I grew up in a small town in West Virginia. I started smoking pot and drinking when I was seventeen years old. I would drink at parties, take alcohol to school and smoke weed when I was around certain people. Unknown to me at eighteen, I had a large root of rejection manifested in my spirit from low self-esteem. I wanted to fit in so bad! Therefore, I would try to impress others by being the funniest, most daring person in the room! I would instigate fights, rebel against authority and drink more than anyone at the party. At the age of nineteen, I found my new love, cocaine! I loved how it made me feel bold, brave and on top of the world! People wanted to be around me and I loved it!
I ended up moving to Kentucky after a drug induced fistfight. I stayed clean for a year when I moved to Kentucky. Eventually, I started smoking weed and drinking again. I slowed down on the partying. I became pregnant with my first son. I married and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. I lived a normal life for two years. I was Manager at Blockbuster, married and a mother. I started going to college to earn my degree. However, I still had a of root rejection and low self-esteem deeply rooted from my childhood. I longed for acceptance. I started hanging out with old friends, who led me down the same path. I divorced my husband and moved out to be a single mother. I would go out and to drink to have a good time while my son was at his Dad's house.
One weekend, I once again meet my drug of choice, cocaine! Someone had it at a party. I had not touched cocaine since West Virginia. Of course, I talked myself into the mindset of "just using it tonight". Well, we can all guess how that went! Little by little, I started buying it every weekend. I meet a guy at my friend’s house one night. He was there with her new boyfriend. My world would never be the same after the night I meet “John”. “John” and I used every weekend. He had many connections in Kentucky. Eventually it started running into the weekdays. We would use for days, in a drug enhanced rollercoaster we’d fight and then make up. “John” and I became different people on cocaine. We used so much that we had to smoke it because our noses would bleed. I was then introduced to the next level of my drug use! Never in my dreams did I ever think I would do such harsh drugs, but there it was; a white powder that was smoked on foil, I could spend less money, not snort anything else up my already inflamed nose and it lasted for days! What could this be? What could be so good that my house is clean, make me fit in a size two jean, I can party all night, not call the drug dealer 6 times in 12 hours, one bag lasts for days, Crystal Meth, fantastic! I will take three!
The downhill slide to full-blown addiction began! A conviction, an abusive relationship, and sores on my face were just the start! How did I get here? Six months on meth and I was mess. I was in kid’s jeans and seeing black ninjas running all over the place! I needed HELP! I called my mom and went to a treatment center, completed 30 days and was ready to get past this. Within 30 days I relapsed because, remember that little spirit of rejection I told you about, well it never left. I started right back on meth and the drinking. Within five months, I was in worse shape than before rehab. This go around, I meet a cook towards the end of my addiction. I would trade him coke and he would give me meth in return. I could no longer maintain a job because my addiction was so bad. My cook was busted and within two weeks, my life went from using and being the center of attention, to no drugs and no friends.
This insistent root of rejection became clear to me in September 2003. In the next few weeks my world would change that can only be explained by a divine intervention. Someone talked me in to buying him the stuff to try to make a batch of meth. I went around writing cold checks for this guy to get the stuff for the batch, & that would save us from a lack of drugs and solve my financial problems. This batch was going to save us! In reminiscing back at it now, this guy even bought a cell phone with a cold check! Comical in hindsight, our desperation. All I can say is never trust another drug addict! He ripped me off! He took my last dollar, all the stuff I bought him and my bank account was $1000 overdrawn. Because of living recklessly, I didn't even have one person to drive me anymore because my honey pot was gone. My so-called "friends" were all gone! I was alone for the first time! Just me and my root of rejection for the next few days. I had time to detoxify from the meth.
I was all alone with no food in my cabinets, a cut off notice from the electric company, an eviction notice from my landlord and ten minutes left on a prepaid cell phone. You see, I had never been in this spot before, this was my bottom. I was always a functioning addict. I was a bartender one month prior, that made great money. I had a family that gave me money one month prior, until they all agreed that I needed to be cut off because they were enabling my addiction. Talk about perfect timing from God! God knew I was going to be right here at this moment in time with no money, no food, no people and everything falling apart.
