Those first days of incarceration, Kathy felt relief. She hoped she could finally get her life on track. Change came in a strange package—a big, tattooed, intimidating inmate named M.J., who had started reading the Bible and wanted others to join her in the jail’s day room. "She was big," remembers Kathy. "You didn't tell her no."
The Bible studies perplexed Kathy, but a breakthrough came when a local jail volunteer sat down with the addict and explained God's love to her for the first time.
'The Way to Fix It'
"I finally got it," says Kathy, who broke down crying. "You feel like you got this big hole in your soul and it hurts and you can't fix it. I realized God was the way to fix it."
Kathy went from jail to prison, where she got baptized and joined a Prison Fellowship-administered Celebrate Recovery group—a 12-step Christian program for those overcoming hurts and addictions. Amongst inmates who went because they had to, Kathy participated joyfully. "I wanted to do something to change my life, and I had a way to do it," says Kathy.
Kathy continued Celebrate Recovery when she went to a halfway house called Community Alternatives of El Paso. There she met Jan, a former Prison Fellowship field director in Colorado, who has since become her mentor.
"Having friends like Jan means everything to me," says Kathy. "I've never had female friends that were trustworthy. I can tell Jan everything, and she'll still love me no matter what."
She would need Jan's support during the long months at the halfway house. She cleaned the bathrooms twice a twice to earn bus passes to look for jobs. Mark sold his bicycle to buy Kathy a decent set of clothes to wear to job interviews. But she had lost most of her top teeth, and due to her appearance she found no success even after applying for hundreds of positions.
Finally a dentist volunteered his services to fix Kathy's smile, and she soon found work as an assistant at a Goodwill thrift store. Eventually she was promoted to supervisor.
A new smile would change Kathy's life in other ways as well. "At the halfway house people [used to] make fun of me, but I would just keep doing what I was doing," recalls Kathy. "I would just smile at them and walk away, with or without teeth. As soon as I got my new grill, everybody wanted to talk to me."
After Kathy transitioned out of the halfway house, she found another welcoming Celebrate Recovery group at Jan’s church. Their relationships would sustain her as she learned to leave behind the scene of alcohol and drugs that had dominated her life for 34 years. "I don't think I could have done it without a good support system," she says.
In turn, Kathy has served at church fundraisers and Celebrate Recovery meetings. She has even found the courage to share her testimony with others. "To me, this ministry is about people like Kathy," says Jan. "She's reconciled to God, her community, and her family. She always does the right things to come through it, no matter what her difficulties are."
A New Life, A New Family
In August 2009, Kathy and Mark Davis got married in a small, simple ceremony at a courthouse.
But Mark, who had also had a difficult past, began to struggle anew with his "old ways."
"If he continued like that, we wouldn't have a relationship," remembers Kathy. But watching Kathy's recovery and transformation with the support of her Prison Fellowship mentor, Mark found the courage he needed to make his own changes.
"Just seeing how good she's doing," he says, "that's an inspiration to me."
For Kathy one hole remained: the absence of the son, Zachery, she had left in Texas in 2001. But finding his address through the Internet, she sent him a card for his 17th birthday, explaining to him all the recent changes in her life's trajectory. She had hesitated to send the letter, but she felt the Holy Spirit prompting her: Send it now. Send it now.
After a week of anxious waiting, Kathy received a reply in the mail. "I forgive you," her son wrote. "Everyone deserves a second chance." Since then, Kathy and Zachery have exchanged numerous letters and phone calls, and they are well on their way to restoring their relationship. She has also apologized to her son's father.
In recent months, Kathy and Mark have moved to a new home in the mountains of Colorado. Their bedroom has a large picture window overlooking snow-capped mountains and evergreen forests.
"You can see out, even at night, and you can see all the stars, and the moonlight shines in," says Kathy. "In all my darkness, I never thought my life would turn out like this. I thought I was stuck in that rut forever. I've never had such a good life, and it’s not because of material things. It's because I know I'm loved, no matter what. And there is hope, no matter what."
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