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Faith: "There but for the grace of God goes—anyone"

OCT. 12, 2015 ... For 25 years, Faith was a civil litigator. She worked at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and some of the big D.C. firms. And she was very successful—working 80-hour weeks, which, she says, “as a lawyer they love!”

Faith

A former lawyer, Faith is a Guest House graduate and now on staff as Advocacy and Speakers Bureau Coordinator.

Faith, too, loved the work. But also fuelling her drive were her inner demons: “a deep sense of worthlessness and powerlessness, which compounded over time.” By her mid-40s, work no longer displaced her demons. She continued those 80-hour weeks but took up gambling and shoplifting on the side. Both, she says, became addictions.

The shoplifting undid her. She was arrested three times but got probation. In 2008, she was arrested for the fourth time and the judge said, “Enough is enough: you’re going to jail.” She also lost her license to practice law.

She spent 16 months at the Arlington Adult Detention Center. Afterward, she entered the Guest House Residential Program and went on to Aftercare, completing both successfully. As she continued to rebuild her life on her own, she remained close to Guest House, returning for therapeutic groups, for the sense of community with others who understand and, characteristically, for the opportunity to “give back” as a volunteer.

Faith still volunteers but, in 2014, joined the staff part-time as our Advocacy and Speakers Bureau Coordinator. Speakers Bureau and other media coverage, click here.

And she no longer gambles or shoplifts.

 

"‘There but for the grace of God’ goes—anyone. It’s very easy to make a mistake one day and have it affect the rest of your life. That’s what happens to almost all the women who are in jail; and once they’re in the system, it’s very hard to get out. But your past does not have to dictate your future. What women need is opportunity."
—FAITH

“THE ORIGIN OF MY PROBLEMS was in my childhood,” Faith recounts. “I had a dad who was a compulsive gambler, a mom who was mentally ill and a brother who was developmentally disabled, so my parents really needed to focus on him. So virtually from the beginning of my life, my parents weren’t there for me. I was almost invisible. I grew up without the focus, guidance and nurturing that any child needs. So I looked outside of myself for whatever encouragement I could get from other people.”

At first, that quest for external affirmation got a good result: success as a lawyer. Later, as she explains, she needed more.

“My dad had introduced me to gambling, unfortunately, as this really fun thing,” and Faith pursued it. Eventually—having undergone a treatment program, joined Gamblers Anonymous and had herself barred from the casinos—she stopped gambling. And unlike many others who gamble addictively, “I was able to survive it financially, because I was making a good living.”

She stopped the gambling behavior, she points out, but she did not address what underlay it. Instead, she began shoplifting more and more, selling the items on eBay. “I didn’t care about the money or the possessions. I did it to make myself feel better. It’s even hard for me to understand, because I’m really a very honest person: I’m the type of person who goes into the grocery store and, if I give the clerk a $10 bill but get change for a $20, I immediately give back the difference. The behavior didn’t jibe with who I was, or am. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline, or just something to fill my time, or a way of keeping the focus outside of myself.

“When you have a lot of emotional pain, you seek something to deal with it.”

Later, after prison, the right therapy (including the right medications) began helping Faith address that emotional pain directly. She’s still working on it.

 

AS AN EDUCATED, MIDDLE-CLASS LAWYER, addicted to behaviors but not substances, whose childhood was marred by emotional neglect but not physical abuse, Faith says her story is “not as usual as what you would probably hear from a number of people in jail. But I’m always struck by the commonalities among us, especially the emotional pain: drugs and alcohol are designed to cope with underlying trauma, whether sexual abuse or emotional abuse or another trauma.”

Another set of commonalities revealed itself when Faith tried to rebuild her life upon release. She had no real support system, her previous earnings were long gone and she had nowhere to live.

  • For a support system, she relied on Guest House.
  • After leaving the Residential Program, “I found no one would rent to me because I had a felony,” despite her ability to pay (and pay market rates, with Social Security disability income to which she’d contributed fairly large sums as a lawyer). She lived in a homeless shelter and in transitional quarters supplied by Wesley Housing Development Corporation through Guest House; only in June 2015 did she find a rental of her own.
  • Although barred from practicing law, she was not barred from behind-the-scenes positions such as paralegal or legal assistant. “I took my resume to a headhunter that didn’t know my story and was very interested in me; but when I told them what I had done, they essentially said that the likelihood of finding somebody who would hire me was remote. I’d thought, with all my experience somebody would jump at the chance of being able to use the talent. But I quickly got disabused of that notion.” She found other small jobs, then the current position at Guest House. And she volunteers all that experience and talent at the nonprofit, Legal Services of Northern Virginia.

“It was hard to come to terms with what I had done to my life. In the Speakers Bureau, one of the messages we try to convey is that people who make a bad choice and get off the right path suffer tremendous consequences that can derail their lives. It’s almost like ‘there but for the grace of God’ goes—anyone. It’s very easy to make a mistake one day and have it affect the rest of your life. That’s what happens to almost all the women who are in jail; and once they’re in the system, it’s very hard to get out.

“But your past does not have to dictate your future.

“What all women need is opportunity. Once they have the opportunity to do a job where they can make a living wage, they have the opportunity to change their lives for the better. That’s what I think is really at the heart of what Guest House does and what we need to expand.”

 

FAITH'S OTHER MEDIA COVERAGE (EXAMPLES):
> Mount Vernon Voice: "Former County Jail Inmates Discuss Problems of Re-entry to Community," July 8, 2015
> VoiceAmerica™ Internet Talk Radio's Business Channel: "Inside Transformational Leadership," June 22, 2015

 

 

 
 
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In Northern Virginia, Friends of Guest House helps women make the difficult transition from incarceration back into the community.

Friends of Guest House, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) public charity: Federal tax ID #51-0201327. Gifts to Guest House are tax-deductible as provided by law.
 

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