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IMG_9962Humility is one of life’s hardest lessons. And it’s a lesson Stacy Hollis was forced to learn.

Stacy was living with her mother in New Brockton and working in property management. She had been working as a bookkeeper and property manager for 150 rental properties for five years, when Stacy was told that $12,000 was missing. Thinking that a deposit was just made in the wrong place, she and her boss began investigating and—after her arrest–found that $93,000 was missing from several accounts. Stacy maintained her innocence, doing everything she could to try to figure out what happened to the money; her boss claimed to believe her but fired her anyway. Several months later, a detective called, requesting she go to the police station. Stacy realized she needed an attorney. Months after that initial call, she was arrested and charged with theft of property. For four long years, Stacy fought the charges.

“I fought as long as I could,” she says. “I knew I didn’t do it. That was a hard, hard time. It’s painful.”

Getting ready to go to trial, Stacy lost her legal representation when she couldn’t afford to hire a CPA to do an audit. Even though she offered to make payment arrangements, she couldn’t find anyone to help her. About that same time, she found out she was pregnant. The day she went to work to tell her boss that she was pregnant, she was fired. They allowed her to stay and train the new property manager so she maintained a job for about one month. Looking back, Stacy now believes that all these things happened for a reason—so she could be a help to other people through her own experiences.

“All three things happened in one week’s time. It was a very painful time and my world was falling apart but I did have good family support.”

Stacy went to court and was appointed with an attorney. Her court date was delayed so her attorney could get up to speed on the case. He told her she would only be put on probation and would not do any time if she pled guilty. A week away from the court date, Stacy’s attorney had no character witnesses, no court appointed CPA and nothing else in place to help Stacy’s case. Stacy knew that they were not prepared to go to trial and her attorney pushed her to make a decision on the spot to change her plea to guilty.

“I was so tired, I just gave up. Part of me is still mad that I didn’t keep fighting because I knew I didn’t do it. But I went back to court and changed my plea to guilty.”

On April 15, Stacy took her son to school, came home, put her daughter in her baby swing. She had her phone on silent so it wouldn’t wake the baby. After doing a little house cleaning, she checked her phone and found a message at 8:58 from her attorney saying she was supposed to be in court at 9 a.m. She never received a notice in the mail telling her about her court date. Immediately, Stacy found a sitter for her daughter and headed to Enterprise for court. They went through the process and the judge went on the DA wanted—13 years of probation and 18 months of prison. Stacy couldn’t believe the judge’s decision. Stacy’s attorney could offer no reason as to why the DA asked for jail time even after they were advised to change the plea.

“When I heard 18 months in prison I remember thinking there was no way I just heard what I thought I heard. All I could do was cry.”

Stacy had one week and a half to say goodbye to her seven month old daughter and 15 year old son. Her son moved to Texas so he could live with his father. He didn’t want to go but it was what Stacy felt was the right thing to do. Stacy didn’t want her son to visit because she didn’t want him to see her in jail. She didn’t want him to make those kind of memories about his mother. They talked on the phone and wrote letters. But she did see her daughter. Her boyfriend brought her to visitation and she was always happy to see mom.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I can’t ever get that time back and that’s what hurts the worst,” Stacy says.

As hard as the time spent in prison was, Stacy is now able to see the blessings hidden in the situation. Three hundred women were housed at Montgomery Women’s Facility. The loud, crowded prison had no air conditioning. Stacy was able to work at Wendy’s through a work release program. Working at Wendy’s was a humbling experience for Stacy. She was often treated differently from the other employees due to the fact that she was an inmate. The prison kept 40 percent of her salary plus $15 per month for laundry. But Stacy knew working and doing what she was told was her ticket home.

“I learned almost on a daily basis that I had to trust God. God taught me to be humble and depend on him.”

Stacy’s boyfriend hired an attorney to try to get her out of prison early. After her shocking experience the last time she was in court, Stacy was hesitant to return. So she turned to some bible verses she had saved about fear. Before her incarceration, Stacy felt she was led to read the book of Jeremiah. She believed that she was being told that though she may struggle, God will prevail. She felt that God was telling her not to be scared. Stacy went to court and argued that she could pay more restitution if she was allowed to leave jail and get a full time job. Based on that argument, She was allowed to come home early.