I called my ex husband and admitted to him the mess I had created. I told him to keep our son for a while because I only had a can of green beans and likely would be homeless soon. I had kissed my son goodbye and walked back in my house with the intention to lock myself in my bedroom to commit suicide. I wrote him a goodbye letter. I had lost all hope and dignity, & I was going to kill myself. I wrote the letter and held his Incredible Hulk doll in my hands before I prepared to take my final breathes. I cried so hard! I yelled at god, "God if you are there, then please come get me!". I then dropped to my knees and a blanket of love fell over me! A love so deep and unconditional that I can't even explain! At that moment, I knew Jesus Christ was alive! I knew he loved me in all my sin, that he protected my son and me through all this mess. I knew that it was going to be ok for my son and I. He forgave me and took the urge to use away from me forever. Within the next three days, I read my bible and this book that someone gave to me four years prior through my mother, called "Root of Rejection", by Joyce Meyers, fate brought this book to me.
The police knocked on my door three days later. They had heard rumors of me being involved in meth. I had written a bad check at a liquor store in my desperation, and the DEA used that warrant as an excuse to surround my house to try to catch me in the act. Little did they know they were going to get this new me! I ran out of the house smiling of all things. I was so excited to see them! I knew it was God coming to get me! I told them to take me away from the evil I had surrounded myself and my child with. They said "what evil?". I told them, meth of course. I know why you are here, I told them. I then told them everything that occurred in the past two weeks. I had no drugs on me, no ingredients, nothing! However, because I signed a confession, I was charged with three felonies that carried 60 years conviction in total. I went to jail with a $75,000 bond. Nevertheless, I was the happiest girl in the drunk tank! I was finally free! I had food and shelter! Most importantly, my son had his mother back!
In September 2003 I faced a mound of criminal charges. I was able to accept a guilty plea bargain of seven years, five years to serve and two years probation. I was charged with two class D felonies and one class C felony for drugs. I served one year before I was released on parole. In December 2004 I was able to come home with a new hope! I was so excited to go home. All I could think about was seeing my son and starting my life over. However, there were strict regulations on me coming home with being on parole. I had to have a place to go, could not be around other felons, no alcohol, required to get a job, required to go to NA meetings(with other felons that I am not allowed around), and I had to go to the parole office every two weeks to talk and do random drug screens. Still haunted by felony drug charges, I didn't have a driver license nor did I go to one of the required 30 classes. Thank God, I had my mother to let me move in with her, drive me to all these appointments and help me reach the goal of getting my license back. But even that was hard. I had to go to work with my mom every day. At the age of 25, I was not trusted to be alone or I had to be drove everywhere to be in compliance with my parole. Questions starting running through my mind, "How do people do this that don't have support?" My mom had to drive me around to apply for jobs.
Every time I walked in the doors to get a simple restaurant or retail job I was turned down. I applied for ten or more jobs. Every application had that one question, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" I would hand it over and immediately go into defense mode with the manager. "I changed prior to jail.", "I have been saved by Christ." and," I have no desire to use again." Yet I would get the same answer, "we will call you if something comes open". I would never hear back from them. About a month after being home with no success of getting employment, living off my family and needing to comply with parole so my son can have his mom, I was ready to throw in the towel. I wanted to go back to jail because that is where I fit in now I thought. I just don't belong out here in the world anymore. I am back to rejection! Just in the time before parole was going to say something to me about no employment, I was blessed to find a man that give me a chance. He told me I was a train wreck according to my background check. However, he also told me that something told him to give me a chance at his local coffee shop.
I also found out that I lost my right to vote, hold public office and the right to bear arms. How can that be? I never physically hurt anyone; why can't I vote? I love politics! I was informed by my probation officer that I could apply for my right to vote back in the state of Kentucky after I complete all my parole and probation. My son started kindergarten in the fall of 2005. I had been home almost nine months, working full time and promoted to Assistant Cafe Manager at the coffee shop. My probation officer had become friendly with me because he started to see that I was one of the ones that honestly changed.
My son wanted me to come volunteer at his school. I was so proud to help! I picked him up one afternoon and we walked in the office to get the information to volunteer. She was so nice and gave me all the information, where to be, what to do, etc. Before we turned to walk out the door she said, "Oh, hold on. I forget to get you to fill out the volunteer application. All parent volunteers need to complete this before they can help.” My heart sunk! There is the dreaded question on the application again! Why will my drug charges matter? I never molested a child. I am a recovering addict. I have been clean going on two years. I told her I would bring back the application tomorrow. Well tomorrow never came. I never turned the application or walked back in the office because I didn't want my child labeled "that child with the felon mother." I have missed several field trips with my oldest child. I now have a five year old, and in 2016, thirteen years after my conviction, I am still not allowed to go on a field trip or volunteer with my youngest child because of a conviction from 2003. My dream is to go to woman's prisons to minister to the females about Christ. However, I am not allowed to do this because I am a felon.
