Diane Reyes doesn't want anyone to get the wrong idea about why she started selling drugs at 19. She doesn't blame the neighborhood on the southeast side of Houston, Texas, where she grew up, and only speaks well of her parents.
"My parents have been married 47 years this year," says Diane. "I never really had to do any of that [selling drugs]. I just wished to do it. I wanted to do it. It just gave me a thrill."
After making $150 from her first sale, Diane progressed to buying expensive purses and shoes and, eventually, her own townhome. Along the way, she also dropped out of community college and lied to her parents, claiming a $12 per hour job supported her new lifestyle.
"Money is the root of all evil—definitely," Diane says.
Looking back, Diane sees God's grace everywhere in her 1997 arrest—from the bailiff who allowed her to keep her sneakers and make a phone call to the length of her prison stay. But at age 26, minutes after receiving a sentence of 22 years for five kilos of cocaine, she could only think: "I'm gonna turn 30 here."
IN TOO DEEP
In reality, Diane served less than three years in the Dr. Lane Murray Unit of Gatesville, Texas. She returned home and earned an honest paycheck for a few years before she lost her job, and the promise of quick money became too hard to resist. This time, the stakes were much higher.
"It was no longer one pound, two pounds, an ounce. Now it was 100 pounds, 200 pounds, a key of cocaine, another key of cocaine, four keys of cocaine … Oh, I was making real money," Diane remembers.
In a time when the thirty-something could buy anything she wanted, including a house on five acres, Diane says she felt the world was closing in on her. She filled her new house with security cameras and stashed money in the oven. She lost friends to drug violence and once had a gun pulled on her.
"Lord, I need some rest," she remembers praying one day.
On New Year's Eve 2006, Diane's world collapsed. After being rear-ended, she fled the scene of the accident. When police found her three hours later in her home, they also found $283,000 in the oven. She would go on to serve almost eight years in prison for money laundering—but not before finding the rest she'd been seeking.
HEALING THROUGH SISTERHOOD
One night in her cell at Carole Young Medical Facility, Diane lay in bed listening to the only radio station that would come in clearly—a Christian one. The program mentioned a woman who had written in from prison, and it was then that Diane began crying, fell on her knees in the dark, and repented.
A month later, Diane joined about 30 women in the Sisterhood of Ruth, a new Prison Fellowship program designed to help long-term inmates re-enter society.
"It's positive intervention, it's life skills, it's all of that wrapped with Jesus," explains Diane, who says she threw herself full-force into the program.
The women lived together and attended church and class together for several hours each week. They completed Beth Moore Bible studies and a twelve-step recovery program that centered on Jesus as their higher power. They shared their stories and cried and prayed together.
"Nothing like it had ever been done before," recalls Bill Lloyd, a Prison Fellowship field director who started the Sisterhood. "The hope was that over two years, they'd change from the inside out."
Bill certainly saw that change in Diane. "Diane is one who just enveloped the Holy Spirit," he recalls.
NEVER GIVE UP
Now, three years after being released from prison, Diane returns voluntarily to mentor women in the Sisterhood. "I go back for me and for them and for God," she explains. "I go back because there's too much hurt." Often she tells the women not to give up—on themselves or on Jesus. "You have to turn around and trust God," she tells them. "You don't have to clean up first."
And Diane hasn't given up on using her talent in sales for good. In May, she graduated from San Jacinto College with plans to start her own HVAC company one day. She works as a dispatcher for a gas company now and jokes about making $16 per hour and not driving a Mercedes. But on the days when she truly does feel tempted or challenged by her past, she still calls Bill.
"Talk to me," she tells him. "I need to be grounded."
The encouragement, it seems, goes both ways.
"I just really love her," says Bill. "She's just amazing. People like her that come from backgrounds where they should have been dead, all the way now to caring and giving back and working with other women after spending time in prison—they're my heroes."
This story was written by Taylor Harris and was first published in this month's Jubilee®. It is used here with permission.
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