We first shared Leticia’s story in 2014. Her story has inspired us with its message of an unconditional love that seeks to reconcile and restore those who seek it.
Since Jesus Christ turned her life around, Leticia Chavez Paulette has been helping other women walk with the Lord in prison and as they get out. Her work with faith-based recovery programs caught the attention of then-President Bush, who praised her at a special luncheon in 2004.
LOOKING FOR LOVE
The last time Leticia Chavez was arrested, a female officer at the jail shared a dream she’d had that morning.
“I saw you dead in a ditch,” Leticia recalls the officer’s words. “So I got up and prayed for you. And here you are, 15 minutes before my shift is over.”
“I realized that dream was me,” Leticia says. “I had been hanging out with this guy named Big Red. Later the police came and investigated me in jail. He was suspected of killing a woman they had found in a ditch.”
If Leticia hadn’t been arrested, she might have ended up in that woman’s place. She believes God saved her life that day.
ALL THE WRONG PLACES
At 17, Leticia quit 11th grade and ran away from her New Mexico home, seeking the attention her parents couldn’t give her while they worked long days in the onion fields and cared for her seven siblings. From then on, she grasped at whatever might fill her emptiness.
Leticia’s promiscuous lifestyle led her to make “some serious and regrettable mistakes,” she says. “I was looking for acceptance, and I thought that was how people showed love.”
At age 26, she got a job as a lawyer’s assistant. Two years later, she married.
Then everything took a turn for the worse:
“Someone offered us cocaine.”
NOTHING TO LIVE FOR
After her husband lost his job, Leticia began stealing money from her employer to fund what had become a full-blown addiction. When that marriage ended, she sold cocaine with her new boyfriend. In 1995 she gave birth to their son, Isaac.
Revolving in and out of jail, she eventually turned to “prostituting on the street.” Then, in 1997, she was arrested while driving a stolen vehicle.
“That’s the day they took Isaac away,” she says. “I didn’t feel I had anything to live for after that.”
Leticia managed to get work release–a way for prisoners to work in the community by day and return to jail for the night. But after a day of “looking for a job,” she went on the run instead of returning. That’s when she got involved with Big Red … and tacked another felony onto her record.
When the law caught up with Leticia three weeks later, she sat in jail and knew she was all out of chances. This time the judge sentenced her to eight years.
A SECOND CHANCE FOR LOVE
Inside the jail an officer told Leticia about the One who loved her despite what she had done. Two months later, Leticia told God that she needed–and accepted–His unconditional love.
Two years into her sentence, the New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility opened a faith-based section called Crossing Unit, where Leticia served as the chaplain’s clerk. She participated in the Celebrate Recovery program, which offered Christ-centered healing from addictions. Leticia also completed Prison Fellowship®’s Going for the Gold seminar, which helped her prepare for release. The volunteers who faithfully led the programs helped to reinforce her love for the Lord.
A NEW LIFE
Just before her first Christmas in prison, Leticia heard about Angel Tree®, Prison Fellowship’s program that allows prisoners to show their children they care through the walls. Although 3-year-old Isaac had been adopted by her sister, Ramona, Leticia decided to sign him up for Angel Tree each year she was incarcerated to let him know she loved him.
After her early release in 2002, Leticia went to a Christian halfway house in Albuquerque. Through her participation in prison ministry, she met Bob Paulette–far different from the men of her past. Six months later they married.
Although Leticia’s son, Isaac, was taken away from her when she was sent to prison, she was able to stay connected to him through Angel Tree. Now Isaac has been reunited with his mother and her husband.
Since 2006, Leticia has served as executive director of A Peaceful Habitation Home & Aftercare Ministry, Inc., which she co-founded with Rev. Donna Jennings and Patricia Conkling. APH provides a transitional home in Albuquerque, where released female prisoners spend six to 12 months preparing for full-time life in the community.
“We go to prisons and find women who want to live with Christ as their foundation,” explains Leticia. One way they seek out these women is through presentations at Prison Fellowship seminars and other gatherings in the prisons.
Joel Ryan, former Prison Fellowship executive director for the Rocky Mountain area, says, “[Leticia] really loves the Lord and wants to have an impact for His Kingdom.”
Joel has provided APH with materials, referrals, and advice. Most of the women staying at APH have benefitted from Prison Fellowship programs, including Angel Tree.
Leticia knows how crucial Angel Tree really is to prisoners. The program gave her an opportunity to show her son she was thinking of him on Christmas. A few years after Leticia’s release, Isaac, now 19, moved in with Leticia and Bob.
Leticia has finally found love in all the right places: in restored relationships with her family, in the faithfulness of a Christian husband, and in the patient compassion of the only One truly able to fill the void.