Few things are quite as beautiful as a child’s resilient capacity for hope, love, and forgiveness of a parent. Few things are quite as tragic as a parent who is slave to addiction, who has lost his/her way, who no longer has the capacity to properly care for a child. While not all cases of Doors of Hope clients’ loss of custody of their children stem from addiction issues, high-risk choices and behaviors that are associated with an addiction lifestyle are often the dominant forces at work. Sometimes, the situation is that a client has voluntarily given the care of her children over to a family member. In most cases, by the time a client comes to Doors of Hope, especially if they have had time to sober up in jail, they are desirous of getting back custody of their children and in building a life in which they can adequately support them.
Naturally, a history of high-risk choices and behaviors would make a skeptic out of anyone. The work of reuniting families begins first with building a new person. Clients who are desirous of regaining custody of their kids are required to fulfill all of the life training, mentoring, counseling, job-coaching, and 12-step meetings that clients without custody issues are required to fulfill. Stable employment and housing must be secured before custody can be sought. Imagine, if you will, the scenario of the mother and child on the airplane that is going down. One oxygen mask must be shared between mother and child. The mother must put the mask on first to ensure that she has enough air to take care of the child. More often than not, regaining custody is an incremental process that begins with increasing levels of visitation, meeting court requirements, satisfying fines, getting valid driver licenses, family counseling, etc.
Doors of Hope is about reuniting families. As a client, myself, I have seen some amazing reunions. One friend had to go through a heartbreaking ordeal with her mother and court proceedings that seemed to have no end to rescue her four children from sub-human living conditions. Another friend actually got dismissed from the Doors of Hope program for failure to comply with rules and requirements. Realizing her mistake, she met every requirement for re-entry to the program (which is significantly more stringent that initial entry requirements), and today her two beautiful sons are in her sole custody. The best reunion story that I have heard to date occurred just last weekend when my dear friend, also a Phase 3 client, had a celebration gathering to mark the 2-year anniversary of getting custody of her children back. Present at the celebration were the foster parents who cared for her children when she could not, the father of the children who was recently released from incarceration, closest friends, and her Doors of Hope mentor.
Reuniting families is about more than just custody. It is about expanding family. It is about the love of community. A child who has been separated from a parent for a long time, but who now sees that parent making an effort to change and to be a part of the child’s life is getting a parent back, whether custody is awarded or not. Not only that, but they are seeing community rise up around the parent in a way that may not have ever happened before. I never lost custody of my daughter, but Doors of Hope has given my daughter her mother back, nonetheless. Today, we celebrate that family is so much deeper that blood.
~ Solita M.
It has been truly inspiring to see how the new men’s housing program has opened the door to deeper engagement with Project Braveheart graduates after release. Rolando is a great example of how this deeper ongoing relationship creates the momentum needed for change to happen.
Rolando was asked recently to reflect on what his life looked like a year ago. “I was nowhere near where I am now in terms of making good decisions. I was 25 years old, making crazy decisions, not really caring about myself or my daughter. I had plenty of opportunities, but I was living like I was blind.” About 2-3 months into his time at the Rutherford County Correctional Work Center, a fellow inmate told him about an upcoming series of Project Braveheart classes. After the first class, he was hooked, and he made sure his work supervisors knew that he couldn’t miss any of the Friday afternoon classes. He graduated from that class and attended the beginning of the next series before his release in early December.
“I had a choice of going back to negativity, where people were leading me to no good, or I could become a whole new person.” So instead of going back to Nashville, he stayed in Murfreesboro, becoming one of the first residents of the new men’s housing facility above the Doors of Hope office. He was baptized a week later, and he worked through a process of setting and achieving goals with LIFE program director Michael Jordan.
Rolando recently received his second pay raise already at his job, and he’s preparing to move into his own place. He had never spent significant time with his 4-year-old daughter before, but when I tried to reach him for this interview, we had to make other plans because he was shopping with her. One of his goals is to become a bigger part of her life. “Going through the program makes you want to get your own place and be a man,” Rolando explains.
“All the people in Doors of Hope will help you and pick you up when you’re down,” he says. “They take you from a lost place — a little empty box, where you’re stuck – and they will take you and lift you up so high, and say you have so much potential. They stay by you through thick and thin, and put you under their wing and help you.”