“It was painful but I am so thankful,” she says.

Stacy’s daughter was 20 months old when she got home. While there was a transitional period for a couple of weeks to get reacquainted, her daughter never forgot who her mom was. Stacy’s 17 year old son still lives in Texas. Since her early released was based on Stacy finding a full time job, she immediately went on a job search. She was hired by one company but was asked to leave after they found out about her charge. Once again, Stacy felt she could see God’s hand in the events of her life. Even before her experiences, Stacy wanted to help people but didn’t know how. While in prison, she took Healthy You’s Just the Facts: Life Skills class and signed up for case management. She knew employment would be hard but everything lined up so she could be at Healthy You. She now works as Resident Manager at Genesis II, Healthy You’s transitional home for formerly incarcerated women.

“I absolutely love my job. God taught me and protected me while i was in and he still is,” she says. “I feel like I am helping these women but they also help me.”

Statistically, women who are incarcerated are likely to have been victims of domestic abuse. Even before their incarceration, they are often prisoners of bad relationships and unhealthy life choices. They don’t know their own worth. They have never been told they have value. Learning about their own self worth can bring a lot of tears to the eyes of those who are incarcerated. Within the confines of the walls, women can uplift each other when given the proper tools.

When Healthy You Inc was recently invited to present our Active Relationships class to the women at Houston County Jail, the participants not only learned a lot about their own self worth, but they had a little fun as well. One day as my colleague and I approached our destination, we noticed a couple of the clerks outside paying close attention to an object in the flower bed. As we walked closer, we realized that they were feeding a chicken. They told us that the hen had ventured close to the road and they were worried she might be road kill. They called her Jail Bird. She had feathers of rust which reminded me of the orange uniforms the ladies in county wear. Because I live on a small farm and have chickens, I offered to take Jail Bird to safety to live with my chickens after our class that day. When class was over, I was met by the clerks who had Jail Bird in a cardboard box taped and windows cut that reminded me of the old prisoner transport wagons. They explained that while in class, they asked one of the male inmates to catch her because she had headed for the highway. I laughed to myself at the image of this and wondered if individuals passing thought this was supposed to be dinner at the jail that evening. Jail Bird was quiet traveling to the farm and upon release with similar birds-of-a-feather, she seems to be settling quite well into probation, showing her appreciation by contributing an egg or two. The students in the class, however, showed their appreciation by contributing their stories.

“For several years, my life has been an uphill battleground with alcohol. I’ve been in and out of jail. I felt hopeless. I looked for treatment several times, but to me, AA was a way of helping me get out of trouble with the law, just to get the signatures and move on. However, this last arrest opened my eyes a little wider so that I could see. At this time, I got serious about the way I was living my life. Of course, I started AA again but I took it seriously this time. I even started courses through the chaplain at the jail. That all helped and on the day the chaplain came in the dorm and announced that he has started a class and if we wanted to go, come on. I decided to go. It was the best decision I ever made. The class changed my life. ‘Active Relationships’ helped me look at life in different ways, not only from my point of view, but from others as well. I learned how valuable I am. I now know what I do affects others, my kids being number one. My whole outlook on life has changed. I take time to think before I do anything. The class really changed my life in a few short weeks. The instructors are caring and understanding. They didn’t look at me as a prisoner, they treated me with respect and caring. Taking AA and this class is what I needed, because both of them together gave me a new life, a better way of living. Now I can be the woman God wants me to be!” –Rebecca

“This class has helped me understand about relationship with my mother. I have been deaf my whole life. I blamed my mom for a long time but now I can try to get along with her since she realizes that I am trying to change and better myself. I was also a drug addict. I ran to drugs to solve my problems but now I’ve learned that drugs don’t solve it. to use the SMART cards to stop arguing and cool off or give each other time away then come back and talk calmly. I’ve been working on myself in class, she even accepted to go to class with me to work on our relationship! –JoAnna

