Building new lives
beyond prison walls.
“Tonya," like many of our clients, didn’t have positive start in life. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother was busy and stressed in her efforts to support their family. Her mother eventually left her father, but then married a man who was abusive. Tonya’s sister had a tracheotomy as a child, and Tonya saw herself as her sister’s protector and often got into fights defending her at school. She eventually started stealing and using drugs. Tonya was locked up for the first time for armed robbery when she was just a teenager.
After she was released, Tonya began dating a drug dealer. When he went to prison, Tonya began selling and using drugs as well as prostituting herself to support her habit.
After another arrest and stint in prison, Tonya described herself as feeling beat down and suicidal. She felt like she had nothing left to live for. When she was arrested again for armed robbery and stealing a car, Tonya felt relieved. She says she thanked God for being arrested because she was just “tired.”
That stint in prison was different though. She met “Miss Ruth” from Changed Choices, whom she now thinks of as a second mother. Encouraged by this positive connection to a loving mentor, Tonya came out of her “fog” and start making positive choices.
Miss Ruth referred her to a substance abuse program, Dove’s Nest, where Tonya says they taught her to love herself “no matter what.” After leaving Dove’s Nest, she moved into Changed Choices housing and with some effort, found a job. She says that she has remained clean and sober, and that with a lot of support and love, things just fell into place for her.
Tonya sees Changed Choices as a blessing. She says that Changed Choices has shown her that people outside of her family care about her and love her for who she is. Now, she says she considers Changed Choices to be family. When asked what she would say to the generous donors of Changed Choices, she says simply: “I love them.”
“Changed Choices claims some of the most phenomenal women in our community.”
Phenomenal women with stories to share.
“Tina” is one of these phenomenal women. A victim of child molestation, Tina did not let the pain from her childhood determine her immediate future. After graduating high school and college, Tina left the familiar confines of North Carolina and moved to the metropolis of the south, better known as Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta she came into her own, but as fate would have it, a family tragedy mandated her return to her North Carolina roots. In North Carolina, she met a man. Naïve to the streets, Tina found herself in love with a fugitive drug dealer and was ultimately sucked into that life. For almost a decade she carried on her boyfriend’s business. After becoming pregnant with her son, however, she left that life behind. Then, she did someone a favor. Tina would go on to be sentenced to 236 months, 19.5 years, for doing someone a favor. Angry for going to jail “behind someone else’s mess” and having to leave her two- month old and eleven-year old sons behind, it was in prison where Tina “started being honest with [her]self.”
During her 2-year stay in county jail, Tina spent time in solitary confinement and protective custody because of her anger. It was during this time that she met volunteers from Changed Choices. Because of Changed Choices, Tina fully embraced a new attitude about life and began reading the Bible, praying and attending church activities. Upon her release, she was welcomed with open arms by Changed Choices.
Shortly after her release however, Tina found herself back in prison. It was not because she couldn’t stay away from the street life though; it was because she ate a poppy seed scone. Unbeknownst to most, eating poppy seeds can cause false-positives on drug tests. Tina spent almost an entire day indulging herself in the pastries—a visitor had dropped them off for the ladies at Changed Choices to enjoy. Testing positive for opiates while on home confinement landed Tina back in jail for seven months. Through this ordeal, Changed Choices was there for her. Relentlessly proclaiming her innocence, Tina received financial and emotional support from her “sisters” in Changed Choices.
Today, wearing Changed Choices “like Superman wears an ‘S’ on his chest,” Tina is hopeful and grounded; she is encouraged by the program to do whatever she can to stay on the right side of the law.
Once fearful of making decisions, Tina is now able to control her own destiny. This new-found strength comes from the relationships she has formed at Changed Choices. With the support of staff, counselors and other women in the program, she has people in her corner to help her through any situation. Tina has found a place of comfort; a place where she is welcomed for who she is, a place where she is encouraged, a place where she is finally at home.