Photo by Caleb Revill / MTSU Sidelines
Doors of Hope is a nonprofit organization in Murfreesboro that helps men and women formerly convicted of nonviolent crimes reintegrate back into society as productive and self-sustaining individuals. The organization provides mentoring for people who are nearing their release from the Rutherford County Correctional facility, housing for those who have nowhere left to go and support for those who are struggling with addiction and other psychological stress. Although the organization helps both men and women, many of their clients are women like Rhonda Weaver, a client who now works for the organization.
She’s thankful every day for it.
“I do pretty much everything the other girls do,” Weaver said. “I just don’t live on site. I work a couple of days a week up here in the office. I maintain my recovery and stay involved in a group of ‘cheerleaders,’ so to speak.”
Weaver found out about doors of hope at the Rutherford County Correctional Work Center after receiving a DUI charge. This wasn’t a typical DUI though; She didn’t drink and drive. Weaver had been arrested for driving under the influence of opiates.
Weaver had grown up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time period where she recalled experimenting with drugs as being “a part of the culture.” She wasn’t addicted then, however. Her addiction with opiates would begin in her 20s when she was experiencing migraine headaches. When she went to the doctor, Weaver was prescribed opiates for her migraines.
“That’s when it started,” Weaver said. “So I went through a period of time where I was able to maintain that. I don’t think I was in full-fledged active addiction. I was a functioning addict, but I always took them. I always found a way to get them. It got to a point where I could come up with an ailment if I needed to. It wasn’t hard to get them.”
She said that in 2000, she was able to order opiates on the internet.
“You could pay for a consultation over the phone with a doctor in Florida or somewhere else, and they would ship them to you,” Weaver said. “They were so accessible … I’d get them however I could.”
All the while, Weaver still would have described herself as a functioning addict. She had a job. She was married to her husband, Jerry. They had children, grandchildren and “life was good.” Weaver said that Jerry knew about her prescriptions for migraines but that he didn’t know that she had been abusing opiates. The couple was planning to visit Hawaii for their 20th wedding anniversary when one day Jerry came home from work and started to feel severe stomach pains. He had a fever. The Hawaii trip would have to wait, and Jerry needed to go to the doctor.
After going to the family doctor the next morning, Jerry’s stomach was bloated and the doctor advised the two to go to a hospital for tests. A CT scan at the hospital would reveal Jerry’s sickness to be pancreatic cancer. It had already spread to Jerry’s other organs. The doctor told Jerry he would only have a year or less left to live.
After being sent to an oncologist shortly after, that time was cut to three months.
By week two, Jerry was in hospice care.
Three weeks to the day that their family doctor had diagnosed Jerry, he was dead. Weaver referred to this as “a nosedive into death.”
“My only remedy in my mind to fix that were pills,” Weaver said. “That’s when it started really spiraling out of control. I didn’t get my first DUI until I was 50 years old.”
The consequences that came with her DUI were much greater than what she had described as previous “slaps on the wrist.”
“The consequences were just not severe enough to get my attention,” Weaver said. “This last time they were. I started out at the jail … I was there for five months. Then they moved me to the work center. I went to the work center in March of 2016, and that following June, I was chosen to participate in a pilot program that Doors of Hope was doing there at the jail.”
Through that program, Weaver was introduced to educational classes, addiction education and other self-help curriculum. It was also there that she met Maridel Williams, the founder of Doors of Hope.
“Through that process, I was finally able to learn about addiction, learn about my own behavior (and) the behaviors of my family (and) friends,” Weaver said. “Also, I give all credit to God. I believe wholeheartedly that he set me down for the length of time that I needed to be set down so my brain could heal, so my mind could get clear (and) so I could come to the realization that I did not have to have those pills to survive.”
Weaver said she had made the decision that once she left the work center program, she would stay with Doors of Hope and continue rebuilding her life with their assistance. She stuck to that and continues to work with Doors of Hope to this day.
To Weaver, Doors of Hope has been a second chance. A second chance that she wouldn’t have had without Williams’ initiative in starting the program.
“Maridel is heaven-sent, not only for me but (for) most anybody that is introduced to her,” Weaver said. “She has such unconditional love, (she’s) non-judging (and) accepting. She loves you where you’re at, but she doesn’t leave you where you’re at. She sees something better for you when you don’t see it for yourself … Everything that this program has offered me is a result of where I am at today. It’s nobody else but Doors of Hope.”
Williams started Doors of Hope out of what she saw as a necessity to help others and benefit society. She wanted to understand the people she would be working to help. So she worked with a friend to meet with incarcerated women and hear their stories.
“I got started (by) sitting knee-to-knee with a gal in a prison cell and hearing her story,” Williams said. “Since then, I’ve collected well over 500 stories of this struggle. The faces change, (and) the names change. But, the stories have some remarkable similarities.”
Similarities that Williams said are mostly based on addiction, recovery and relapse. Deeper than that, Williams said that a different approach to perspective can reveal the underlying traumas of the women who have been incarcerated.
“Sometimes we hear the end of the story or where addiction started and where the person is now, but many times, we don’t hear what happened before that,” Williams said.
It’s these childhood and past traumas that Williams and her team of mentors at Doors of Hope work to address when helping individuals reintegrate back into society.
Doors of Hope currently provides housing, help finding work and supporting mentors for its clients. The organization is even in partnership with Red Door Catering to provide work for their clients, as well as some dentists in Murfreesboro who volunteer some of their time to help perform dental checkups for free. One volunteer helps to provide transportation for people like Weaver who lost their drivers license and can’t transport themselves to and from work.
For more information on Doors of Hope, visit here.
To contact news Editor Caleb Revill, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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