“I want to thank my facilitators for all they have done for me. I was married to my husband for 10 years. He was not a very nice man at times, but I felt helpless and felt less than. I didn’t feel like I deserved any better so I stayed. My husband died in December 2013. I really felt helpless when he passed. But since I have been taking this class I have become so much stronger. I know now that I am valuable and I do deserve a better life. I do deserve someone to treat me with respect and love. I have learned how to pick out good characteristics, not only a partner, but in people in general. I believe the class has helped turned my life around. I have higher self esteem now and believe I can do anything I put my mind to. Thank you. You are life savers.” –Tina

“I have been on drugs since I was 15 years old. I have been in and out of bad relationships since I was 17 years old. This has all caused me to be in and out of jail and prison due to drinking and drugs. I am incarcerated for a very serious crime that would never have happened if I was living my life right. Since I’ve been here I have taken ‘Active Relationships.’ This class has really changed my way of thinking. I now know what to look for in a relationship, not just with a man, but with my family also. I now know that I am somebody and I deserve better. I thank God I had a chance to take this class.” –Gracie

Stella "Sunshine" Eady at the Taylor Grocery

Stella “Sunshine” Eady at the Taylor Grocery

Every morning, Stella “Sunshine” Eady gets to work at 5 a.m. to cook at the Taylor Grocery deli. Customers and staff look forward to her chicken and dumplings, pork chops and other lunch specials. Stella loves her job. But getting her job took a little extra preparation. Thanks to the Healthy You Inc. Employment Program she attended, Stella gained the confidence she needed to put her past behind her and move forward with her life.

Stella ran into trouble anytime someone found out about the felony conviction in her past. When filling out applications, she felt defeated when she had to check the box stating that she had been convicted of a felony. After losing a job that she had for over a year when her employer found about about her past, Stella decided to take the time to attend a class on Relationships in the Workplace. There, she learned how to be honest about her past without jeopardizing her future. She attended the class on a Friday; on the following Monday, she landed her new job with Taylor Grocery.

The deli at Taylor Grocery had been closed due to the need for a new cook. Manager Frances Condrey interviewed Stella and they immediately clicked. They felt like they already knew each other. Stella’s past was never a factor in Condrey’s decision. She told Stella to make herself at home so Stella rolled up her sleeves and got to work.

“The first thing Stella told me was that she loved to cook. She was perfect. She is one of us now,” Condrey says.

Stella’s job gave her a new outlook on life. She learned her way around the gas stove at the deli and perfected her recipes. Stella has always believed she was born to cook, and her regular customers agree. They often post pictures on Facebook of her biscuits, country fried steak and gravy and other specialties.

“I trained at home. It’s called Mama’s Kitchen. I am missing from some of our family photos because I was always in the kitchen cooking,” she says. “I have customers now who are so regular I put their names on their biscuits every morning. My number one customer can’t go to school without one of my biscuits.”

Now, Stella is planning to go back to school to get her GED. She feels inspired and motivated and is thinking about going into physical therapy after she finishes her GED.

“The class taught me that I can do anything,” she says. “I do love my job. I even cook when I get home from work.”

We’re sharing this timely blog post via Family Bridges.  It was written by Alicia La Hoz, PsyD, and is definitely worth a read.

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At a time where many anticipate the joy and good will ushered by the Christmas season, our cheer is detained.  The peace and hope we wish to all through our sharing of Christmas cards, goodies and gifts feels helplessly out of place when what we otherwise feel is sorrow, fear, disillusionment and grief.  The traumatic event at the Connecticut Elementary School goes far and beyond any parent’s worst fear. Evil plagued the safest of communities, the safest of settings and shattered what we most trust. While most of us were spared the grief with our own children, and while we can never truly understand the depth of pain that the parents who lost a child at Sandy Hook Elementary feel, our hearts pang for the loss. We love, we hurt and we try so hard to protect the lives that have been cherished under our care. Lurking in the shadows of the media frenzy covering the trauma, is the voice that quietly says, “this could have been my child”.

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