Opioid addiction shatters a life, separates a family

This is a special story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.

“United Way’s dollars allowed me to participate in a program that gave me so many skills that I can apply in the workplace; gave me opportunities to meet with other people in the community,”

Opioid addiction shatters a life, separates a family

This is a special story surrounding our #GivingTuesday initiative to raise awareness, funds, in support of the opioid epidemic.


“United Way’s dollars allowed me to participate in a program that gave me so many skills that I can apply in the workplace; gave me opportunities to meet with other people in the community,”

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It all started with a fatal car accident. It could have happened to anyone that day. But this accident was one that would forever change Amanda E’s life. She was injured in the accident and prescribed painkillers to dull the brash pain of that dreadful day.

The story could end there, as it does in many cases, but not for Amanda. As fate would have it, just six days later, her boyfriend would lose his life in a fatal car accident. This tragic secondary trauma was too much for Amanda, sending her into a tailspin.

Her pain medications were used for more than just masking the temporary physical pain. They were being used to escape the mental pain and anguish she felt for both her own accident and the heartbreaking loss of her boyfriend. This callous cocktail of events pushed her to find comfort in the form of a small, scored oval mass that would temporarily dissolve away her pain.

“I ended up abusing my prescription medications and became addicted to those [opiates],” she said as she reflected on the incidents. “That addiction led me to make a lot of really bad decisions in life.”

Leaving her family behind

The sheriff’s department showed up one day with warrants and took her to jail. While awaiting sentencing, she experienced a brief moment of clarity. This is the moment when you recognize that the addiction is taking control of your life. Amanda was still in ‘active addiction’ and said, “I just knew… I cannot continue living like this.” This moment would prove critical in the coming years, as she would encounter her most daunting life challenges.

After being indicted on several charges while out on bond, she ultimately turned herself in – taking responsibility for her actions, prepared to face whatever punishment awaited. She was sent to prison for a term of five years, which seemed like an eternity. “I ultimately knew that I was going to prison. It was a terrible day. It’s hard to tell the people you love that you’re going to be leaving their lives. It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

During her first year in prison, she acclimated relatively well. That was until the holidays came around. Normally a time to celebrate and come together in joy and happiness with family and friends, Amanda found herself alone and separated from her family. She said that being away from her family was when she truly hit “rock bottom.”

“Being in prison is terrible, it is… but, I was doing so much better in prison than my family was at home because they’re the ones who did time. It’s not just me that got sentenced to prison. My entire family got sentenced to prison. It made me realize what an integral part of their life that I am and that I need to be there.”

Finding new hope, change

While in prison, Amanda was presented with several choices for programs she could participate in. These programs are meant to allow the inmate to have proper therapy and counsel to identify issues that led to incarceration and the addiction. They are designed to prepare the inmate for a smoother and successful reintegration back into society.

Amanda knew that it was especially important to choose the program best aligned and suited for her. She reviewed several and focused on a select few that would fit her ambitions for future success. That’s when she found the Chopping for Change program conducted by Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM). She determined that program would be a perfect fit and started in May 2016.

The Chopping for Change program is for women who are incarcerated at Northeast Reintegration Center (NERC) in Cleveland. They are permitted to leave NERC to come to LMM five days a week.

“Cooking has definitely been something I’m passionate about. I love to express my creativity in different ways and cooking is just another way for me to be able to do that,” Amanda stated. “It was stressful, but it was fun stress. We were doing positive things. It was great to know that the things we were doing were to prepare the meals for the homeless population… that was very rewarding.”

The first few months of the Chopping for Change culinary arts program are in the classroom. It’s a time when the women receive wraparound services before ever entering the kitchen. They take trauma-informed therapy classes, parenting, financial literacy, drug and alcohol classes, as well as others they may need to help deal with underlying issues and prepare them for success.

“One of my biggest challenges was just being able to identify the things that made me want to use,” Amanda stated with a grin that revealed how challenging looking inward can be, while sharing her initial Chopping for Change experience. “It’s not easy working on yourself. It’s not easy looking at the ugliest parts of yourself. But what’s great about it is finding ways that you can make those parts great again… you can not only help yourself, but others around you.”

Once the wraparound services are complete, they move into the culinary classroom to learn the basics. They then finish their training in the kitchen, learning chef and front-of-the-house skills.

“Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry is like my home away from home,” Amanda exclaimed as she dipped her head and chuckled. “What was great about [LMM] is that they are located here in Cleveland, and this is where I plan to relocate to. For me, they’ve been supportive on so many levels – not only with the programming, but with all kinds of other opportunities. Opportunities to volunteer… these events that I’ve been able to help with have enabled me to network and to be able to give back to an organization that has really given me a lot.”

Amanda has been sober for more than three years now and has fully completed her prison term. She is currently still volunteering with LMM. She helps with meal production on Sundays and catering events, as well as being a mentor and friend to many of the inmates still in the program.

She now works at both Great Lakes Brewing Company and Pier W restaurant. Her gainful employment at these two organizations was in large part due to her working LMM’s annual fundraiser, the Savor event, where she met key people from each business.

“United Way’s dollars allowed me to participate in a program that gave me so many skills that I can apply in the workplace; gave me opportunities to meet with other people in the community,” she stated with a direct and sincere tone. “And now, it gives me the opportunity to be the person they were for me; to be the change that I hope to see in the world.”

Amanda added, “As the face of addiction, you can change your life and you can give back to society. You can be a productive member of society.”


The Chopping for Change program began in January 2016 and continues to grow. It’s a partnership between LMM and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and backed by funding from Cuyahoga County’s Office of Re-Entry.

 

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