Terry is an activist for criminal justice reform. A sponsor to women re-entering the community from incarceration. And a formerly incarcerated woman herself. She's walked a hard road. But today, "People don't see the Terry I used to be. They see the Terry who's striving—for her voter rights back and for a driver's license—being a mom, a grandmother—being an addict in recovery."
|Terry: "Today, I am a strong, black, independent, caring individual. I will go out of my way for someone else."
One Friday afternoon in 2006, we almost lost Terry. Fresh from incarceration, newly arrived at Guest House, overwhelmed and trusting no one, Terry told Executive Director Kari Galloway, "I'm leaving!" Kari urged, "Just stay the weekend. Decide on Monday." Terry did stay, and she now sees that as her turning point: "If I'd walked out, I'd have gotten high and I'd probably be dead today." And Northern Virginia would have lost an endlessly generous activist, worker, role model and friend—lost her before she'd had a chance to become "the woman God created me to be."
THE HARD ROAD: 2006's turning point was a long time coming. Terry was born in 1968 and grew up in Northern Virginia. As a young child, she lived with her brother, sister and parents—and domestic violence, alcohol and drugs. Terry remembers cleaning up after her parents' "house parties" and taking sips from the not-quite-empty cups and cans (alcohol, beer): she was just seven. At eight, she was moved to her grandparents' house. Her grandmother provided stability but, as Terry says, "Guess what? The abuser was upstairs": her grandfather molested her. She turned to alcohol and drugs to mask her pain.
Things escalated. By her mid-teens, Terry was sneaking out of her grandmother's house to party all night. Abusive boyfriends entered her life. She had her first child at 16, her fourth (and youngest) at 19. The next year, she was introduced to crack—and her addiction really took off.
Terry's two grandmothers, and later the foster system, took over her children's care. Meanwhile, for the next 15 years, Terry organized her life around crack—funded it through odd jobs, panhandling and crime (shoplifting, drug dealing, prostitution), leaving little and usually nothing for shelter. She mostly lived on the streets, except when she lived in jail.
Her final incarceration was in 2005. Right afterward, in 2006, she entered the Residential Program at Friends of Guest House. Residential was followed by Aftercare, and Terry graduated in 2007 at the age of 39. Trauma, ADHD and serious physical health problems compounded the damage done by her addiction—and could she trust ... anyone?—so those Guest House client years involved tremendously hard work, and some setbacks, and many victories.
The first victory, as Terry always says, was daring to trust one person; and that one person was Kari Galloway, starting in 2006.
ONE BECAME TWO, BECAME MANY, BECAME TERRY. One became two when Terry joined AA and decided to trust her sponsor. From there, as her trust kept growing, her helping circle widened. And very quickly, Terry's own helping nature reemerged.
|"The Terry who's striving—being a mom, a grandmother": Terry (third from left) with her three daughters, some of her 12-soon-13 grandchildren, other extended family and her sponsor. Her son, Mikey, died in 2013.
The seven-year-old girl who picked up cans and cups to help her parents is, today, a woman helping addicts put down their cans and cups, and needles and pills—and helping ex-offenders make it, and helping victims of abuse find safety.
"I help because it's pleasing to me," Terry explains. "I'm getting stronger every time I do something. I'm learning. And," remembering her own mistrustful past, "it does feel good when someone can trust me enough to ask me for help. That's a good feeling."
A GIFT OF GAB. "My father always said, even when I was a little girl, 'You have the gift of gab!'" Terry laughingly recounts. Through Guest House, Terry has used that gift well.
She is a member of our Speakers Bureau. Over the years, she has given more than 100 talks. She's addressed everyone from lawmakers to social work students; she's spoken to church groups and groups of incarcerated youths. "The ones that stand out to me the most are the juvenile detention centers. Talking to those young girls, hearing their stories. 'You're only 15, you're 12 and you've already committed armed robbery? I did the exact same thing you're doing [but not armed], and this is what happened to me.' Those girls, they just cry; they're like, 'Oh, really?' It has made a big, big difference."