First off, let me say that I have been clean since September 18, 2003. I’m approaching fourteen years drug free. That is the first success to mention! Due to not using again and walking a fine line, I have not ever been in trouble since September 18, 2003. I went back to college while I worked at the coffee shop. I have a wonderful family that lifted me off my feet. I took out school loans, worked 50 hours a week and took night classes. I was determined to get out of this hole! I remarried and stopped working for two years to finish my Bachelor Degree as the University of Louisville (U of L) for Accounting. I networked along the way to meet some very influential people. I received the Kentucky Society of CPA scholarship. I was on the Dean's List at UofL. I dreamed of becoming a CPA. I was top of my class! However, I faced a different challenge than most students preparing to take the exam, I had to tell The Kentucky State Board of Accountancy I am a convicted felon. I spoke to the Director of Accounting at the university. He has been such a blessing in my life.
He and I thought it might be best for me to work for a few years after getting my degree in the field of accounting. I was able to start my career at a local CPA Firm. The firm was so small, that I just gave my resume and had a recommendation from their client, the owner of the coffee shop that I managed right after prison. I had my foot in the door. I always lived in fear that the owners would find out of my felony. However, they never did. The client I worked on at the firm recruited me. The firm wanted me to stay. However, I had so much guilt and fear of not telling them I told them at that moment that I was a felon from 2003. Because they had gotten to know me, they were ok with me staying there to work on my career. However, I was told that they might not have given me the chance if they knew the truth from the start. I went on to work at the clients. In 2012, I applied to sit for the CPA exam. Due to my felony in 2003, I had to get several letters of recommendations and interview in person. The CPA exam has a 40% pass rate. When I interviewed, the director was very nice and asked if I could pass this exam. I said, "If you approve me taking this exam, I will pass every section." I was required to go under two years of random drug screens and check-in monthly to someone appointed by the Board. I passed every section of the exam the first time. I never failed!
I am now a CPA! I went on to work for a fortune 100 companies. If a company would only ask for my resume and call me in for an interview, I was always able to tell them about my background, have success, and land the job. However, many job that require you to complete an online application I was never called back. I am now Assistant Corporate Controller for a Non-Profit company in Kentucky.
Where I am today
Although I am now a CPA with a great work history and a clean record for nearly 14 years, I still face the struggles of being a convicted felon. In the state of Kentucky, to get a felony off your record, a convicted felon must ask for a full pardon through the Governor. I was able to get a partial pardon in 2009 to receive my right to vote and hold public office back. However, I still am a felon on paper to someone that runs a background check on me. I applied for a full pardon in 2015. In 2015, a new Governor was elected and the departing Governor was set to give out pardons on December 7, 2015. I just knew I had this full pardon! I had all the letters, the CPA, and a respectful work history. The list came out and my friend texted me that the Governor gave out 19 pardons on his last night in office. She told me "I just know you got one, you deserve one." I ran to my phone to look at the list. My heart broke in 1000 pieces! My name was not on the list! However, this time, something inside changed! I was not going to be defeated from 2003 anymore! I was going to do something to change my future and the future of those that face this daily struggle.
I logged in to Facebook and saw someone posting nasty comments under the newsfeed of the Governor Pardon list. I also saw a guy named Jason Smith defending those convicted of felonies and those that received pardons. I private messaged him. I talked to him on the phone the next day. Little did I know, Jason just meet another felon, Tracy Chester, the exact same time and the same way. She wasn't considerd for a full pardon either. Jason, Tracy and I have formed a start up Non-Profit called 2nd Chances to help those released from prison with the right resources to succeed. We have been through the criminal justice system and know the challenges convicted felons face after prison. We want to share our success and drive to help those that may or may not have the support system that we had. I no longer live in fear of someone finding out that I am a felon. I am very proud of my success. I want to share the tools I have learned along the way with others like me. If my story can save one life or keep one person from relapsing, then the fight was worth it all!
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