Many people see themselves as an open book. If you asked me to describe myself, I’d reply that my life was a book of hidden tales that don’t bear thinking about anymore. It’s almost ironic, then, that my life took an unexpected direction when I saw someone with her name embossed on a book—a book I had to have.
The first chapters of my life were quite ordinary. Born in Winnipeg to loving parents, I lived in a good neighbourhood and attended a great school. I held down a fantastic job with a bus company and was doing very well for myself.
But a job-related back injury led to me becoming addicted to prescription medications. I tried keeping things together for years, but eventually the repeated hospitalizations for my overdoses took their toll and things fell apart. Treatment centres and detoxes couldn’t help me. In short order, my marriage to a wonderful man collapsed and my children were taken away from me—one to live with my ex-husband, the other to live with his grandparents—because they needed better care than my debilitating addiction could offer.
I thought I had hit rock bottom, but I was wrong. At a bar one night, where I would often go to forget how good my life had once been, someone introduced me to something far worse: cocaine.
Cocaine was insidious, slowly but surely leading me down a path I’d never imagined myself on. My home became a den of thieves, and I was too high to notice. I squandered a large inheritance, too numbed to care. I lost my home and my possessions. I used and abused people, and I was an outcast to my family. My children were strangers to me. I didn’t care. All that mattered was my next fix.
This went on for 15 years, and ultimately led to a prison term for trafficking and possession.
While I was waiting to be sentenced, something happened to me that was totally unplanned and unexpected: I started drying out. Incarceration does not lend itself to alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. While the withdrawal process from prescription drugs wasn’t physically easy or painless—I was deathly sick for three months as my body went through detoxification—the mental withdrawal from my three drugs of choice was in many ways even worse. But I came out of it clean for the first time in almost two decades. With that new sense of well-being came a vague conviction that I couldn’t go back to my old life.
It was during my incarceration that I noticed a fellow inmate walking around with her name embossed on a Bible. Despite the fact that I had nothing, that I was a dried-out husk, a physical, emotional and mental wreck, I was still vain enough to want to see my name in print, too!
There was a catch, of course. In order to get my own personally embossed Bible, I had to complete correspondence courses. And that began a new chapter in my life.
With a determination I didn’t know I had, I set to work. With the exception of the prison chaplain, I segregated myself from the rest of the prison population. When I wasn’t required to be outside my cell to eat and exercise, I confined myself to my bare cell. At first, I was only reading the Bible with the aim of acquiring my own embossed copy, but the more I read, the more I wanted to read and soon I was pestering the chaplain for more Bible material from the prison library. I even started listening to Christian music on the little radio I had, a far cry from the heavy metal I used to love.
I wasn’t really aware of the change that was coming over me until one dark night in late 2008, alone in my cell. The more I started seeing the good in me, the more I was tortured by my past, by all the rotten God-forsaken things I’d ever done to my friends and family. I was disgusted with myself. How could God ever love a sinner like me?
At that moment one on my favourite songs entitled More Beautiful You by Jonny Diaz started to play. And I listened to the lyrics:
There could never be a more
Don’t buy the lies, disguises and hoops, they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you, more beautiful you
Something clicked. I was still filled with remorse but I was also overwhelmed with gratitude. I finally understood God’s grace, and I had no shame anymore. I believed.
“There is Hope”
I was released from prison in January 2009. Before my release, I had wondered what church I should attend once I got out. Inside, I’d noticed a calendar printed by The Salvation Army’s correctional and justice services so I contacted Major Margaret Bailey. After a stay at a transition house, she arranged for me to attend a Salvation Army church in my hometown of Penticton, B.C. I was introduced to the pastors, Majors Maurice and Dianne Davis, who welcomed me to the church service. I attended the first Sunday out of prison, and I’ve never stopped.
Their immediate and unconditional acceptance was exactly what I needed. With their approval, I threw myself into volunteer work at the food bank. After years of abuse, it felt wonderful to do something I felt great about.
The Davises made sure that I was included in church or community events. Giving my time and energy for the good of the community was a new way of living for me.
After a year, The Salvation Army held sessions for those interested in becoming official members of the church, and I enthusiastically devoted myself to the course work required. Who attended the graduation ceremony? My entire family, who had forgiven me of my sins, just as God had.
Life isn’t without its trials but for those who despair, I do have an answer. No matter how dark your own prison cell may be, there is hope and there is a future—one with your name on it.