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May 29, 2013 | Carol E. Barnwell

On The Road Back

Article_Brigid’s Hope1

Brigid’s Hope Offers Key to Restored Future


[Diolog MagazineBoth former offenders are working diligently to hang on to their new lives after years of addiction and incarceration. 


Colleen wanted to use her real name. “For so many years, I ran. I decided the running is done and there’s nothing I need to be afraid of anymore,” she said. Beth* was more tentative. She’s working her way back into a career and didn’t want to jeopardize her future job security. 



Colleen grew up in what she described as a middle-class family, with two brothers and a sister. Her parents moved the family from upstate New York to Denver, then Memphis, improving their livelihoods at each step. In school, Colleen made friends, but she couldn’t wait to be out. She married at 18, earned an associate’s degree, and held a responsible position in neonatal, pediatric and trauma units as a respiratory therapist. 


“I thrived on all that. I was good at it,” she said. Colleen eventually ran a comprehensive outpatient rehab facility and made good money. “I had the big house, the cars, money and the diamonds, but I was miserable,” she said. 


The abuse in her marriage began when she was pregnant with her first child and continued throughout the 18-year marriage. “[It] just got worse and worse,” Colleen said. She became increasingly isolated and, even on the night her husband tried to kill her, she was too terrified to call the police. “If he went to jail, I knew he’d get out and it would be worse than ever.” 


When she finally left with her daughters, her husband stalked her. “To this day I can see that crazy look on his face in my rearview mirror,” she said. “He told me he was going to bury me. I dreamt of him shoveling leaves and dirt over me. I could actually feel it in my mouth and I’d wake up just sobbing.”  


Living with her daughters at her mother’s home, Colleen began to rebuild her life, then stumbled into the abyss. 


Colleen’s first encounter with drugs came when a man she met offered her marijuana. When she was high, she found she didn’t think about anything—didn’t hurt inside anymore. But that first crack-laced joint quickly led to an addiction and the violent physical abuse that had marked her married life soon followed. 


Her ex-husband eventually took her daughters, and Colleen moved to Houston with her abusive boyfriend, where she began stealing to help keep a roof over her head. 


“I lost everything—I just kind of cracked,” she said, adding, “I used to talk to God sometimes, and then I just stopped, because I thought, ‘I’m such a terrible person. I’ve done such horrible things that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. There’s no way God can love me.’”


The drugging, the thefts, the arrests continued for seven years. Every time she walked out of jail, her boyfriend was there waiting for her and the cycle  continued. 


“One day I was sitting on the bathroom floor with a crack pipe in one hand and a razor blade in the other, and I just said, ‘God, help me,’” Colleen remembered. 


Later that day, she was arrested at Walmart for shoplifting and was sentenced six months in state jail. She had been terrified the first time she was arrested—but by this time she was so tired, being arrested was a relief. She just lay down in the back of the police car and fell asleep. When she emerged from jail this time, she headed to the Salvation Army and asked for help. 


“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Colleen said, “It was the start of, well, my life, really.” 



Beth felt she was on her own, even as a child. She was two when she left the orphanage with four other children to live with a Philadelphia policeman and his wife in foster care. She grew up going to Catholic schools and did well, but by the time she was 12, her foster mother’s 24-year-old nephew had molested her. When her foster mom found blood on her panties, she accused Beth of no longer being a virgin. “I knew everything was going to be my fault,” she said, so she never told anyone about the nephew. 


Her foster father had died of cancer a few years earlier and the other children had drifted back to their biological families by then. Through tears, Beth, now 50, weeps remembering how she waited for family to come for her. 


“I thought one day it would be my chance, but it never happened. I was the only one left. Everybody had left except me. I was still left,” she managed to whisper between quiet sobs. She’s never known her biological family.


Beth asked the social worker who checked on her to move her to a group home because she felt alone, and she was afraid of the nephew. “I didn’t know what to do, I guess I was always making decisions on my own,” she said. 


After finishing high school, she moved to Washington, D.C., with Job Corps. Two years later, she followed her boyfriend to Houston where she began working for the Houston Police Department. Her life was relatively secure for several years, but by her 25th birthday, things were falling apart. Her boyfriend was into drugs and she could no longer hide her growing crack addiction. Rehab didn’t work, and after leaving the boyfriend, Beth continued her plunge into addiction and survival. 


“It took me 17 years to come to get help,” she said. In and out of jail, on and off drugs, many of those years remain hazy in her memory but, after losing her apartment and yet another job, she fell in with a group of people selling fake jewelry and purses on the streets led by a modern day Fagin. 


