I was 9 when I found out "Mom and Dad" were actually my grandparents. The "brother" I had grown up visiting in prison was really my father. It flipped my world upside down.
My grandparents had been abused growing up and continued that cycle with me, which was also hard to deal with.
By my early teens, I was rebellious. We moved between Arizona and California a few times, so keeping a friend group was difficult. I didn't fit in with the popular girls, or the nerds, or the sports people. I joined in with the skater people and the kids who did drugs. I was 14 when I tried crystal meth for the first time. Meth followed me through the rest of my teenage years.
I kept using and drinking, and getting in trouble for running away.
I got arrested for the first time for shoplifting with my best friend.
Meth followed me through the rest of my teenage years.
I stole my grandpa's truck to see my boyfriend, BJ, the day after Thanksgiving. We ended up taking the truck down to the river bottom.
I let BJ's friend drive on the way out. He was swerving the steering wheel, and the truck rolled over. I went out the back window. At the hospital, I kept asking to see my boyfriend, but I wasn't allowed. I asked if I could at least call him. That's when I was told that he had died.
That was my first time ever experiencing death. It propelled me into more drug use because I didn't want to feel.
I started cutting on myself because I couldn't understand the mental pain inside my head. When I cut my arms and my legs, I could understand that pain, and I could watch that pain heal. But I couldn't make myself heal inside my head. In rehab, they diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Along with the continued drug use came crime, because you have to find ways to support your habit. My motto from ages 14 to 20 was, Use everything I can and try not to get in trouble. I would get clean for a short amount of time, but I didn't really want new friends or new influences. I didn't care to straighten up.
I was 18 when I finally went to prison.
When I cut my arms and my legs, I could understand that pain, and I could watch that pain heal. But I couldn't make myself heal inside my head.
THE DARKEST STORM
Surprisingly, going to prison didn't feel like a big deal. After all, I'd grown up visiting someone in prison. This time I was just on the other side of the bars. I did seven months, got out, and stayed out for 10 years.
I continued using drugs and had three children during that time—all boys. With my second one, child protective services (CPS) got involved and said my son was a substance-exposed newborn. CPS kept monitoring my boyfriend and me off and on. We would lose the kids and jump through every hoop to get them back. Then we'd start using drugs again.
My relationship with my boyfriend was very abusive, especially while we were both using. One day my son went to school and told the teacher that Mommy got her head smashed into the cabinet, and that Daddy had kicked him. The teacher called CPS, and they removed all three of the children immediately.
That was the hardest thing I've ever been through, and I really went off the deep end. Eventually I turned myself in on some charges that I had. I told them I wanted to go to prison because I knew I had to get clean in order to deal with the loss of my children.
That second stint lasted 10 months. I got out and went right back to my old lifestyle, and was charged again six months later. I knew where I was headed.
One day my son went to school and told the teacher that Mommy got her head smashed into the cabinet, and that Daddy had kicked him.
LOOKING FOR LIGHT
I sat in Estrella Jail feeling totally defeated.
A woman named Maggie came up to me and said, "Hey, come to church with me," and I went.
They played this song about being desperate to turn your life around—desperate for redemption. The lyrics sounded like my own words. It hit me like a ton of bricks! I got down on my knees as I cried my eyes out, and I started to pray.
"Jesus, please come into my life," I begged. "Please."
I had nothing left.
I had no hope left.
By this time, I had stolen from my family, which was something I swore I would never do. I had started using drugs intravenously, which was also something I swore I'd never do.
It was a point of utter desperation. And that's when God stepped in. It started with that night at church in jail, and the little pocket New Testament I had picked up there.
When I got to prison, I got a Bible—a special women's recovery edition—and I wore that thing out! I slowly grasped new concepts I'd never understood before. I knew I had a lot of work to do, and I'd need help to do it. So, I got signed up for the Prison Fellowship Academy®.
When I got to prison, I got a Bible, and I wore that thing out! I knew I had a lot of work to do, and I'd need help to do it.
HOPE ON THE HORIZON
Academy volunteers were absolutely amazing. Two volunteers, Terry and Denise, led a Thursday night study group, where we really dug in to the hard topics. I would ask them all these questions, and they were so patient. They really cared. That's when I really started getting into the Word, and it began transforming my life.
Little by little, I quit smoking. I quit cussing. I quit telling lewd jokes. All of these things started becoming very real in my life, and I know that it was absolutely, 100 percent, because God was changing my heart, and changing my mind, and changing my way of thinking and everything about me.
It wasn't just new behavior; it was a new identity.
I had been so drowned out by the distraction of daily life. It took being in a situation where I was set down, for me to be able to hear God. I would have never been able to dig into the Bible like I was able to or to learn about Jesus and His promises, if I had not attended the Academy.
What stuck out to me the most during that time was 2 Corinthians 5:17, where God says that a believer is a "new creation." It's like God gave me permission to not go back to that old lifestyle anymore, not to get into that same cycle that I had kept doing over and over and over. He gave me permission to be different. And he took the shame of my past—from losing my kids and making all the wrong choices—and replaced it with hope in Jesus.
It wasn't just new behavior; it was a new identity.
NO LONGER DROWNING
Little moments, like getting a job in prison that required typing skills, reminded me that God was taking care of me. I never even had a computer growing up, but I applied for the job and got it. It was totally God's plan.
And He kept providing for me after my release. I got out in early 2015 and was able to stay in touch with my mentor, Nancy, who had been writing letters back and forth with me. When you start this walk of Christianity, you don't know what you’re doing! You need that person that's had more time with faith, just to be able to pour into you and hold you accountable. We still talk five days a week, Monday through Friday.
I also met the man who would become my husband, Chris, through a coworker. He had also been in prison, and loves the Lord like no other. He's an amazing, hardworking, loving man. We serve in children's ministry and youth ministry together at our church here in southern California. I also work at an electrical wholesale house, where I'm one of the only people who loves Jesus—so I just have to be that "light."
TRANSFORMED AND THANKFUL
This is my second chance at being a mom, and my first chance at being a wife. I'm finally living the life I was made for. Having that support is so vital, because temptations don't completely go away.
Walking through the store and seeing all these moms with wine in their carts, I'd think, I could probably just have one drink and just be normal. But I have to take those thoughts captive and throw them away, because I know myself. And I know that would not turn out well for me.
I honestly, in my heart of hearts, never believed that I would be able to stay clean. Never in a million years. I thought I was going to use drugs until the day I died. And to have sustained clean time—I will have five years on February 17—that is completely mind-boggling.
It's all because of Jesus.
This is my second chance at being a mom, and my first chance at being a wife. I'm finally living the life I was made for.