Teresa Stanfield stared at her face in the mirror in Oklahoma County Jail. Where did my life go? she asked, 41 years old and exhausted. For two decades, she'd been running from her troubles, from the law, and from God.
Teresa grew up in Edmond, one of the "best places to live" in the state. Travel guides show scenic lakes and quaint suburbia. But some of Teresa's hometown memories weren't so picturesque.
Though Teresa's family attended church, God seemed far away. As a little girl, she experienced abuse from the next-door neighbor. She also struggled to deal with her parents' divorce. After her first sip of alcohol at age 12, she liked how drinking seemed to help her forget the pain and shame.
A DESPERATE PRAYER
As a teen, Teresa balked at authority and discipline, growing more rebellious as time passed. She continued dabbling in alcohol and marijuana, and by age 17, she dove headlong into substance abuse. She moved on to cocaine, then heroin. Nothing she tried filled her emptiness for long.
As a young adult, Teresa earned three DUIs and faced her first drug possession charge. The next 20 years were a blur of jails, treatment centers, and prison.
Teresa longed for hope, and to be the mother her two children needed, but she could not see a way out of her addiction. Again she stared down a prison sentence, this time at Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center (EWCC) in Taft, Oklahoma.
Teresa would say that most of her prayers were attempts to bargain with God. This time, she had an honest prayer:
God, I feel like you're the only One who can heal me.
'God, I feel like you're the only One who can heal me.'
STEPS TO HEALING FROM ADDICTION
Not long after walking into EWCC, Teresa stepped foot in the prison chapel for her first church service in years. It felt like coming home. There, she joined a biblically based, 12-step recovery program called Celebrate Recovery (CR) Inside.
The CR group meetings began with worship music. Deep, honest discussions with caring volunteers made her realize she wasn't beyond repair. For Teresa, this was the start of real recovery. Her guilt and shame began to fade.
"[Before,] I had allowed the enemy to tell me that I wasn't good enough or that I wasn't worthy," Teresa explains. "I started filling my heart and my mind with tools to stay sober and with God's Word. My life truly started to transform."
Teresa found a supportive Christian community at Celebrate Recovery. She met other incarcerated women who faced similar struggles and addictions. With the help of caring volunteers, Teresa took steps toward healing and discovered the unconditional love of Jesus.
'I started filling my heart and my mind with tools to stay sober and with God's Word. My life truly started to transform.'
"It is so important to have people walk with you on your recovery journey," says Teresa, "… [I had to be] able to trust somebody with everything that I had to pour out, in order to start healing."
At Celebrate Recovery, Teresa discovered a new identity in Jesus, and she broke free from addiction. At first, it was a challenge to experience raw emotions without drugs. But she wouldn't trade her new life for anything. "Whether I was excited, or I was mad, or I was sad, I always used [drugs]," she says. "I used every single day of my life. It was real humbling to walk through the different challenges that I've had and remain sober and seeing God's hand in all of it."
On Aug. 29, 2011, Teresa walked free from prison, while her mother, grandmother, son, and daughter watched from the other side of the fence. She went to live with her grandmother at first, whom Teresa calls "a beautiful Christian woman … and such a huge part of my recovery."
'It is so important to have people walk with you on your recovery journey.'
NO TURNING BACK
Teresa found a Celebrate Recovery chapter at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City to keep herself on track. The first night she attended, she waited in the parking lot, terrified. But the people she met made her feel welcome.
There, Teresa says she got "addicted to CR."
Teresa learned to set healthy boundaries with people from her old life. It was hard to watch former friends, people she cared about, succumb to addiction. But she knew she had to surround herself with healthy community. There was no turning back.
Later Teresa walked back through prison gates as a volunteer for CR Inside, a facet of the Prison Fellowship Academy® program.
The Academy takes incarcerated men and women at select facilities through a yearlong, transformative journey. Providing supportive coaches and restorative community, the program replaces participants' criminal thinking and behaviors with renewed purpose and biblically based life principles.
As a prison ministry volunteer, Teresa poured into the lives of women with pasts resembling her own. Now Teresa serves as a full-time field director on staff at Prison Fellowship® and recently helped start a new Academy site in Texas.
Today, Teresa is still celebrating recovery—marking 10 years sober in summer 2020.
"God's replacing everything the enemy stole from my family!" says Teresa. "I get to be a mommy! My children are such a blessing. I never thought I could do life sober, but God had a much different plan. Here we are 10 years later, and my son is graduating from high school, and my daughter will be in the fifth grade. I'm blown away by the restoration that's taken place in my relationships today. All glory to God."
'God's replacing everything the enemy stole from my family! I get to be a mommy! My children are such a blessing.'
SERVING IN ALL SEASONS
Teresa knows Jesus has called her to share hope with incarcerated women and men. She says the need is greater than ever, as the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe and overwhelmed prison populations. Teresa's opportunity to serve in difficult times is a gift.
"Each day I want to be challenged," she says. "I want to learn and grow. I want to share God's love that was so freely given to me. I want to make a difference, and I want to follow the calling God has planted deep in my heart."
"I know God's grace is sufficient for me," she adds, quoting one of her favorite Scriptures:
But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV)
Teresa never thought she would ever want to go back to prison. But, she says, "Every time I sit in the [Academy] classroom, I'm like, 'OK, God, I needed to hear that, too. I hear you God.' When you finally let go and let God in, He's so amazing and so faithful. I know that He has brought me where I am today."
"We are each on a unique journey, and our experiences can be used to help someone else," Teresa says. "Trust God. He's with you each step to lead you to discover who you really are. God bless you and your journey."
'We are each on a unique journey, and our experiences can be used to help someone else. Trust God. He's with you each step to lead you to discover who you really are.'