Thursday, July 29, 2010

Antoine's Story - A Client's Perspective

Celebrating eleven years clean, and Antoine Stevens still calls himself a newcomer (N.B. Antoine Stevens is not our client’s real name).

That’s because Antoine recognizes that “to get to the 12th year, I’ve got 365 days to deal with.” So he’s learned to have a plan – and a backup plan -- for each day: “I’ve got short-term goals and long-term goals. You plan your week; you plan your budget; then everything fits easy. If you don’t have a plan, it’s hard.”

After years of addiction and the cycle of crime-and-punishment that comes with it, Antoine doesn’t take anything for granted. “Recovery is for life,” he says. “Only 10 percent of it is the substance. The other 90 percent is behavior. I know I can still learn more and more.”

In the late 1990s, Antoine was on probation and working for New Horizon Landscaping when he “got in a little trouble,” he says. “I found out I could pass the parole drug test,” he explains, “but I couldn’t pass the one at Georgia Justice Project. When I failed, they asked me if I needed help. I knew I had to do something. I figured I’d rather be in rehab than in the penitentiary.”

He completed an intensive eight-month, inpatient rehab program, one he calls the toughest in Georgia. “I thought they were crazy at first,” he jokes. “But I hung in. After six months clean, I started seeing blessings coming.”

“I had a good foundation coming up,” he says, but he credits Georgia Justice Project with getting him back on track. “When I didn’t love myself, they loved me, and I didn’t understand that. They sent me to school and used the resources they had for me. They show you like it is--they show you love, but it’s also tough love. They set you up with all the resources, but it’s up to the individual to take advantage of the opportunity. So I went to rehab and never looked back.”

Still, Antoine takes it day by day.”I’ve got my network, and I stay connected with things that keep me clean. I go to meetings, get on my network. If I’m going through something, I can call them. The urge can come up but it’s just a thought. Once I tell somebody, I’m through with it. It’s a burden off me.”

In addition to working at New Horizon, Antoine is a regular around the Justice Project office and at functions. “Georgia Justice is like my second family,” he says. “The staff, the Board, they all know me. They don’t see me as a convict or an addict. Everybody respects me. I try to be there to show my appreciation.

“I’m grateful – at my age, a black man, an addict – I’m in good health, no disease. That’s a blessing in itself. I could have AIDS. I could be locked up or dead. God’s brought me this far. He’s still got more for me to do. Even when you fall short, he’ll make a way for you.”

While he describes being clean as “a beautiful thing,” Antoine also points out that “it’s a matter of making my choices and being happy with the choices I’ve made. I try to be humble and show by example. Others might catch on. They might think, ‘If my brother can do it, so can I.’”

Looking back, Antoine says, “It was a blessing that I failed that drug test. Doug (Ammar) said to me, ‘Antoine, when are you going to grow up?’ Then, cocaine was my girlfriend. Now I’m a trusting servant of God. I have to set an example for my grandkids, give them hope, and keep doing the right thing. One day at a time.”

“I choose not to fall weak,” he declares. “I’m going to prove to the system that I’m not a statistic.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Regina's GJP Story - A clients perspective

Regina Sullivan (N.B. not our client’s real name) planned to be the chain-breaker, the one who wasn’t afflicted by the generational curse. “I thought, ‘there’s no way I’d ever let a man get me there,’” she says, still seemingly baffled. She was smart, college-educated, and the mother of a daughter she adored. And she was headed to jail on a domestic violence charge.

As an abused child, and later abused spouse, Regina’s life story is in many ways typical. In others, it defies every stereotype of the genre.

The only child of an artist mother and a wealthy, alcoholic, bad-boy father, Regina grew up in an affluent but violent Midwestern household, where her father regularly abused her mother. Her mother, in turn, abused her. “She found me to be cumbersome” says Regina. Her father, though, defended her from her mother’s assaults. “He was a terrible husband,” explains Regina, “but a great dad.”

Unlike her mother, Regina was a tomboy, and at a certain age, her abuse morphed into anger and she began to defend herself. “I’ve always felt inadequate,” she says, yet she was always a high achiever. She moved away from her abusive family and graduated from college in Atlanta. She earned a Master’s degree in Education and taught for several years. But she, too, fell for a charming man with his own baggage: unbeknownst to her, he had several domestic violence arrests in another state and an uncanny ability to deflect blame. When he began to abuse her, she fought back. As things became worse, she told him to leave.

In a move calculated to thwart her independence and assert his own control, he picked another fight. The altercation escalated; she fought back; and he called the police. Because her blows had left marks on him, she was arrested as the perpetrator. Two days in lockup gave her time to think clearly. “The hardest thing for me was when I realized, he has never been nice to our daughter,” she says. “I was making him more important than her.” It was time for a change. She asked for legal assistance and referrals for counseling.

Georgia Justice Project seldom accepts domestic violence cases. “But my case was so crazy,” she says, “they called back and said they would.” Her counseling started even before her trial. She was sentenced to six months probation, and eventually her record was expunged. But with no place to go, she and her daughter had to move back in with her abuser. Still, Regina was motivated to make the break. “When I look at my daughter,” she says, “I know I don’t want to be my mother.”

Regina participates in a domestic violence group but finds Georgia Justice Project social worker Julie Smith’s approach to be even more beneficial. “I wanted to learn from the experience, become a better parent and move on,” she explains. “And Julie always hits me with the ‘and now what?’ question. She’s totally honest and supportive.”

Of her experience with Georgia Justice Project, Regina says, “They saved my life and my children’s lives.”

It’s been six years since her arrest, and Regina and her children are happy and healthy and living on their own. It fills her with pride when Julie tells her, “It’s amazing what a centered parent you are,” and points out that she’s doing a good job. Still, she worries about what effect it will all have on her daughter.

“Being abused affected me in so many ways,” she says. “But now we have resources and options. She’s more resilient than I’ll ever be.”

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