“This guy supported my crack habit. Of course, he didn’t care about me, but I don’t know … that was the only person that I had … I knew that this wasn’t love, but it was the only connection I had to someone,” Beth explained. The man provided merchandise for the several addicts to sell in exchange for housing. He was verbally abusive at first, but later the abuse became physical. That was the turning point for Beth. 


“That was my rock bottom. I had a few clothes and the roof over my head, which was theirs! The only thing I could think of was that I was already abusing myself (with the crack cocaine). I couldn’t have anyone else abuse me.” 


So for the first time in her life, Beth asked for help. She went to the Star of Hope Mission in downtown Houston and several months later was accepted into the program at Brigid’s Hope at the Beacon, a ministry of Christ Church Cathedral. 

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Residents must be accepted into the Brigid’s Hope program, so Colleen and Beth had to make a bit of progress in their lives to begin their next step. Brigid’s Hope is a transitional living program that provides housing, mentoring, counseling and life skills training for women who are trying to become self-sufficient following incarceration. Participants must be motivated to make changes in their lives and must have been sober for at least 90 days. Then the real work begins.


A milestone for both Colleen and Beth was the day they received the key to their own rooms. Tears welling in her eyes, Beth said, “They told me I was going to have my own room! To get a key in my hand and to—just to have my own space—I knew… I said, ‘I can do this! I can do this.’” 


For years, each woman had enjoyed little or no privacy—no secure place to call their own, especially in and out of jail, where even the toilet is not private. This one event marked a turning point for each of them. 


Colleen agreed. “After being with a man and doing drugs every single day and stealing and becoming a felon twice, then being in state jail—with a lot of women [who have] a lot of bad habits … then being able to walk into Brigid’s program and be able to close that door and lock that door! It was the most amazing feeling. It was, oh, it was wonderful!”


Looking back on the last several years of recovery, she can now admit her drug addiction and accept responsibility for her actions. “I was ashamed. That wasn’t the way I was raised. I don’t know how the hell I ended up [there],” she said, adding, “That was not what God wanted for me … I wanted my life back.”


Brigid’s Hope helped Beth understand what she needed. “I had been an addict for over 17 years. I hadn’t had a job for 10 years. My grammar had to improve, then my looks had to improve.” Brigid’s Hope also helped her address some serious medical problems that resulted from almost two decades of self-neglect. 


Beth said her time at Brigid’s Hope helped her learn how to communicate with people, how to respect people’s differences. “I’m used to being around addicts and in abusive relationships. I had to learn how to talk in a different way,” she said. “I learned how to listen ... I’m so very grateful, thank you Jesus that I’m here.”


Colleen worked with volunteers and counselors at Brigid’s Hope to find out who she really was. “I took advantage of having a therapist for a while and that right there really opened my eyes. She asked questions that nobody else had ever asked me before.” 


The therapist asked her to journal about how she felt as a child. “I started writing and completely different stuff came out. And it was so tragic. I told her, ‘I don’t want to keep writing this because it’s just such a bad, tragic story.’ And she told me, ‘Well, that’s what the truth is. That’s your story. Write it down and get it out.’ She really helped me.” 


Both Colleen and Beth have “graduated” from Brigid’s Hope and, while they remain living in the program’s SRO (single room occupancy), they now pay rent. They also receive ongoing support, which they return in large measure, encouraging other women who have entered the program. 


“I continue to strive and do better because [I’ve been] given the tools, you don’t lose that,” Beth said. “If I see someone on the street—I offer them a hand, I offer them some suggestions. I pay it forward, because we don’t take anything for granted,” she said. 


Colleen has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but continues to work with a small publishing office while receiving treatment. 


“Brigid’s Hope saved my life in so many ways,” Colleen said. “It became home … the year I had in that program—I realize how much I got from it. There are times now when I will be in my little space and I just stop and say, ‘Oh, thank you. Thank you, God!’”


“I’m like that lady that won that lottery and didn’t know she had all those zeros, and she does the happy dance. I still do the happy dance. I’m not where I could have been, but I’m assuming that I’m where I’m supposed to be—where He wants me to be,” Beth said, definitively. 


“You’re grateful for where you’re at, because some people just don’t make it. Some people don’t make it. We’re one of the fortunate ones,” she added. 


For more information about Brigid’s Hope at the Beacon, contact Regina Walker, LMSW, program manager at or by calling 713.590.3318.