Not only is Terry a Speakers Bureau member, she was a moving force behind its founding. During her earliest, hardest months at Guest House, "Kari took us to a church she was doing a speaking event for, to tell them about Guest House. She took three of us with her. At the time, we were all on house arrest—and I thought it was punishment!" she laughs. "Then we spoke and it was like, wow. The impact we had on the crowd was moving, and I've been doing it ever since." The women's early enthusiasm added momentum to the official establishment of the Speakers Bureau, in 2008. Today, Terry works closely with the Speakers Bureau coordinator, Faith Ruderfer, another Guest House graduate.
|Effective advocates! Terry (left), Speakers Bureau Coordinator Faith Ruderfer (first row, right), other clients and Executive Director Kari Galloway (back row, right) outside the Commonwealth of Virginia's General Assembly Building, where they recently visited state representatives — educating them about offender/ex-offender issues.
Through the Speakers Bureau and in other ways, Terry has also used her "gift of gab" for advocacy: specifically, around offender/ex-offender issues and, in particular, voting-rights restoration. Of all the states, Virginia is among those that make it hardest for ex-offenders to vote. Terry has been working to regain her own rights for five years. She has filed applications twice and been turned down each time (the latest obstacle: a 25-year-old unpaid fine of $3,800, which Terry had known nothing about. She is working out a payment plan and otherwise will persist with both her own applications and her advocacy for ex-offenders generally).
Terry is very active in AA/NA. Several months ago, she and her sponsor—with our staff and volunteers—established an AA/NA group especially for Guest House clients, current and past. The group meets every Tuesday evening at a nearby church, and participation has been good. The women especially appreciate their common experiences as ex-offenders.
Terry helps in quieter, individual ways, too, as someone else current clients can talk with. These are informal relationships, but Terry always makes herself available; she's usually at Guest House at least twice a week. "I try to reassure them that they're on the right track. I let them know the process isn't easy, but it's doable. Some want to give up. I just had a lady that wanted to walk out. We sat outside in the cold, for about an hour, and we talked and I told her, 'I was just like you, I wanted to leave, too, but I stayed.' And she stayed."
When Guest House has a fundraiser, or a booth at Del Ray's annual Art on the Avenue, or a presence at holiday-season Alternative Giving Fairs—Terry comes to help. She'll set up chairs, she'll explain the work of Guest House and she often sells the beautiful beaded jewelry that she makes.
WHO IS TERRY TODAY? "I am a strong, black, independent, caring individual. I will go out of my way for someone else." Delightedly, she exclaims, "I'm that woman!"
Northern Virginia can be very proud of its daughter—and very glad that she had the chance to turn her life around. She has given back many times over, and many times again over that.
"The Terry I Used to Be"
Terry frequently tells her "before" story—the abuse, the addiction, the crimes, the incarcerations—and describes her journey back. Here are some examples.
PRINT: "A Prison of Her Own" (The National Journal, Jan. 29, 2016): A profile of Terry.
PRINT: "Former County Jail Inmates Discuss Problems of Re-entry to Community" (Mount Vernon Voice, July 8, 2015): Coverage of a panel discussion at a Mount Vernon District Democratic Committee meeting. Terry was a panelist; so was another graduate, Faith Ruderfer, and Executive Director Kari Galloway.
RADIO: "Guest House: Breaking the Cycle of Crime" (Inside Transformational Leadership, VoiceAmerica™ Internet Talk Radio, June 22, 2015): This radio show interviewed Terry, Faith and Kari as a group.
RADIO: "Washington Report" (CBS Local Radio, Feb. 20, 2016): Terry and Kari tell the Guest House story, including special insights from Terry's personal story.
VIDEO: "Friends of Guest House" (2009): Terry appears in this video overview of Guest House.
(February 24, 2016)