My name is Rennie and there’s not enough time in a day to tell you of all the trauma, poor decisions, impaired judgement, all the different things that set my life on a self-destructive path from age 8 to age 47.
I have been all over this country wreaking havoc and running through people’s lives like a tornado. My spirit was dormant. I had no reason for being.
I was 47 when I decided to change my life. I gave myself a chance. I didn’t know that there were places where miracles happen. This is where my miracle happened.
I dropped out of school in eighth grade. I did everything imaginable under the sun – I’ve lived two different lives in one lifetime. It’s not a curse – it’s truly a blessing.
When I look back on my life I have to say, what was the turning point of my life that made me stop showering in the side of somebody’s house using their water hose? What made me stop torturing and intimidating my family members for $2 to get high? What made me stop stealing and hurting people? I had no belief in people. I had no belief in myself.
The judicial system advised me to either accept help or go to jail for the rest of your life. They said, “Either you accept that you need help or go to jail for the rest of your life.”
So I said, “I’ll take this program that you’re offering.” I was in a state of despair.
I was sent to the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. I was staying clean by working a 12-step program. I found a counselor who believed in me, for some reason. She said, “What do you want to do?”
And I said, “I want to go to school.”
She said, “Okay.”
That’s all it took. See how simple that is? She didn’t say, “Well, first you need to get your teeth fixed and you need to take baths. You need your hair combed.” She didn’t say any of that. Her answer was “okay.” And the despair started to dissipate.
I went to school and got a GED. It was a big deal. I’m 47, I graduated. Now you’ve given me hope on the educational front. I want to go to college now — sociology. She said, “You also need a minor.” And so I was like, criminal justice, why not? I spent 18 years in prison — I aced those classes on experience alone. I went on to obtain to an AA and a BA, along with several certificates in substance abuse. At 54, I became a college graduate.
This gave me purpose. Now where should I put this purpose? Because I’m new to life — as our members are new to life, living life on life’s terms.
She said, “You’ve got the bachelor’s degree. Now what?”
I’m 54. I’ll never get a job. What am I going to do with this education?
“You need to apply it to employment.”
“But you don’t understand.” I was going to let my history hold me back … but we can move past it. I’m a living example.
She said, “We’re going to send you to MHALA.”
I walked into MHALA and I saw Chris and I saw Jennifer. I saw all these people. And once again, my mentality said, “They’re judging. They’re taking your inventory. You’re a lesbian and you’re black.” That was my mentality because I suffer from mental issues that will attack me and hold me back. I still hadn’t shaken that shame and that guilt of my past. That’s heavy. That’s like a cross — a burden.
But I walked in and they were like, “Hello!”
Chris took me under her wing. She saw my struggle but she also saw my spirit. Jennifer would not let me give up. MHALA is a place where people see past your struggle and ignite your spirit.
They asked, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Well, there’s not too much I can do. I don’t know how to do a resume. Um, I do have some education…”
I’m going along with it because I had a glimmer of hope already.
“What do you want to do?”
“What I want? I got to stay under the radar with my criminal history.”
“We’re going to fix that.”
“You don’t understand. I’m state property.”
They walk me through the entire certification of rehabilitation. Chris would not let me go. Jennifer saw through all of my fears and gave me goal-oriented tasks. I was moving into existence now — having a goal and reality. You’re not just surviving. You’re existing because you have objectives and you’re moving toward those. I went from survival to existence.
Jennifer went to certification court with me. You have to be 10 years without police contact, off of parole or any supervision. You have to have some accomplishments. I went from the home girl to the homeowner.
When I went to court they said, “Only five people a year get a certificate of rehabilitation and you’re one of them. You’re going to be pardoned.”
The judge said, “All rights restored.”
All rights restored. I’m a citizen now. For the first time in my life I can vote. Now don’t forget, we still have mental health issues … but today, I get to know my barriers. I address them.
The magic words were, “What do you want to do?” We all have aspirations and dreams. You’d be amazed at what happens when we just ask our members what they want to do.
There’s a real magical purpose here. Every time I walked through the door, I was home.
I’m 16 years clean. It took me 17 years to get a job. I sent out resumes and just kept visiting MHALA Employment and they kept encouraging me. And I saw they were looking for a personal service coordinator. I’ve always loved being of service. Now that I’m clean and sober, I can be of service to the community. I’m of service to other struggling addicts and alcoholics. I asked the higher power, can I please be of service to another human being? I have something for them. I have that hope. I’m a perfect living example. I tore boards off of abandoned houses and crawled through them and got in a corner. So coming from that place, I saw kings and queens and princesses and homeowners and business owners and I thought, it can happen. So I went for it.
After two years of filling out applications, including MHALA’s, they called me for an interview. I just kept it real. I’m transparent. I can’t be any other way. I’ve already been what the world wanted me to be. I’ve been perpetrating a fraud. Now I get the opportunity to be me and be loving and not allow shame and guilt to hold me back. I can let people know that there is hope.