Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
— Matthew 18:21-22
As the light beamed on in my jail cell, letting me know it was time to wake up for breakfast, I remember climbing down from my top bunk and thinking that “today was going to be just another day.” It must’ve been my 5th or 6th time back in jail after being released from prison for my Felony Marijuana charge. It’s sad to look back on but at the moment I was just happy to have 3 hots and a cot. You see, having a felony on your record can be one of the most crippling things to do to a person. For some, it’s well deserved. For others, it’s cruel and unusual punishment. Being consistently denied jobs and housing because of a Marijuana charge, I looked forward to the next probation violation when I could get a warm place to sleep away from the cold sidewalks of Oregon. This day was different though.
After eating breakfast and returning our food trays, I walked by a sign advertising a Justice Reinvestment program. I didn’t pay it much mind at first as I was just focused on getting back to my bunk for the count before being allowed to leave my cell for dayroom time. Once we heard the click and saw the door pop open, my celly(short for cellmate) and I went straight for the phones to call home. It’s incredible how similar this life was to the military. Being told when to sleep, eat and work with phones being our only connection to home wasn’t something that took too much time to get used to. But there it was again. A flyer right next to the phones advertising housing and education in exchange for sobriety and good behavior. They had me at housing.
So I called the number and it connected me with a Marion County probation officer. The last thing I needed. She interviewed me on the phone, told me more about the program, asked if I wanted to be part of the next cohort and I agreed. When I was released from jail on that sanction, my mind was blown to see she had a room waiting for me at a halfway house. I collected what little belongings I had and made myself at home in the first place in a while that wasn’t some form of concrete. With a monthly bus pass and a food stamp card, I had to pinch myself as it felt too good to be true. The next day I reported to my new probation officer. This time though was on campus at the local community college. There I met my instructors, school counselors, drug and alcohol counselors, and a whole slew of support people. It was like receiving a bear hug of supportive services.
That program worked hard to expose us to a different lifestyle than the one of recidivism that we were living. The courage to try new things built up over that 3 month period led to me having the strength to walk into the Veterans lounge and ask for help in continuing my education. Being an honorably discharged combat Veteran I had G.I. Bill benefits and with their support, I was able to access those benefits to attend school for business management. I eventually got hired on at the college as the Veterans Representative and learned a lot in advocating for Veterans which I took with me in my position as the Veterans Program Coordinator for a local nonprofit.
The second chance this program gave me taught me that recovery is possible. Regardless of whether you messed up 7 times or 70. I will be celebrating 9 years in recovery this September and I hope for many more while advocating for policy that expands those opportunities for others so I can enjoy recovery right alongside them.